love the international aspects of the beautiful game!
Speaking of coaches working their way up from the youth ranks to professional, I'd love to see Dewan Bader get a shot at the RailHawks head coaching job when Martin leaves.
Thanks DF for the thoughtful piece. We are sure going to miss him next year. I'd love to know who are some of the candidates for Rennie's replacement.
Great Article. There was a lot more going on behind the scenes than I ever realized being a fan. I'll continue to do my part to get my friends out to see the new Railhawks and hope they continue to grow and survive.
Please though, put out an update on your front page saying the Railhawks Live and are still here. I was walking by and saw the front page with Swoops and the headline and thought Shit!. Most people may not have read the great article and think the Railhawks are gone from just seeing the front page. Get those people to realize that the Railhawks are still going next time they walk by and see a cover stating They Live.
Great article Neil! I think you hit some of the key points about why this has become such a struggle the past 4 years. Maybe this should be required reading for the staff members who haven't lived it.
As a fan, I'm hoping all this is just growing pains resulting in a stronger team and a more mature league. Am I delusional?
Thanks for the Indy for doing their bit to promote the Railhawks.
The Chris Gaffney Story was my first cover! remeber that photo shoot David?
Neil, good story I can't help but echo Brian's sentiment that we really did build something in the past four seasons and I am confident that with Curt at the helm they will be able to carry on our legacy
Excellent article! Thanks for your work on this Neil.
Thanks, Chris. Many a source actually referenced your cover story way back when as an ironic bookend to this update.
Chris Gaffney's 2007 cover story about the RailHawks is here:
The cover can be seen here:
nossa senhora. who would have thought that between two cover stories of the indy things would change so much? Great reporting here. The story of lower league footy in the USA deserves book length treatment and this would certainly be an interesting chapter. For that matter, has anyone seriously covered the phenomenon of USA footy fandom? Por favor.
I agree with Jeff W.'s comment about Traffic. There is nothing to suggest that Triaffic have anything but base commercial interests at heart. I don't think that they are in need of the quick buck, but may be using their teams in the USA for other reasons. They will want to develop youth players to sell to foreign leagues and the name "traffic" basically tells the story. Kind of non-self-conscious reflection of what they do. Ironically, the trafficking of humans might be good for soccer in the Triangle, where there are innumerable quality players. Y'all might want to start speaking more portuguese instead of spanish though.
Economides of scale...love it. I'm still shaking my head. Why didn't I use that so long ago??
Looking forward to reading the next installment. Keep up the good reporting!
As a fan, I'm glad someone stepped up to save the team. Hopefully they can give the RailHawks the marketing boost they've sorely needed the past couple of years - we can only hope that Traffic thinks that marketing means more than putting tiny schedule boxes in a few stores around town.
But I think we have to approach Traffic with some trepidation. Their other team, Miami FC, has been awful the past few years. Then there's the awkward fact of their horrible treatment of US U-20 centerback Gale Agbossoumonde, which would make any US soccer fan a little wary of supporting a team owned by them. The fact that they put in the effort to win the auction for the RailHawks name is heartening, but I'm still not convinced that they'll be as interested in maintaining a quality, well-run club as they are in making a quick buck.
Thank you for bringing up a legitimate worry in a discussion that can quickly degenerate into absurd conjecture. For all of my support of the original NASL, it was a league of imported players. This was actually a step up from a couple of their predecessors - two of which imported entire clubs on summer break from their European and South American Leagues - so in a weird way, it was progress.
The American soccer world has changed dramatically since then. Today, we export players to Europe - something unheard of in the 1970s, but a trend that started before MLS. Despite this, we think it's still important to stimulate US talent with some protectionist measures. Our transition plan to open leagues includes provisions that encourage protectionist measures along the lines of the work permits issued in the UK. While we can't copy that system - our immigration laws are different - we think there must be a way to limit imports by accepting only those that have been capped by their national teams.
This measure would leave a huge role to play for homegrown talent. Sure, top clubs could choose to import the majority of their players, but this would be cost prohibitive for most. Also, when we get to the full complement of 160 American clubs in eight leagues across four top divisions, there won't be enough capped foreign players for everyone.
As a result, lower division clubs, and many of their top division brothers, will have to rely on American talent - and that will develop our player pool.
