Sunday, August 26, 2007

Smells like blackmail lives on

Stephan Sharkansky got into a little blog post war with a waitress and a anonymous blogger up in Seattle this week.

Blatherwatch and Metroblogging Seattle both have pretty long posts on the... (oh God, I hesitate to call it this) debate. Sharkasnky attempts to cap the blogging about with this post: End of Story.

Well, not really, because even though the actual posts (the one that pissed him off and the one from Stephan that inspired the name of my post) were pulled from their respective blogs, they both live on in google cache (here and here).

So, while you can't comment on this entire debacle either at soundpolitics.com or "Meet the Stress," (the Shark's "end of story" post has comments disabled), I'm sure the story is far from over. Hell, I mean, its Sunday, so lets see what we think about this on Wednesday.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

"infiltrating" a public event and a Dear Abby public space note

Mark Gardener points out that there will soon be more people infiltrating public events by a Washington State congressman.

How does one infiltrate a public event? Shouldn't public events be open to anyone, even folks who live outside a particular district?

Anyway, there was an interesting piece in Dear Abby last week that got me thinking about public spaces, and especially the recent dependence of groups on restaraunts and coffee shops as meeting space.

Here:
I work at one of the nicer, upscale restaurants in our small community. We have been having an issue with groups or committees of anywhere from four to 15 people coming into the establishment to hold their meetings. These groups frequently arrive at normal evening dinner times and therefore take up a table, but the attendees don't order anything.
Abby responds that the manager should set a minimum order policy and then take care of things, but that avoids the question about available space in their "small community." If groups and committees are taking to this restaurant for their meetings, I'm assuming their is a shortage of otherwise free or cheap meeting space in that town.

A lot of the meetups I've been attending the last few years have been at restaurants. One particular uncomfortable one happened when the manager and staff clearly felt like the above letter writer.

Abby referred to these meeting folks as "freeloaders," which is a bit unfair. They aren't trying to get food for free, their just trying to meet in some place outside their home.

In Olympia, at least, there is a dearth of free (or very cheap) meeting space for folks to come together. Outside of commercial establishments, there is a lack of informal "third spaces" as well. That there are folks that still want to get together in most communities, this lack of other space is being forced upon restaurants.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Neighborhood meetings in Douglas County

When residents butt heads with developers in Douglas County, local government may have a solution. Put everyone at the same table and get to work it out:

The building industry has been notorious for using "Private Property Rights" and
"A man should be able to do what ever he wants with his property" clich├ęs. Usually these "Rights" pertain only to the building industry and they are very reluctant to give the same "Rights" to others. They are also Machiavellian in their development plans preferring to avoid any contact with or sharing of information with other property owners and concerned citizens. Apparently for fear that they may have to forfeit some of their precious private property rights while allowing others to assert theirs.

To now expect the building industry to not only communicate with surrounding property owners but also to even ponder the private property rights of others seem like a big jump. Quite possibly if this "Neighborhood Meeting" plan is put into action developers might find that being candid with surrounding property owners and respecting their private property rights will make things a lot easier on everybody.

One of the reasons for the making official of neighborhood associations in Olympia was this kind of push and pull between the city and developers and current residents. The NAs gives the city a one stop shop for where to send information new developments. A cynical person would say that folks who get involved in NAs would most likely be the ones that complain the most to the city, so keeping them involved in an easy way of disarming them and keeping them engaged in a positive way.

The Great book purge of '08


Not since I moved cross country from Delaware to Olympia more than 10 years ago have I shed so many books. And, even then I toted what must have been a hundred pounds of paper in the trunk of my car.

This time I'm getting rid of nearly 80 percent of the books I own (the above shows probably 20 percent of the books I'm getting rid of and only some of the small paperbacks). The official reason for the letting go of so many books is a sudden lack of shelf space because of the growth of my son into a big-boy and the need for a big-boy room somewhere in our house.

The unofficial reason is that I really just don't need that many books hanging around, especially so many fiction books. I still read fiction, but I've hardly ever found myself scouring my book shelves for some good fiction to read. Typically, its been down at the library where I do that kind of searching.

From now on I'll do my book searching outside of my house, downtown at the library.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Supporter clubs, uncovered

Pitch Invasion notes that media are beginning to wander into MLS stadiums, drawn by Beckham. But, they seem to be noticing, you guessed it, supporter clubs:

Meet the Empire Supporters Club. Though they appear to fill roughly 3 percent of the seats in Giants Stadium on any given game day, they are arguably responsible for the majority of the atmosphere and alcohol consumption. Members include students, construction workers and at least one manager at a Fortune 50 company. Drawing from a huge variety of ethnic soccer traditions, their fandom is a hybrid unlike any found in New York sports: the scarves, banners and cleverly insulting chants of Europe; the tireless dancing, chanting and smoke bombs of South America.
From the comments of the above story:

...the ESC makes a Red Bulls game the best sports ticket in town dollar for dollar.

