Major League Soccer eyeing San Diego market

But Sockers are not involved in talks

According to the Associated Press, Major League Soccer aims to have 24 teams by 2020 and is talking to San Diego.

"There have been some discussions in Southern California, in San Diego," commissioner Don Garber told the AP. San Diego Sockers spokesman Craig Elsten says that, to his knowledge, the Sockers are not involved in the discussion.

The team has an interesting past. From 1978 through 1996, when it folded, the Sockers won a large number of championships in different leagues. Average attendance at the Sports Arena peaked out in 1983–1984 at 11,415. But in its later years, average attendance was below 6000 a game.

The current, succeeding team plays in the Professional Arena Soccer League, which has four teams in Mexico and several in smaller markets such as Harrisburg, Wichita, Ontario, and Turlock. The team plays at the Valley View Casino Center. Attendance is generally below 1400 per game and often below 1000.

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viewer: The current San Diego Sockers have the same name as the previous team, but play in a weaker league and draw much smaller crowds. Best, Don Bauder

Barnaby Monk: Any team sponsored by Herbalife is one I want to have nothing to do with. Best, Don Bauder

I know. It's surreal looking at all these Los Angelinos in a stadium sporting the company logo. It's like mass hypnosis. Of course, a lot people say that about the game of soccer...

Barnaby Monk: Both our sons played soccer, and I loved going to the games. All four of us went to San Diego Socker games. I think indoor soccer is more exciting than outdoor soccer. There is much more scoring, for one thing. Best, Don Bauder

Come now, Viewer, ain't a sports media outlet in the country would disagree with de Monk, sports brah. Basketball-down; baseball-steady (maybe); hockey-down; football's football...the only sport actually GROWING in dis land is the beauuuutiful game. And MLS is now on multiple networks with a rabid and growing fanbase. And Don, indoor soccer — Sockers soccer — isn't soccer. It's pinball. Sockers soccer and MLS soccer are two entirely difft. animals — who's your editor? (Viewer, google "soccer fastest growing sport in U.S." You've A LOT of reading to do.)

Barnaby Monk: As I said in the post above, I like indoor soccer much better because there is so much more scoring. But then, I prefer baseball when there is a lot of hitting and scoring. I can go to sleep watching a pitcher's duel. Best, Don Bauder

Dozens of people worldwide feel as you do, Don. Literally. I'm kidding. I've been to lots of Sockers games. They are fun. Like hockey. I grew up near Boston Garden a HUGE Bruins fan, so arena sports are not lost on me. But comparing the MLS to what the Sockers play at Viejas is like comparing chess to checkers, and I'd be willing to bet there isn't a man on the squad or in the coaches office who wouldn't rather be out on a pitch somewhere. Especially Miami. Rumor is Beckham's building a team there... Going to be an exciting 2014 for the MLS to be sure. Thanks very much for posting this story, Don. I hope we (SD) get serious consideration!

Barnaby Monk: I hope, too, that San Diego gets serious consideration. But any investor eyeing the San Diego market has to take the Sockers experience into account (great team, mediocre crowds), as well as the failures in pro basketball. Best, Don Bauder

viewer: You brought up statistics. These are important in spectator sports. Baseball might not be as popular as it is without statistics that are meaningful -- earned run average, runs batted in, home runs, stolen bases, etc. Basketball stats are also meaningful; football is getting there.

Statistics are important in media coverage of sports. Best, Don Bauder

Don: I must correct you on your attendance figures. The Sockers average 4,272 per game (2nd overall in the league), and as per their agreement with the arena, they only use the lower seating bowl. For the league as a whole, you're numbers are correct--just not for the Sockers. The league averages just under 1400 per game, and there are many teams who struggle to get 1,000 fans to show up for their games. I don't think the MLS will ever come to San Diego, unless someone has millions laying around and the desire to build a 20,000-25,000 seat soccer-specific stadium and the ability to get a team to move here, or acquire an expansion team.

aardvark: You are correct and I apologize. Those numbers I gave were for the league. Your average of 4,272 is probably at least close for the Sockers. But it is just amazing. When they play away from home, they might get crowds of 200 or so. But at home they do get around 4000. My error. Best, Don Bauder

Here in Las Vegas they play at some recreational facility that sucks. A few rows of bleachers around the field is all. I went to this season's first few LV Legends games at the Orleans arena - a good arena - but since the rest were at the little piece of crap of a facility I stayed home. Except for the recent LV vs. Sockers game. I moved from San Diego to LV two years ago so I rooted for the Sockers. I heard rumors about a possible merger with the MISL. If anything like that happens I would suspect that Las Vegas Legends would get an ultimatum - improve your venue (i.e move back into the Orleans arena) or you can't be a franchise in our league. If so I would suspect some of their players to be looked at by the Sockers. That would be good, as looking at the two rosters the thing that stood out for me was the relative youth of the Legends players. Sockers need to start injecting youth - with talent - into their roster. Anyway, good team here in Las Vegas but no way I'm going to watch in a smelly old recreational facility with inferior seating and amenities. I don't think they can even accommodate 1000 fans.

