Why Not St. Louis?

Maybe it's just me, but I'm not particularly impressed by the entirely marketing-based "Having a famous guy involved gives our expansion bid credibility" campaigns which seem to be all the rage.

Whether it's a jumped-the-shark clown-cum-Bob Barker stand in who prances around wiping his butt with a team scarf or some well-known figure from another sport, I don't get what they have to do with anything.

At least Andrew Shue could play a little. A very little, I grant you, but still.*

Vancouver, to use another example, seems to feel that STEVE NASH IS INVOLVED WITH VANCOUVER'S BID should be the lead in every MLS expansion story. Why he's even remotely relevant, beyond having enough money to be a minority investor, escapes me.

The Crew has a minority investor named Ron Pizzutti. He has been involved since 1996. Ever hear of him? Give a crap? Neither does anyone else.

And so when attorney Jeff Cooper began proudly trumpeting the fact that Albert Pujols, a purportedly non-steroid addicted pounder of baseballs, is now "one of the investors" in the St. Louis MLS bid, I'm afraid I didn't fall out of my chair with joy.

When MLS players begin buying into NFL teams, that will be news. Until then, I don't care what kind of gaudy salaries athletes in other sports are making, guys like Phil Anschutz and Clark Hunt can still buy and sell them before breakfast, and their lousy 2 or 3 percent share of the team (which, unless they're prepared to lay out a much bigger percentage of their net worth than makes any kind of sense in an investment of this type, which seems unlikely at best, even if Don Garber takes them out and gets them good and drunk first) will get you nothing.

They have no expertise to contribute, no administrative or sports marketing skills that will enhance the viability of the team.

And if "Baseball Player Albert Pujols says you should come see some soccer" is the ad campaign that St. Louis needs to sell tickets, then that doesn't say much for the quality of the market. As MLS has learned through painful experience and at great cost over the past 13 years, the soccer has to sell itself. If it doesn't, dog and pony shows won't save you.

In any case, that meme runs counter to the entire point of the St. louis bid, ie. that it's arguably the best soccer market in the USA.

I have no desire to stir up my good freinds in Seattle again so soon, but I keep reading that they're the soccer mecca of America and the best soccer this and the best soccer that and bl\ah, blah, blah, and it's pretty much a bunch of bunk.

St. Louis was soccer when soccer wasn't cool. They cared about soccer in St. Louis before Bill Gates was ever born. They were playing soccer in St. Louis long before it was possible for Frankie Hejduk to stop off at Starbucks for a quintuple tripe espresso on the way to a match.

If soccer in the US was a tree, then St. Louis is surely where the tap root would be located.

Furthermore, in addition to probably the best untapped fan base on the continent, St. Louis can provide MLS with the one thing that is holding up every single other bid, be it from Vancouver or Portland or Miami or wherever else: a soccer specific stadium.

The entire establishment, political, financial and public citizenry, is on board. The site is selected, the money's appropriated, the zoning isn't a problem and the bulldozers are on standby. Say the word, Don, and the dirt will be flying before you can say "Chuck's Your Uncle".

So what's the problem?

St. Louis is the opposite of every other bid in MLS history; the problem is not a stadium. Rather, the problem is the lack of a civic-minded Uncle Moneybags. And no, Albert Pujols doesn't qualify.

You see, MLS, is a closed cabal of rich guys, a sort of Gentlemen's Club only without the strippers. They don't want to sit around with hired functionaries who have to check back with a board before being able to vote on, say, firing Don Garber or ordering lunch.

There are exceptions, of course, but they prove the rule: Dave Checketts is not only an extremely saavy sports executive but he does in fact seem to have full authority to speak for the rich guys. And in any case, he's got at least as much money as Steve Nash. Checketts is so highly regarded as a sports marketing guy that MLS couldn't wait to get him on board.

St. Louis attorney Jeff Cooper isn't Dave Checketts. He's barely a household name in his own household. As my colleague and dear freind (when we're not tossing hand grenades) Ives Galarcep referenced recently, Cooper showed up on the Commissioner's doorstep one day hoping to "get involved" in the St' Louis bid and was told that there WAS no "St. Louis bid".

Since then, poor Jeff (pun intended) has spent a whole bunch of time signing up guys with money who're willing to invest in MLS. He now clims to have a whole bunch of them. Lots and lots. Even Albert Pujols.

The problem is that nobody knows who they are and he's not saying and there's no good explanation as to why. One presumes that he's willing to share that information with MLS, but that's not entirely a sure thing, and it leaves the suspicion not that he's lying but that he's really had to beg and plead and dig to get across the $40 million finish line.

And that, I think, is the problem here. MLS is looking for guys who can answer a cash call without having to get a second on their house. They are deep pockets guys and they want to be partners with other deep pockets guys, not a bunch of lunch pail slobs with measley $50 million net worths. Guys like that detail Stan Kroenke's car. Robert Kraft leaves guys like that a tip.

In the big, last-chance MLS Expansion Sweepstakes, it's not about who "deserves" a team. If it was, St. Louis would have been an original team, as would Chicago, Philadelphia and Detroit.

Back when MLS teams were advertised for five million bucks per, St. Louis was a shoein but somehow never showed up. Even as recently as 2004 when Toronto bought in for $10 million, it was very doable.

But now that the price tag on that shiny new MLS team is a hefty $40 million, you really have to wonder if the MLS Board of Governors is going to like the cut of their jib.

If they don't, if St. Louis doesn't make the cut this time, they probably never will. The price tag is only going to go up.

And that would be a real shame.