In the August 2000 issue of MOTD (Match of the Day) magazine, Jonathan Wilson recounts his recent trip to the United States and in particular, his observation of soccer in Northeast America. His journeys took him from New York and a MetroStars game at Giants Stadium, ‘one of the world’s greatest sporting venues’, in East Rutherford, New Jersey, to Boston and a New England Revolution match at Foxboro Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts, which lies halfway between Beantown and Providence, Rhode Island. In that time, he’s seen some of the world’s top players plying their trade in MLS – Lothar Matthäus, Mo Johnston, Hristo Stoichkov – even though they are far from their prime and are finishing out their careers.
Football, or soccer as most of the American population knows the sport, isn’t really a big spectator sport in the States, even though participation levels in high schools have risen over 75 per cent between 1988 and 1998, as compared to other sports in the U.S. (Wilson, 2000: 79). However, the sense of club and region inextricably linked in history, as is found in Europe, Latin America, and virtually every other place around the globe, does not exist as much in the States. A good example would be the Sunderland vs. Newcastle derby, two cities, in the United Kingdom, a mere fourteen miles apart, who’ve been at loggerheads since the monasteries of Monkwearmouth and Jarrow first clashed in the seventh century (Wilson, 2000, 80). Due to the shear size of the US, the nearest thing to a derby in MLS would have to be MetroStars vs. New England Revolution (204 miles) or DC United (425 miles), or the Golden State clubs, Los Angeles Galaxy vs. San Jose Earthquakes (341 miles). (Before contraction between the 2001 – 2002 seasons, a case could be made for the Tampa Bay Mutiny vs. Miami Fusion, divided by a distance of 263 miles) MLS executives are well aware of the league’s lack of history in the American sporting landscape, but it is marketing demands which determine soccer be spread to as many parts of the nation as possible. It is a victory for pragmatism over romance.
Max Weber (1864-1920) theorized that society was increasingly becoming a network of rationalized systems, and that this modern process of rationalization, found primarily in the Western world as exemplified through capitalism and bureaucratization, has served to chip away at what once was viewed as an enchanted world. Weber argued that rational systems in general, and the bureaucracy in particular, have little, if any at all, room for enchantment. The magical, mysterious, and mystical is methodically rooted out by rational systems, leaving them essentially devoid of any enchantment.
George Ritzer, of the University of Maryland, built upon the Weberian theory of enchantment, rationalization, and disenchantment, and modernized the concept as so it can be more easily applied to contemporary society. He termed these processes McDonaldization, – that is, the processes by which the principles of the fast-food industry are coming to dominate more and more sectors of American society as well as the rest of the world.
Ritzer goes on to point out that McDonaldization affects not only the restaurant business, but increasingly also education, work, health care, travel, leisure, dieting, politics, the family, and virtually every other aspect of society. He labeled the process of concern ‘McDonaldization’ because ‘McDonald’s was, and is, the most important manifestation of this process. Besides, it has a better ring to it than some of the alternatives – “Burger Kingization,” “Seven Elevenization,” Fudderuckerization,” H&R Blockization,” “Kinder Care-ization,” Jiffy Lube-ization,” or “Nutri/Systemization”’ (Ritzer, 2000: xv). However, it is not only the restaurant, education, health care, etc. industries that have become increasingly rationalized systems and quite McDonaldized, but the sporting industry as well. Most exemplifying of this process is sport in the United States, and in particular, professional soccer.
Major League Soccer (MLS), which is the Division I soccer league in America and was established as part of the commitment to the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) that resulted in the U.S. hosting the 1994 World Cup, is operated under single-entity ownership. MLS is a single company, which means no clubs are individually owned, but are instead owned by MLS, which franchises the clubs out to those owner-operators, who, in turn, are also the men who invested in and therefore own MLS. The concept of single-entity is considered the Neo-American Professional Sports League Model, something of which is exceedingly rationalized and substantially bureaucratic, and therefore, in a Weberian context, quite disenchanting.
Soccer in America is being marketed by MLS as a family game, something vastly different than what is experienced in Europe where, for example, at most English grounds, there is a section of the stadium for families only. MLS’s aim is to achieve ‘a balance between that razzmatazz and the desires of the purists fans to create “a unique MLS experience” that will “showbiz up” the game to draw in the families’ (Hann, 2001: 105). The goals of Major League Soccer, as stated above by MLS Commissioner Don Garber and Deputy Commissioner Ivan Gazidis, can be interpreted, from a Weberian theoretical perspective, as enchanting a disenchanted American soccer community, if not society in general. As Garber say, ‘There are tens of millions who love the game, who connect with it through participation. Our initial task is to convince them that it’s as much fun to attend a soccer game as it is to play it’ (Hann, 2001: 104).
The aim of this essay is to define what is the McDonaldization of American soccer. To do this, an examination of the relationship is between the Weberian theory rationalization and its development, and the concept of McDonaldization will be identified. Then an analysis of the processes key to the development and structure of Major League Soccer will be given, and this will be used to determine to which degree MLS and its structure of single-entity have become McDonaldized. Finally, an analysis of the Traditional American Professional Sports League Model as well as that of single-entity ownership, or the Neo-American Professional Sports League Model, will be given as will how such a set-up fair in the processes of globalization.
Capitalism, The Protestant Ethic, and Bureaucratization
From 1934, when Henry Ford paid $100,000 for the rights to the World Series, and in effect, used the sport’s most prestigious event as a vehicle for advertising Ford’s automobiles, to many of today’s arenas and stadiums, where not only venues are used for sport, but for the marketing of products as well, the sporting landscape of the United States has become a highly commercialized, if not, completely profit driven (Cashmore, 1996: 181). New athletic stadiums include far more than simply a playing field and stands. Among the things found at newer stadiums are private pools with adjacent hot tubs, virtual reality games, hair salons, cigar bars, and mini-shopping malls. In fact, one observer of the MCI Center in Washington, D.C., said:
‘Walk through the main entrance to the stadium, a three-story glass atrium…. Anchoring one end of the floor is the Discovery Channel store, selling nature and science under a 42-foot-tall Tyrannosaurus Rex. At the other end, a two-level “sports gallery,” where fans wind through a maze of “museum” displays…and empty into a buzzing, beeping arcade of electronic games. With no clocks, no windows and dim lights, it has all the ambiance of a casino’ (Cited in Ritzer, 1999: 140).
Jacob Weisman describes the scoreboard as ‘a whirl of computer-generated graphics, advertising such products as Isuzu Motors, Miller beer, Oberto Sausage, Elephant Car Wash, Taco Bell…In all, sixty-five different product lines…The Sonics [NBA Basketball team, Seattle Supersonics] dance team, brought to you courtesy of Nestle crunch, performs original dance numbers’ (Cited in Cashmore, 1996: 183). It’s even not unheard of for teams in the United States to move from one city to another because it better suits the franchise financially. Art Modell, in the mid-1990’s, moved his NFL franchise, the Cleveland Browns, to Baltimore because the state of Maryland gave him the use of a $200 million stadium, and all its revenue-generating potential (Coakley, 1998: 345). Sport in America has increasingly become a form of entertainment and more business oriented, something far removed from the early sportization processes of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries theorized by Norbert Elias, who’s most famous work would have to be The Civilizing Process, a look at societies in Western Europe between the Middle Ages and the twentieth century that went through a long-term process involving the refinement of manners and social standards and an increase in the social pressure on people to exercise stricter, more continuous self-control over their feelings and behavior.
When using the term sportization, Elias is referring to a ‘process in the course of which the framework of rules applying to sport became stricter, including those rules attempting to provide for fairness and equal chances for all to win. The rules governing sport became more precise, more explicit, written down, and more differentiated and the supervision of rule-observance became more efficient. Moreover, in the course of the same process, self-control and self-discipline increased, while in game-contests which became known as sports a balance was established between the possibility of attaining a high level of combat-tension and what was then seen as reasonable protection against injury’ (Cited in Murphy, Sheard and Waddington, 2000: 95).
The sportization of pastimes process first occurred in England in the eighteenth century at a time when the word ‘sport’ acquired its modern meaning. Taking place simultaneously was, what Elias called, the ‘parlimentarization of political conflict’. Elias and Eric Dunning contend ‘the more civilized habits developed by the aristocracy and gentry for governing also found expression in their organization of less violent, more civilized ways of enjoying themselves. These incipiently modern forms of sport developed through the type of voluntary association known as “clubs”’ (Cited in Murphy, Sheard and Waddington, 2000: 95).
Elias and Dunning, as well as a number of other figurational sociologists, maintain the initial phases of the sportization of pastimes took place in two main waves: ‘the first, an eighteenth century wave in which the principal pastimes that began to emerge as modern sports were cricket, fox hunting, horse racing, and boxing; and a second, nineteenth century wave in which soccer, rugby, tennis, and athletics began to take modern forms’ (Cited in Murphy, Sheard and Waddington, 2000: 95).
Such processes in the United States concerning sport and commercialization can be traced not only by the processes of sportization, but also the role that religious beliefs played in motivating businessmen in the development of capitalism in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Max Weber points out that ‘the attitude of the modern capitalist is not simply the drive for economic gain; this acquisitiveness is found everywhere in world history without resulting in a mass production economy. What is significant for a large-scale, profit-making system, rather, is the methodical attitude: the making of a continual series of small savings and small profits that gradually add up to a long-term, mass-production economy and, ultimately, to far greater profits than the greedy, one-shot businessperson could never attain’ (Cited in Collins and Makowsky, 1998: 134-35). Weber saw this methodological, rationalized approach in the ideas of the most radical Protestants soon after the Reformation, and most prominently in the followers of Calvin, who occupied a majority of the commercialized areas in the Netherlands, France, Germany, England, and America. These Protestants believed that God was an omnipotent, inescapable power, who had already picked out those who were to be saved and those who were to be damned, as opposed to believing in salvation through prayers, charity, or religious ritual. Weber declared this doctrine of predestination must have put an immense strain, psychologically, on its believers. ‘One could do nothing specifically religious to help oneself; priests and monks were no better than anyone else, hence these radical Protestants eliminated monasteries and tried to make priests as much like lay persons as possible. What one could do, though, was to work – hard, and methodically, without coveting gains, but continually pressing on, until by one’s own success, one felt that one did fit into God’s scheme of predestination, and that one was one of the elect’ (Cited in Collins and Makowsky, 1998: 135). Thus, the religious beliefs of radical Protestants facilitated in the production of ideas and methods used by successful capitalists and, as a result, to a degree, fostered the industrial revolution.
Weber determined the impetus for the Protestant ethic, which in turn would contribute to the process of the industrial revolution, can be traced back to the world of ancient tribal societies – some being agricultural and being made up of nomadic herdsmen and hunters. He pointed out that religion played a key role in their social structure and worldviews, and the community – almost entirely composed of their kinspeople – were united by a common set of ceremonies and rituals surrounding all aspects of life (Cited in Collins and Makowsky, 1998: 132). Like Durkheim, Weber was aware of the integrating force of religion in less civilized societies.
‘Change commonly came about mostly through political struggle. Hunting tribes conquered agricultural tribes, thus creating two-class societies of peasants and warrior-aristocrats, and consequently setting into motion the familiar pendulum of world political history. As empires rose and fell in these larger, more complex societies, so to did wealth become more concentrated as stratification grew within the ranks of the aristocracy,’ write Collins and Makowsky paraphrasing Weber. ‘A division of labor developed around the royal courts as artisans, servants, scribes, and merchants specialized to please royal predilections. Priests developed separate hierarchies of their own in which gods and spirits forged new syncretisms and pantheons’ (Collins and Makowsky, 1998: 133).
Weber noticed a change in the realm of religion between the sixth and fourth centuries B.C. in which the nature of humankind’s relationship to the physical and social world changes. Talcott Parsons calls this change the ‘philosophical breakthrough’: the rise of the great world religions – Confucianism, Brahmanism, Buddhism, Greek ethical philosophy, monotheistic Judaism and its later offshoots, Christianity and Islam (Cited in Collins and Makowsky, 1998: 133). The change essentially consists of separating the idea of the natural world from that of the spiritual world. The notion of gods and spirits routinely interfering in the world around gave way to the belief of a very different realm: heaven and hell and a world of ideal principles. As long as the world was under the influence and actions of gods and spirits, there was almost always an element of unpredictability. However, once the spiritual domain was separated, both nature and society could be understood in a more constant fashion. By removing animistic entities, the world became more open to rational explanation. A Pandora’s Box was opened as scientific investigation and explanation spilled over into the social sphere, and people formed and followed laws based on consistent, general doctrines rather than, as compared to in the past, the eccentricities of sanctified tradition. Rationalization steadily pushed to the side the uncertain and mystical. This is what Weber calls Die Entzauberung der Welt – the disenchantment of the world.
