01 May 2009

The Strange Perils of Collective Action

Over at Match Fit USA, Jason posits an intriguing idea, but is it a good one?

"Keep United in DC" Day would work like this: fans attending matches all over MLS, in that aforementioned spirit of solidarity, would display signs or banners showing their support for the march efforts in DC. No matter if you're attending a match in Columbus, Chicago, or Houston, show your support for Barra Brava and all of the other United fans as they rally for their club. If it was your club being threatened, wouldn't you feel better knowing that fans around the league have your back?


Let's be clear: I realize that what people in other cities do will have no effect on DC and their stadium issues. Local politicians aren't really going to care if a few fans in Columbus wave around "Keep United in DC" signs.

But that's not the point. Attention needs to be paid to the United's plight, and the wider the message goes, the better. Don Garber has made statements indicating that the team could be moved, and while many people believe those statements were idle threats (for the time being), the fact remains that United supporters feel the need to rally in support of their club.

Now this tends to be the sort of independent minded call to action I normally would wholeheartedly endorse, but I do have misgivings. As Jason rightly notes, this action would not place any pressure on local leaders, but it might indicate a certain collective voice to MLS and DC ownership. Which is my concern. We've written before that the only real leverage either the league or United ownership has is team relocation. That's it. And so if this action has any positive outcome other than fostering fandom solidarity (which is a useful thing in and of itself), it will be to undercut the bargaining power of V-Mac, Will Chang, and Don Garber. In other words, there's a bit of a zero-sum game at work here. Any power taken away from the owners means that localities have an incentive to be more intransigent, to dare to call a perceived bluff. And I, for one, think that bluff would eventually get called. Maybe not this year, or next, but within five years? Certainly. So the threat of relocation must be real, and perceived as real, a process that Garber just began.

Given that a long term viability plan for United must involve a stadium, we now have a strange paradox: The only way to ensure United's survival is to threaten United's survival.

QUICK UPDATE: This logic, applied the same way, explains why I do support the May 9 rally to keep United in DC. In this case, the pressure would be applied at least to both the ownership and local political power, in a way that a collective league wide action might not.

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At 01 May, 2009 10:43, Blogger Jason D said...

Fair points, all. I honestly have no counter-argument, other than to say that I remain convinced that if the threat of relocation had any weight, more progress would have been made.

The fact remains that MLS is so far off the radar of the powers-that-be that I honestly believe that most of them view the team as an annoyance rather than a credit to the community.

I know that seems like a pretty cynical view coming from the guy that suggested the touchy-feely league-wide movement, but until someone other than the Mayor-for-life steps up in support of United, I can't see it any other way.

In my view, there's a small (extremely small) chance that media attention gained through a league-wide movement could actually give some politicians in DC pause. Glory hogs that they are, someone might see United's plight as an opportunity to get a little national run. Unlikely, but possible.

Bottom line? I don't think something like what I've suggested can possibly harm what little leverage McFarland and Chang currently have, so why not do it?

At 01 May, 2009 10:52, Blogger Jason D said...

I realize I butchered McFarlane's name; sorry about that.

At 01 May, 2009 18:25, Anonymous KBD said...

D, I get what you're saying. However, I don't think this would hurt United's chances of staying in DC, at least not in the minds of The Don and the other guys you mention. If people all around he country are going to games that have nothing to do with the Black-and-Red and displaying signs with the message "KEEP UNITED IN DC", I'm not sure that you can assume that these fans would root for United if they moved to a different area. For instance, I live in Rhode Island, and often suffer through soccer withdrawal so I go to a few Revs games a year and root against them, while wearing my Screaming Eagles jersey (ha I once met half the team wearing it. They weren't pleased). I would absolutely pay to make a big banner proclaiming "KEEP UNITED IN DC!" This sends the message that, yes, United have fans all over the country, but, these fans do not want to see the team move, even to their own area. I think it is a great statement about DC fans' passionate, undying love for their team- as long as it remains DC United.

So, to summarize, I understand your concern, but still believe that this could only benefit United's chances, because it will make MLS and the DCU FO fight even harder (and, I know, the FO is doing all it can. Kudos to them. But it may convince MLS to wait on us a little longer) to keep United in DC- where we belong. I would gladly attend a Revs-Rapids match, for example, this summer with a massive banner and my Screaming Eagles shirt. I just hope the Boston Bums will leave me alone.


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