Thursday, September 24, 2009

Steve Davis Torches FC Dallas

If you're a close follower of this blog, you know that I occasionally blog about soccer, both domestic and otherwise. That includes blogging about FC Dallas, our local Major League Soccer squad. If you pay very close attention to this blog, you may realize I haven't had much to say about FC Dallas as of late. That's because, unless you're a soccer-specific blogger, there isn't much to say about near-constant suckitude. That is unless you're Steve Davis, former soccer reporter for the Dallas Morning News, and you've saved up all your grievances for one gigantic broadside against the club (via 3rd Degree.) Steve Davis hated the re-branding, among other things. Some choice excerpts:

Yep. Five years ago in August the Dallas Burn became FC Dallas. A year after that, they moved into a dandy little stadium, where tens of hundreds of people now show up 16-18 times a year to watch a poor product while frequently taking a beating in customer service and then putting the cherry on the bad experience sundae by getting stuck in traffic on the way home. (OK, the club has done something about the wacky traffic congestion. By stinkin’ up the joint pretty much everywhere else they have largely eliminated all traffic entanglements. Well done, kids.)

Oh, he's just warming up. Why didn't the re-branding work?

First, Pizza Hut Park is just too far. I have ultimate respect for the late Lamar Hunt – a truly wonderful human being -- for all his dogged and impassioned efforts at building this sport. But the fact is that there is a learning curve on this critical MLS stadium initiative. Somebody had the really push the limit and built one WAY out (23 miles from the city center in this case) to start locating the balance between "cheap land" and "too freakin’ far." Unfortunately, Hunt built a swell little stadium too far away, too far from the 20- and 30-something urbanites who are making such cool waves at Toronto, Seattle, etc.

But the stadium is built, it’s got a 30-year shelf life and there you are. So FC Dallas should have recognized quickly that it would have to be the consummate "try harder" property. That is, they could win loyalty and fans by being the team that tries harder. Better concessions. Better prices. Better customer service. A better product, not just a proxy product for making money off concerts.

They fell short, and how. They fell show the way Plaxico Burress fell short in gun safety, the way Marilyn Manson fell short on normalcy, the way Britney Spears fell short on general life train wreck avoidance.


Look, I could go on and on about bad print ads, nonsensical media buying strategies, ridiculously failed DP bids, money wasted on ballyhooed partnerships with foreign clubs, about running out of pizza countless times at Pizza Hut Park, about out-dated marketing strategies, about the long-term scourge of artificially inflated attendance numbers, about the mindless pursuit of the suburban family dollar, etc.

Bottom line, people figure it out. You are what you are, and you had better find a way to work with it.

As for the re-branding five years ago from Dallas Burn to FC Dallas, all they did back then was thoughtlessly erase history. Was the "Burn" name kinda goofy? You bet it was. But fans embraced it. They grew fond of it and felt protective of it, the way your little brother or sister bothers the crap out of you – but you’ll beat the holy hell out of someone who "effs" with them cause’ that’s just the way it is.

Man. Ouch. Now, I was against the re-branding too, especially when I figured out that the trend in MLS was to thoughtlessly copy the Euro-style of generic names for clubs (Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, etc., etc.) First off, that's not an American tradition so it defies the idea that MLS is presenting a uniquely "American" brand of soccer. Second, attaching "Real" or "FC" anything to something like a club that plays in fourth-tier soccer league in Salt Lake City or Dallas of all places, is so beyond pretentious that it's just absurd and completely open to ridicule. It's doubly absurd if, upon doing so, you go on to become one of the most underachieving teams in the entire league (as both FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake have done.)

I was also completely opposed, and remain opposed, to the idea that a team called FC Dallas should be playing in Frisco, almost 25 miles north of downtown Dallas. I understand that team officials didn't have a ton of choice in where they were going to have a stadium built, but their fascination with the suburban (and white) soccer fan was betrayed by the moving of the team to Southlake for a season. By moving to Frisco, the team instantly alienated the team's most passionate fan base, Hispanics, in favor of fans whose loyalty to soccer is questionable at best, and whose motivations for showing up the game frequently involve being given free tickets, or needing an outing for their kid's u-9 soccer squad.

Now, both of these moves could have worked. In the end, what matters the most is the product that gets put on the field. You can get away with ditching a name and tradition that fans had just begun to get attached to, and ditching a substantial portion of your fan base, and all the other legion of problem that Davis recounts, if you put a winning team on the field. Especially if you put a team on the field that manages to get into MLS championships being hosted at your own stadium (something FC Dallas had an opportunity to do two years in a row.) What you cannot do is lose. Then you find that people like me, who were once utterly devoted to the club, will refuse to drive 35 miles or more to see inferior soccer, to not be able to get a pizza, to get stuck in traffic, to watch designated players under-perform, etc., etc., etc.

Is anybody up top getting the message? I don't know. Check back with me in two years, and I'll let you know.


Jenny Mathis said...

Dallas definitely has some good players, Kenny Cooper of course a main man among them. But your team can't be good every single year. They've had some good years. Some years they'll be bad, that's just life as a sports fan. I think it's fine to use "FC" in an American soccer team's name. However, I agree about the "Real" being in Salt Lake's name. What's that all about? In Spain, Real is a special title given to a club by the King of Spain, so that doesn't make much sense. I guess they have some relationship with Real Madrid, so maybe that's where it came from. But yes, it just looks like lame copying of something that doesn't really apply in our country.

Xanthippas said...

Thanks for your comment.

I agree that the team can't be good every year, though Dallas had a long stretch of making the playoffs for the first seven years of their existence. Since then, they've shuffled coaches, changed venues, changed names, and in general become wildly inconsistent in both record and on the field.

All of that would hamper attendance no doubt, but shedding literally thousands of fans by moving to the suburbs, and then turning out a bad product, is what's really killed this team's fan base. It's just unfortunate that for all their woes on the field, they'e experienced even more turbulence behind the scenes, as Davis makes clear.