When talking to supporters of the current system (a fraction of the fraction of number of viewers that are watching pro wrestling) you will often find them quick to cloak MLS practices in some kind of cultural imperative. They'll tell you we can't possibly adopt such an goofy system from across the pond, that the meritocracy of promotion and relegation is somehow socialist, or as weird as drinking warm beer.
In fact, we're the weird ones. American sports owners are used to their entitlements, of which the single entity is just the latest installment. I know it's impossible for the average NFL owner to conceive of a world in which promotion and relegation rule. You certainly can't have pro/rel with tight league controls like salary caps and squad size limits.
It may not work for the conventional American pro sports owner, but please don't argue that it doesn't make for good TV. As you are a Carolinian, I suspect I only have to make the faintest mention of a couple of small college basketball teams in your state that manage to draw abnormally large national tv audience every March - despite the fact that their TV market is defined as practically non-existent on Madison Avenue.
If it wasn't for a guy named Steve Ross, soccer wouldn't be the most popular youth sport in the USA. We wouldn't have the Seattle Sounders, a Portland Timbers, or maybe even an MLS. In an ownership group comprised largely of NFL and NHL owners looking for a low cost sidelight to their primary businesses, he bucked the trend and hired Pele, and maybe more importantly, Giorgio Chinaglia. As a result, for a year in the late 1970s, the Cosmos outdrew both the Giants and the Yankees, awoke American soccer from a forty year siesta.
Yes, MLS deserves credit for keeping club soccer alive for a decade and a half, even if on life support. It's amazing what they have accomplished, given that they've produced such a debilitated version of the game, and robbed it of one of it's core tenants: The meritocracy of promotion, relegation and independent clubs.
One thing is becoming clear. What works for Applebees does not work for club soccer. Tight corporate style constraints have never been a part of successful club soccer, and they don't work today. Despite the growing popularity of the game, MLS average attendance records were set in 1996, and are in no danger of falling today.
If instituting promotion and relegation worked, it might be a threat to our closed sports system, and the entitlements bestowed on our pro sports owners when Congress granted the National League their landmark anti-trust exemption in the 1920. It might expose owners to great risk. But it will capture the imagination of a new generation of fans, and will bring us a unique, exciting game.
Thanks for the opportunity to give my two cents - don't kill me with the edits!
Hi soccerreform: I agree that the MLS has a very unusual business plan that is, among other things, structurally ill-equipped for promotion and relegation. Space in our print edition didn't permit discussion of this complex issue, but there's no limit to our space in the comments section online, is there?
Here's a little tidbit in the New York Times' Goal blog that gets at issues that aren't discussed enough when we talk about why soccer in America is structured the way it is:
Two soccer officials familiar with the plans of the N.A.S.L. and U.S.L., who were granted anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the announcement, said that federation and M.L.S. officials were concerned that with Traffics backing, the N.A.S.L. would import players from South America and in essence become the anti-M.L.S. by allowing teams to sign players without worrying about a salary cap or a single-entity setup.
While I have my reservations about the MLS' business model, I do believe it deserves credit for keeping a professional soccer league afloat for 16 years. There's a lot of talk now among MLS followers about whether it's time to "take off the training wheels" and move to a system that resembles what exists in the rest of the world (which would be, ironically, a less socialized system).
The link for the passage quoted above: http://goal.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/01/07/fed-to-announce-deal-on-d2-league/
Nice work - except for one thing: It's not complicated why we don't apply promotion, relegation and fully independent clubs here. The apathy about soccer experts not expecting any change in the situation is true, but that's why we have to step out and change it. It's going to take a grassroots effort, and that's what we're trying to do.
Look, WWE is beating MLS 25 to 1 in cable TV ratings. That's not a failing of MLS, or American soccer, that's a failure of MLS. It's a failure that's not surprising, given a single entity system that may shield owners from risk, may allow them to experiment with tight controls on every aspect of club autonomy, and may allow them to try and develop a fan base that doesn't threaten their other endeavors, but it doesn't improve our club game, and isn't drawing a respectable TV audience.
It's time to break it free. Institute an open league system. Let clubs develop local fan bases free of ridiculous salary caps, barriers between leagues, and competing owner interests.
The open league system has crossed every other socioeconomic, geographic, and political border on the planet. It's fundamentally more free market than our socialist system of closed leagues. After century of trying to jam soccer into our domestic system, it's time to set it free...
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