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.