FxB of So Many Balls and I have sparked up a well reasoned debate on the subject of MLS expansion and something I'll call, fan commitment. Because well reasoned debates are so rare on the internet, I'd like to keep it on the front pages rather than the comments for now...and of course encourage others to weigh in.
I put an idea on the table a couple of days ago suggesting that what Atlanta could use to knock its sports fans out of their normal apathetic stupor, is a good old fashioned dose of cross town rivalry.
FxB brought up some excellent points regarding the not exactly faltering but certainly not skyrocketing experiment in Los Angeles - a football city of millions - between Chivas and LA Galaxy. The point he makes is excellent - if LA can't properly support two teams, then how could Atlanta (or any other large city for that matter)?
So that got me thinking about my original point, which may have been lost in the economic unlikelihood of an Atlanta cross town derby. My vision would be to encourage future franchise owners to think about building soccer in the US using a grassroots model rather than the classic NFL "big city" model.
What does that mean? Because the game never took hold in the United States like it did the rest of the world, nouveau owners are trying to "retrofit" America with teams using the same formula that works very well for the slick, expensive, yet antiseptic NFL business model. NFL is an event you attend like a concert or a show, not a - dare I say it - religion that you follow.
Maybe it's too late for this in America, but I like to look at the history books and ask the question, what made football work so well everywhere else. I think a key, at least in Europe, was that clubs were built essentially around neighborhoods (Highbury, White Hart Lane, Stamford Bridge, etc.) as opposed to hulking single metropolis'.
The result, and sometimes not a pretty result, was the development of a more tribal and passionate fan base. Fans identified with the Bridge, not with London...and come hell or high water, when the Spurs or the Gooners were coming to your neighborhood, it was going to be serious.
As Franklin Foer paraphrases in his book "How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization ", there's no hate like neighbor hate. So of course I'm not endorsing the kind of historic hooliganism that has plagued the game all over the world, but without that kind of passion for your team, that support for something you personally connect with, I think we'll continue to see soccer treated with the same moderate, arms-length interest that defines most American sports fans.