After Everyone’s Gone – MLS 1.0 is within measurable reach of its end
Posted on October 4, 2012 4:46 pm
I’ve decided not to get upset about Adrian Hanauer having to campaign for his job. If they want to make a mockery of the democratic process in order to get some cheap positive PR, well, take it from your old pal Stinky Wizzleteats – that’s something the Seattle Sounders did not invent. The day will come when a Sounders GM is as popular among his customers as, say, the Timbers GM is among his, but that day is not this, and Nguyen Van Thieu comparisons can remain in cold storage.
But things are far from entirely stupid in Seattle. Hanauer has done such a good job – or the groundswell of support for the team is so genuine – that the Sounders have abolished international friendlies.
For all but about, say, two other MLS teams, this would be financial suicide. For every other professional sport in America (and college sport) (but I repeat myself), this is basic stuff. Games that count are the games that make money. Not too long ago I was lauding the genius of MLS teams marketing to people who hated MLS. Now, Seattle is acting like they, and not Chivas, Manchester United or Real Madrid, are the most popular team in town. ChampionsWorld died for nothing.
Sounders fans take a little good-natured ribbing, some of it cleverly disguised as poisonous contempt, for being Johnnies-come-lately-and-in-droves. But then again, “You weren’t even around fifteen minutes ago!” didn’t cut much ice when the Berbers overran the see of St. Augustine, helping make Catholicism in North Africa what it is today.
Now, if 2014 comes around, and the Sounders are hyping Port Vale’s US tour to the stars and beyond, we’ll know that Seattle’s quest for mainstream legitimacy isn’t quite the accomplished mission. But as of today, they are the closest MLS team to answer that description – see below.
A few weeks ago I said there were only a limited number of ways for Chivas USA to succeed in Los Angeles. Through a typographic error, I left out “or unless Phil Anschutz sells the team to someone who barely notices its existence…or better still, to Jorge Vergara himself.”
I had grown up assuming that Uncle Phil (or, as I would say to him if I were ever have an actual conversation with him, “Mr. Anschutz, sir,” averting my eyes as I did so) made his money from Qwest Communications. Forgive the Wikipedia references, but given a choice between convenience and facts, print convenience. A quick glance at the numbers tells us that owning Qwest all by itself put Anschutz comfortably in “Tell Mitt Romney to take the servants’ entrance” territory.
I had also assumed that Anschutz wasn’t the sort of person who would simply sell one of his signature properties on a whim. But Qwest wasn’t the first, just like AEG won’t be the last, of the Anschutz bonanzas. Forbes and Fortune – I assume there’s a difference, but I’m not their target audience – have been tracking Anschutz’s career over the years with unapologetic admiration, and one of the things you realize is that his historic portfolio is, like, insanely diverse.
To me, it sounded insane that Anschutz would sell His Own Entertainment Group because he was clashing with AEG CEO Tim Leiweke – his own employee, fercrineoutloud – over how difficult it would be to bring the NFL back to Los Angeles. But it does fit in with his career. He’s ready to do something else, whatever that is.
The sale price of AEG has been bandied about at $7 billion. That’s including everything from the Stanley Cup-winning Kings to O2, but not aeg.com, goofily enough. If you want to see their online presence, you must go here. David Beckham is still the public face of the organization, as it happens.
The valuation of our beloved (or not, as the case may be) Los Angeles Galaxy has been put at $46 million by Brand Finance, whoever they are - which isn’t even the most in MLS, a cool twelve million behind Seattle. (Seriously, is anyone even considering firing Hanauer?)
This is comparing apples to iPhones, but in 2008 Forbes said the Galaxy was worth $100 million. Maybe the Home Depot Center gets included in that…except Time Warner Cable paid over $5 million a year for the Galaxy’s local broadcast rights, which kicks in this weekend – and presumably TW’s customers will be watching from home.
Even at the lowest estimate, if Phil were to sell the Galaxy all by itself, he would have made double his money over the past fourteen years. Although in retrospect it’s hard to believe that the Galaxy, playing in the Rose Bowl, then all of two years old, was already worth $26 million – considering that in 2001 or so it and the rest of the league was very nearly worth $0 million.
Remember how they would try to get us to comprehend the scale of the solar system? The Earth is a pea at the goal line of a football stadium, and the sun is a beach ball at the other end of the field, and Neptune is a golf ball the next town over – something like that. Well, the Galaxy is, in the words of a noted Nietzschean scholar, the smallest ****ing province of the Anschutz Empire.
Yet Anschutz – who before MLS came along was seen in public about as often as Bigfoot’s shy cousin – pops up regularly at special Galaxy events. He was on the field for the Galaxy’s trophy presentation, just like he was on the ice when the Kings won the Stanley Cup.
He even showed up to the Time Warner Cable Sports Network launch party, although maybe he’s just another fan who’s thrilled that KDOC will never again show America’s Funniest Videos instead of the first half of a match due to ”technical difficulties.” Maybe that’s why he’s selling AEG – he read something about photographs stealing souls.
It’s natural enough for us to worry that the next owner won’t be as dedicated. The primary selling points of AEG are a basketball/hockey arena and a vaporware NFL team. It’s unlikely that the Galaxy’s next owner will be the silent Steinbrenner that made the Galaxy competitive. (Although as New England has reminded us, a long-time owner richer than God’s agent is no guarantee of success or popularity.)
There’s also another troubling aspect – the Galaxy aren’t as popular as they act. The temptation to compare the Galaxy to Dennis Reynolds in last season’s finale of “It’s Always Sunny” is irresistible. The numbers don’t lie – the Galaxy have fallen to third in attendance.
Actually, numbers lie a lot. Portland and Kansas City average a sellout or more, so if they played in bigger stadiums, they might have passed the Galaxy by now, too. Toronto might have been ahead for years, at least until this year’s accumulated sewage backed up into BMO’s seats. And unlike Toronto, no one sane would call the Galaxy long-suffering or unsuccessful on the field.
Local billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong, recent Lakers investor, is apparently the front-runner in the bidding – he sat next to Phil when the Los Angeles City Council sacrificed their first-born children to Roger Goodell. However, there apparently will be other suitors. Like, Mark Walter, chairman of the Dodgers, whose interest in maintaining the Galaxy as a summertime competitor can presumably be measured in the microns. Walter does use the corporate magic word “synergy,” but baseball and soccer didn’t mix in the 1920′s when the two sports played in different seasons, and it’s hard to see how that buzzword could begin to apply to the Dodgers and Galaxy.
If Los Angeles soccer fans fear the future, at least we’re not alone. This Downtown News editorial verges towards humorous hysteria, mostly because of the feeling of ignorance and powerlessness – and the Downtown News and its readers are not used to feeling out of the loop. But it’s hard to argue in the slightest with its conclusion:
Maybe everything from here on out will be smooth and easy. Maybe not. There’s one thing we can be sure of though: Whatever happens, it’s being planned right now, far out of view of the public.
Or, as Vonnegut might have said, MLS is whatever people who have all our money, drunk or sober, sane or insane, decide to do today.
And we fans, more than ever, are waiting to see what happens, as decisions are made without even the slightest pretense of considering our input.
Why, that’s just like the NFL! Or the NHL! Or the NBA! Hey…MLS 2.0 is a big-time league, after all!