Corporate Clasicos: The Takeover of MLS' Fan Grown DerbiesGrabbing every avenue of sponsorship money is not the best idea for the Rocky Mountain Cup and other MLS fan grown rivalries
by Chris Enger | Tuesday, April 24, 2012
The Rocky Mountain Cup, although still relatively new to Major League Soccer, has quickly become one of its more exciting rivalries. As with any competition between rivals, this competition can sometimes brings out the worst in its fans.
Yet somehow this heated contest, perhaps ironically, brought out cooperation between the supporter groups of the Colorado Rapids and Real Salt Lake, especially when it came to the creation of the Rocky Mountain Cup and its trophy.
I was surprised to see what happened to the Rocky Mountain Cup this year… whoops… I mean, The Subaru Rocky Mountain Cup. That’s right, this year the Cup has a sponsor.
I won’t detail the ins and outs of how that happened. But I will get into what a sponsorship could mean.
The Rocky Mountain Cup was a trophy created by the fans for the fans. It has helped spur on intrigue and passion between the two fanbases, teams and clubs on either side of the mountain range. It gave two previously underperforming squads a piece of hardware to play for and has greatly intensified matches with natural geographic and divisional rivals.
Bringing on a sponsor, especially one the fans haven’t approved or didn’t even know about could have an adverse effect on the fans of the trophy especially if the sponsor attaches itself awkwardly on the trophy itself.
Locally, we have another very bitter rivalry between two local universities: Utah and Brigham Young University. The rivalry is over 100 years old and brings out the worst of neighbors, friends and even siblings. It seems like every contest of every sport between the two schools devolves into shouting matches between fans. The hatred emanates from fans of the behemoth that is college football all the way to the afterthought that is college gymnastics.
The only topic that united the fans occurred when a local bank, Deseret First, decided to get with the universities and create a trophy celebrating the university that won the most sporting events between the two schools throughout the year.
The rivalry went from being called the “Holy War,” which fans were okay with, to the “Deseret First Duel,” which both sets of fans universally hated. To this day, no fan takes the “Deseret First Duel” seriously, nor should they. That manufactured trophy was created as a marketing ploy, a gimmick and is rightly ridiculed.
If RSL, Colorado Rapids and Subaru want to come together and sponsor the games between the clubs, it’s their prerogative. Please do so. I’m not against sponsorship at all. I understand the need to grab every avenue of sponsorship available, especially with such a young league like MLS.
What I have difficulty coming to terms with is the route both front offices went to complete this sponsorship and most importantly, who wasn’t included until the end: the fans (you know, that group that created and made the trophy).
Please keep the sponsor name off of the trophy. The Rocky Mountain Cup was created by the fans, for the fans, with the trophy being paid for by the fans. This is a fan based rivalry not an opportunity to once again co-opt grassroots initiatives for short-term financial gain.
Unfortunately, it looks like that’s not the case and this year the rivalry trophy is the “Subaru Rocky Mountain Cup.”
I know some of the funds will go towards the fans and the maintenance of the trophy but at what cost? There had to be a better solution than to hijack a fan created Cup.
It is a very ominous sign from the RSL front-office, and the larger MLS, that they would make such a bold move without fan consent and only apologize and make concessions after the deal (damage) was done. A bad signal from Salt Lake and all MLS front-offices that supporters groups are being used as marketing and commercial chess-pieces.
Yes, the club will give concessions and reparations and the supporters groups will acquiesce and become less incensed over time. Time will soften the blow, people will forget and the fences will appear to be mended. In reality however, the fence was knocked down and a strip mall with a 99 year lease now sits on top of it. See how fast that changes.
Once clubs put a sponsor on something, it never leaves, see the gradual easing of charitable logos on the once proudly stark FC Barcelona jerseys. In 5 years that will be prime commercial real estate.
In regards to MLS, one now has to wonder, does this stop at the Rocky Mountain Cup or the LA Derby (Honda SuperClasico)?
With a league with sponsors surrounding the field-of-play, with sponsors on the jerseys, with sponsors on the stadium names, with one team named after their company (Red Bull NY), with a sponsored All-Star Game – now we have to commercialize fan-created trophies and rivalries too? Where does that end?
Supporters groups are not slides in powerpoint presentations in order to woo sponsors, background noise for marketing campaigns, pressure for public finance or merely colorful herds to be used for commercial whims.
Selling fan-based rivalries, is a step too far for MLS. The heart of soccer is its fans and their passion is not for sale.