But would the Orleans Arena want them there? They have already kicked out the hockey club for next year. Maybe the Legends could play in the dome atop the Plaza parking structure that the hockey team is building?

The Legends can't afford the $25,000 fee per game to play there. I don't know if that fee is correct - a Sockers fan told me that last Saturday. So my point is the Legends might not survive in LV much longer. Pretty good team though. San Diego could use a few of those younger players. I'm sure more than a few would love to move the 300 miles west to SD....

MLS is an inferior product in comparison with Soccer (Futbol) from other countries, including Mexico. Expansion is a somewhat ridiculous notion. Professional basketball failed three times in San Diego, the Chargers get blacked out on a regular basis, and Petco Park only sells out on opening day. San Diego couldn't even sustain a minor league hockey team, never mind that team had great success in their league. In spite of my own personal adoration of soccer, putting a MLS team in San Diego would be a failure from the start. I'm guessing Craig would probably tell you the same thing if you pinned him down on it.

I disagree, David. International soccer does great biz here. We are a multicultural border region book-ended by two sellout, top-flight squads (Xolos and Galaxy). The reason basketball/hockey/football don't succeed here is because those games don't fit the demographic. San Diego loves baseball and soccer. Those games are played in our "season" and are family-friendly. Not winter (football, hockey), not indoor (basketball), and not overrun by loud-mouth drunks. San Diego's youth loves soccer. And every San Diegan I cross over the border with a dozen times a year to see the Xolos play loves soccer. The caravan of San Diego's Galaxy season-ticket holders rolling up to Carson 3, 4 times a month loves soccer. I'm at those tail gates, and there isn't one fan I've cracked a beer with who feels differently. San Diego, David, is a soccer town. It just doesn't know it. Roll out to O.B. or Balboa Stadium or up to the water tower in North Park or down to the Y in Mission Valley. Thousands of adult players and fans. Thousands! Go to a Flash (San Diego's excellent semi-pro team) game. Take a closer look, David. San Diego is an alienated (by football blowhards) soccer town just waiting for the mother ship to land. By the way, your opening-sentence dismissal of MLS as an inferior product to European/South American Futbol...c'mon, you're smarter than that. Of course it is. Relatively speaking, MLS is a newborn, but growing fast. This is the first World Cup that the majority of national team players are from the MLS, and if those unlucky bastards (they drew the opening "round of death") make it out of the first round, I think we're going to see something very special this summer...namely, a sea change in American attitude toward the game. I love sports, David, crazy love 'em, but none like soccer/futbol, so maybe I've got stars in my eyes, but I think it could work. I think Beckham's experiment in Miami will be a good litmus test for us. Same multicultural, outdoor, warm-weather creatures of habit...let's just see what happens there. Let me buy you a beer at a Padre game this summer and we can talk more about it...maybe figure out what to do with Headley ha ha.

Barnaby Monk: There is no question that youth soccer is extremely popular in San Diego. But the San Diego Sockers of the 1980s and 1990s did poorly in attendance despite having very good teams. Best, Don buader

There are myriad reasons why the NASL failed, DB (start with Gavin Newsham's "Once in a Lifetime" for the nitty grit of it), and MLS has taken every precaution to make sure that doesn't happen in their league. Primarily, nurturing American youth soccer as opposed to importing bench-loads of used-up international players. They have a tasty little selection of designated players to put soccer-snobby butts in seats, for sure, but the homegrown talent that sells out Seattle, Portland, Kansas City (for Pete's sake!), Houston, Chicago, Vancouver (?!), DC with chanting, ranting fans is awesome. And economically speaking: my season ticket to select Galaxy games cost me less than my one Charger ticket this season and the same as four field-level Padre games. It's the most family-affordable, family-friendly sport out there. You don't need to look any further than your TV program guide, though, to see what's trending this season. TV is falling for MLS.

Barnaby Monk: I can't disagree. Soccer is a great family sport. We sure enjoyed it. Best, Don Bauder

viewer: I will have to write my name 500 times on a blackboard to make sure I don't misspell it again. Best, Don Bauder

"But the San Diego Sockers of the 1980s [and 1990's] did poorly in attendance...".

Not so. At least in the 1980's, especially mid-80's. I know because I would regularly sit in the arena and actually watch them.

But is the underlying point of 'pro soccer game attendance should be better given the youth soccer participation' valid? Probably so.

I'm not sure when I'll be taking in a Padres game at Petco Park this season with the exception of the opening series, the Reader isn't going with sports coverage anymore and I'm unsure that any other publication is looking for a writer. But I am a fan, so perhaps we can arrange something.

