How grassroots support for a nonexistent club can build pro teams from scratch in the U.S.
“If you build it, he will come.” It’s the most iconic line from the Kevin Costner classic “Field of Dreams.”
Costner’s character, the farmer Ray Kinsella, hears it as he walks through his struggling cornfield one evening in Iowa. Soon after, he builds a baseball diamond, waits a bit, and then one day, his father’s hero Shoeless Joe Jackson walks out of the corn, soon to be followed by several other ballplayers of yore.
Scene from the Kevin Costner movie “Field of Dreams”
Have the stadium ready, and the team will follow — at least that’s how it works in fictional American baseball.
In real-life American soccer, the situation can be exactly the opposite. The MLS’s Philadelphia Union, which started playing in 2010, started — literally — with three guys in a bar in 2007. They were all soccer enthusiasts and sensed that Philly had the right market to support a professional franchise.
But without the investment capital to start the team themselves, how were they going to convince the powers that be of MLS that this was the case? Answer: they started a fan club and aggressively expanded it.
They traveled to NY Red Bulls and DC United games and sang extremely antagonistic chants. They created a massive presence on social media and message boards. In 2008, Philadelphia was awarded a franchise largely on the strength of a supporters’ group that had spent an entire year supporting nothing.
Indianapolis’ Brickyard Battalion represents a similar success story. A few years ago, two men named Brett Corbit and Derek Richey started a Facebook page for Racing Indy FC, the nonexistent and hitherto-not-even-conceived-as-a-possibility local soccer franchise for Indiana.
After rallying support through Facebook and membership drives, they drew the attention of the Chicago Fire’s owners, and in January 2013, Indy was indeed awarded an NASL franchise for the 2014 season.
In the absence of a viable stadium plan, ownership group, or any sort of cohesive agenda whatsoever, a professional soccer club in the U.S. today can sprout up on the strength of local shows of support alone.
And in Eugene, the situation isn’t nearly as desperate as it was in Philly or Indianapolis. In Lane County, we have the stadium plan, the ownership group, and the cohesive agenda. And we have the local support to convince the USL that we can host a team — it just hasn’t been shown in one time and place yet.
Even though all that Eugene has is an amateur team this summer, show up anyway. Come up with some chants, make new friends, drink some Ninkasi beer or Opine wine in the fan zone.
Best of all, become a member of LUFC so that you can have the voting power to shape the pro franchise when it does arrive in 2014, and be privy to special perks in the meantime. Let the rest of the region and the USL see the scope and passion of Eugene’s soccer community on full display. We will come, and they will build it for us.