Collins and Makowsky write, ‘With the philosophical breakthrough, the spiritual realm became a place where one could escape the trials and tribulations of the world for a place in heaven if one were righteous and resisted temptation while on earth. The philosophical breakthrough also allowed the ideas of good and evil to develop separately from the ideas of success and failure. It was a new ethical obligation on human beings. Conscience became its own reward or punishment as humans became concerned with justice and injustice towards their fellow human beings’ (Collins and Makowsky, 1998: 133-34). Weber argued, ‘One need no longer have recourse to magical means in order to master or implore the spirits, as did the savage, for whom such mysterious powers existed’ (Cited in Ritzer, 1999: 66). Here we find the early stages of the Protestant ethic, of which was to play a key role in the development of industrialization some 2,000 years later.
Weber viewed the industrial revolution and the phenomenon of modernization as ‘the great transformation in history which turned a world of peasants, lords, and priests into a buzzing hive of organization, machinery, and movement’ (Collins and Makowsky, 1998: 131). The modern industry depends on large and stable markets, a dependable and economically motivated labor force, and a trustworthy financial system. These preconditions, according to Weber, were missing throughout most of history, and therefore had to first materialize before the modern economy could take off.
In the past, markets had been mostly local – peasants producing their own necessities and bartering or selling the rest nearby towns and villages. Of the many factors limiting the possibility of larger markets, those foremost were: (1) the riskiness of transporting valuable goods in a world of continuous warfare and conquest, where robbers and barons were equally dangerous and civil order existed only within the walls of one’s own or sometimes only in one’s house; (2) the general lack of a widespread system of money and credit to facilitate large-scale trading; and (3) distrust of strangers – from other lands, other religions, other villages – which made trading a matter of crafty haggling and merchants often indistinguishable from pirates (Collins and Makowsky, 1998: 131-32).
Labor, in the contemporary sense, was a historical rarity. ‘Workers in the more traditional societies were, for the most part, not free economic agents. Peasants were often tied to the land as serfs, and industrial laborers were commonly family members, household servants, or slaves, who were bound to the business enterprise and a continuing expense whether they were overworked or underworked. And guild monopolies controlled influence on most of the remaining labor supply. It was all of these various impediments that had to be abolished before an industrial labor force could finally be assembled together in the factory system. The industries could not run efficiently and competitively if workers were not available to move from job to job as the demand for products changed and attracted to the areas of greatest profit by offers of commensurate wages’ (Collins and Makowsky, 1998: 132).
As with the modern industrial labor force, modern finance is also a recent development. Weber notes, ‘It was only in the larger kingdoms and empires that a widespread monetary system existed, but even then, there were many problems involved in a dependable system of loans. Widespread literacy was necessary before more complex forms of credit could emerge. Money, when it was lent, has ridiculous rates of interest attached to them so long as the risks of nonpayment and failure of repayment were great. This was an era when courts and police did not exist to back up contracts and when every business enterprise was dodgy’ (Cited in Collins and Makowsky, 1998: 132).
Weber observed that there were two general ways in which people stabilized their relationships: either by establishing strong personal ties or by setting up general rules (Cited in Collins and Makowsky, 1998: 126). Of course these are ideal types, but traditional societies have been known to fall nearer the personalistic pole as compared to modern societies, which tend to rest closer toward the pole of more abstract rules. Weber refers to the former type of organization as patriarchal or patrimonial and the latter type as bureaucratic.
Patriarchal organizations are typically more family-centered and personal. The head of the household and estate usually relies on his sons or brothers for supervising farming or trading expeditions, fighting wars, or collecting taxes, either for himself or a higher authority. They are his most trusted assistants. Next would have to be his servants and slaves, who are like part of the family, and who are also subject to the same loyalties and jealousies. Collins and Makowsky write, ‘This form of organization can be extended across large numbers of people by linking together chains of masters and followers. In a patrimonial regime, the king has trusted lieutenants who administer distant sections of his realm; they in turn assign their trusted followers to various areas and tasks; and so down to the lowest official, whose job it is to coerce the peasants to give up their produce’ (Collins and Makowsky, 1998: 126).
The main disadvantages to this more personalistic form of organization are that it is neither very efficient nor very easy to control. Lines of communication are virtually nonexistent as orders passed from the top are more likely to emerge as rumors below. Tasks carried out would almost always depend on the initiative and vigor of the person involved, while under certain circumstances, such organizations would tend to fall back on tradition. The job being done was done the same as the last time because it was done the same way as far back as anyone could remember; there are no strict guidelines or proper protocol.
Also, such organizations could slip from the control of their founders and persons in charge. History shows time and time again, when a lord conquers a large territory and appoints his most trusted followers to collect the spoils, they, would in turn, appoint their own trusted assistants. The central authority usually begins to dissipate by the time the conqueror dies, of which only, more often than not, a small portion of the taxes or booty collected actually made it to the king. Eventually, Weber points out, the more powerful lords make themselves totally independent, and the process begins again and continues repeatedly.
Because of its inefficiency and unpredictability, a number of kings and lords began laying down general rules rather than relying on the judgment and discretion of their subordinates. This new manner allowed the king to rule from afar by selecting, training, and checking up on persons whose only job was to follow the rules laid forth. Power was split up and controlled from above since an official performed a specialized role as a full-time career. Lines were drawn between black and white for there was no area of gray to bother with anymore.
Weber found this type of organization in both ancient Egypt and China, but concluded that its main development occurred in Europe as the absolutist monarchies emerged on a bureaucratic basis, ending the period of medieval feudalism (Cited in Collins and Makowsky, 1998: 127). The first great bureaucracies, according to Weber, developed in France, Prussia, and Russia in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but wouldn’t be imitated by industrial enterprises, not only governments, until the nineteenth century. Capitalists needed an efficient form of increased control over a large and complex division of labor in order for their endeavor to succeed (Collins and Makowsky, 1998: 127). Weber regarded bureaucratization as one of the main currents of modern history – so much so that the very concept would spread to all forms of social life.
A bureaucracy, as defined by George Ritzer, is ‘a large-scale organization composed of a hierarchy of offices. In these offices, people have certain responsibilities and must act in accord with rules and regulations, and means of compulsion exercised by those who occupy higher-level positions’ (Ritzer, 2000: 22).
Weber pointed out that there were certain prerequisites, both social and material, that had to be in place before a full-blown bureaucratic system could develop. He argues:
‘The development of writing and then a large group of literate officials was necessary for an organization carrying out specialized rules and keeping records of activities. A money economy was needed if officials were to be paid in salaries instead of land or booty. Improved transportation and communication were necessary if a king was to keep track of what his officials were doing in distant realms. Firearms made the self-equipped knight obsolete and aided the rises of the large, bureaucratic army of foot soldiers. Similarly, the invention of industrial machinery helped replace scattered handicraft production with the bureaucratic factory. But the bureaucratic form itself is historically primary; without its development through the struggles of politics, modern industrial innovations could never have been used and hence never have been invented’ (Cited in Collins and Makowsky, 1998: 127-28).
However, the kings who facilitated in the creation of the bureaucracy in order to increase their control over their knights and subjects soon found the control slipping from their grasps. Weber noted, ‘Once established, the bureaucratic system could do its work of administering regulations without a ruler and could even make up new rules as the occasion provided. Indeed, rulers soon began to get in the way of its smooth functioning, and hereditary monarchs grew progressively weaker until they fell in revolutions or degenerated into figureheads’ (Cited in Collins and Makowsky, 1998: 128).
Again, both the personalistic and bureaucratic forms of organization are ideal types, and more often than not, reality is a mixture of the two. However, what is significant about the development of bureaucratization is its increasing reliance on rationalization, and in particular, formal rationalization.
Rationalization, Disenchantment, and Re-enchantment
Even though there are various types of rationality, such as Practical (methodical attainment of a definitely given and practical end by means of an increasingly precise calculation of adequate means), Theoretical (an increasingly theoretical mastery of reality by means of increasingly precise and abstract concepts), and Substantive (the degree to which the provisioning of given groups of persons with goods is shaped by economically oriented social action under some criterion of ultimate values, regardless of the nature of these ends), Weber saw modern society becoming more and more bureaucratized through the rationalization process of Formal rationality (Cited in Ritzer, 1998, 38). Formal rationality, as Weber describes it, is ‘the search by people for the optimum means to a given end is shaped by rules, regulations, and larger social structures. Individuals are not left to their own devices in searching for the best means of attaining a given objective’ (Cited in Ritzer, 2000: 23). These processes are demonstrated through means of efficiency, predictability, calculability, and increasing control of people through nonhuman technologies. Weber identifies this type of rationality as a major development in the history of the world because people, beforehand, had been left mostly to their own devices or that of the social bonds formed with others as a system to discover such mechanisms. ‘After the development of formal rationality, they could use institutionalized rules that help them decide – or even dictate to them – what to do. An important aspect of formal rationality, then, is that it allows individuals as little choice of means to ends. In a formal rationality system, virtually everyone can (or must) make the same, optimal choice’ (Ritzer, 2000: 23).
Weber concluded that an ideal bureaucracy operates impeccably due to the advantages of four fundamental dimensions of rationalization: efficiency, predictability, calculability, and increasing control over human judgment. He felt the bureaucratic system is the most efficient structure for handling large numbers of tasks because it emphasizes the quantification of as many things as possible rather than stressing quantifiable tasks which help people gauge success. The well-entrenched rules and regulations create a predictable environment where increased control over human judgment is dictated through these rules, regulations, and structures.
Although advantageous at times, the bureaucratic system can also suffer from what Weber calls the irrationality of rationality. Ritzer writes: ‘Instead of remaining efficient, bureaucracies can become increasingly inefficient because of tangles of red tape and other pathologies. The emphasis on quantification often leads to large amounts of poor-quality work. Bureaucracies often become unpredictable as employees grow unclear about what they are supposed to do and clients do not get the services they expect. Because of these and other inadequacies, the bureaucratic system begins to lose control over those who work within and are served by them’ (Ritzer, 2000: 25). Weber calls such irrationality the ‘iron cage’ of rationality. In Weber’s view, ‘bureaucracies are cages in the sense that people are trapped in them, their basic humanity denied’ (Cited in Ritzer, 2000: 25). Weber feared most that bureaucracies would grow more and more rational and that rational principles would come to dominate an accelerating number of sectors of society. Society would eventually become nothing more than a seamless web of rationalized structures; there would be no escape (Ritzer, 2000: 25). Weber concluded:
‘This whole process of rationalization in the factory as elsewhere, and especially in the bureaucratic state machine, parallels the centralization of the material implements of organization in the hands of the master. Discipline inexorably takes over ever-larger areas as the satisfaction of political and economical needs is increasingly rationalized. This universal phenomenon more and more restricts the importance of charisma and of individually differentiated conduct’ (Cited in Ritzer, 1999: 65).
Weber believed, as a result of rationalization, the western world would grow increasingly disenchanted. As Schneider puts it, ‘Max Weber saw history as having departed a deeply enchanted past en route to a disenchanted future – a journey that would gradually strip the natural world of its magical properties and of its capacity for meaning’ (Cited in Ritzer, 1999: 66). The five basic elements of formal rationalization – efficiency, calculability, predictability, increasing control of people through nonhuman technologies, and the irrationality of rationality – Weber concluded would lead to a disenchantment of the social world. George Ritzer writes:
‘Efficiency involves the choice of the optimal means to an end…Calculability involves an emphasis on things that can be calculated, counted, quantified. It often results in an emphasis on quantity rather than quality. This leads to a sense that quality is equal to certain, usually (but not always) large, quantities of things…Predictability involves the increasing effort to ensue predictability from one time or place to another…Increasing control and the replacement of people by nonhuman technology is often orientated toward greater control. The principle source of uncertainty and unpredictability in any rationalizing systems are people – both the people who work within those systems and those who are served by them. It is most likely to do this by steadily replacing people with nonhuman technologies. After all, technologies such as robots and computes are far easier to control. In addition to eliminating some people by replacing them, these nonhuman technologies also exert increasing control over the remaining human laborers and the people served by the system…the irrationality of rationality can be seen as the paradoxical outcome of efforts to be completely rational. That is, rationalization can be viewed as leading to inefficiency, unpredictability, incalculability, and loss of control. The irrationality of rationality also means that rational systems are unreasonable systems. That is, they serve to deny the basic humanity, the human reason, of people who work within or are served by them. In other words, they are dehumanizing. This dehumanizing effect is related to another aspect of the irrationality of rationality – the disenchantment of rational systems and, more generally, the society they come to dominate’ (Ritzer, 1999: 78-93).
