The Greatest MLS Accomplishments of Antonio Cué: 1. Got Doug Hamilton's car really clean 2. 3. 4.
I must be here to bury Antonio Cué, because I'm damn sure not here to praise him. I've said this before, but Chivas USA should be studied in business schools around the world. This is what happens when you think your brand is so indestructible that you don't need to do any research. This is what happens when you think your plan is so foolproof you don't need any options. This is what happens when you take your target market completely for granted.
This is also what happens when you find a stranger in the Alps, but that's a different conversation.
It's worth looking again at Cué's bio, which, hysterically, is still up at the CUSA site at Major League Soccer Soccer:
Cué's energy, vision and entrepreneurial acumen can perhaps be attributed to his heritage: Cué's maternal grandfather, the late Juan Sánchez-Navarro, one of Mexico's most recognized and respected businessmen, was founding partner and Vice President of Grupo Modelo, the holding company that counts Corona Beer among its assets.
For "hertiage," read "nepotism." His "acumen" led to the first, and almost certainly the last, MLS franchise home debut to announce less than 20,000.
"But the Pope died that morning!" True. John Paul II refused to share one day on Earth with Chivas USA. That doesn't explain why that Chivas USA fans who chose to skip the franchise opener out of respect decided to never, ever reschedule. It also doesn't explain why more than 20,000 weren't sold before that Saturday in the first place. "Pope's not well. Better hold off on buying those Chivas USA tickets - for the rest of my life:"
In that initial season, Chivas USA gave away twice as many tickets as it sold, according to an internal MLS document obtained by the SanDiego Union-Tribune.
I've often said that Cué had no backup plan for when his initial target audience shunned his product, but that's not precisely true. Whoever it was that decided to bring in Bob Bradley to clean the goat crap out of the stables deserved an extra cookie that week.
The problem - and stop me if I've told you this one - is that Guadalajara fans aren't interested in watching American players. So Cué decided he needed to expand the club's appeal.
The problem - and stop me if I've told you this one - is that non-Mexicans (and more than a few actual factual Mexicans) aren't interested in watching anything Chivas.
The solution? If you were Antonio Cué, the answer was to play so many race cards you'd think it was Major League Mille Bornes. This worked to fool some of the more gullible or disingenuous, and it gave new life to the dregs of Legion 1908 that still deigned to grace Chivas USA games with their presence. Legion thanked Cué for his support by attacking both CUSA and Galaxy fans, and blowing off CUSA home games for Gaudalajara friendlies. Legion 1908's presence at Chivas USA games has recently been replaced by a large inanimate object, significantly raising the average IQ of the CUSA fanbase.
Seriously, I once called Legion 1908 sewer runoff, and the LA Department of Water and Power threatened to sue for defamation.
If Ken Horowitz had the resources that were at Antonio Cué's disposal, the Miami Fusion would have been an MLS dynasty. Cué was a malignancy on the league, and every soccer fan in American should be thrilled that he's now deciding to spend more time with Preki's family. Let us wish him well at his future endeavors for al-Qaeda, and erase his name from our memory.
So what can Jorge and Goodwife Vergara do to dig themselves out? Early indications are that they are bringing in more expensive shovels. Media silence has been so overpowering in Red Carson that after a week, no one has bothered to respond to Kevin Baxter's troll in the LA Times that Vergara was considering moving the team to Arizona.
(Don't get me wrong at all - I hope the Cactus Pricks get called up to the big show soon, but the idea that the iconic brand of Mexican club soccer is going to move to Joe Arpaio's county and Jan Brewer's state without a SERIOUS change of wardrobe is not merely Onionesque, but downright Swiftian.)
I believe we haven't heard a plan yet, because there isn't one. And I think there isn't one because there can't be one. The Chivas USA concept has become radioactive among any potential target audience. Its only function is to siphon off potential Galaxy fans, and sadly in that regard it has worked - Mr. Ziegler of the San Diego Union Tribune caught the Galaxy fudging attendance numbers too, and anyone who has gazed upon the wide green plains of empty seats at both teams' games will have no doubt that this year's figures are pure science fiction. With Chivas USA selling the exact same product in the exact same location, the Galaxy would have to be as popular as the Lakers in order for both teams to flourish, and they're not.
"So move the team somewhere else in LA, silly!" Yeah, this is where it would have been helpful if Jorge Vergara realized that life on earth did not begin in 2005. The Galaxy faced the exact same dilemma of where to play and make a profit, and the answer was not "a gigantic college football stadium" or "a tiny community college football stadium." There are 100 million very good reasons why Anschutz built a facility in Carson, and an equal amount of reasons why it's the best soccer facility in...well, I haven't seen LiveSTRONG, or Sandy Stadium, or RedBull Bruce Arena, or the redone whatever corporate name Civic Stadium is going by these days, or what San Jose is going to look like, so maybe the HDC isn't better than the fifth best soccer stadium north of the Rio Grande.
