It is possible you have heard of David Beckham, a man once described as the Greatest Living Englishman. After achieving fame in most of the world for playing soccer, he achieved some more for marrying Victoria, one of the 90s girl band the Spice Girls. Then he came to play in Major League Soccer for Los Angeles.
That was in 2006 and since his arrival, the sport has made such strides that NBC puts league games on its network channel. There are now 19 teams, including three in the Cascadia region where Portland, Seattle and Vancouver have ignited the kind of rivalries once thought to be the preserve of Buenos Aires, London or Milan only with none of the unpleasantness.
As the sport has evolved into an industry, its journalistic fraternity has tried to move with the times.
Joining a few established writers on the payroll of mainstream news outlets like the New York Times and LA Times and dedicated sports networks Fox Soccer and NBC, are a coterie of Internet writers located in MLS's hotter markets. Some cover mostly just one club with the unspoken premise that they want that club to win. Others veer towards greater editorial independence and are willing to stick their heads out and voice the occasional dissenting opinion. Many, like mine, do not cover a single club but a region or even the world of soccer.
The task of uniting those factions in a common purpose falls to the North American Soccer Reporters, the latest incarnation of well-intended but disorganized attempts to find a single voice for the industry.
Finally we are putting it together, but face the challenge between balancing the journalistic ethos of holding the powerful accountable, and supporting efforts to assist those aforementioned authorities in helping soccer conquer America.
Looking for analogies in the corporate world, the staff laboring away on the coal face at Business Week are probably not subversives intent on overthrowing the capitalist system. That however does not prevent them exposing the odd scandal. Then again, capitalism is not the fifth most influential economic model competing for primacy in the American market place. Soccer is.
The challenge for the NASR is therefore an interesting combination of the role of journalists and trade unions. As journalists, we seek to cover the establishment without fear. As soccer writers, we are as passionate about the game as any fans and wish to see it grow in North America and, if possible, displace hockey as America's fourth largest sport.
Sometimes that judgment call is on a story by story basis. I dealt with one such occasion happened in the first week of the 2011 season.
Vancouver Whitecaps were new to MLS. After winning their first match, the franchise and the soccer community of the city was on a high. However a serious scandal was brewing. An agreement struck between three clubs in the region; Vancouver, Seattle and Portland militated that supporters groups (SGs) be responsible for distributing tickets for fans traveling to away derby games.
The agreement further stated that the tickets be sold at face value and the soccer clubs would not profit. In the match program however, an advert from a travel agency selling those same tickets plus expensive coach rides to Seattle had appeared.
That travel agent had been unveiled quietly as one of 23 new club corporate sponsors in an email days before the match.
I'd developed a policy of cutting the clubs a break in their first year in MLS. ProstAmerika's coverage of Sounders FC was kinder in 2009, their inaugural year, but took on a more critical tone thereafter. There is still a great deal that happened in 2009 that remains to this day untold.
I knew if this story received wider publicity it would seriously damage the Whitecaps' reputation. However what they had done was egregious. They had sold something, the match tickets, that belonged to somebody else and profited in the form of sponsorship from the travel agent.
I ran it and ran it big with a headline that didn't do anything to alleviate the Whitecaps behavior -- "Whitecaps Give Fans' Tickets to Corporate Sponsor".
An appropriate amount of hell broke loose. Fans in Portland and Seattle were livid and supportive of their brethren in Vancouver. Even the Seattle Sounders, a club as corporate as any in MLS, privately voiced their displeasure at the Whitecaps for breaking the agreement and putting profit before their fans.
The scandal, I called it a scoop, spread quickly beyond Cascadia to the East Coast, to the point where MLS HQ in Manhattan read the story.
The Whitecaps Press Office, with whom I had always enjoyed a harmonious relationship, called me but I insisted the story stayed as posted until they could point out a factual error. They couldn't. In truth, I was petrified that I had put my head above the parapet but the feedback I got from fans across the US and Canada kept my spine stiff.
There was a happy ending. The Whitecaps got their tickets apparently after MLS intervened, and the Whitecaps Press Office and I remain on amicable terms. They handled a bad story professionally and without retaliation. They are also now on better terms with their supporters. The wound healed.
Relations between clubs and press are sadly not so harmonious everywhere.
Now as NASR President, it's part of my job to mediate as well as work with MLS to help grow the sport. You could even say, to help fix things before they become the story I should cover on prostamerika.com.
The best of all worlds would be everybody always does everything perfectly. But when did idealism become part of the job description?
For a journalist or a union leader?
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