The new movie “The Founder” starring Michael Keaton as Ray Koch, a salesman, took the idea of the McDonald brothers—Richard and Maurice—of fast food efficiency and created the largest and most successful fast food restaurant in the world. Koch (Keaton) sells milk shake mixers and happens upon the McDonald’s restaurant in which he finds high efficiency, a quality product, and a family based customer flow. He eventually turned the “golden arches” into a brand as well known as the Christian cross and the American flag.
Millionaires in Detroit, St. Louis, and Charlotte are courting Major League Soccer to bring a franchise to their respective cities despite the fact these cities already host successful, organic clubs grown through the hard work by fans and front office employees. This push by millionaires may sound good on paper or even seem like a good investment for their overall financial outlook, but it disregards the current clubs supported by loyal, local fans.
The investors proposed stadium construction projects to the city governments to appeal for public money to complete the tax payer burdens. In the National Football League (NFL) and other top leagues, owners demand new stadiums, tax breaks, or other benefits to keep their respective teams in the city. If they receive nothing, they threaten to find better deals in cities willing to pay their price. Cleveland, Houston, Baltimore, San Diego, and Oakland have all witnessed teams leave (or threat to leave) due to lack of public money to spend on new stadiums and other perks. This practice leaves fans bitter and jaded because it boils down to business and who offers the better deal rather than fan support.
Many fans and administrations found clubs on the beauty of organic, grassroots soccer with a simple premise of growing a team from scratch and putting in the work necessary to see it draw others to support it. Detroit, St. Louis, Chattanooga, Charleston and others see growth and civic pride in the clubs playing for their city. What started as a few grows into the hundreds, if not the thousands. In time, a club finds success as passive fans become active fans and the play on the field improves. Cities embrace the clubs that value the city’s history and growth.
When teams beg for an MLS spot, it demeans the hard work and effort taken to grow local clubs, and even worse, when millionaires push their own bid to create soccer worthy of a MLS nod it comes at the expense of the existing, successful clubs. Most gestures and promises of support to those teams represent efforts to appease those fans when these future owners choose the sounds and sights of soccer without the work. One might wonder what Detroit City FC fans (or others) must think when rich owners decide to bring MLS-caliber teams and overlook the existing fans.
So why do these men and women continue to seek out government funds to fit the bill on stadiums? Maybe because they play on the illusion of what the sport could be and give the atmosphere craved by those who love the game. Maybe it is because they want to bring the passion and commitment found outside of the United States. Whatever the case may be, such moves offer a facsimile of the passion for this sport but not the pure growth of club and supporters bonding for the common good of making the sport part of their city.
Kroc may have taken that one little McDonald’s restaurant and made it into a global giant. He may have made the golden arches one of the most recognizable symbols of all time, but franchises lose quality. He lost the heart of the actual owners to connect with their customers. He lost sight of more important attributes than the look of atmosphere and originality. You see with each burger and fries, each milkshake, and each apple pie, he lost the thing that made the first one special.
In soccer, those clubs that grew in the city areas and suburbs from humble beginnings such as drinks at a bar or a pickup games among friends. Some could call it home cooking. Yet, it is the original receipts, the experience of adding the right ingredients, and the proper serving of the meal that brings people to come back for more and more. MLS can create soccer, but not the original civic and social taste which grassroots clubs bring season after season.
Owners who want to bring MLS to their cities may need to visit Detroit City FC, Minnesota City FC, or even FC Cincinnati to see the history, the support, and the success of these clubs. They need to talk with the supporters who will dress up, scream, shout, and cheer on their favorite clubs. Talk with the local community to find out how these clubs impact the city when they bring neighborhoods and neighbors a bit closer. When they start to understand what it means, truly appreciate what already exists, they will see sometimes they need to avoid remaking the wheel, stop seeking bigger, more visible franchises to take away the beauty of local soccer, and let each season of the local club grow.