The process of rationalization, by Weber’s definition, will lead to disenchantment in the settings for which it is found. Although much has been gained from rationalization in society in general, there has also been much lost of great, if hard to define, value which at one time was very important to people. Again Ritzer writes:
‘Efficient systems have no room for anything smacking of enchantment and systematically seek to root it out of all aspects of their operation. Anything that is magical, mysterious, fantastic, dreamy, and so on is apt to be inefficient. Enchanted systems typically involve highly convoluted means to whatever end is involved. Furthermore, enchanted worlds may well exist without any obvious goals at all. Efficient systems, also by definition, do not permit such meanderings, and designers and implementers will do whatever is necessary to eliminate them…With regard to calculability, enchantment has far more to do with quality than quantity. Magic, fantasies, dreams, and the like relate more to the inherent nature of an experience and the qualitative aspects of that experience, than, for example, to the number of such experiences one has. An emphasis on producing and participating in a large number of experiences tends to diminish the magical quality of each of them. Put another way, it is difficult to imagine the mass production of magic, fantasy, and dreams. The mass production of such things is virtually guaranteed to undermine their enchanted qualities…No characteristic of rationalization is more inimical to enchantment than predictability. Magical, fantastic, or dream-like experiences are almost by definition unpredictable. Nothing would destroy an enchanted experience more easily than having it become predictable…both control and the nonhuman technologies that produce it tend to be inimical to enchantment. As a general rule, fantasy, magic, and dreams cannot be subjected to external controls; indeed, autonomy is much of what gives them their enchanted quality. Fantastic experiences can go anywhere; anything can happen. Such unpredictability clearly is not possible in a tightly controlled environment. It is possible that tight and total control can be a fantasy, but for many it would more a nightmare than a dream. Much can be said of nonhuman technologies. Such cold, mechanical systems are usually the antithesis of the dream worlds associated with enchantment’ (Ritzer, 1999: 96-9).
Paradoxically, rational systems, which tend to lead to disenchantment, can simultaneously create their own kinds of enchantment. Of course, these types of enchantment vary in terms of time and place.
There are degrees of enchantment. As a general rule, disenchanted structures have not eliminated fantasies, but rather replaced older fantasies with more contemporary ones. Ritzer argues:
‘People often marvel at the efficiency of rationalized systems; their ability to manage things so effectively can seem quite magical…Rationalized systems also often amaze on the basis of the large quantity of things they can deliver at what appears to be such a low cost…Predictability amazes people because the “Big Mac” they ate today in New York is identical to the one they ate last week in London and will eat next week in Tokyo…Perhaps the ultimate in capacity of the rationalization to enchant us comes from advanced technologies. Although at one time enchantment stemmed from human wizards or magicians, it now stems from the wizardry of modern robotic and computerized technology’ (Ritzer, 1999: 101-02).
Whether these contemporary fantasies associated with rational systems are satisfying enough as those conjured up in the past is a complex and controversial issue. Clearly, huge numbers of people flock to various environs that are found to be magical and fulfilling. However, it is fair to wonder ‘whether rationally produced enchantment is truly enchanting or whether it is as enchanting as the less rational, more human, forms of enchantment that it tends to squeeze out’ (Ritzer, 1999: 102).
For example, sport, in certain forms, can be viewed as a substantially rationalized aspect of modern society. Allen Guttmann’s study of sport activities through history reveals that modern day dominant form of sports (DFSport) have seven interrelated characteristics that have never appeared before together in past sport forms. They are secularism, equality, specialization, rationalization, bureaucratization, quantification, and record keeping. Guttmann describes them:
‘Secularism is not directly linked to religious beliefs or principles. It is a means of entertainment, not worship; it is played for personal gains, not the appeasement of gods; it embodies the immediacy of the material world, not the mysticism of the supernatural…Equality is based on the ideas that participation should no be regulated by birthright or social background, and that all contestants in a sport event should face the same set of competitive conditions, regardless of who they are or where they come from…Specialization is dominated by participation of specialist and spectators who watch them. Athletes often dedicate themselves exclusively to participation in a single event or position within an event. Positions are often defined and distinguished from one another by sills and responsibilities. Equipment is specialized to fit the demands of particular activities…Rationalization consists of complex sets of rules and strategies. Rules specify goals; they also regulate equipment, playing techniques, and the conditions of participation. Strategies inspire rationally controlled training methods that affect the experience of sport participation and the evaluation of athletes…Bureaucratization is controlled through the establishment of complex organizations on the international, national, and local levels. The people in these organizations oversee and sanction athletes, teams, and events. They make up and enforce rules, organize events, and certify records…Quantification features an abundance of measurements and statistics. Everything that can be reduced to a time, distance, or score is measured and recorded. Standards of achievement are discussed in clearly measurable terms, and statistics are used as proof of achievement…Record Keeping involves an emphasis on setting and breaking records. Performances are compared from one event to another, and records are published for individuals, teams, leagues, events, communities, states, provinces, and continents. Most important, of course, are world records’ (Cited in Coakley, 1997: 80-1).
Jay Coakley points out of Guttmann’s analysis, ‘One or more of these traits have characterized sport forms of previous historical periods, but not until the nineteenth century did all seven appear together. This does not mean that today’s organized, competitive sports are somehow superior to the games and activities of the past. It only mean they are different in the way they are organized’ (Coakley, 1998: 81).
Historical Comparison of Organized Games, Contests, and Sport Activities
Greek Games and Contests (1000 B.C. to 100 B.C.)
Roman Sports Events (100 B.C. to 500 A.D.)
Medieval Games and Tournaments (500 to 1300)
Renaissance and Enlightenment Games and Sport Activities (1300 to 1800)
Yes & No
Yes & No
Yes & No
Yes & No
Yes & No
Yes & No
Yes & No
Yes & No
Yes & No
Yes & No
Yes & No
Theoretically, modern sport, in such a rationalized set-up, should be highly disenchanting, if viewed from a Weberian perspective. However, Norbert Elias, in Quest for Excitement, would argue differently offering sport could be used as an alternative to the routinization of industrialization and the increasing rationalization of society. The emotions and excitement produced by these sporting activities is important to the development and popularity of sport because of their enchanting qualities in very much rationalized society. Elias writes:
‘Within its specific setting, sport, like other leisure pursuits, can evoke through its design a specific kind of tension, a pleasurable excitement, thus allowing feelings to flow more freely. It can help loosen, perhaps to free stress-tensions. The setting of sport, like many other leisure pursuits, is designed to move, to stir emotions, to evoke tensions in the form of a controlled, well-tempered excitement without the risks and tensions usually connected with excitement in other life-situations, a mimetic excitement which can be enjoyed and which may have a liberating, cathartic effect, even though the emotional resonance to the imaginary design contains, as it usually does, elements of anxiety, fear, or despair’ (Elias and Dunning, 1986: 48-9).
Although Elias is referring to the civilizing process and the sportization of pastimes, the excitement these sporting activities produce can, from a Weberian standpoint, contain exceptionally enchanting qualities.
Elias uses the word mimetic excitement to describe the feelings and emotions an individual experiences during these mock-battles. The word, as he defines it, means ‘creating feelings of excitement elicitated by leisure activities which are imaginary and offer no risks or dangers to those involved. They act as a sort of “controlled decontrolling of emotions,” or stress tension release’ (Elias and Dunning, 1986: 44). The feelings and emotions these activities produce – anxiety, fear, despair, etc. – offer the individual a channel to go through for captivating experiences not be easily elicitated through rational means, and therefore giving sport a number of enchanting features in the social world.
On the other hand though, Weber would argue that contemporary recreational activities have become highly rationalized, even though recreation can be thought of as a way to escape the rationalization of daily routines. George Ritzer points out that once sought after escape routes have themselves become highly rationalized, embodying the same principles of a bureaucratic system. He writes:
‘Among the many examples of the rationalization of recreation are ClubMed, chains of campgrounds, and package tours. Take, for example, a thirty-day tour of Europe. Buses hurtle through only the major cities in Europe, allowing tourists to glimpse the maximum number of sites in the time allowed. At particularly interesting or important sights, the buses may slow down or even stop to permit some picture taking. At the most important locales, a brief stopover is planned so visitors can hurry through the site, take a few pictures, buy a souvenir, then hop back on the bus to head to the next attraction’ (Ritzer, 2000: 25-6).
With the rationalization of even their recreational activities, people do live to a large extent in an iron cage of rationalization.
The McDonaldization of Society
The term McDonaldization was coined by University of Maryland Sociology Professor George Ritzer as a means to reinvigorate the Weberian critique of the nature of modern society through the present-day fast-food industry, which is also seen as a model for an increasing number of sectors of American society. First written in 1993, The McDonaldization of Society looks at ‘the processes by which the principles of the fast-food restaurant are coming to dominate more and more sectors of American society as well as the rest of the world’ (Ritzer, 2000: 1). The term he uses is an amplification and an extension of Weber’s theory of rationalization. Ritzer writes: ‘McDonaldization affects not only the restaurant business, but also education, work, health care, travel, leisure, dieting, politics, the family, and virtually every other aspect of society. McDonaldization has shown every sign of being an inexorable process, sweeping through seemingly impervious institutions and regions of the world’ (Ritzer, 2000: 10). As with Weber’s system of formal rationalization, the McDonaldization process is characterized by efficient, calculable, predictable, and increasingly controllable means of human beings.
As defined earlier, efficiency means choosing the optimum means to a given end (Ritzer, 2000: 40). Ritzer notes, ‘The fast-food restaurant has spearheaded the search for optimum efficiency and has been joined in that quest by other elements of our McDonaldizing society. There are innumerable ways to search for ever-greater efficiency, but in McDonaldizing systems, that search has taken the form primarily of streamlining a variety of processes, simplifying goods and services, and using the customer to perform unpaid work that paid employees used to do’ (Ritzer, 2000: 61). Even though many aspects of the fast-food industry illustrate efficiency, Ritzer argues the customer being turned into an unpaid laborer is a significant one. He writes:
‘Customers are expected to stand in line and order their own food (rather than having a waiter [or waitress] do it) and to “bus” their own paper, plastic, and styrofoam (rather than have it done by a bus person). Fast-food chains have also pioneered the movement toward handing the consumer little more than the basics of the meal. The consumer is expected to take the naked burger to the “fixin bar” and there turn it into the desired sandwich by adding such things as lettuce, tomatoes, and onions…In some ultramodern fast-food restaurants, customers are met by a computer screen when they enter and they must punch in their own order. In these and other ways, the fast-food restaurant has grown more efficient’ (Ritzer, 1998: 45).
There is no question that greater efficiency brings many advantages, but it is quite important to remember that the methods used to increase efficiency are typically organized and operated by organizations to further their own interests, and they are not always the same of the customers. Note though, the more we encounter efficiency, the more of it we crave, and as a result, we often end up clamoring for that which may not be in our best interests.
As mentioned earlier, calculability involves an emphasis on things that can be calculated, counted, quantified. It often results in an emphasis on quantity rather than quality. This leads to a sense that quality is equal to certain, usually (but not always) large, quantities of things. Also, there is an emphasis on the efforts to create the illusion of quantity, and the tendency to reduce production and service processes to numbers. Ritzer notes of the fast-food industry:
‘As with many other aspects of its operation, McDonald’s emphasis on quantity (as reflected with the Big Mac) is mirrored by other fast-food restaurants. The most notable is Burger King, which stresses the quantity of the meat in its hamburger, called the “Whopper,” and of the fish in its sandwich called the “Whaler.” At Wendy’s, we are offered a variety of “Biggies”…What is particularly interesting about all this emphasis on quantity is the seeming absence of the interest in communicating anything about quality’ (Ritzer, 1998: 47).
The stress on calculability brings with it many advantages, such as the ability to obtain large numbers and sizes of things at a relatively low cost. On the other hand though, the fact that in a society that emphasizes quantity, goods and services tend to be increasingly mediocre, which can be a negative in the long term.
Ritzer, as mentioned before, notes that predictability is the third dimension of the McDonaldization process. He writes, ‘It involves an emphasis on discipline, systemization, and routine so that things are the same from one time or place to another. Predictability is achieved in various ways, including the replication of settings, the uses of scripts to control what employees say, the routinization of employee behavior, the offering of uniform products and processes, and the minimization of danger and unpleasantness’ (Ritzer, 2000: 102). He continues, ‘The consumer neither wants nor expects surprises. They want to know that when they order their Big Mac today it will be identical to the one they had yesterday and the one they will eat tomorrow’ (Ritzer, 1998: 48).
As a result, the world in which we live has become increasingly predictable. And for the most part, most of the population comes to expect, and even to a certain degree, demand predictability. However, many have found that a predictable world can easily become a boring world, and something sterile.
Increasing Control of Humans through Nonhuman Technologies
Control through the McDonaldization process is primarily through the increasing replacement of humans through nonhuman technologies. One of the most important objectives here is to increase the control over uncertainties created by people – particularly employees and customers. In controlling employees and customers, these nonhuman technologies would also lead to a greater control over work-related processes and finished products.
