Reality Check for San Diego Soccer

Responding as a collective fan base is imperative to news of NYC2
by Ryan Ginard   |   Monday, May 27, 2013

SDSoccer – column on the San Diego soccer scene.

And so with a second team born in New York and the 20th MLS franchise sold for a crazy $100 million, MLS commissioner Don Garber’s dream was realized and arguably his legacy complete.

It’s a simple process, right? Get one of the richest clubs in the world, partner with one of the biggest sporting icons in the country, buy a franchise and voila, the New York City Football Club joins our national competition in 2015.

Sport can be a cruel mistress and with every team’s success there must be another whose hopes must be sadly dashed. The funny thing is I am not talking about the now hapless New York Cosmos, but the often- talked about – and more often than not overlooked – city of San Diego.

While there were no real surprises in the decision for New York to be the location of team 20 (Garber has been saying it for years now), much of the debate in SoCal after the announcement was centered around the provoking article “Who else has MLS ambitions? A top 10 of US cities with big dreams” posted 2 days after the announcement by none other than MLS itself.

Was this a call to arms or just a sick inside joke within the MLS ivory towers? And putting San Diego No. 10 on the list? We would rather just be given an honorable mention. Reality check noted.

But should we as a collective be truly disappointed, or have we been our own worst enemy?

There is no doubt San Diego has been given numerous chances to showcase itself at as a potential franchise location, but given the mixed response by the local community to said chances,  we now have 2 big Qualcomm Stadium shaped skeletons in the closet.

In 1999 America’s Finest City played host to the MLS All-Star Game. In fact this game marked the last non-MLS city to ever host the leagues showcase event outside of the MLS Cup.

The buildup to the game was encouraging, pre-sales were strong and organizers were expecting a large walk up crowd. The game was also going to be shown on ABC, but when a terrible accident involving one of the Kennedy clan happened, the game was bumped off the major network and the rest is now history.

I’ll be honest, 23,000 people at Qualcomm Stadium (80,000 capacity) is not the best of advertisements for the local soccer market.

Fast forward a decade and San Diego fans were given another opportunity to soak up the pre-match hype and game day atmosphere of top tier professional soccer.

In July 2011 Chivas (the Mexican giant, not the MLS franchise the vultures are hovering over to buy, rebrand and/or relocate), played none other than Real Madrid, yes that Real Madrid.

It was like Christmas for soccer fans across the region, but the marketing of the event was poor and the ticket prices were exorbitant. If there is ever a word of advice for those looking at the city as a potential business opportunity, treat the fans with respect and meet them at their level. Build rapport and grow together.

In the end, the prices and the buildup reflected the approach, a blasé attitude and an expectation that if Ronaldo comes we MUST be able to sell 70,000 tickets.

However, that wasn’t to be the case. The crowd, which was officially reported as 38,211 but closer to 25,000 on the day, equated to yet another missed opportunity.

The ticket prices were one thing (the starting price was $40, that level quickly sold out and prices climbed steeply from there), but it also didn’t help that the game coincided with one of the biggest days of the San Diego event calendar - opening day at the Del Mar horse track and the world renowned ComicCon convention downtown. 

But those events aside, we, as a support base, need to step up and realize David Beckham isn’t going to ride into town on a white horse. We need to show our depth and strength of character in other ways. We need to show in no uncertain terms that we are deserving of an MLS club.

So what can we do as a soccer community to help attract the hearts and minds of the community and the interest and dollars of a dynamic investment group that will champion our cause?

Focus on growth

The 20th franchise is off the table. So realistically the NASL is the highest level available to a team wanting to represent San Diego. Let’s refocus our energy on that as a tangible goal.

While the franchise fees and geographic make-up of the league is not really financially viable until there are more West Coast teams and an established grassroots presence, there are still a number of other alternatives readily available including USL PRO with ready-made rivals such as the LA Blues waiting in the wings.

Focus on youth

There is no better blueprint for a potential club than having a strong junior base of which to build upon. It is also important that youth pathways are expanded so that players are continuously exposed to the best competition available.

Developing the new Clint Dempsey or Landon Donovan will help shine the spotlight back on our region and its infrastructure.

It must also be noted that a major area of concern is that San Diego has no PDL team and no Super Y team in operation. This means yet another genuine platform for talent identification and player development is missing in the local pyramid and should be major focus for the region in lieu of not having the structures associated with a professional team, e.g. reserves, U23 etc.

Make noise

With any disappointing news, the strength of character in people’s reactions speaks volumes about how they grow and learn moving forward.

Everyone says that San Diego deserves a franchise, but does it? How is San Diego any more deserving than St. Louis or Orlando? For those that have been saying all week “Well, if Manchester City established a team in San Diego everyone would go” that again would be the wrong attitude to have.

If San Diego wants to have a franchise, it needs to provide potential ownership groups with the kind of mouthwatering statistics any potential business model require. That’s getting out in numbers at local games (not dwelling on 4 year old TV stats), fans and clubs coming together to discuss what the future might look like and lobbying local government for better facilities.

We should also begin a broader dialogue with the sport’s governing bodies and call for US Soccer and the MLS to outline what their plans are for the next decade. And no, the exploitative, emotionally manipulative post mentioned earlier in this post does not count.

While we welcome the New York City FC franchise to our national sporting landscape, we must refocus our energy on helping make San Diego an attractive alternative in the future.


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Ipswich Town
A UK born, Australian developed soccer administrator, Ryan is the founder of the internationally acclaimed #SMW Soccer Tech Conference and soccer specific social network Futbol Focus. Ryan writes about the unbridled potential for the sport in San Diego.