Cascadia's importance to MLS' 20th team - no, really, it's important

I'm a Don Garber fan, but I can certainly understand why some people aren't.

Boy, it's a good thing I only get my news from MLSsoccer.com, because otherwise I'd know that the second New York team is completely dead, what with the Wilpons up to their nipples in the Madoff Ponzi scheme scandal and needing MLB largesse just to keep the Mets going.

And if I knew THAT, well, then I'd think Don Garber was being disingenuous.

It's a shame that 19 is such a weird number to be stuck at, and that 20 is such a pleasant number of completeness. Because based on Don Garber's list, there aren't a lot of good candidates left out there. The league has done brilliantly with the Cascadia teams, but that was a really special circumstance.

....aw, are you guys still mad that I made fun of you in my conference preview? I was KIDDING! I LOVE you guys! I've loved Pacific Northwest soccer since the 1997 game - you know which one! I was there too! I was just having a little fun! Come on, it's MLS. First rule of MLS is, you gotta get jumped in.

Why did I also cheap-shot Seattle? Well, second rule of MLS is, the jumping in never stops. San Jose was pretty much the first MLS team ever, and we're still giving those guys the business.

Anyway, the Cascadia teams won't make much difference on the field this year, but off the field? Well, off the field...they shouldn't either. The NBA actually left those markets, twice, and MLS is going to use the Pacific Northwest to carry it forward? How is that a good idea?

Turns out, it probably is.

There was an article a few years ago somewhere or other about which markets were over- and under-served when it came to sports, in proportion to population and average income. Naturally, I can't find it, or remember the publication.

The article only stuck in my mind at all because it included MLS in its expansion calculations, because MLS teams have the least overhead and don't require the enormous intake of money from fans and media in order to support a team.

But we don't have to go into detail, because some of this was common sense - population and ticket prices mean that there's a proportion to how many teams can fit into one city and still have enough fans to support it. Sure, it's a premise that can be taken to absurd extremes, like Los Angeles having three NBA teams and two MLS teams.

However, the basic idea is sound.

Let's twinkle-think an example. Two football teams, one basketball team, one hockey team, and two baseball teams.

Pretty tough neighborhood for the sports dollar, right? Well, that's what the San Jose Earthquakes compete against.

That's also what the Timbers, Sounders and Whitecaps will compete against.

Put together.

Minus a baseball team.

And one of the football teams is a CFL team.

I'm certainly not belittling what Portland and Seattle have done already. Geography is not destiny. I have very high hopes for both teams irritating the crap out of the rest of the league for decades to come.

So the Northwest teams have a lot more media room to barge into, compared to teams in California or New York. And there aren't as many existing barriers, like there are in Denver, Boston, or Dallas.

Montreal, by the way, looks like it could be another good small-market choice here, since the Expos split to annoy DC United, and no one cares about the Alouettes or Concordes or whatever the hell they're called now. The Canadiens count as four pro teams by itself, but fortunately they play in winter.

All this turns conventional sports marketing wisdom on its head - Canadian teams? Small markets that other sports use simply to pad out the TV schedule? You're saying those teams will carry the traditional sports cities on their backs?

That's what seems to be happening. We're getting stories on Major League Soccer Soccer on Ryan Pore because Portland loves them some Timbers, and because Portland media is buying in. That's something MLS can put on its website, and it will look much better than derisory coverage of the Red Bulls or the Galaxy.

I didn't mention the Union, because I don't know how they fit in this theory. A traditional sports town to end all traditional sports towns, overserved even after they kicked the A's out of town, competing for time with some extremely rich teams - you wonder how much their local media will cooperate.

Still, the Union rang in just short of 20,000 average last year, which is really darn good. The Union may be, in the words of the Kinks, the last of the good old fashioned steam powered trains - a team that builds up its reputation through attendance, one year at a time. That's a lot closer to the traditional MLS experience - several thousand people gathering together to scream and raise hell, totally ignored by the rest of the world. Like juggalos or libertarians.

So I don't know whether MLS really is overdoing the Cascadia thing, despite the league's well-known taste for roast golden goose. It's annoying and tedious to the rest of us, but the league is marketing teams for a change, not Freddy Adu or David Beckham.

There are lots of reasons that the Vancouver Whitecaps will never become America's team. But pictures of excited fans in packed stadiums are what you use to market your sport. The vast majority of NFL fans might never see a game live, but the tiny minority that make up the cheering crowd is what is being sold. And while Portland and Seattle aren't the biggest markets, they're bigger than, I dunno, Green Bay, Wisconsin.

But it looks like there is a formula for MLS expansion success, and our friends in the Northwest have discovered it. Sadly, it's not readily duplicable in existing MLS markets, but it can come in very handy for placing future teams.

So all we have to do is find the next Cascadia.

Does that magical land exist?

A bunch of those we can write off without thinking. Detroit, Atlanta, Miami and Phoenix have plenty of sports, thanks for asking.

San Diego enters into the mix if the Chargers leave for Los Angeles. Actually, who AEG ends up snatching for their NFL playpen would leave a very tempting hole for MLS to fill. "Yes, you lost the Bills, but here is FC Buffalo to cheer you up!"

Or not. Anyway, San Diego with the Chargers is a pointlessly crowded market. Without the Chargers, there's the Padres, and the zoo, and some really terrific Mexican food, and Sea World. Phil Anschutz will know before anyone if this will happen.

Las Vegas has been an elephant's graveyard for professional sports, mainly because it never gets anything bigger than the XFL. Turns out people like to gamble on sports, and turns out the major US leagues are dependent on gambling. Could soccer buck the trend? Well...Vegas residents would have to climb out of their particularly hideous recession first, and it would have to be residents, not tourists, who support a pro team. Signs point to no.

San Antonio...hey, there's a possibility. Not only are the Spurs currently the only game in town, there isn't even a big college program around to compete - not like Columbus has to put up with. That's a fantastic opportunity right there, and I say this knowing that San Antonio has jerked around MLS before.

Of course, I missed a huge clue very early on, with Arthur Blank being the only actual factual owner mentioned alongside potential new candidates. If Arthur Blank wanted to spend the same money, wanted to make the same commitment, wanted to build the same stadium, but in North Platte instead of Atlanta? Then by heaven North Platte will be in MLS.

Or the Wilpons will find another Ponzi scheme to buy into early.

If I had the forty million, I'd go into Milwaukee, take on the execrable Bud Selig and his incompetent Brewers, and remind the population that the Packers play hundreds of miles away. I'd be a carpetbagger, but as Alice Cooper said, Milwaukee is no stranger to visitors. [EDIT - shame the setup to this Wayne's World joke was almost entirely inaccurate, per comments. C'est la vie.]

Or I'd buy Chivas USA, and rebrand them. Like, say, Chivas Kuiper Belt. Some may be skeptical that a frozen asteroid with a thousand year orbit can sustain an MLS team, but it can't do worse than Miami.