And that makes this quote from Phil Rawlins in the Austin American-Statemen all the more remarkable:
Asked why season-ticket holders weren't made aware of the team's financial struggles, Rawlins said: "Why would they be? When you're talking about investment on the scale and the range we're talking about, you're talking about investment from business people and executives in the community, not a season-ticket holder."
"They've given their all and their help by contributing and buying tickets ... but there's a lot of distance between your season-ticket base and (investors)."
I get that Rawlins is defensive about the move and that he would prefer to act like an ass rather than have to face the consequences of what he feels is a sound business decision. And its his company.
But these are the people that own soccer franchises in the USL?
Set to one side the fact that the statement demeans fans, why would anyone invest in a business where the principals were this myopic?
There's a lot of distance between season ticket holders and investors? Maybe. Maybe most season ticket holders are just making it and do not have wells of disposable income to toss at an entertainment. But there at least two reasons why this view is idiotic.
First, the level of investment required in a lower division soccer franchise is limited enough that small investments from a wide group of stakeholders can make a major difference to a club's bottom line. And those small, incremental "investments" (really capital contributions) can be obtained without giving up any equity in the enterprise or any real control of the business.
Second, even if the majority of fans are on tight budgets, some supporters will be business owners or managers or decision makers who are capable of making the level of investment that Rawlins appears to be talking about.
I hesitate to make the point, because it seems as if I am making a comparison to Rawlins when none is intended, but I have been stunned by the lack of interest that the management of our two local lower division soccer teams in getting to know their fanbase. I don't think that either club has a good handle on who shows up at their games. Given the limited size of the supporter pool, this seems strange. I have gotten to know a bit about the management of one of the clubs because I initiated contact and facilitated a meager contribution for this season to see what would transpire. My goal was to test the waters and see if it made sense to become a bigger part of the club and initial returns have been disappointing.
The reality, for me, is that I set aside a significant sum of funds each year to throw away on soccer. Through sponsorship schemes and minor involvement in British and Irish clubs, I've tried to learn a bit about -- in an entirely different setting that does not necessarily translate to setups here -- what makes these teams work. At this point, I would much rather waste money on supporting clubs that I will never see play in person because these organizations understand a basic rule that seems to have eluded those involved in the sport here: what makes a football club is its supporters. In the end, almost nothing else matters. Pissing away 3,000 supporters, however compelling the reason, and then pissing on those 3,000 supporters is singularly bizarre.
I love what Brian Quarstad is doing at IMS. In addition to being a dogged and careful reporter on issues that are not otherwise covered, his site provides a forum for people who care deeply about the future of soccer in the United States. And I've taken some solace from comments on his site that observe that the USSF simply cannot let the USL get away with undercutting their announced requirements for a second-division league in country. I would hope that there are people looking at what happened in Austin that have the good sense to realize that 3,000 regular supporters is a financial bedrock upon which a successful franchise can be built by even a marginally competent person with the financial capacity to keep an NASL franchise in town.