Time to Pull Plug on Chivas USA ExperimentChivas USA appeared to be a good idea in the beginning, wait, it was never a good idea
by Chris Enger | Thursday, July 26, 2012
I wonder what the thought process must be for fans of Chivas USA as they go to home games in a boutique soccer stadium that could hold 27,000, but doesn’t. Instead it looks like a giant red, white and blue quilt hemming in the remaining diehards of a experimental satellite franchise model that has just failed to launch.
The capacity of the Home Depot Center for a Chivas game is 20,000 because the team has decided to cover the other 7,000 seats that are usually empty. This is a trick that has been used by MLS teams in the past and currently also by the New England Revolution and Seattle Sounders. The Revs and Sounders however, are playing in much larger stadiums than the HDC. So while looking at Chivas, it is frustrating that even with reduced seating the team is still drawing only 70% of the newly scaled down capacity with an average of only 13,127 fans per home game. And that number might be generous.
It’s time to pull the plug on Chivas USA.
What once seemed like a good idea… wait, when did this ever seem like a good idea? Outside of Jorge Vergara; the Mexican owner of Grupo Ominlife who itself owns Mexican superclub Chivas de Guadalajara and little stepchild Chivas USA, not many folks in North American soccer thought this was a great idea. Even Spanish broadcasters doing coverage of the club, held back cringes when having to mention the gringo version of Mexico’s most beloved and nationalistic club.
As Steve Davis noted last week, Chivas USA is just not working. I see there are three main reasons why it’s failed and needs to be rethought immediately.
As the only club owned by Mexican owners, CUSA was originally supposed to field mostly Mexican players. The problem at the time was the salary cap. You weren’t going to convince top talent from the FMF’s Primera División to come to MLS and make well below what they could make in their league and remain closer to home.
The end result was a team with mostly Mexican players that not even ardent Chivas Guadalajara or even the wider Mexicans fans recognized. The consequence was that Chivas USA ended up being a bit hodgepodge if not horrendous in its first two MLS seasons, and that’s despite initially having some decent average attendance (17,080 in 2005, 19,840 in 2006). Initial expansion years are never easy to judge a new club by, either for good or bad. But since then, CUSA had a fantastic run in 2007 finishing runner-up in the Supporter’s Shield race, but they have been dismal overall in the playoffs never making it past the first round. This is not to mention their crowd numbers have hovered between 13 to 16k since their first two rosier years. Not exactly ideal for such a large MLS market, with such a strong Mexican-American population.
The latest big idea Chivas USA came up with to rescue their own franchise was to transition to a roster with players from only Southern California. Little details were given at the outset by coach Fraser and the management and with no timetable or subsequent adjustments since then, it seems this plan already been scrapped or never simply got off the ground.
The team does have some notable talent, but it’s evident that they are run on the cheap. They had Juan Pablo Angel, who was rejected from their stadium roommates Los Angeles Galaxy, as their lone Designated Player. They have recently brought in American wunderkind Juan Agudelo from a Red Bull New York side that seems to have lost patience in development. Around the same time they received Danny Califf from Philadelphia after the Nowak disaster. Nick Labrocca, who has not made the leap forward everyone expected despite his breakout year last season, is another solid piece. And Chivas even has one of MLS’s best goalkeepers in Dan Kennedy. But outside of them CUSA only has a few decent players. The fact that Robin Fraser has them playing as good as they are with only 12 goals in 2012 is an impressive feat.
No True Identity
When Real Salt Lake and Chivas USA came into the league together in 2005, RSL promised a soccer specific stadium, Chivas was given the comfortable opportunity to rent from the LA Galaxy in the Home Depot Center.
Seven years later and Chivas USA still uses the same complex owned by the Galaxy so they still don’t have a stadium to call their own and a specific local area to draw fans from that differs from their rivals and now international brand: the LA Galaxy. Nor can The Goats earn the same amount of revenues from that shared venue as a renter. That is a sure way to keep a club from succeeding, especially in an MLS that is still very reliant on ticket sales for income.
Additionally, Chivas is a Mexican brand. It has become beloved in Mexico because of its use of only Mexican players and is from the heritage epicenter of the nation. It is probably the last brand in Mexico that should have been “Americanized”. Simply adding ‘USA’ to the end of its name is not fooling anyone, especially not Chivas de Guadalajara diehards in the LA area or around the USA. It is tough to get behind a satellite club of your favorite club in Mexico when the biggest club in Major League Soccer is not just in the neighborhood or in the backyard … but is your landlord. The shadow that the LA Galaxy castes over Chivas, even indirectly, just might be too large for it to ever be able to avert.
If the last two years are any indication, the Chivas USA fans have given up on the team. Right now for Chivas home matches in the HDC it appears half of the stadium is covered in seat covers and for them to say they are averaging 13,000 fans this year is not taking MLS fans seriously.
Anyone can watch a match and see the attendance numbers don’t match with what is seen on the television. As Chivas USA continues to squander, those home attendance numbers will only continue to drop.
As much as the ownership tries to bring fans in by building a regional based squad, the truth is Chivas is not Los Angeles and the Galaxy owns that town.
Los Angles may be able to draw enough fans for two NBA franchises but MLS is still growing and the Galaxy may sell out but there is not enough carry over to justify the existence of a second team in LA.
Conclusion & Ideas
So how does Chivas fix this?
First and foremost they need their own soccer specific stadium. Whether it’s at this proposed complex in Pomona about 45 minutes northeast of Carson or otherwise, they need a home all their own where they are not in the shadow of their LA counterparts. Financially if you look at all the teams who have switched to their own stadium recently, their increased success is staggering.
Secondly, the ownership needs to scrap its ideas to field a SoCal roster only and just bring in the best players it can find. Winning brings fans. Winning makes everything better. If the team isn’t winning, it doesn’t matter what kind of attendance bump Chivas may get with signing the biggest star from Mexico. Winning will bring the fans consistently.
A third idea would be for CUSA to rebrand as another generic Los Angeles team like the Galaxy with the old NASL brand the LA Aztecs and try to foster a pan-Mexican or pan-Latin American identity for the entire region. And that would also have to include a relocation …
No matter what Chivas chooses to do, the team simply has to move. CUSA needs its own town with its own fanbase around LA or regionally. There are markets in San Diego and Las Vegas that would welcome this team immediately.
Lastly, they could just pack it in and sell their franchise to one of many potential North American markets, clubs and ownership groups chomping at the bit to get into MLS.
Whichever way they go, something has to change because what Chivas is doing now is not working and with stagnation or minor tweaks, just won’t work in the future.