Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Iron Front Symbol has Consumed MLS

MLS is currently entangled in a "left vs. right" power struggle that might be best described as a "B movie" version of what the NFL went through last year with Colin Kaepernick.

It's not so much about what the issues are, it's about who supports them and who doesn't.

What's the controversy? Here's the one-sentence summary: Supporters are being banned for bringing "iron front" symbols to games. I'm sure you can look up the symbol and meaning faster than I can describe it here, so do that and form your own opinion of it, if you haven't done so already.

People seem to be befuddled at why MLS is taking a stand against the symbol are being either naive or disingenuous. The reason it is banned is simple.

It is a symbol closely associated with the politically leaning "left" and MLS does not want their league to drift too far any which way. THAT'S IT. It has nothing to do with Don Garber or any other investor being an actual fascist.

MLS has made it abundantly clear - it does not want to be what it has quickly become - a "politically progressive" gathering place in the way NASCAR is a politically opposite of that.


My wife (Autumn) and I recently took our 3-year-old to a Columbus Crew game a few weeks ago. It was the first time I had been to a game in some time and for Autumn even longer. For those that haven't been, Crew Stadium is a great place to go on late summer nights. The air is cool, the midwestern sunset is fantastic, and the people are friendly.

Orlando City Fans
Autumn did notice something a little different, however. The supporters' section seemed to be more about other things than the Crew. Various pride flags and other non-team imagery were in ample supply. Also, the way fans were dressed. All of it is something familiar to me and my regular watching of MLS, but to my wife, it was a little jolting how much it had changed in just a short period of time. I commented, somewhat old-man dismissively, that it looked like a bunch of freshman art students took over the Nordecke (before you get all judge-y, I have a BA in Graphic Design with a minor in Fine Art which makes me an expert on bad art, particularly of my own making:).

Between the two of us, the conclusion was that it looked like some sort of cosplay/left-leaning political rally on the city hall steps at the end of a parade and not so much a group of taem supporters. I know that kind of brings a giant "meh, who cares they can do what they want" to your mind, but we aren't on the hook for league cash flow. My wife and I are not the types that get particularly offended by these things in the soccer world (it happens all over), but if we are noticing a big shift in Columbus - everyone involved in the league does too.

That doesn't just mean fans, pundits, and hopeless bloggers - that means business executives, ESPN, sponsors, employees, FOX, general sportsperson in the USA and (importantly) abroad, etc etc. The political climate of MLS has drifted as far left as, say, NASCAR is far "right."

So, the question becomes whether or not being a "left" league is lucrative. Will more fans go? Will more sponsors come? Will ESPN, Fox, and Univision pay more for the next TV deal? How about business overseas?

These are the questions Don Garber and the rest of the investors in the league are asking - the same that the NFL, Garber's career birthplace, asked during the issues with kneeling. It's not the specific reasons. It's about left and right and the drift too far one way.


Minnesota United Supporters
MLS is generally bad in the way it treats fans and players, so it isn't surprising that they are doing what they are doing now. You can see my main criticism of MLS clearly at work here in that it is a centrally controlled league that you have to pay to enter. Since this is the case, there is only room for one voice - the league.

If Seattle, Portland, Minnesota, and Atlanta (the places where this issue is HOT) were independent, perhaps even fan-owned, they could make their own call on these things. As it stands, you are all owned by a single group and must comply with them.

I have a decade of writing (and podcasting) about MLS under my belt at this site. There was a time around 2012-2013 where I felt too much of my identity was falling under a stupid league so I made the decision to not let it become part of me and just a thing I enjoyed keeping up with. It's been easier since then.

My recommendation is to not let MLS (or any other sports league/team) become part of your self-identity. If you do let that happen,  like many out there on social media, you will find that things like this recent controversy impact you personally, when it really shouldn't.

It's a business, they want your money. If you are part of a demo that has a lot of money (particularly the demo that buys teams, ie. conservative folks), they will cater to you. That's all.

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