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Open Source MLS

Recently Jimmy Conrad wrote a piece at ESPN's Soccernet about his vision for MLS.  He likens it to Linux, but honestly, his ideas are not in the mold of Linux.  Sure, he's willing to respond and listen to feedback, but he is not necessarily advocating adopting an Open Source and/or Democratic model for MLS, just for his own "blog" at Soccernet.

It would be much more dynamic if Major League Soccer, took the democracy ball that Sounders FC is only playing with and instead bent it into the net from about 40 yards out.  Open the league up to further input from Supporters and Fans and Bloggers.  Make decisions not with the input from focus groups, but instead people who represent constituencies and who want the same thing that the League and Clubs want - Financial and On Pitch success.

Elected Councils: The first step for the entire league is simple, take what the Sounders do and do it to.  Sure, it is a simple step, but it does give the fans the feeling of inclusion and some empowerment.  More importantly it gives the club access to people who not only care as much as the front offices but who also offer a different set of eyes and life experiences. In Seattle's case the Council has a graphic designer, an organizational engineer, a recruiter, a teacher, a coach, and more.  This is a level of diversity that most sports organizations can not, and should not have.  But in this case we can offer input that is outside of the normal frame of thinking, maybe one of those ideas makes the club some more money, maybe it helps sway a single player to sign here.

Empower the Councils: Certainly small steps would be a start, but the Councils should have some power, even a tiny bit.  The easiest power that could be granted early in the process would be to allow the Councils a bit of budget to use towards a selected charity.  A charity that would be picked by the Council to become one of the partners with the club for the year.  The Council could organize the events and activities that support the Charity. (Disclosure: Alliance Council only did this as part of the Supporters Summit and worked to help Seattle Children's Hospital which was picked by Sounders players)  A further power that the Council could have is stronger influence over gameday operations.  Supporters Groups would be most effected by this, but honestly, they are the most organized of fans and so any Council would be stocked with the leadership of said Supporter Groups (ECS has 4 members of the 11, Gorilla FC has 1 currently).  But things like banning vuvuzelas and allowing some activities in certain sections should be something over which the fans and supporters of a club could have.

Season Ticket Membership: Season tickets currently are sold to 15-20 games per club.  Every year a season ticketholder must pay to go to additional matches. For this reason many clubs get horrid attendance at SuperLiga, US Open Cup, CONCACAF Champions League and even the MLS Cup Playoffs. But imagine starting the season knowing that as long as your team continued to win games you would be there at the home matches. You would be there for the US Open Cup at Qwest with 30,000 other people. You would be there at Qwest with tens of thousands watching the Sounders take on Saprissa in the knockout phase of the CCL.  Every STM would have incentive for their team to continue winning.  There would no longer be poor attendance, unless the club just couldn't convince people to spend the money to become a member.  In the Clubs' interest would be knowing that they may lose a few dollars on ticket sales but the much higher rate of attendance would mean more concessions and merchandise sales.

League-wide Council: Yes, the same thing but on the league level.  It could meet once a year at the All-Star Game as part of the Supporter Summit activities, and offer much of the same influence that the team Councils should have. Of particular interest on a league-wide concern would be traveling support, MLS W.O.R.K.S partnerships and the ways that the league can better work with its corporate partners to get the buy-in of its fans.

Open Source Statistical Data: This may seem odd given the previous concepts, but it is something that baseball has done quite well, likely through the hard work of the sabermetricians that follow the sport.  But honestly the current generation of baseball fans are as passionate about the sport as ever, and they are using their passion to expand the knowledge of the game for everyone.  Managers make better decisions based on the work that has been done and General Managers sign players based on this science. Sites like Fangraphs, The Hardball Times, USSMariner, LookoutLanding and more have advanced everyone's knowledge of the game by applying scientific and statistical rigor to baseball.  The data for soccer, particularly MLS, should be open.  Who knows what development occurs - maybe it could be discovered that the 4-3-3 is best formation with this talent, or that talent from Midwestern Colleges is typically undervalued. The point is that without the reams of data that the league keeps on each match being available we will never know what soccer fans could discover.

These ideas aren't the extent of what could be done, but are instead an excellent start to what could be done for the league to get even greater level of fan buy-in.  Because if you knew that your club cared what you thought, you would have more emotional investment.  Already many soccer fans consider themselves "supporters," FC Dallas just launched a marketing website We Are Not Spectators, let MLS make that even more true than it already is.  Risk a little Major League Soccer, release these franchises and become an association of democratic clubs.

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