Can Supporters Culture backfire on MLS?



Staff Writer, MLS

One of the biggest marketing successes MLS has had is the embracing and promotion of the passionate supporter culture each team has to offer.

The promotion of an atmosphere unlike any other in the US has worked in driving up attendance figures. But with the persistent debate over YSA and with incidents occurring at Dallas and Portland, one has to ask: is MLS doing more harm than good for itself by embracing is?

YSA is a thorn in the side for most of the people who concern themselves with supporter culture (even if the Red Bulls’ South Ward doesn’t care about it).? Its continued use forces networks to leave the supporter section unmic’d which takes away from the presentation to television audiences. As a result, MLS loses its ability to sell potentially the most appealing part of their atmosphere to the public.

For MLS and its broadcasters, a profane chant is a problem that can be managed and its effects can be minimized. Violence, on the other hand, presents a larger more problematic issue.

A rowdy fan in FC Dallas’ supporter section threw a bottle that struck George John after he scored the winning goal against the LA Galaxy on a nationally televised game. The fan was not a member of either supporters groups but that does not mean this immediately becomes a non-supporter group issue. (As an aside, credit to their group for accepting whatever action that may be handed down)

Having been in supporters sections, I know from experience that a drunk, frenzied atmosphere is promoted. The rowdier the fans, the better the atmosphere and the better chance of the home team getting the result. That rowdiness can be sold as passion by MLS and its networks. Montage clips of fans singing or photos of fans screaming are the most prevalent examples of this.

However that atmosphere is also conducive to stupidity and mob violence.

After last night’s game between the Portland Timbers and the San Jose Earthquakes (also nationally televised), a Timbers fan was attacked by members of the 1906 Ultras. He was punched in the face and had his car damaged when a woman tried jumping through his window. Say what you want about Timbers Army or the Ultras, but when the violence happens outside of the stadium, the issue becomes greater than either supporter group. The issue becomes one of group violence and behavior much like it was in England a generation ago.

If actions like those that happened in Dallas and Portland continue, then MLS is going to go down the same path English soccer did during the 80s. English soccer was able to survive given its popularity and a general dislike of those who tried attacking it, but it would be a much tougher battle for soccer supporters in the US to win if that battle winds up being fought.

We soccer supporters do not have enough strength in numbers or influence to fight a battle that our behavior would be causing.

The scenario previously presented does seem to be of the worst case variety but it is important to point out the potential consequences that MLS faces when they get too closely entwined with supporter culture. No entity wants to let itself be harmed by the actions of an intoxicated few.

The league is in a relatively good position right now in that neither incident is really going to raise significant concerns about supporter groups but it is my fear that both incidents can foreshadow more severe incidents that would embarrass the league.

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