However, increased control through technology would also include not only machines and tools, but also ‘materials, skills, knowledge, rules, regulations procedures, and techniques. A human technology is controlled by people; a nonhuman technology controls people [to a certain degree]’ (Ritzer, 2000: 104). Ritzer writes:
‘McDonald’s has developed a variety of machines to control its employees. The soft drink dispenser has a sensor that automatically shuts off the dispenser when the cup is full. Ray Kroc’s [McDonald’s founder] dissatisfaction with the vagaries of human judgment led to the elimination of French fry machines controlled by humans and to the development of machines that ring or buzz when the fries are done or that automatically lift the French fry baskets out of the hot oil. When an employee controls the French fry machine, misjudgment may lead to undercooked, overcooked, or even burnt fries’ (Ritzer, 2000: 106).
‘McDonald’s seeks to exert increasing control over both its employees and customers. It is most likely to do this by steadily replacing people with nonhuman technologies. After all, technologies like robots and computers are far easier to control than humans. In addition to eliminating some people by replacing them with technologies, those who continue to labor within McDonald’s are better controlled by these new technologies. These nonhuman technologies also exert increasing control over people served by the system’ (Ritzer, 1998: 50).
Control is not the only goal associated with nonhuman technologies. Ritzer points out, ‘These technologies are created and implemented for many reasons, such as increased productivity, greater quality control, and lower cost’ (Ritzer, 2000: 105).
The processes capitulated though McDonaldization have moved ahead dramatically because they have, to some degree, led to positive changes. Ritzer’s examples include:
- A wider range of goods and services is available to a much larger portion of the population than ever before.
- Availability of goods and services depends far less than before on time or geographic location; people can do things that were nearly impossible before.
- People are able to get what they want or need almost instantaneously and get it far more conveniently.
- Goods and services are of a far more uniform quality; at least some people get better goods and services than before the McDonaldization process.
- Far more economical alternatives to high-priced, customized goods and services are widely available; therefore, people can afford things they could not previously afford.
- Fast, efficient goods and services are available to a population that is working longer hours and has fewer hours to spare.
- In rapidly changing, unfamiliar, and seemingly hostile world, the comparatively stable, familiar, and safe environment of a McDonaldized system offers comfort.
- Because of quantification, consumers can more easily compare competing products.
- Certain products are safer in a carefully regulated and controlled system.
- People are more likely to be treated similarly, no matter what their race, gender, or social class.
- Organizational and technological innovations are more quickly and easily diffused through networks of identical operators.
- The most popular products of one culture are more easily diffused to others.
Paradoxically, the processes of McDonaldization can have a downside. The basic idea here is that rational systems inevitably spawn irrational consequences, and in another way, often become very unreasonable. This process is the fifth dimension of McDonaldization, the irrationality of rationality.
Irrationality of Rationality
Even though McDonaldization has swept across the social landscape due to increased efficiency, predictability, calculability, and augmented control of human judgment, there is also an element of the irrationality of rationality.
Contrary to popular belief, McDonaldized systems in society are not reasonable, or even truly rational systems. They may generate many problems for consumers such as inefficiency rather than increased efficiency, relatively high costs, illusionary fun and reality, false friendliness, disenchantment, threats to health and the environment, homogenization, and dehumanization. Even though the McDonaldization process does have its many advantages, these irrationalities can clearly counterbalance if not overwhelm them.
Ritzer, in his analyzation of McDonald’s and the fast-food industry, writes:
‘McDonaldization can be viewed as leading to inefficiency, unpredictability, incalculability, and loss of control. More specifically, irrationality means that rational systems are unreasonable systems. By that, I mean they serve to deny the basic humanity, the human reason, of people who work within or are other contexts rationality and reason often used interchangeably, here they are employed to mean antithecal phenomena. The most obvious manifestation of the inefficiency of the fast-food restaurant is the long lines of people that are often found at the counters or the long lines of people that are often found at the drive-through windows. What is purported to be an efficient way of obtaining a meal turns out to be quite inefficient’ (Ritzer, 1998: 55).
McDonaldization tends to become a dehumanising system, which is antihuman and destructive, which in turn can become disenchanting. Threats to health and the environment because of the fast-food industry are but two of a number of reasons which Ritzer notes as dangers of progressive rationalization. This is probably one of the main reasons why the concept McDonaldization is irrational.
McDonaldization can therefore be looked at as both enabling and constraining. Ritzer writes, ‘McDonaldized systems enable us to do many things that we were not able to do in the past. However, these systems also keep us from doing things we otherwise would do. McDonaldization is a “double-edged” phenomenon’ (Ritzer, 2000: 18).
What’s more, McDonaldization is not an all-or-nothing process. There are varying degrees of McDonaldization. Ritzer continues, ‘Fast-food restaurants have been heavily McDonaldized, universities moderately McDonaldized, and mom-and-pop grocers only slightly McDonaldized. It is difficult to think of a social phenomenon that has escaped McDonaldization totally, but some local enterprise in Fiji may yet be untouched by this process’ (Ritzer, 2000: 19).
McDonaldization did not occur in a historical vacuum; the process had to have a number of important precursors that remain important to this day. The assembly line, scientific management, and bureaucracy provided many of the basic principles on which fast-food restaurants were built, hence becoming a model of rationality.
The influence of McDonald’s and other fast-food restaurants has infiltrated other sectors of society, be it subtler, but no less profound. McDonald’s is such a powerful model that many businesses have adopted their practices and hence, have acquired nicknames beginning with ‘Mc’. Ritzer gives examples such as ‘“McDentists” and “McDoctors,” meaning drive-in clinics designated to deal quickly and efficiently with minor dental and medical problems; “McChild” care centres, meaning child care centres such as Kinder-Care; “McStables,” designating the nationwide race horse-training operation of Wayne Lucas; and “McPapers,” designating the newspaper USA TODAY’ (Ritzer, 2000: 10). So powerful is McDonaldization that the derivatives of McDonald’s in turn exert their own influence. Notes Ritzer, ‘The success of USA TODAY has led many newspapers across the nation to adopt, for example, shorter stories and colourful weather maps’ (Ritzer, 2000: 10).
In short, McDonald’s has become the ‘ultimate icon of Americana’ due significantly to the applied principles of formal rationalization (Ritzer, 2000: 6). However, there is one more noteworthy characteristic in the development of McDonaldization in our society: franchising.
Franchising is a system in which ‘one large firm…grants or sells the right to distribute it products or use of its trade name and processes to a number of smaller firms…franchises holders, although legally independent, must conform to detailed standards of operation designed and enforced by the parent company’ (Cited in Ritzer, 2000: 36). Without going into too much detail of the development and structure of McDonald’s role in coming to occupy a central place in American popular culture, not just the business world, the restaurant’s global expansion is greatly due to it’s use of franchising. Ray Kroc, maker of the McDonald’s miracle, took the specifics and techniques of rationalization and combined them with the principles of previous franchises, bureaucracies, scientific management, and the assembly line to build a national, then international, fast-food empire. But it was the way he franchised McDonald’s which was Kroc’s major innovation and lasting legacy.
Ray Kroc maximized the central control of McDonald’s, and thereby uniformity throughout the system, by granting franchises one at a time and rarely granting more than one franchise to a specific individual. The success of Kroc and his organization depended on the prosperity of the franchises. And though Kroc imposed and enforced a uniform system, he also encouraged the franchises to come up with innovations that could enhance not only their operations, but also those of the system as a whole (Ritzer, 2000: 37).
It is therefore, as Ritzer writes, ‘McDonald’s and McDonaldization do not represent something new, but, rather, the culmination of a series of rationalization processes that have been occurring throughout the twentieth century’ (Ritzer, 2000: 37). In some cases, perhaps these processes stretch farther back in history than that.
The Development and Structure of Major League Soccer
Soccer in the United States has a long and varied history. The sport is generally believed to have been brought to America by British immigrants in the 19th century to cities such as New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Cincinnati, and St. Louis. It was during this period of the industrial revolution that many of the immigrants came to the U.S. from Europe to work in places such as textile mills, shipyards, quarries, and/or mines. John Sugden writes, ‘Soccer was appropriated by lower socio-economic groups that most of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century immigrants to the United States came, bringing with them their distinctive and alien cultural preferences including a knowledge and liking for soccer’ (Cited in Howell, 1994: 9).
Even though the first ‘recognized’ modern soccer club was Oneida Football Club, which was founded in Boston Common in 1862, soccer in the U.S. still had an element of foreignness to it. Andrei Markovits argues that in America, ‘soccer remained closely associated with immigrants, a stigma which proved fatal to its potential of becoming a popular team sport in the new world’ (Cited in Howell, 1994: 10). Paul Gardner contends:
‘In New York, don’t expect things to be orderly or logical. Ethnic soccer clubs here have always been a faithful reflection of the city itself: disputation, exciting, incoherent, colourful, chaotic, scandalous, violent. Always difficult to define, never mind organize. Downright impossible really. Listen to this lot: Polish-American Eagles, Greek-American Atlas, New York Chinese United, Brooklyn Italians, Bronx Palermo, Ukrainian SC, Stade Breton, Ecuadorian Filabanco, New York Albanians, Turkish Power, Brooklyn Haitians, Shamrock SC, South American Exchange, to name but a few. The game itself was always going to have problems, not enough space and important men in suits sitting around in hotels getting things organized. But the game grew most vigorously in ethnic pockets, among immigrants who didn’t understand baseball and who nursed that vital immigrant urge to keep alive the old country’s traditions’ (Cited in Howell, 1994: 10).
This marginalization of a distinctive cultural presence was, in fact, believed to be retarding the pace of assimilation in to the core (American) society. Writes G. Oliver, ‘From the New York Greek-Americans to the Philadelphia Ukrainians, and the Los Angeles Armenians to the German-Hungarian Soccer Club from Brooklyn, one is left in little doubt as the composition of these teams. This tended to alientate Americans even further away from what they already considered as a foreign sport’ (Cited in Howell, 1994: 11).
To assimilate into American culture easier, one could play an American game, if not an American institution, like baseball. ‘Baseball was unquestionably a vehicle for Americanization. Because it was perceived as the archetypically American game, baseball was the allegiance of immigrants who wished to cast their lot with their new homeland. Indeed, the children of the immigrants, at home in America and eager to demonstrate their loyalty, became the most enthusiastic fans of all,’ points out Allen Guttmann (Cited in Howell, 1994: 12).
According to Addington Bruce, the traits it takes to play baseball – physical fitness, courage, honesty, patience, the spirit of initiative, respect for lawful authority, soundness and quickness of judgement, self-confidence, self-control, cheeriness, fair-mindedness, appreciation of the importance of social solidarity – are traits required to build a successful individual and nation, more so than any other sport at least (Cited in Riess, 1984: 266). He argues:
‘The spectator at a ball game is no longer a statesman, lawyer, broker, doctor, merchant, or artisan, but a plain everyday man, with a heart full of fraternity and goodwill to all his fellow man’ (Cited in Riess, 1984: 269).
Almost from the very beginning of its modern development did baseball owe a great deal of its successful proliferation among the American masses to its identity as ‘American’. On the other hand, in all but the United States, ‘the sport the world made its own was association football, the child of Britain’s global presence…This simple and elegant game, unhampered by complex rules and equipment, and which could be practised on any more or less flat open space of the required size, made its way through the world entirely on its merits,’ states Hobsbawm (Cited in Markovits and Hellerman, 2001: 7).
Although there were a wide assortment of professional and semi-professional soccer leagues in the United States, both regional and national, in the late nineteenth and throughout most of the twentieth century – ASL, APSL, CISL, CSL, NPSL, ISSL, NESSL, USISL, NSL, HASL, LISFL, IASL, EDSL, CJSL, LIJSL, PSAL, NESL, NJSL, NCJSL, NDASA, NCSA, NHSA, TSL, FSSL, DSA, ISL, MSL, MISL, MSC, EPSA, PSA, ENJSA, CSA, SCSL, OSL, OJSL, SDSI, CSSA, ENYSSSA, GAL, MSSA, MASS, MDCVSA, PWSA, RISA, VSA, WVSA – none would have an impact to such a considerable degree on the American sporting space as did the North American Soccer League (NASL) did in the late 1960s.
Sporting space refers to two things: first, the sheer logic of quantity, and second, a finite entity of entrants, a limited capacity to give all participants equal prominence and presence. However, it is timing that matters most immensely. Markovits and Hellerman write, ‘The sequences as to which sport came first, which managed to modernize most efficiently, and how this modernization process related sequentially to the particular society’s overall modernization all represent crucial ingredients in the formation of a society’s sport space. But more important, sport space denotes a qualitative dimension of cultural construction and group contestation that reflects power relationships in society at large, and in sport particular’ (Markovits and Hellerman, 2001: 15).
