Guest Post From Magda Pecsenye
To recap: last week the city of Detroit filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy. Within minutes, a zillion people–mostly people who have never been to Detroit–commented on that publicly. Then it came out that public money will be spent on a new hockey arena despite the bankruptcy. A few days after that, the Toronto-owned group that erected the Pontiac Silverdome, Triple Properties, released a billion-dollar plan to construct an MLS stadium in downtown Detroit on the site of an old prison, with a claim that MLS soccer could save Detroit.
The first three sentences of the previous paragraph are rage-inducing. It’s the last sentence that I’m going to talk about here, though.
Full disclosure: I am a supporter of Detroit City Football Club, an NPSL (fourth-tier league) soccer team owner by Detroiters that plays in downtown Detroit. We just finished our second season, and were undefeated for the regular season. We get 1,500 fans at each match and have a loyal (to say the least) supporter group and a team of hard-working, talented guys. Also, I grew up in Toledo (50 miles south of Detroit) and live in Ann Arbor, 40 miles from Detroit. I neither grew up in, nor live in, Detroit. But I come to Detroit 2-6 times a month for fun and/or soccer.
The instant, gut-level reaction of most of the people online in the #DCFC supporter social media world was that this new MLS proposal was ridiculous, bordering on a hoax. Considering the proposed owners’ record of screwing things up (Exhibit A: the Silverdome), how could this possibly actually come to fruition, let alone survive and thrive? Let alone “save Detroit”?
Let us note that the claim that any one building or franchise or institution can “save Detroit” (or “save” Detroit) is at best naïve and at worst provocative. First of all, Detroit is a huge city full of diverse groups of people, so no one thing can touch the entire city (except perhaps a funded 911 system that would actually come help people). Second, if a sports team had the power to save Detroit, wouldn’t the Tigers already have done it? Third, the claim that any one thing can save Detroit is as dopey as any of the multitude of claims that any one thing “ruined” Detroit. Yes, we just declared bankruptcy under the ministrations of one ill-intentioned nerd, but this was a long time coming with a complex ecosystem of causes and precipitating factors. (If you’ve been reading about it at all, I know you’ve been warned to look at your own city because the perfect storm of factors is coming at you, too. I’ll repeat that warning.)
So that premise is wrong from the get-go. But that shouldn’t overshadow the weirdness of the proposal. First of all, am I the only one who thinks it sounds like someone in Toronto was reading all the ire about the publicly-funded hockey arena and thought, “If we announce that we’re using private money to build a soccer stadium everyone will LOVE us!”? It’s just a little suspicious, the timing of the announcement.
Second, the Silverdome project has been a disaster, and hasn’t done much for Pontiac. So I’d be very dubious that this organization can get it together to do something with a sport they aren’t already invested in, because we know they don’t execute well.
Third, there’s soccer culture already in Detroit. Along with the Detroit City Futbol League, a league of neighborhood teams that play against each other all summer long, there’s DCFC, which has grown attendance astronomically and will only grow more. Part of that is that our team and coaching are so great, and part of that is that we have dedicated, almost rabid supporters lead by three serious supporters groups. You’d think that any organization wanting to bring an MLS team to Detroit would be integrated with–or at the very least interested in–that team and the supporters. But no one from Triple Properties has been to a single DCFC match. Not one. We asked them, and they couldn’t answer us. (And don’t tell me that Toronto’s too far to come, because I meet people from Toronto at every match.)
So they think they’re bringing in a professional soccer team without those of us who are serious enough fans to pay for tickets (and some who drive in from the suburbs or even Lansing) for matches. Interesting. If they can capture the attention of the MLS then they may not need fans. But.
I don’t think Shawn Francis is the only MLS insider who thought, “For real though, you have a billion dollars at your disposal and you’re going to invest it in soccer in Detroit?” He’s just the one who said it on Twitter. Now, I’m guessing that Francis hasn’t been to Detroit in awhile. I’d like to invite him to visit and come to a #DCFC match with us. Coneys, sliders, Detroit-style pizza, and CITY beer (the official beer made especially for the #DCFC) is all on me. But he has a point, which is that the MLS doesn’t seem interested in Detroit because they don’t see potential in Detroit. They keep putting franchises in Florida and out west. So Triple Properties can make all the proposals they want to but that doesn’t mean the MLS is going to take them seriously.
(Francis has another point, which is the billion dollars part. If I had a billion dollars I could put in an MLS franchise that worked with the #DCFC and supporters, along with three or four other major projects to cover a lot more interests and neighborhoods in Detroit. It seems like a bizarre amount of money to invest in just that one thing.)
Bottom line: I don’t think this proposal is in earnest. And I think even if it was, it’ll never come to fruition. If we do get an MLS team in Detroit it’ll be something that comes out of the DCFC ownership and fans. But honestly, we don’t need an MLS team. Detroit isn’t going to be “saved” by one big group. It’s in the process of being “saved” right now by hundreds of groups of people bringing in the things they themselves love to do. DCFC is part of that. I’m honored to be a supporter of the team, just as everyone involved in Detroit is honored to be part of it in whatever capacity they’re participating.
The next DCFC season starts next May, and I’ll be happy to see you at Harry’s two hours before the first home match. You’ll be able to buy your season ticket at http://www.detcityfc.com/ in December. If you’d like to get caught up on the first two seasons, read http://boysinrouge.wordpress.com/. And if you’re on Twitter, follow @DetroitCityFC (official team account) and @NorthernGuard1 (biggest supporter group account).
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Magda Pecsenye writes about being happy being a parent at AskMoxie.org, being happy being divorced at Huffington Post Divorce, and being cranky on Twitter at @AskMoxie. You can find her on hashtags #DCFC and #CTID talking about Detroit City Football Club all year.