The ESC is the heart and soul of the Red Bulls, without them, the games would be boring.
This Washington Post article that PI links to show the beautiful diversity that can happen between different supporter clubs like Barra Brava and Screaming Eagles. While Barra Brava is certainly the more raucous and free-wheeling, Screaming Eagles has a board of directors, assigned seating, ect. Honestly, I'd probably be more attracted to the SE model, but I greatly appreciate there being a BB around.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The MLS, small groups and community

This is my attempt at a more concise explanation of what this brain dump tried to get across.

Important points from Applebee's America:
  • The most important Gut Values today are community and authenticity. People are desperate to connect with one another and be part of a cause greater than themselves. They're tired of spin and sloganeering from political, business, and religious institutions that constantly fail them.
  • In this age of skepticism and media diversification, people are abandoning traditional opinion leaders for “Navigators.” These otherwise average Americans help their family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers negotiate the swift currents of change in twenty-first-century America.
  • Once you squander a Gut Values Connection, you may never get it back...
Much of Applebees America is about people finding community, connections and authenticity in places like Applebees restaurants, churches and political campaigns. How these organizations make themselves a conduit of people's lives and by being community minded and authentic, they gain the loyalty of customers. By community minded, I don't mean these organizations donate to the local United Way and issue a press release, they allow communities to form and to be conduits of meaning.

In American sports, there is very little of this. The two places this kind of community thrives is college sports and professional soccer.

College sports has community ingrained in it. Life long fans and alumni make up the most hard core supporters of any team. They send donations, they join booster clubs, they buy season tickets. They do more for a team than any average NFL or MLB fan would do. They develop deeper connections to a team that goes beyond buying a t-shirt or a ticket.

Major League Soccer could develop this same kind of community and loyalty. Imagine if the league promoted the dozens of active supporter clubs as the backbone of the league.

Simply on the surface, supporter clubs like the Red Patch Boys in Toronto provide a much better fan experience than other sports. Coordinated chants and the passion in the stands is simply attractive to the new fan or to any fan.

But, there is a deeper social aspect to supporter clubs that the league can take advantage of.

Supporter clubs in leagues world wide are the social glue that hold leagues together. Its not uncommon for team management to meet regularly with supporter clubs. It is also not uncommon for supporter clubs to evolve into supporter trusts, charities that donate money to the club to help keep the team going.

Fans have connections to deep to a club that they would hand over money to the management with no other expectation that the team would continue to exist. That isn't the kind of connection that exist in any other American sport (outside of college and high school). I've never heard of any Red Sox fan, or especially a group of Red Sox fans, simply donating money. Not, that I expect that to happen with any MLS club, I'm just using it as an example.

That said, like the Red Patch Boys in Toronto, there are things (like interfering with scalping) that supporter clubs can do to the direct financial benefit of clubs. Not that just simply providing a social structure surrounding a club and their brand doesn't have a direct financial benefit to a club.

If people feel directly apart of something larger than themselves, they will (to put it frankly) be more loyal customers. They will buy more shirts (even after the rush on Beckham jersies falls off), they will watch more games on t.v. and they will buy more tickets.

So, what can MLS clubs do encourage fans building social bonds through supporter clubs?

1. Less of this.

2. Learn the lessons of political campaigns. Since 2002 or there-abouts, politics has been infested with bloggers, meetups and other social stuff. Learn to love this quote:
Joe Trippi: The people are coming to this thing. And whatever we do, they take it and make it better. It's their campaign now. We're at the point where, if this is going to work, it's going to be because of them. All we have to do now is have faith in them.

We've all been talking about it, and it's like this. It's like we're standing on top of this fifteen-story building. All these people have gathered. Now... what we have to do is jump. And trust them to catch us.

Howard Dean: You're absolutely right. I can see it. But do we have to be crazy about it?
So, read The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, especially the last chapter.

Read this
and...

Here's an example. I'm at a Chivas/Galaxy derby stood next to a dude wearing a Dodgers T-shirt when the Chivas hardcore burst into the stadium like a red-and-white tornado. Dodgers dude nearly has a heart attack.

"What the fuck!" he yells, taking a step back. "Who the hell are they!" I explain they're soccer fans and this shouting, jumping, yelling, screaming carnival is how soccer fans trend to behave.

It's baseball dude's first soccer match. You can bet it won't be his last. There's no doubt that David Beckham will put meat in the seats, but it's the noisy, life-affirming, autonomous, independent, witty, irreverent punk-culture of the fans that'll hook them.