But I have seen the Rose Bowl, the LA Coliseum, East LA College, Titan Stadium, the Santa Ana Bowl, and a passel of high school stadiums even Chivas USA wasn't dumb enough to float as possibilities, and I can assure you that any temporary home in Los Angeles, Orange or Ventura Counties outside Carson are going to make Cardinal Stadium in Naperville look like the Nou Camp. (I'm also assuming that Dodger Stadium and Anaheim Stadium are otherwise spoken for during the summertime.)
As far as building a new facility - forget it. Chivas USA doesn't have the fanbase to justify the expense, and likely never will. There is no public money for - well, for anything, really, but least of all for professional soccer teams. (Nor should there be. The death of Art Modell recently should remind us that public officials who spend taxpayer money on private sports teams should be tortured to death.) That means Vergara will have to spend every dime himself, and that's gonna take a lot of suckers hawking Omnilife.
Besides, any downtown site probably won't be available until Anschutz's Farmers Field plan stops sucking all the oxygen out of the room. Maybe you and I think or know that Farmers Field is dead, but Tim Leiweke seems to think otherwise.
Everywhere else in the LA area has, to some degree or another, the same problem as Carson. Nothing is central to everybody here - even downtown is just where a bunch of freeways meet.
There is absolutely no hope for Chivas USA. There is no option. There is no choice. There is absolutely nothing, nothing at all, nothing whatsoever they can do to save that team. They have exhausted all alternatives, and they have no possible chance for success anymore. It's over. It's done. It's finished.
....okay, there is one thing. But it's kind of a longshot.
The LA Sports Arena is going to be demolished and replaced with something, eventually. The entity making that decision will be USC. (Unless the deal for USC to operate Exposition Park facilities is successfully challenged in court, but for the moment let's assume USC will be the boss.) USC might decide to replace it with a soccer stadium. It might not, but again, let's assume. Chivas USA moves closer to downtown, has its own home, and changes its name to Chivas USC. Or not, as it chooses. Overnight, CUSA is the more centrally located team, in one of the few venues that would be newer and more desirable than the HDC. Problem solved!
Sort of. Some of them.
Let's also assume that Chivas USA would be a primary tenant over USC soccer teams now and in the future, which hey, maybe. That simply leaves a few Saturdays in September, October and November unavailable. Probably no worse than what they have to deal with in the HDC...although keep in mind that when the Galaxy shared the Rose Bowl, they were driven clear out to Fullerton for playoff games a couple of times.
It's of course possible that USC would allow Chivas USA to schedule games in the arena at the same time the Trojans have home games, but I will leave the world-class parking and traffic problems that would cause as an exercise for your imagination.
The main problem is that Chivas USA will simply be changing landlords. No naming rights money. No concessions money. No parking money. Instead of making money for AEG, they'll be making money for USC. Not owning your stadium is not the wave of the future in MLS, to say the least, and Chivas USA will continue to operate under that particular structural handicap (to go with all their others). In order to justify the move, CUSA will have to pay a lot less rent, and move a metric sh*tload of tickets and sell a cubic sh*t-ton of jerseys in order to match not just what the Galaxy or Kansas City make from their stadiums, but what the Sounders and Revs (and soon the Quakes and hopefully DC United) don't have to spend in the first place. They will get an attendance bump from being in Troy, but...oops, the stadium capacity is only going to be about 22,000.
Well, simply raise ticket prices! This will have to happen anyway, of course, no matter where CUSA ends up playing, or under what name. But as of today, a pretty sizeable proportion of the Chivas USA fanbase is there because they are the alternative to the glitzy, pricey, arrogant Galaxy. They're dead right about the Galaxy, but a significant part of that appeal are tickets that are 25% as expensive as Galaxy equivalents. That won't and can't happen in Exposition Park. It's probably too much to hope that if CUSA raises prices too much, then the Galaxy gets to be the working class alternative to Chivas U$C's spoiled fan base.
For all I know, before he left Antonio Cué did the market research proving that literally ten thousand people or more per game would be willing to go to USC but not Carson to see Chivas USA. It's possible. On the other hand, Cué's track record.
Upside - Chivas USA won't have to rebrand. We can debate whether or not they should anyway. But it won't be absolutely necessary to do so in Exposition Park.
And that's if USC decides they want to build the thing in the first place. Unless they build Columbus Crew Stadium West - which might not be a bad idea - the new facility will absolutely not be open by 2014. Hell, USC might not even decide to knock down the Sports Arena in the first place until 2014. In any case, USC is on their own timetable at this point, and they don't have to do a damn thing for 99 years. Vergara is probably in a slightly bigger hurry.
Also, CUSA could try to be the junior tenant of the future LA NFL stadium, which would have all the problems of the HDC or Exposition Park, and (if they're stuck out in Industry) none of the location advantages. And if you think USC is in no particular hurry to build anything, well, as far as the NFL is concerned Los Angeles can stay vacant forever. Basically, Chivas USA as we know and loathe it is betting on a unicorn to win the Kentucky Derby.
Oh, and Jorge Vergara will have to learn to scout for players outside Mexico at some point.
Or - and this is something no one has ever thought of before - Chivas USA could change their name and leave Los Angeles. But you know, let's don't talk about anything unrealistic.