Honesty and transparency would really help Major League Soccer out when they are trying to modify the behavior of their fans. For me it is sometimes hard to take things like supporters week seriously given some of the past behavior of MLS. Between the use of images of supporters using flares to promote playoff matches, knowing that the fans pictured were arrested for that behavior, and the ongoing debacle of MLS trying to trademark rivalry names created by fans I often really wonder what goes on in the collective mind of MLS HQ.
The latest incident that could really use some honesty and transparency is YSA, I don’t think there is anyone out there who thinks this is the best chant in the world, that it is creative, or anything more than a rather childish chant. However it is perhaps the closest thing that exists to a league wide tradition, I have heard it at every stadium I have been to, in some shape or form, I hear it on almost every TV or MLS Live broadcast. Yet, it once again has taken the front stage on of all weeks the week MLS claims as Supporters week, of course they also consider this week to be Patriotic Week. I don’t mind MLS trying to rid the stadiums of YSA, heck I can actually support such an idea, but how they have chosen to go about it is ruffling some feathers.
Threats and blanket indictment of supporter groups if they somehow can’t rid a stadium of the chant, seem a rather odd way to solve the problem to me. For me the fastest way to solve a problem is to explain why it is a problem, and then to work together to come up with a solution that works for all parties involved, that however hasn’t been the approach taken by MLS or many clubs over the past several years of the campaign against YSA, which might be part of the reason why none of the efforts to date have really worked. Last year we saw New England kicking their fans out for saying it, but one has to wonder if a club with so many issues getting fans to show up is really a smart approach?
The latest round started earlier this week online as rumors of clubs being fined or having points deducted from their standings if they couldn’t get their fans to stop chanting it, I have yet to see any proof that MLS has made such a threat. However several clubs (I know RSL and NYRB) both were told to start taking action against their supporter groups if YSA didn’t go away and go away soon. For RSL fans they were told the league would be monitoring them for several matches to determine if further action should be taken. This includes a road match, where I guess RSL fans will have to convince Rapids fans to not say YSA? Yes really.
At no point does MLS say why they are opposed to the chant, instead they point to a random document they created a couple years ago called the “Fan Code of Conduct” of course I don’t believe any fans were actually involved or consulted in creating this code that calls for a number of things and behaviors. So I ask myself why for so many years has YSA been an issue for MLS?
The first thing that comes to mind is TV broadcasts, but that only leaves me more confused, as it would be very easy to mute the stadium mic’s during free kicks and focus on the commentators audio. Besides, if you listen to a MLS broadcast on TV or MLS Live you are very likely going to hear things more “obscene” than YSA, and it may be a supporter groups saying it or ordinary fans that the audio picks up. So I am not sure if it is TV or not, but it seems the solution there is rather easy and a production solution could easily solve any conflicts with broadcast partners.
So the second thing that comes to mind is offended fans in the stadium hurting attendance, now I know at Rio Tinto Stadium and before that at Rice Eccles that there have almost always been complaints from various people about the language used at matches. In a state with a high population of church members, I can easily understand why there are complaints. Of course while some people would likely be offended by the actions at any major sporting event like drinking as well as language and overall rowdy behavior, other fans embrace such things and freedom. Each year MLS tells us how well they are growing as a league when it comes to attendance, and at RSL we have been setting record number of STH’s for the last several years. This means there is little evidence that YSA or other language is impacting attendance, but clearly it raises complaints from some fans.
If it isn’t TV, and isn’t impacting attendance, then I am confused as to why it is such a large issue, over the years MLS has tried a number of ways to brand and market their product, they started by focusing on youth groups and soccer moms, then evolved into reaching out to Hispanic groups, and most recently they have started to try and leverage the supporters culture. I doubt that any of them have had the impact on overall atmosphere, and creating excitement in and out of the stadiums as the rise of the supporter groups, of course for some teams they have always been there and a major part of the organization, for others groups have been slower to form and gone through many evolutions.
This of course doesn’t begin to address the issue of chants that are more vulgar but usually limited to a smaller group of fans in the various stadiums, or the issue of Spanish language chants. Do I think going after YSA is the start of some larger movement to control fans and supporter groups, probably not. Do I think MLS is going after low hanging fruit, sure. A couple years ago at MLS Cup in LA this topic was brought up at the Supporter Summit, and the reality is that most groups see YSA as a childish and boorish chant, not something worth getting up in arms over. I would agree with them, but again a lot of things come down to how you approach them.
I don’t know why MLS has decided that Supporters week is the best time to start the fight again over YSA, or why this is something the league feels the need to fight at all. Perhaps the best way to solve the issue (real or perceived) is to start by having an honest conversation at why MLS believes it has to go? What is it they are trying to achieve? An honest conversation seems like the best way to solve an issue, it also can go a long way towards lessening fears that either side of an issue might lead to. I don’t believe the solution is to threaten the very fans that you are crediting for the league’s recent growth, the very fans that you choose to build so much of your marketing around, to isolate those who are perhaps the most emotionally invested in their teams, might just be a mistake.
Any fan who would stop supporting MLS or their team because they hear YSA probably isn’t going to be a long term fan of professional sports. Similarly any fan who would stop supporting MLS or their team because they are told they can’t say YSA anymore, probably was there for the wrong reasons. It clearly is time for YSA to simply go away.
That’s How I See It