Last year, the Xolos played Club America at Petco Park, and I covered the event with the intention of doing a story on it. The Xolos were more than happy to give me press credentials, but the Padres refused to cooperate, the big story was how small the pitch was due to the Padres not wishing to remove the pitching mound for the match. They wouldn't let me interview the grounds keeper, so I tabled the piece. Anyway, I payed very close attention to the crowd for that game, it was probably 90% Latino, and the majority were Mexicans. This is your core demographic for soccer in San Diego.

I got a great set of soundbites from my pal Bernie Wilson, an AP sports writer, in the Padres press box a few days before the match. I consider Bernie to be the voice of the average sports fan in San Diego, and Bernie hates soccer. Most people I run into in San Diego - sports fans - hate soccer. I love soccer, but I'm very much in the minority, and so are you. Bernie feels that soccer is useful as a tool for conditioning, especially with young athletes, but otherwise he has no use for it.

So, the Mexican demographic is the vast majority for soccer, and while they did well in attending the Xolos vs. America match, I'm not so sure that Chivas U.S. would do so well in San Diego. The MLS bought Chivas, they couldn't even survive in the Los Angeles market, how are they going to draw any better in San Diego? I would rather be wrong and you be right, but for now my opinion stands, based on what I know about the tastes of the demographic that would be most likely to attend a soccer match.

Regarding Chase, sources tell me that the Padres and Headley are very far apart on a contract. If nothing gets done before the season starts, I would expect that if the Padres are floundering and out of playoff contention that Chase will be traded before August. Too bad, really, because Chase is a very nice guy and a good third baseman, but even with a payroll approaching $90 million, the Padres aren't likely to give $20 million to one player. However, stranger things have happened, so I suppose we'll see how it plays out. Looking forward to that beer this summer, Barnaby.

David Dodd: Unfortunately, the Padres have priced much of the Hispanic market out of Petco. Is the Padres payroll nearing $90 million? I didn't know it had gotten that high. Best, Don Bauder

$87.5 million last time I checked, Don. Was it money spent wisely? That's a great debate, I could offer that they are gambling a little with that increased payroll, on players that are either old or coming off of injury. And, those signings are to 1-year contracts, so there's that as well. The season will ultimately play out and tell the story for us.

" I consider Bernie to be the voice of the average sports fan in San Diego, and Bernie hates soccer."

"Most people I run into in San Diego - sports fans - hate soccer."

This still is the case, although much less than it used to be. Soccer acceptance has improved quite a bit since the 1980's when literally (almost) EVERY article mentioning soccer would disparage it grotesquely. Believe it or not the trend of the percentage of people liking soccer here is increasing and probably will continue. Can MLS soccer succeed here in San Diego? I don't know. But I do know that many people - including many so-called experts - said there was a snow balls chance in hell the league would survive its first five years. And looky here. Nearly 20 years later and they are still here and talking expansion.

David Dodd: San Diego's sports attendance problem results from its perfect weather. There are so many other things to do, such as go to the beach and play golf. Yes, Petco has done very poorly, even though the Padres use a dubious technique to boost attendance. Ditto Chargers. Yes, pro basketball has failed at least twice in San Diego. This may also be a reflection of incomes that are not high. Best, Don Bauder

Three times with basketball, Don. The Conquistadors, who played in Peterson Gym and Golden Hall before playing the the Sports Arena, were an ABA expansion team that ultimately became the Sails before folding in the middle of their last season. The San Diego Rockets came next, an NBA expansion team that lasted only four years in San Diego before finding their current home in Houston. Lastly, the San Diego Clippers (originally the Buffalo Braves) managed five seasons before Donald Sterling bought the club and moved to Los Angeles.

David: The Rockets were first, starting in 1967. They were sold to Houston interests because Bob Breitbard was trying to get the city to reduce his rent on the arena property. The city said no, so Breitbard had no choice but to sell the Rockets. The Conquistadors came next, and then the Clippers. The Clippers were here 6 seasons--the last 3 of which were under the ownership of Sterling, who finally got his wish to move to L.A. As long as Sterling has anything to do with the Clippers, that team can go to hell.

Your order is accurate. Also, I apparently lost a season of the San Diego Clippers, they did play 6, I thought it was 5. I guess I should look these things up first.

David: They probably really only PLAYED 2 or 3. They weren't very good, especially after Sterling bought them.

aardvark: Having a team that loses most of the time is not a pathway to financial success. Best, Don Bauder

Don: It wasn't in San Diego, but I don't think Sterling really cared that much anyway. He wanted that team in LA--so much so that his team played at the LA Sports Arena for years.