Early arrival did not necessarily mean late survival, but it certainly helped since the choices became rapidly narrowed in American sporting space. Newcomers to this field would suffer from a ‘liability of newness’ since most occupants, once settled in, became virtually impossible to dislodge. Writes Markovits and Hellerman on early American sports such as baseball, American football, basketball, and, to a certain degree, ice hockey:
‘The continually reinforcing feedback of escalating success provide them a cultural and institutional presence that render them virtually impossible to dislodge…A “mechanism of reproduction” develops that creates a self-reinforcing and positive feedback process that strengthens those that are already present and weakens the entrance options for all newcomers. This led to a situation that permitted substantial shifts within many a country’s sport spaces over the past century, although few entrants were accorded the status of cultural importance and popular following accorded to that enjoyed by the early arrivals. In other words, once the window of opportunity was missed, it was virtually impossible to break into a country’s sport space successfully…The “barriers to entry” remain exceedingly high, since the existing occupants enjoy significant cost advantages vis-à-vis all newcomers, have a fine and widely appreciated product differentiation, and benefit from substantial economies of scale. Factor in that newcomers will inevitably suffer from an inadequate demand for their product, and it is clear that a belated entrance into this virtually closed world is almost prohibitive. Newcomers, in effect, remain “crowded out”’ (Markovits and Hellerman, 2001: 15-6).
The key period to enter a country’s sport space, they determined, was between 1870 and 1930, the crucial decades of industrial proliferation and the establishment of modern mass societies. Whichever sports entered the landscape first during this period severely increased their chances of becoming apart of the ‘hegemonic sports culture’.
Sports culture is what people ‘breath, read, discuss, analyze, compare, and historicize’ when is comes to sports (Markovits and Hellerman, 2001: 9). In other words, it’s what people follow rather than what people do when it comes to sports. To be even more specific, hegemonic sports culture is when ‘a sports culture dominates a country’s emotional attachments rather than its calisthenic activities. This domination need not be exclusive or total’ (Markovits and Hellerman, 2001: 10).
All hegemonic sports reproduce and legitimate themselves through constant acts of loyalty, legends, colors and icons. Thus, every contemporary game becomes a discourse with history, and the culture of continuity and comparability develops over time and space. This gives the already established sports an attraction that virtually no newcomer(s) can match. Roman Horak, Austria’s leading student of sports cultures, gives an example of the relationship between a man and his soccer club. He writes: ‘Moreover, there remains only one single constant in the life of people, particularly of men, and that is the soccer club and all the ties to it associated with being a fan. Marriages fail, relationships end, jobs disappear, anything can happen; only one red thread remains reliably through life: team loyalty’ (Cited in Markovits and Hellerman, 2001: 18). This affection for a fan’s relationship to a sports team or club can be applicable nearly anywhere around the globe.
The sports that have become the hegemonic sports in American sport space are baseball, football (known as American, gridiron, or NFL), basketball, and to a certain extent, ice hockey. Soccer is not one of them, even though nearly all modern industrial countries around the globe feature association football as the unquestioned leading sport in their respective sport spaces.
Historically, the oldest would have to be baseball – ‘America’s national pastime’. The sport, evolving from myth and reality, captured centre stage for most of the century as America’s primary sport of choice. In fact, a great deal of baseball’s success can be understood in its attaining an appeal among the masses as the ‘people’s game’, meaning that it has become ‘a culture that masses follow rather than an activity gentlemen perform’ (Markovits and Hellerman, 2001: 30). Hence, baseball became the sport of the working class American.
Next up chronologically, would have to be football, although the sport mainly entered America’s sports space through the colleges and the bourgeoisie class. Up until the 1950s, the college game was actually considered more popular than the professional one. However, that all changed due to a number of processes, one of the most notable being television. Since then, professional football has gone on to surpass baseball as the United States most watched and followed team sport.
Basketball, a conscious invention developed by one individual, James Naismith, in 1891, soon became a major activity among the working people and children of immigrants in some of the nation’s inner cities. Long before the professional game gained any cultural importance, basketball was very popular in America’s YMCA’s, high schools, and colleges for a number of years. Even though basketball only really achieved relative success in the late 1970s and early 1980s, due to the attractiveness of the NCAA’s ‘March Madness’ tournament and the Larry Bird – Magic Johnson – Michel Jordan era of the NBA, the seeds for this proliferation were planted during that essential period, suggested by Markovits and Hellerman, near the beginning of the twentieth century.
Finally, ice hockey, Canadian in origin, attained early and prolific exposure in the Northeast and Upper Midwest of the United States, which, in turn, provided a specific sporting culture for the sport in these regions. However, hockey wouldn’t make a significant impact on the American sporting space until its expansion across the United States in the late 1960s and through the early 1980s, and even that presence is minimal, at best, to that of baseball, football, and basketball.
Soccer failed to gain even more than a marginal existence in American sports culture and sporting space due to three reasons, according to Markovits and Hellerman. The first, they write is that ‘soccer as both a recreational and spectator activity was “crowded out” in the nineteenth century from below by the prior emergence and success of baseball as a sport for the American masses in spring and summer, and from above by American football as a sport for the middle and upper classes in autumn’ (Markovits and Hellerman, 2001: 52). The second reason, they argue, is ‘like the first modern British sport to be played and watched in the Untied States, cricket, soccer was perceived by both native-born Americans and immigrants as a non-American activity at a time in American history when nativism and nationalism emerged to create a distinctly American self-image’ (Markovits and Hellerman, 2001: 52). The third and final reason, as stated by Markovits and Hellerman, is ‘that of organizational impasse and institutional obduracy, which amply informed the failed development of soccer in America. Simply put, there is much evidence that soccer in the United States was cursed by an array of exceptionally poor leaders who failed miserably at developing any sort of comprehensive organizational framework that would have been able to promote and represent the sport on American soil’ (Markovits and Hellerman, 2001: 53). However, soccer, despite its problems, didn’t completely disappear from the American sporting radar.
Beginning in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a ‘soccer boom’ occurred in the United States, touted as a middle-class, egalitarian, communitarian, suburban game, identified as a ‘yuppie’ and ‘preppy’ sport indulged by suburban ‘soccer moms’. There was, and still is, the label of soccer being foreign sport, a point found most prominently among some Latin and Hispanic communities, but the popular image of American-style soccer has gone through a ‘yuppiefication’ process. Gordie Howell writes:
‘In the late 1960s and early 70s, the transformation of soccer from a sport played primarily by ethnics and grounded in the tradition of Europe and South America to one whose status was rooted in middle or upper-class suburbia began to develop. This resultant boom is popularity signalled soccer now had a youth following which was not so obviously dependent on immigrant and ethnic involvement. Soccer’s participatory nucleus was expanding and shifting’ (Howell, 1994: 21).
An increasing number of indigenous middle-class parents and physical educators began to experiment with soccer as an alternative autumn and winter sport for their children as compared to the rough and tumble, more traditional competition of Pop Warner football.
In the mid-to-late 1960s, there occurred a serious growth in the number of franchises in a number of American sports, and the times seemed favourable for a number of sports promoters to begin a professional soccer league in America, a lot in due part to the interest generated by the broadcast in the U.S. of the World Cup Final between England and West Germany. Phyllis Marie Goudy Myers argues that the demographic environment featured two developments particularly favourable to the expansion of existing sports leagues and the creation of new ones. They were ‘the coming of age of the baby boomer generation, whose early cohort had just reached its late teens and early twenties at the time; and a seemingly irreversible trend toward the formation of major urban centres surrounded by large and generally prosperous suburbs (where a majority of Americans would live by the mid-1980s)’ (Cited in Markovits and Hellerman, 2001: 164).
Startlingly though, the such astute businessmen behind the endeavour of a proposed professional soccer league banking on ‘ethnics’ filling huge stadiums to the brim, provided they offered a product of excellent quality, failed to commission any sort of sufficient market research or analyses regarding the viability of soccer as a major league sport. They reasoned that the average American sports fan would soon follow, and therefore, be just as captivated by the ‘world’s game’ as spectators in Latin America and Europe. These businessmen and sports promoters, in turn, would garner large profits, capitalizing on soccer’s popularity around the globe, and be wealthy beyond their wildest dreams. In short, the result was the North American Soccer League (NASL), founded in 1967 as a merger between two rival and economically unproductive leagues, the National Professional Soccer League (NPSL) and the United Soccer Association (USA).
The NASL stumbled out of the gates in the early years of its existence, but would experience unprecedented and unanticipated growth throughout the latter half of the decade, which would eventually contribute to the league’s abortion in 1985. However, in the ‘golden years’ of the NASL, a number of world class players, many of whom were late in their careers, graced the pitches with their American clubs which, in turn, gave the league high profile status as a fifth major sport in the United States. The most notable and most influential of the players would be that of Pele, who signed with the New York Cosmos in 1975 for a reported deal worth $4.5 million for three years (Markovits and Hellerman, 2001: 166). Pele’s presence gave the league instant legitimacy in the world of soccer, and his willingness to play in America attracted other soccer superstars from around the globe, including West Germany’s Franz Beckenbaur and Gerd Muller; Holland’s Johan Cruyff and Johan Neeskans; Italy’s Giorgio Chinaglia; Northern Ireland’s George Best; England’s Gordon Banks; Brazil’s Carlos Alberto; and Portugal’s Eusebio (Markovits and Hellerman, 2001: 167).
The league also imported a number of other South American and European players, many of whom not only elevated the level of play for the league, but also kept American talent, minimal as it may have been, relegated to the sidelines. On the eventual unsuccessful campaign of the North American Soccer League, Gordie Howell writes:
‘A partial result was that newly created American followers were confused and disoriented. Compounding this result was the fact that the most successful teams were dominated by players from other countries. When American spectators became capable of discerning the brilliance of the world-class level players, it had the effect of underlining the appearance that America was not yet capable of providing players of that calibre. By the early 1980s, the newness and excitement engendered by primarily the international players began to wane. These are some of the processes that literally fragmentized the league to death’ (Howell, 1994: 19).
Add to the fact that the league owners, without FIFA’s permission, were experimenting in ‘Americanizing’ the game with rule changes to offside interpretation, substitutions, and match-tie breaker methods, the NASL was doomed to failure, in hindsight, because of it’s isolation and near ‘outlaw’ status. Eventually, the NASL capitulated with FIFA, and played by the international rules, but it was too late. The North American Soccer League would officially fold on March 28, 1985.
Several factors ruined the NASL, only which some were financially related. Markovits and Hellerman point out that the league found itself in a number of catch-22 situations. They argue:
‘Realizing that only top-quality soccer would draw major-league-type crowds to matches, the owners of the NASL competed with each other in lavishing huge contracts on players from abroad. Revenues never matched the salary outlay for these players, though without these players there would be no revenues at all, as the quality of play on the field would have not drawn spectators or have attracted a network television contract. That there were very few American players in the NASL was a powerful factor in limiting spectatorship, both in person and on television. But American players were simply not good enough to provide the league with the necessary quality of play. So the NASL’s appeal would be limited with a majority of players from the United States, just as it had been with a majority of players from overseas’ (Markovits and Hellerman, 2001: 168).
In addition, the NASL had succumbed to what had always kept soccer out of the mainstream of the United States: the complete absence of a soccer culture in relation to the culture found in traditional American sports (Markovits and Hellerman, 2001: 169). Most Americans were not interested in watching soccer in a continual manner beyond the rare glimpse of Pele. And as for the ‘hyphenated Americans’, who traditionally comprised the basis of the sport’s continuation in the U.S. despite its utter lack of acceptance in popular American culture, they apparently most lost their enthusiasm for home teams not composed primarily of their ethnic or national character. This was reflected not only in the poor television ratings and the ever declining number of spectators in the stands, but also in the wider processes of globalization at large, where to ‘a greater degree of interdependence, and also an increased awareness of a sense of the world as a whole, we also see a concomitant resurgence of the local/national’ (Maguire, 2000: 356).
Following the collapse of the North American Soccer League, soccer in the United States returned to its former status quo with an array of regional amateur and semi-professional leagues, being highly ignored by the general American public. However, the legacy the NASL left behind was a nationwide awareness of the sport, which soccer rarely had before, and a growth in American soccer at the grass roots level during the course of the 1980s and 1990s which had been previously unexperienced in the century prior. There is no way to prove a direct connection, as Markovits and Hellerman point out, but ‘greater numbers of American youth and, notably, American women began to take up the sport as the saga of the NASL wound down; the number of participants have continued to increase steadily in the subsequent years’ (Markovits and Hellerman, 2001: 169). In fact, to further stretch this point, the U.S. national team members who qualified for the World Cup 1990 in Italy and hosted, in a sense, the World Cup 1994 in the United States have been dubbed ‘Pele’s kids’ because of the Brazilian’s contribution to the game of soccer in America during his time with the Cosmos.