Yeah, I know. I'm being ridiculously optimistic. I'm ignoring the fact there are vast deserts of inert fan-zombiedom in the MLS. And even at the noisy-fan infected grounds, the pogoing mobs of flag-waving fanatics are flanked on either side by dumbstruck armies of gawking, spoon-fed sports consumers. (Hey, English footie snobs, remind you of anything?)

But what if the disease spreads?

...help spread the disease.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

The anti-scalping Army (more fodder for my MLS community 2.0 theory)

A few years back, the Mariners started fighting a war with scalpers who tried to make a few bucks on the winning record of the club. They hired off duty cops to bust scalpers, but ended up with a long legal battle from what seemed to be a straight forward case (here and here).

Anyway, imagine if an army of Mariner fans rose up and played interference for the Mariners against the scalpers. No way that would ever happen, that fans who bought their tickets fair and square would interfere with the labor of folks who are trying to make a buck on the team. I mean, I love the Mariners, but who do I care that they aren't making all the money they can?

Well, the Red Patch boys care in Toronto:

Last week, members of the Red Patch Boys started to post links to tickets being sold on cragslist and EBay for the Galaxy match. The idea has been an attack on scalpers by making false claims on tickets and even posting on Craigslist to make it clear Beckham will not play in this game. Even now, as it has become increasing clear that if Beckham enters the game it will be short lived, scalpers are looking for upwards of $125 per ticket for what is normally a $15 seat. The scalpers have been fighting back with claims such as:

Contrary to the scare tactics that are going on on this site, LA Galaxy have confirmed that Beckham IS travelling to Toronto. He’s resting for tonight’s game, so should be revived for Sunday.Don’t believe the sour grapes of those that don’t have tickets!!!

We have no idea if these tactics are working but the Red Patch Boys are passionate about their club and the cry has been to have real fans in the stadium, not Beckham glory hunters. It’s also interesting to note that (while not to the extent of this game) this battle with scalpers has been an ongoing fixation for the Red Patch Boys. Toronto FC sold out every ticket for every game before a minute was played this season so scalpers have been out in force since April.

This is the kind of buy-in you get when you accept that there are going to be a certain percentage of fans who really really love the team you happen to own. When you allow them to be creative, take ownership of their passion, they start to actually help you out. They bring new folks into the fold and they protect the team.

Friday, August 03, 2007

MLS and community 2.0 brain dump

I've been toying around with this idea for a week or so. I posted it at Big Soccer and got a bit of a response, but not really what I was looking for.

I've found threads of it here, here and here. But, I think I nailed it down tonight when I was mowing the lawn:

What is the most defining difference between professional sports in the United States and in the rest of the world?

It isn't that most of the world plays soccer, while we play baseball and football. It isn't that most of the world plays in relegation/promotion leagues while we play in closed leagues.

The defining difference is the connection to the fan and the community around the team.

In Ireland, the Cork City FC management gets together regularly with the team's fan club. I'm not talking about a spokesperson or a giant stuffed Orca, but a real deal meeting between the chairman and manager of the soccer team and their fans. In the middle of the season.

This face to face relationship does have a parallel in American sports, but it only happens in so-called amateur ranks where college and high school coaches face their supporters in public and less than public forums. But, our professional organizations are often times distant from fans. Most coaches, manager and owners answer to their fans through the mediation of the media, sometimes.

In terms of ownership, fans have their hands in teams oversees in a manner that is not only largely unknown in the United States, but not even allowed. Cambridge United and FC United of Manchester (founded after American Malcom Glazer bought the original Manchester United) are only two of many directly fan owned teams.

The very idea of a Supporters Trust, which raises money specifically for a professional sports organization, to keep it afloat and competitive would be foreign in America. If the Mariners were going bankrupt, they would be sold and moved to Tampa Bay before a group of fans got together to raise money for them. The very concept of public funds for stadiums is a political battle that few politicians want to fight.

Even though many point to the Green Bay Packers as the best example of a fan owned team in North America, outside a handful of minor league baseball teams and Canadian football teams, the phenomena is largely unknown. In baseball its not allowed for corporations (fans would organize as a corporation) to own teams and non-profits can't own teams in any leagues.

The one league that does allow corporate ownership, the NBA, has a few teams that actually sell stock. But, vast fan ownership of that stock and some sort of community building up from that ownership? I haven't seen it.

So, this post is a spill over of thoughts I've had regarding what Major League Soccer should do differently. Screw Beckham, he's great to get people to glance at soccer again, but to really get people connected to the sport, you have to get them connected in a way that no other league in the United States does.

So, know that I have this down, I'll write some more later.