Dear Mr. Garber:
First, thank you for participating in BlazerCon and helping make it such a stellar event. Your presence certainly enhanced it!
That said, I was the lone Chattanoogan in the crowd on Saturday morning when you called out my fair city in your argument against promotion and relegation, as though it were some hellish backwater where the likes of Kansas City might be forced to play if they were to suffer the indignity of being sent down. I almost choked on my breakfast pie. Let me set the record straight:
1) Neither our stadium nor our surface is “sh*tty”. In fact, it was good enough for US Soccer to host the USWNT after their World Cup victory. And we sold it out in record time. Yes, it’s turf—just like the Sounders and the Revs’ fields- but ours is brand new and state-of-the-art.
2) Chattanooga FC, competing in the NPSL, averaged nearly 5000 fans over the course of 15 games last season, and drew 18,227 to the NPSL Final. And those are not numbers fluffed-up by including sponsors and comps; those are butts in seats. We were the first-ever NPSL side to beat a USL side in US Open Cup competition, and we won the Hank Steinbrecher Cup (USASA Championship) last year, shattering the attendance record for that event. Mr. Steinbrecher was here in Chattanooga to present the Cup that bears his name; ask him what he thinks of our fans, our facilities, and our city.
3) Our fans are some of the most loyal, dedicated, and respected in the United States (watch and listen). You probably realize this by now from reading your Twitter feed. If Kansas City ever does come to Chattanooga to play, I can assure you that the Chattahooligans will make sure it’s a memorable experience.
I’m sure you can understand why people in Chattanooga were upset about your statement. In fact, it seems, people all over the U.S. were upset by it, perhaps because they see Chattanooga as a stand-in for all the markets in the US without an MLS team. The good news for soccer is that the enthusiasm of fans outside the largest markets in the US is very real, Mr. Garber. The bad news for MLS is that this enthusiasm seems to be very much attached to the places where these people actually live. A strong sense of place is essential to what makes Chattanooga FC special.
Your opposition to promotion and relegation is understandable, however, and my fellow board members and I at Chattanooga FC have never banged the gong for it. We understand MLS owners have made billions in investments, and what businessman does not want to protect his investments? Introducing promotion and relegation would damage the financial health of your teams, and not just the ones in danger of being sent down. The mere threat of relegation would lower a MLS team’s valuation and raise its borrowing costs. So, as a businessman, I understand your stance. But as a soccer fan, I must remind you of the list of teams currently playing in the English Premiership with populations smaller than the Chattanooga metropolitan area: Manchester (both City and United), Stoke, Newcastle, Southampton, Bournemouth, Norwich, Swansea, Sunderland, Watford, and West Bromwich. As fate would have it, I heard the Chairman of Bournemouth’s talk just after yours, and you’ll be glad to know that he’s now dead set against promotion and relegation too!
But Mr. Garber: it’s a wall that must eventually fall. The United States is a nation built on hope. So to organize the world’s greatest game in America in a way that deprives smaller markets the hope of glory is both ironic and unsustainable. Joe Roth said in defense of the current system that Americans love a winner; that much is true. But we love one thing even more: the underdog. Surely it’s not lost on you that the Green Bay Packers are the NFL’s most prolific franchise. The fan bases in places like Chattanooga (and Tulsa, and Wichita, and Madison, and Sacramento, and Rochester) are too organized and too dedicated to their cities and their sense of place to just sing along to a contrived tune from distant, larger markets. The American soccer pyramid, if it is going to achieve its full potential, has to find a way to incorporate and integrate.
We are grateful for your recent apology for your insensitive comments. In fact, we’ve come to realize that we should be flattered by your comments. After all, we draw very good crowds, in a place half the size of your smallest market, with minimal staff and overhead. And we actually have a sustainable business model that allows us to re-invest and grow each year. Perhaps that’s a little spooky to you; it probably makes your job a lot harder when pitching owners on how much more money they need to spend to be successful.
The bottom line is that we just really love soccer in Chattanooga, and we want to see it continue to thrive and grow here and throughout the United States. For that to happen, America needs both the MLS and markets like Chattanooga. So hopefully you can see that we’re on the same team. We’d be honored to bring you here to Chattanooga next season to see for yourself. We’re sure you’ll find it worthy of hosting Kansas City!
Chattanooga Football Club