On December 17, 1993, Alan Rothenberg, President of the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) unveiled the plans for Major League Soccer to the sporting world and the soccer community. MLS, which would begin play in 1995 in 12 cities, eventually being postponed by one year and reduced to 10 cities, was the latest of efforts to bring Division I, professional soccer to the United States. It had been twelve years since the demise of the North American Soccer League, but with this latest effort to bring world-class soccer to the U.S., some might even call its last chance, a promise not to make the same mistakes that led to the eventual fold of the NASL was key to its launch.
The preventative matter that MLS primarily employed was the concept of single-entity ownership. As mentioned earlier, single-entity ownership is a group of people whom own the league, which owns the clubs, and then those same people operate the clubs. MLS Commissioner Don Garber argues that single-entity ownership is the best way of averting entrenched inequalities. He claims:
‘This country has a history of outspending itself in professional sports. The concept of having a system whereby you could make decisions strategically, knowing what massive obstacles were ahead, was what drove that decision’ (Hann, 2001: 106).
Both Garber and Deputy Commissioner Ivan Gazidis feel this type of league operation most ‘equalizes the playing fields’ because every team is offered the same opportunities. Garber continues:
‘If you had one team that wins every year, like Manchester United, I think all the revenues will flow through that team, and that’s going to have a negative impact on every other team. Part of what the fans need is a competitive environment to know that you could win on any given Saturday. If you don’t believe you can, you’ve got know reason to be a fan. Look at baseball. You’ve got a handful of teams with the ability to win and revenues are flowing into those teams. The rest of the league is struggling mightily’ (Hann, 2001: 106).
Garber has even gone on to predict that Major League Soccer is ‘the sport for the New America’ (Hann, 2001: 107).
Although there is some truth based in Garber’s proclamation, as the ‘New America’ is based on the globalization of population and their connection to the rest of the world, there is another trend in the globalization process that might be detrimental to the success of Major League Soccer: diminishing contrasts, increasing varieties.
According to Jarvie and Maguire, the globalization process may be leading ‘“to a form of time-space compression” in which people experience spatial and temporal dimensions differently. There is a speeding up of time and a “shrinking” of space. Modern technologies enable people, images, ideas, and money to criss-cross the globe with great rapidity. This leads…to greater degree of interdependence, but also an increased awareness of the world as a whole’ (Cited in Murphy, Sheard and Waddington, 2000: 98). These processes, as most figurational sociologist will point out, may also be ‘associated with a concomitant resurgence of local/national identifications’ (Murphy, Sheard and Waddington, 2000: 98).
The sportization process, as mentioned earlier in the text, entered a fifth phase in the late 1960s. This phase is exemplified by the decrease in contrasts and the increase in varieties. According to Maguire:
‘Aspects of the globalization process are “powered” by specifically Western notions of “civilization” with various commercial and industrial interest groups active in spreading the cult of consumerism and a staple diet of Western products. This has been associated with diminishing contrasts between nations, as members of the “media-sport production complex” have achieved success in marketing virtually identical sport-forms, products, and images. However, the people involved in global marketing also attempt to celebrate difference, with new varieties of ethnic wares sought and targeted at specific market niches leading sometimes, to the strengthening of “local” ethnic identities’ (Cited in Murphy, Sheard and Waddington, 2000: 98).
Although Jarvie and Maguire argue that involvement in sport has reinforced and reflected a diminishing of contrasts between nations [or nationalities], they are also aware that the close association of sport with national cultures and identities may mean the undermining of the integration of regions at a political level, if not a commercial level. They conclude that ‘the sport process occupies a contested terrain in which the defensive response of strengthened ethnic identities may yet win out over broader pluralizing global flows’ (Cited in Murphy, Sheard and Waddington, 2000: 99). This viewpoint differs somewhat to MLS Commissioner Don Garber’s views that the changing population of the United States will be a crucial factor in the success of MLS. ‘As more immigrants come in, they will have soccer as their first language and we will be able to play into their needs and wants,’ he is quoted as saying (Hann, 2001:107).
Paradoxically though, MLS faces the same pitfall that greatly contributed to the demise of the North American Soccer League as well as soccer’s marginalization throughout American sporting history: ‘the reliance on “ethnic” players to draw immigrant or “ethnically identified” soccer fans out to the game to root for a team that comprises – at least in part – their countrymen or ethnic group, while the sport itself retains (or regains) the image in the United States as the game for – and by – foreigners and “ethnics”’ (Markovits and Hellerman, 2001: 199). For example, the temptation to field a team that appeals to a specific ethnic and/or immigrant groups is quite attractive to the Los Angeles Galaxy. Michael Ayra, Galaxy vice-president, explains, ‘If the [Los Angeles] Coliseum crowd is mostly immigrant, the Galaxy attracts the more established, U.S.-born children of immigrants…But though the Galaxy is a U.S. team, its promoters amplify the fan base by wooing Latin American soccer gods…Latinos are much more likely to come to a Galaxy game if we have a Salvadoran player. It’s more than that he is a great player – he’s one of them…It’s a no-brainer’ (Cited in Markovits and Hellerman. 2001: 199). However, in MLS’s case, a plethora of foreigners, in the long run, may work to the disadvantage of soccer’s cultural acceptance in the United States.
Any successful professional team in modern sport must gain the allegiance of a fan base, specifically, ‘the home crowd’, if the team were to be identified with their respective local communities, and more particularly in MLS’s case, potentially elevate into American sporting space. The challenge that lies ahead for Major League Soccer is attaching a team’s geographic identifications to a solid, local fan base. In essence, this means establishing the Burn as ‘Dallas’s team’, the Earthquakes as ‘San Jose’s team’, the Fire as ‘Chicago’s team’, and so on. If each team is to succeed in this endeavour and demonstrates excellence on the playing field, then it may be possible, although many would argue that it would take at least one full generation for such an affect to be seen.
Major League Soccer currently consists of ten teams (down from twelve in the 2001 season), and the goal of the league is ‘to create a profitable Division I professional outdoor soccer league with players and teams that are competitive on an international level, and to provide affordable family entertainment while encouraging attacking and entertaining soccer with dynamic players and coaches and assisting and improving the performance of U.S. soccer teams in competition on an international scale for club, national and youth sides’ (MLS, 2000). According to the official website, Major League Soccer promises to ‘bring the spirit, passion and intensity of the world’s most popular sport to the United States. Featuring competitive ticket prices (average price in 2000 is slightly less than $14 [£10]) and family-oriented promotions such as the interactive “Soccer Celebration” theme park at the stadium, MLS and the surrounding event atmosphere appeals to the children who play and the families who support soccer. MLS players also are involved with a variety of community events’ (MLS, 2000). The five guiding principles in the MLS philosophy are to ‘become the meeting place for U.S. soccer fans and communities, reflect inclusiveness and diversity of soccer in every aspect of the league’s business, stay young in attitude, style, and fan profile, convey passion for soccer in all aspects of the league, and be the aspirational destination point for today’s soccer playing youth’ (MLS, 2001). Proclaims former MLS Deputy Commissioner Sunil Gulati, the principle man responsible for the colossal undertaking of signing players for the league, both American and foreign, in Major League Soccer’s inaugural season:
‘We’ve been saying we want attacking, entertaining soccer, and that we’d be looking primarily south…What we’ve said from Day One is we’ll build this league around American players and a sprinkling of international stars and that’s what we’ve done’ (Irving, 1995, 20).
Major League Soccer, additionally, will continue to assist on the development of the U.S. national soccer teams in competition on an international scale for all levels.
Investors in MLS include some of the America’s, if not the worlds, richest men. They include Philip Anschutz, a railroad/real estate industrialist and co-owner of the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings; the Kraft family, owners of the NFL’s New England Patriots; and Lamar Hunt, a founder of the American Football League and owner of the Kansas City Chiefs of the NFL (MLS, 2000).
One of the most significant differences between MLS and the NASL as well as numerous other attempts to establish professional soccer leagues in the United States, on a major level, is Major League Soccer’s ability to have backing the league is some of the world’s most successful corporations as commercial affiliates. Firms and products names such as AT&T, BIC, Bandai, Budweiser, Fuji Film, Honda, MasterCard, Pepsi, Aquafina, Kellogg’s, Snickers, New York Life, Yahoo!, Capital One, Irish Spring, Lego, All-Body Sport Quencher, Avis, ‘Got Milk?’, Nike, Adidas, Kappa, Athletica, Umbro, Official Sports, and Kwik Goal have all joined as official sponsors, suppliers, or corporate partners in long-term deals worth more than $80 million (MLS, 2000; Markovits and Hellerman, 2001: 185). These global companies realize that a major presence in American soccer will help enhance their position in global markets as the United States continues to establish itself in the global community via international mediums such as soccer.
Sanctioned by FIFA and the USSF as the only Division I professional outdoor soccer league in the United States, MLS plays a spring-to-fall schedule in which each team plays twenty-eight games: sixteen conference games (two home and two away games against each team) and twelve non-conference games (home and away games against four teams and two home and two away games against the fifth team). For the playoffs, the top four teams in each conference advance. The quarterfinal and semifinal series play a ‘first-to-five’ point format over a three-game series. The final, MLS Cup, usually in late October, determines the league champion. And unlike most other professional soccer leagues in Europe and Latin America, Major League Soccer does not include the practice of promotion and relegation between the first division (MLS) and the second division (A-league). Instead, MLS sits atop a three-tiered system in which the A-League serves as American soccer’s second-division and the United States Division III Professional Soccer League (D3 Pro) amounts to a third-division. Each MLS team has affiliated itself with at least two A-league clubs as well as three to four D3 Pro teams, and there exists a system of player movement whereby ‘MLS teams can “call up” A-League and D3 Pro players and conversely send them down to the clubs for professional seasoning, rehabilitation of injuries, or simply further the relationship between the leagues’ (Markovits and Hellerman, 2001: 189). In other words, the system is very similar to that of baseball’s farm system where major league teams have very clearly defined relationships with their affiliated teams at each level of the minors, and there is a promotion and relegation of players on a regular basis. Even though this is the first time in American soccer history that there has been three organized and firmly established affiliated divisions working together in a ‘pyramid system’, a few A-League clubs have occasionally rivaled a number of the MLS teams in terms of both off-field and on-field performances. A good example would be the Rochester Raging Rhinos, who not only average more people per game than some MLS markets, but have also consistently beaten a number MLS teams on the pitch as well. The culmination of this came in 1999 when the Rhinos defeated the Colorado Rapids in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, America’s equivalent to the F.A. Cup. However, such success does not mean major league status, as Markovits and Hellerman point out denoting America’s sports exceptionalism: ‘Such an elevation would seem rather odd – or likely ridiculous – to most Americans. That no such vertical interleague movement exists in American sports, in a land of alleged opportunity and meritocracy, seems quite strange to the rest of the world’ (Markovits and Hellerman, 2001: 189-190).
Another attempt at the advancement of player development, contrast to the college route, an essential experience of middle-class American life, absolutely crucial to the future career of almost every young man and woman, and significantly detrimental to the development of soccer skills necessary to play at a world-class level, is that of Project-40. With reference to the official MLS website, ‘Project-40 is a joint venture between Major League Soccer and U.S. Soccer, aimed at identifying America’s top young soccer talent and providing it with valuable training opportunities in the professional arena in order to enhance international success. These players are afforded the chance to train with and compete for Major League Soccer teams on a daily basis. Project-40 signees earn the minimum MLS salary and are awarded a five-year academic package covering tuition by the United States Soccer Federation. Project-40’s goal is to provide each player with the opportunity to participate in 40-60 quality contests each year, on various professional levels, enabling the player to develop at a faster pace than ever before, during the extremely important years when he is 18 to 22 years of age. MLS has created a traveling Project-40 squad that will compete in the A-League during the summer season. In addition to each player’s MLS schedule, this ensures that each Project-40 player would play an unprecedented amount of games at the two highest professional levels available in the United States’ (MLS, 2000). As Markovits and Hellerman note:
‘This “industrial policy” aims to reconcile an American college education with the acquisition of world-class soccer skills, with the explicit aim of leading the United States to a higher level in the world of international soccer. The very concept and its implementation have been totally unparalleled in the history of American soccer. Indeed, this arrangement as a whole – with its explicitly stated goal of “excellence” – remains a rarity in the laissez faire, market-driven, and chaotic world of America’s sports establishment’ (Markovits and Hellerman, 2001: 190).
Because MLS squads are limited to 22 players and don’t have reserve teams (in the traditional European sense), Project-40 offers the teams an opportunity to increase their player personnel as Project-40 players don’t count as part of the roster.
After seven seasons of action, many supporters and enthusiasts of Major League Soccer have plenty of evidence to look forward to the future with optimism and hope, simply because the league has consciously tried to right the traditional wrongs besetting American soccer in the past. And even though television ratings and league attendance figures have not been ‘major’ in any sense of the word, former Columbus Crew coach, Tom Fitzgerald, believes MLS is ‘progressing quickly’. ‘We’ll need another ten years before we really start making inroads. We get all kinds of criticism from the national media and other sports fanatics who don’t understand soccer,’ he says. ‘There are all kinds of negative articles in the papers, but what are they trying to say? That they don’t want us to play soccer? The truth is, they feel threatened. They’re worried about where soccer is going and its increasing popularity’ (Cited in Allen, 2001: 65).
