Continuing on yesterdays post ‘Controversy in Cascadia’, I felt obliged to note the release of an official statement by MLS regarding the pending Cascadia Cup trademark application. Essentially, MLS is claiming that it has applied for the trademark in order to, “protect the brand from exploitation by parties unaffiliated with the League and its supporters.” It also noted that MLS plans to “meet soon with the leaders of the three teams’ supporters groups to discuss the topic together.” The full release can be read here courtesy of Alexi Lalas.
MLS is claiming that their actions are in the best interest of the supporters; the language that is used in the statement belies their true intentions.
MLS slyly refers to the Cascadia Cup as a ‘brand’ to be ‘protected’. That is corporate speak, not supporter colloquialism or fan hyperbole.
Next notice who the ‘brand’ needs protected from: those unaffiliated with the League (MLS). This disregards the fact that the cup originated and existed outside of and not in affiliation with the ‘League’ for most of its history. Further, what would happen if the supporters were to decide to add another team outside of MLS to the Cup? Would they be subject to a final ruling by MLS? And what about supporter scarves and apparel? Would they also have to buy officially ‘branded’ apparel and purchase from an ‘authorized’ retailer?
Last, notice which entity the supporters are assumed to support; the ever ubiquitous ‘League’. This belies the obvious fact that MLS views its franchised ‘clubs’ as nothing more than different heads of the same corporate leviathan.
MLS beware: these supporters existed before the teams joined MLS. They support MLS because they support clubs which are now a part of MLS. These groups are your greatest asset in spreading the MLS gospel. Don’t piss them off and risk turning them into your greatest foe.
In a post I wrote just over a month ago titled ‘Saving the Soul of Soccer’ I made the comment that, “Many clubs have not been able to attract and engage fans without promotional gimmicks – and fail to realize that the clubs that DO attract at the gate do so BECAUSE of the supporters, not the ‘clubs’.” And if any more evidence was needed to support this, look no further than the recent attempt by MLS to trademark the Cascadia Cup - a supporter cup which has been going on longer than any of its participants have been members in MLS.
Many casual fans may not find this particularly newsworthy. But the fact of the matter is that MLS is attempting to commandeer a supporter initiative and turn it into another brand label. IF the cup was a club based initiative, MLS could rightly as the parent company steal it away for its own asset portfolio. But its not. The competition was created in 2004 as an combined effort of the supporters groups from Portland, Vancouver, and Seattle. The derby format and rules were agreed upon and set by the supporters groups, and the actual trophy was designed and paid for by the supporters groups. Each year, the cup is awarded the supporters group of the winner by the supporters group of the previous years winner. If anyone ‘owns’ the Cascadia Cup trademark it is the collective supporters groups of Portland, Vancouver, and Seattle.
So why would MLS risk raising hell from some of the leagues most ardent supporters? One can only assume it is once again the money factor. For despite claiming to ‘grow the game’ and all talk of ‘grassroots initiatives’ what we have consistently seen is a trade corporation leveraging any and all assets to increase the bottom line. And this time, that includes robbing the passionate fans and supporters of one of America’s only true derby competitions (I say ‘true’ because I reject the majority of derbies in MLS as artificially staged. They are failed attempts to tap into the resources of supporters, by constructing a cheap alternative to the story, history, and drama of the derbies in Europe.)
I don’t believe that the MLS trademark bid will be allowed to stand. But I am appalled that they would even try.
Hours after the U.S. financial markets went on their Independence Day holiday, the news broke that Manchester United finally found their bourse du choix upon which they will stage their IPO. While the IPO marks a historic milestone for the 134 year old club, it is no reason for us all to get our knickers in a bunch. Feel free to bore yourself reading the Wall Street Journal’s, Telegraph’s, or Forbes’ boring coverage - OR - get a grip on what Man. U.’s IPO means for the future of football and for you the fan.
1. The IPO is still very preliminary. The club’s F-1 filing reads more like a letter of intent than it does a financial document. Many of the key spaces on the document that would disclose the specifics of the filing (target share price range, number of shares to be offered, and proposed ticker symbol) were left blank.
2. $100,000,000. The document does disclose a maximum aggregate offering price of $100,000,000. That is, Manchester United is hoping to raise $100M from their IPO. First, this $100MM is just an estimation (primarily to come up with a calculation of a registration fee). Second, $100M is really not all that much money. The world’s premier football players have been bought and sold for more. After speculation that Man. U. would IPO in Singapore or Hong Kong for north of $1B, $100M is quite a step back - yet $100M is a much more reasonable amount in proportion to the company’s revenue figures.
3. It’s about the brand. If the proposed IPO amount of $100M wasn’t already any indication, perhaps the club’s [parent company’s] classification of itself as a media company is. Based upon the terms and language in the F-1, voting rights for shareholders will be very limited and the structure of Manchester United the company basically relieves shareholders of any rights to make or vote on decisions that would affect team personnel, etc. The IPO is less about the Manchester United that the fans watch, and more about the Manchester United that solicits sponsors, TV deals, mobile applications, and product licensing deals. Of course, this is not to say that Man. U. wouldn’t use some of the proceeds of the offering to secure key world class players.
In terms of the club’s history and the history of the sport, Manchester United’s IPO is a big deal. At the same time, it’s also not such a big deal. When such a prolific brand and entity reaches a point of global recognition and finds itself spread across many different platforms and media, a natural next step is to capitalize and finance the growth while setting systems in place to turn the growth into long term profitability.
For those of you nerdy or ambitions enough, you can read the full copy of Manchester United’s SEC F-1 filing.
A big thanks to @rethansmith for contributing today’s post. If it goes well, we may make the ‘Footy + Finance’ a regular column on the blog. If you’re into start-up/finance culture check him out on thestartupist, on thejawn for some awesome jawn ideas, or here for his personal rants and ramblings.