David Dodd: The Clippers were a lousy team in San Diego, and remained lousy in their initial years in L.A. But now they are quite good, I understand. Best, Don Bauder

aardvark: One trouble with the Conquistadors was that the name was so long it wouldn't fit in newspaper headlines. In Colorado, the governor's name is Hickenlooper. So the papers just shorten his name to "Hick." Some think it's fitting. Best, Don Bauder

Don: They started going by the "Q's" almost immediately. The Minnesota Timberwolves go by the "T-wolves", and the NY Knicks are rarely referred to as the "Knickerbockers" anymore.

David Dodd: One time a joke was going around about one of the San Diego pro basketball teams. The story was that the team was moving to the Philippines where it would be named the Manila Folders. Best, Don Bauder

Donald Sterling makes former Padre owner John Moores look like a good sports franchise owner by comparison. The Clippers have been good - maybe even an elite team - for the past few seasons but that is a rare aberration in their history. They have a long history of bad trades to save a little money in the short run, and a long list of draft pick debacles.

Soccer is clearly a great game as billions of fans worldwide can't all be wrong. However, in the U.S. frankly many of us (myself included) find it boring to watch - and it's been that way for decades, even after decades of AYSO soccer. Most national sports pundits in the U.S. don't take soccer seriously - Jim Rome says "soccer is not a sport" and Dan Patrick allows a maximum of 5 seconds of his 3 hr radio show to be devoted to soccer.

I think we're still not to the point where soccer will be a major sport in the U.S.

ImJustABill: Yes, but young women and men are playing the sport avidly. And the ghastly injuries in football will have mothers and fathers encouraging kids to play soccer rather than football. It's already happening. Best, Don Bauder

"I find it boring to watch" is a common complaint, ImJustABill. But not just about soccer — baseball can be like watching paint dry; football is 75% commercials — but soccer is two 45-minute halves of constant play and distinct ebbs and flows of energy and strategy. And the tension/release of a goal (be they beautiful or absolute garbage) is euphoric. I'm a big fan of both Rome and DP, and their dismissal of soccer doesn't hamper my enjoyment of the game. I just feel sorry for them for not being able to enjoy it as much as I do or the other, as you said, "billions of fans worldwide" who "can't all be wrong." Thanks for checking in. Appreciate your take!

Barnaby Monk: Fans in foreign countries don't find soccer boring -- especially when they get sufficiently aroused to behead a referee, which happened several months ago in some Latin American country. Best, Don Bauder

As Don alludes to, the concussion (and other injuries) issue absolutely has the potential to kill the NFL.

There are a lot of parents questioning whether American football is safe enough. Even many former NFL players are on record as saying they don't want their sons playing American football.

I don't think the concussion lawsuits have the potential to directly kill the NFL but there are some scenarios which could indirectly kill it. For example, what if a class action lawsuit were allowed which ALL people who have had lifelong health issues due to football sued ALL football organizations - even at college, high school or youth levels? If something like this would occur it may get to where nobody wants to take the risk of sponsoring American football.

viewer: That is disgusting. A young person should not be forced to play football against his will. Best, Don Bauder

ImJustABill: The NFL is so rich that lawsuits can't kill it. Also, the NFL has lawmakers and judges in their pockets. However, families observing one player after another go down with crippling, lifetime injuries may eventually turn the public against the sport. It won't happen quickly. Best, Don Bauder

"in the U.S. frankly many of us (myself included) find it boring to watch - and it's been that way for decades, even after decades of AYSO soccer."

But its getting better. More people (percentage-wise) do not agree with the 'soccer is boring' cliche anymore. Slowly but surely that is the case. Jim Rome will continue to say what he says. But increasingly some of these sports personalities coming on to the scene have more affinity toward the sport. Look at it this way: the two recurring statements people make, cliches if you will, are "soccer is boring and it doesn't interest Americans and its been that way for decades despite youth soccer" and something like "soccer will become popular in America". The trends favor one of those statements. The latter. It is becoming more popular and more a part of our culture over time. Your last sentence "I think we're still not to the point where soccer will be a major sport in the U.S." is more accurate because of the '..still not to the point..' clause suggesting a change.

Well to be honest I don't know why many Americans, such as myself, perceive soccer as boring. There's certainly incredible athleticism, skill, and strategy involved. But I think fundamentally we're used to a constant stream of quantifiable measurable outcomes, baskets made or missed, yards gained or lost, baserunners advancing. At any given time you can tell exactly who's winning and whose losing, who's playing well and who's not, and a whole host of statistical metrics to measure everything. In soccer, at least to me, it seems more subtle. Nothing wrong with that - but I think to me an other Americans the lack of a constant stream of statistics and quantifiable outcomes makes the sport seem less exciting.

ImJustABill: Yours is a very perceptive statement. Americans are accustomed to quantifiable, measurable outcomes. Best, Don Bauder

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