U.S. Broadcaster Dwight Burgess clarifies Fitzgerald’s comments even further, in reference to MLS and TV. He argues:
‘I think the biggest problem is the generation issue. The decision makers far up the (TV) ladder are older and have been brought up on baseball and ice hockey. They don’t care about soccer. The Olympics [Sydney 2000] have made a bit of difference because NBC had the rights and showed the games nationally, but the guys choosing the schedules don’t care. When they do get a game on the air, they choose a commentator who’s over the top and screams and shouts. It’s little wonder people are getting turned off rather than taking an interest’ (Cited in Allen, 2001: 65).
At the present time, MLS games are shown on three channels – ESPN2, the local ‘specialists’ sports channels, ABC Sports, and in the past, Univision and Telemundo, two very distinguished Spanish-language channels, have also carried matches as well. There is also a presence for out-of-market coverage of games available on DirectTV, DISH Network, and iN Demand, all part of the MLS Shootout package. A live game is also shown every Saturday afternoon as part of MLS’s promotional campaign Soccer Saturday.
The McDonaldization of American Soccer
Modern sports most everywhere have become inextricably linked to the most fundamental aspects of modernization. Markovits and Hellerman write:
‘Discipline exacted by regulated industrial life, the strict separation of leisure and work, the necessity or organized and regularized recreation for the masses, cheap and efficient public transport by train, later airplane (intercity) and bus as well as trolley (intracity), prompt and widely available mass communication via the press (introduction of the sport pages in newspapers and the establishment of sports journalism) followed by telegrams (crucial for the development and proliferation of betting), radio then television, and the development and rapid expansion of modern education’ (Markovits and Hellerman, 2001: 13).
One of the obvious characteristics of modern American sporting leagues is their cartel nature. The issue at hand is that of profit maximization by the firm versus profit maximization by the cartel as a whole, where the latter may constrain the individual firms in the best interest of the league. Profit maximization is the standard assumption in mainstream neoclassical economics. However, there are also models of sales maximization being that ‘high sales may bring more satisfaction to the managerial staff than high profits’ (Lavoie, 2000: 161). This generally can be termed as a rate of profit or a rate of sales growth debate. When applied to sport, it is transformed into profit maximization vs. winning maximization.
It could be assumed that winning teams would induce more spectators to the stadium, which would in turn lead to more revenue and profit. A number of economists would argue something contrary. Marc Lavoie writes, ‘First, after some point, an extra win may not generate many additional spectators or revenues; the revenue elasticity of winning may become weak.’ He continues, ‘It may become very costly to generate additional victories; the cost of elasticity of winning may exceed unity. When a team is already loaded with all-star players, hiring an extra superstar may barely increase the probability of winning. This is an instance of the well-known law of diminishing returns…Profits start to decrease although revenue still increase’ (Lavoie, 2000: 161). The following chart gives a few examples of profit maximization versus winning maximization in sporting terms:
Clubs are content with contention
Win “at all cost” mentality within club
Clubs have self-imposed limits on team strengths
Clubs try to dominate the league and reduce the uncertainty of the outcome
Clubs will unload good players (Heavy salaries) in order to increase profit
Clubs will trade for or sign good players to improve the team
The French economist Bourg writes, ‘Generally speaking, it would seem that profit- seeking behavior is a feature of North American teams, whereas winning would be the more dominant objective in European and Australian professional sport’ (Cited in Lavoie, 2000: 162). An example for the American model can be found in Major League Baseball when the 1997 World Series champion Florida Marlins unloaded a number of higher salaried players the following off-season, and as a result, finished fifth in the Eastern Division the next season. On the other hand, a European example could take account of some of the richer soccer clubs who pay huge sums of money to very skilled players to basically sit on the bench so that their poorer rivals have less of a chance to sign them and challenge their dominancy.
Professional sport in the United States, mainly the National Football League (NFL), the National Hockey League (NHL), the National Basketball Association (NBA), and Major League Baseball (MLB), is a very interesting commodity since the outcome is unpredictable. El-Hodiri and Quirk write, ‘As the probability of either team winning approaches one, gate receipts fall substantially, consequently, every team has an economic motive for not becoming too superior in playing talent compared to other teams in the league.’ (Cited in Gratton, 2000: 11) The league operates as a cartel in order to ‘restrict open competition between clubs in both the product and labor markets so that no one club becomes too dominant. The cartel model as a representation of the sports league is based on the assumption of profit maximization of both the club and the league. In order for the league to secure profit maximization for the group of clubs that form the league, it is necessary for the league to impose restrictions on the profit maximization of individual clubs’ (Gratton, 2000: 14-5). Restrictions on competition could include the draft system by which the weakest team from the previous season gets first choice of the college player coming into the league the next season. There are variations between the leagues when applying this rule, but it is basically meant so that ‘new players can only negotiate contracts with the specific teams that draft them’ (Coakley, 1997: 350). Another restriction would be the imposed salary cap, which would prevent the richer and more successful clubs from bidding up the players’ wages in order to attract them. And yet another restriction would be the reserve clause, which limits a player’s bargaining rights in the labor market by keeping the player tied to the club that holds his registration. Again, there are variations between the NFL, the NHL, the NBA, and MLB on these regulations, but they are set-up, along with revenue sharing agreements such as television contracts and league-wide sponsors, to maintain a financial competitive balance within the league. Even though clubs can ‘maximize its attendance by maximizing its number of wins, the whole league may suffer as a result because of the reduced uncertainty of outcome’ (Gratton, 2000: 13).
The uncertainty of outcome hypothesis can operate on three premises. The first is the uncertainty of the match outcome. The second is the uncertainty of seasonal outcome. And finally, there is the uncertainty of the outcome in the sense of the absence of long-term domination by one club (Gratton, 2000: 12). It is this uncertainty that makes U.S. professional sport, theoretically, the more profitable because of the unpredictability of the product. Obviously, this doesn’t always hold true as seen in the research done by Quirk and Fort. In analyzing the competitiveness of the NFL, the NHL, the NBA, and MLB from 1900 to 1990, they found that the leagues performed under a great degree of imbalance. They write, ‘None of the leagues comes close to achieving the ideal of equal playing strengths. There is ample evidence of the long-term competitive imbalance in each league, despite the league rules that are supposedly designed to equalize team strengths. On the other hand, with all their flaws, the leagues have not only survived but have flourished, with growth in numbers of teams, in geographic coverage, in attendance and public interest, and in profitability’ (Cited in Gratton, 2000: 13). Even though the evidence points in the direction of clubs undeniably making a profit, the leagues as a whole still are looking for ways to monopolize the competitive balance in order to even greater their profits. As Noll points out, ‘Nearly every phase of a team or league is influenced by the practices and rules that limit economic competition within the industry. In most cases government has either sanctioned or failed to attack effectively these anti-competitive practices’ (Cited in Gratton, 2000: 12). As Art Modell, former owner of the Cleveland Browns of the National Football League once said, ‘We’re twenty-eight [now 34] Republicans who vote socialist’ (Cited in Coakley, 1997: 364).
The Traditional American Professional Sports League Model then therefore consists of:
- Both clubs and leagues clearly having profit maximization as the priority
- The conflict between the behavior required to ensure profit-maximizing behavior by the league as a whole and maximization of profits for the most successful clubs in the league, requires that the league act as a cartel to impose restrictions on output. In addition, the leagues have traditionally employed revenue sharing arrangements so that the economic gap between the richest and poorest clubs is narrowed
- These restrictions on competition in both the product and labor markets is accepted by the competition (anti-trust) regulators in the United States as necessary to maintain the competitive balance (or uncertainty of outcome) that is a necessary condition for the successful operation of professional team sports leagues
- The sale of broadcasting rights has become an increasingly important source of revenue to professional team spots leagues and clubs
It must also be noted that there is the possibility that a team may move from one city to another depending on who offers them the best facilities i.e. public money for new and improved baseball and football stadiums, and hockey and basketball arenas.
The Neo-American Professional Sports League Model is the term used to describe the single-entity ownership structures of the recent professional start-up sports leagues in the U.S. These leagues include Major League Soccer (MLS), the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA), the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), and the now-defunct XFL.
Major League Soccer as a league operates under the same primary philosophy and values as the Traditional American Professional Sports League Model – profit maximization through restrictions of competition balance – with one exception: MLS operates under the single-entity structure. Referring back to the Major League Soccer website, ‘MLS features a unique ownership and operating structure. Unlike other professional sports leagues, which are a confederation of individual franchise owners, MLS is structured as a single limited liability company (single-entity). In a single-entity endeavor, each team operator owns a financial stake in the league, not just his or her individual team. In addition, player contracts are owned by the league rather than by individual teams. The single-entity concept allows teams to operate autonomously in their markets, but with the incentive to see that all teams are financially successful. MLS believes this single-entity structure enables it to avoid many of the pitfalls that have plagued other professional sports leagues. The single-entity design provides MLS and its member teams with the ability to limit the financial disparities between large and small markets, offer commercial affiliates an integrated sponsorship and licensing program, decrease the opportunity for sponsor ambush, gain economies of scale in purchasing power and cost control, and make decisions in the best interest of the entire league rather than just one team’ (MLS, 2000).
Major League Soccer, under the same principle guidelines of the Traditional American Professional Sports League Model, also places an emphasis on:
- Avoiding disparity in the financial stability of team owners
- Maintaining strict financial control and gain economies of scale in purchasing power
- Offering league-wide integrated marketing programs, including integrated sponsorship packages and licensing deals
- A centralized control on all major aspects of team operations and locations
- Enforcing salary caps consistent with United States law
Slight variations might be evident between the types of leagues, and maybe possibly with some single-entity start-up leagues of the future, but for the most part, the Neo-American Professional Sports League Model is being closely watched by those involved within the Traditional American Professional Sports League Model, as the successful development of single-entity could further monopolize competition and generate more revenue at a lower cost.
There have been legal challenges to the Neo-American Professional Sports League Model, but to no avail to those contesting the arrangement. Case in point, the recent class-action lawsuit filed in federal court in Boston in 1997 by eight MLS players against Major League Soccer. They argued that the league’s single-entity ownership structure was a ‘sham’ designed to suppress player salaries, and that MLS conspired with the United States Soccer Federation to eliminate competition for the sport’s top athletes (ESPN.com News Service, 2002). However, a judge threw out the former claim and a jury rejected the latter, saying that even without another Division I circuit in this country, the league faced competition from premier leagues in Europe and Latin America, and from minor and indoor leagues in the United States. The jurors felt it was unlikely that competition from a second premier league would have accomplished anything except driving both out of business, especially since MLS lost over $250 million over the first five seasons, while U.S. District Judge George O’Toole wrote, ‘Game competition, without a doubt, is part of the league’s entertainment product, not an indicator of divergent economic interests among operators’ (ESPN.com News Service, 2002). In response to the verdict, Major League Soccer players plan to form a union in an effort to improve bargaining power against owners. Says Jeffrey Kessler, an attorney for the soccer players, ‘It’s time for the players to move onto the next step: to come together and form a union. We expect that, eventually, the players will get their fair shake’ (ESPN.com News Service, 2002).
There are many parallels between Major League Soccer, the Neo-American Professional Sports League Model and George Ritzer’s The McDonaldization of Society. Firstly, all American professional sports teams, not just teams in MLS, have always been businesses, best described as a franchise. Markovits and Hellerman maintain:
‘Franchises in the United States are purely market-based entities devoid of any public obligations and responsibilities beyond those exacted by their immediate ownership and that of the league in which they operate. Hence, owners could, did, and continue to move these franchises in pursuit of more overtly capitalistic enterprises. Unlike soccer teams in Europe and Latin America, where professional sports teams are bodies of public law in addition to being commodified institutions in pursuit of profits in a capitalist market place, teams in American sports proliferate and move from one location to another with facility and regularity unknown to world club soccer’ (Markovits and Hellerman, 2001: 44-5).
Teams may even go so far as ceasing to exist if they are deemed nonprofitable. Case in point – the contraction of the league after the 2001 Major League Soccer season with the termination of both Florida franchises. As of December 2001, sources close to the league told the Washington Post that MLS had decided to eliminate the Miami Fusion and the Tampa Bay Mutiny because both teams had been well below the league average attendance the last few seasons, and this was a regal attempt to cut costs after losing over $250 million (ESPN.com News Service, 2001). MLS Commissioner Don Garber said of the contraction of the league:
‘The decision to leave both cities for the 2002 MLS season was extremely difficult. We simply could not find a solution that was economically feasible at this time, and we hope to return to the state of Florida when the league expands in future years… I know many out there think this is the end of Major League Soccer, and that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s something we feel is a new, strong beginning. We’ll be a much stronger, more viable league in the future’ (Wine, 2002).
Former Miami Fusion owner Ken Horowitz concluded that his teams’ failure to succeed off-the-field is due to ‘South Florida is a very difficult sports market’. He continues, ‘Even the established teams – the Marlins, the Heat, the Panthers – are suffering. The fan base is very diverse. Many people simply don’t have local ties to the area and have trouble identifying with the local sports team’ (Wine, 2002). Overall, MLS cited poor support for the Fusion and the lack of an owner for the Mutiny as reasons for the decisions.
Reasons for the nature of American sports, institutional and cultural, is their independence from the state, they are market driven, and subject to few, if any, regulating bodies outside those of their own creation. Like American education and American religion, anybody can start a sports league or team, just as anybody can found a religion or church, or an institution of learning from kindergarten to university. The only barriers of entry and subsequent maintenance are the issue of money, and whether or not there is enough to operate successfully. As Markovits and Hellerman note, ‘To a degree unparalleled in any other modern industrial country, sports, religion, and education are chaotic structures in the United States with no common rules and no clear centres. The history with American sport [as with religion and education] is littered with new leagues, newly founded teams, as well as those departed and defunct’ (Markovits and Hellerman, 2001: 46).
Secondly, the significance between MLS and its application of the Neo-American Professional Sports League Model and Ritzer’s analysis of the fast-food industry is both tend to lean more toward the bureaucratic pole of organization as compared to the more personalistic end. Like a number of other sectors of modern society becoming increasingly rationalized, MLS also is guided by the five principles of the McDonaldization process – efficiency, calculability, predictability, and increasing control of humans through nonhuman technologies as well as the irrationality of rationality.
For example, an efficient means for MLS to end games after a draw in the early years of the league’s existence was to determine a winner through a shootout, a measure where all games were settled where players having five seconds had to run with the ball and score from thirty-five yards away. Traditionally, American sports fans view a tie as producing the same nausea as ‘having to kiss your sister’. The shootout was an efficient way to determine a victorious team after ninety minutes of regulation play, but still remain within that two-hour time spot provided by television. However, the shootout as well as a few other traditional soccer rules MLS didn’t abide by – like having the stadium keep time rather than the referee and counting down and ending the game at zero rather than counting up and ending a game after injury time – were altered for the 2000 season and changed to fall in line with most of the rest of the world. The man most responsible for the rule changes, MLS Commissioner Don Garber, states, ‘To me it was blatantly obvious. We were trying to get credibility and respect and yet we were not respecting the game. It was just, smack, right in the face the minute I walked through the door that we needed to pay the game the way it is around the world’ (Cited in Hann, 2001: 105). A happy medium Garber and the MLS Competition Committee came up with was to have games that ended in a draw move straight into two five-minute halves of golden-goal extra time. If there still wasn’t a winner after the overtime period, then the game would be called a draw, but more importantly to sponsors and television executives, the game would end within the two-hour window provided by TV.
MLS’s calculable measures not only include maintaining a salary cap for each team as well as limiting the number of roster spots available, but the statistics the league keeps range from number of goals scored per game, season, career, and/or league existence (which is common in the world of soccer) as well as some not so recognizable stats such as corner kick leaders, goalkeeper catch/punch leaders, and results for a team when allowing the first goal. Case in point, the all-time Budweiser leading scorer is Roy Lassiter with 211 points while Tony Meola is the all-time catch/punch leader for goalkeepers with 470 in 147 games. The number of statistics Major League Soccer keeps records on is staggering considering soccer leagues around Europe and Latin America aren’t as visibly quantifiably concerned with numbers as is the United States. Most important of numbers to those operating MLS is that of attendance. The Los Angeles Galaxy has the highest average per season for the first six seasons with 16,193 people per game, and even more impressive, as MLS likes to draw attention towards, at the halfway point of the 2001 season, attendance was up 11.5% from the previous season, at the same time, right before the all-star break. Ironically, it is these same figures that are the impetus for league contraction in 2002. In addition, MLS also offers a number of demographic figures on their audience including such categories as ethnicity, gender ratio, age range, education level, and annual income. Here is evidence that supports Weber’s claim that society is becoming increasingly rationalized through calculable means.
MLS also offers the predictability of unpredictability. The owners/operators of MLS religiously adhere to the ‘uncertainty of outcome’ hypothesis, and have therefore conducted measures to insure such application. The salary cap, the draft system, and league-maneuvered transfers are all measures MLS has used in order to maintain a competitive balance. One such example would be the league signing of Mexican all-time international leading scorer Luis Hernandez and his allocation to the Los Angeles Galaxy. Determined for Hernandez to play with the Galaxy, but unable to place him there without upsetting salary cap restrictions, MLS organized a special ‘dispersal draft’ which allowed other teams within the league to pick unprotected players from the Galaxy roster, an act that much displeased L.A. coach Sigi Schimd. ‘I think we have players that can play, and they need to step up and play. We need to forget about what the league did to us; I think everyone can see what the league did to us. If we can put it behind, we’ll be successful, if we live in the past, we won’t…maybe somebody’s happy, maybe New York will make it to the finals, and everyone will be happy. We’ll have a party when it happens,’ Schimd said a few weeks after the draft (Cited in Kennedy, 2000: 5). The New York/New Jersey MetroStars were having an abysmal season before the dispersal draft, but after picking up U.S. international forward Clint Mathis from the Galaxy in the draft, the MetroStars went on to win the Eastern Division in the 2000 season. A more profound example of the predictability of unpredictability in MLS would be that of the downward spiral of D.C. United, who in 1999 won their third MLS Cup Championship as well as capturing the Supporter’s Shield (award given by the fans to the MLS team with the best regular season record), but ended up finishing with the second worst record in MLS in the 2000 season, and have yet to make the playoffs since. Causes for the demise range from injuries to poor personal changes to even league inability so resign key players, but the situation didn’t improve much for the 2001 season as three U.S. internationals – Jeff Agoos, Carlos Llamosa, and Richie Williams – were traded away due to salary cap restraints. Hence, the most storied team in MLS’s brief history fell victim to formal rationalization found in the Neo-American Professional Sports League Model.
As mentioned earlier, increased control of humans through nonhuman technology would also include not only machines and tools, but also ‘materials, skills, knowledge, rules, regulations procedures, and techniques’ (Ritzer, 2000: 104). The concept of single-entity ownership limits the choices available to coaches in terms of player personal and decisions. ‘The single entity concept has helped, because the league basically runs all the teams and controls them financially,’ said former Columbus Crew coach Tom Fitzgerald. ‘The ownership groups are also responsible and because they’ve invested in their clubs, they want them to do well individually’ (Cited in Allen, 2001: 62). He maintains though:
‘In terms of improving the technical aspect of the game, it’s a little more difficult. The players are primarily owned by the league and are then leased to the teams. We don’t have a lot of control over which players we pick, but we do have some input in what players we sign from college. Because of this, you can’t really develop your team and players into a consistent championship-winning club, because players are swapped around, but hopefully we’ll see some changes in the next few years’ (Cited in Allen, 2001: 62).
Before a player can be drafted, he must first have signed a contract with Major League Soccer. Unlike other American sports where an athlete has the option of refusing to play for or negotiate with the team drafting him, MLS players conclude negotiations and sign contracts before they are drafted. Therefore, by signing with the league, and not an individual team, players agree to play wherever they are placed.
Players, in the beginning (and to a certain degree now), were allocated to specific MLS teams, if they were not apart of the draft process, and franchises would initially have four key players to work with – two American and two international. Says former Deputy Commissioner Sunil Gulati:
‘Allocation is conducted in the interests of players, the league, and the owners. There is no single overriding factor…it’s a case of playing chess on multiple boards. The stage where we’re signing players is kind of back and forth. The league places players, we talk with each of the beforehand, and the competition committee confirms these appointments. By then the players have talked with the general manager or owners, who have talked about what they are looking for. The final decision is signed by the league subject to confirmation by the competition committee’ (Irving, 1995: 21).
Even though the concept is meant to give everyone an equal share of the talent, some teams – Los Angeles and Dallas for example –could rely on international stars, like Mexican internationals Jorge Campos and Hugo Sanchez, for a strong local ethnic support.
However, a major factor influencing the decision of the draft process would be the league set salary cap of $1.135 million for the inaugural season. In the first few rounds, the best players will go first, but as the draft proceeds, the selection process will more likely be determined by the best player value. Former Los Angeles Galaxy head coach, Lothar Osiander, is quoted as saying, ‘The value is his salary, or it might be his trade value, if you now another team wants him or he wants to play somewhere. You have to look at the price, for the quality that you get. After the 11 starters, you look for the best value, cheap players that give you some room under the ceiling’ (Mahoney, 1996: 8).
Even the dehumanizing aspects of the irrationality of rationality remain in MLS’s McDonaldized version of sports league. As ESPN columnist, Jeff Bradley, writes, ‘The sooner we accept that MLS is really “The Soccer Company,” the sooner we’ll understand the way the league is operated and the way the players are treated… I’m only saying it’s a company, more than it’s a professional sports “league.” When a player signs with MLS, he’s signing with a company that reserves the right to dictate his salary and move him to one of its 12 cities. If he doesn’t like it, his option is to quit. Actually, “quit” is a bad choice of words. If a player doesn’t like what MLS has dealt him, his option is to “move on.” I believe it’s a real option, not a cop-out… As long as the league is operated this way, don’t be shocked if players quit before they accept trades or leave for more secure professions. No, it probably won’t be the big stars or the young players, but the 30-something guys who simply can’t mess around any more. Sadly, I think these players are the ones who elevate the quality of play in MLS’ (Bradley, 2001). In reality, the operation of Major League Soccer turns out to be very unreasonable for player personal and vastly different than the desired goal of being ‘the aspirational destination point for today’s soccer playing youth’ (MLS, 2001).
And even the day MLS announced the league-wide sponsors and debuted the logos and uniforms of the inaugural ten teams – Columbus Crew, New England Revolution, New York/New Jersey MetroStars, Tampa Bay Mutiny, Washington D.C. United, Colorado Rapids, Dallas Burn, Kansas City Wiz [now Wizards], Los Angeles Galaxy, San Jose Clash – Paul Gardner wrote, ‘As a group, they don’t do much to promote the idea that this is a soccer league, which is the only thing that seems wrong with them…Ages and ages ago, like 20 years or more, I recall getting into a tizzy about some of the names that new teams in the NASL were adopting. Then, after quite a short while, I got used to them, and they ceased to be significant, ceased to mean anything literal, they became labels, nothing more’ (Gardner, 1995: 8).
Thirdly, the practice of parity in MLS competition could be detrimental to the leagues growth and is quite contrary to a growing trend of the global versus the local, which Benjamin Barber remarks at Jihad vs. McWorld.
Jihad, as Barber describes it, is ‘a retribalization of large swaths of humankind by war and bloodshed…a Jihad in the name of a hundred narrowly conceived faiths against every kind of interdependence, every kind of artificial social cooperation and civic mutuality…The atmospherics of Jihad have resulted in a breakdown of civility in the name of identity, of comity in the name of community’ (Barber, 1992). McWorld, on the other hand, ‘is being borne in on us by the onrush of economic and ecological forces that demand the integration and uniformity and that mesmerize the world with fast music, fast computers, and fast-food – with Mtv, Macintosh, and McDonald’s, pressing nations into one commercially homogenous global network, one McWorld tied together by technology, ecology, communications, and commerce…By shrinking the world and diminishing the salience of national borders…The Enlightenment dream of a universal rational society has to a remarkable degree been realized – but in a form that is commercialized, homogenized, depoliticalized, and bureaucratized’ (Barber, 1992).
When Benjamin Barber originally wrote Jihad vs. McWorld, he was particularly looking at the threat to democracy as ‘neither offers much hope to citizens looking for practical ways to govern themselves democratically. If the global future is to pit Jihad’s centrifugal whirlwind against McWorld’s centripetal black hole, the outcome is unlikely to be democratic’ (Barber, 1992). However, those same fears of Barber’s can be applied to soccer in the United States.
The single-entity structure under which MLS operates is very similar to the processes guiding McWorld: commercialization, homogenization, depoliticalization, and bureaucratization. It’s a highly rationalized body, Major League Soccer, that some would argue is stripping soccer of it’s enchanting qualities: simplicity, an identifiableness to the team, unpolitical correctness, and that element of danger, or excitement, experienced at the stadium during not only big rivalries, but regular games as well. ‘The massive groundswell of involvement in this game is not a team sport, but as a Saturday morning activity,’ Commissioner Garber speaks of when highlighting the differences between European and American soccer culture. ‘It’s a place for people to come and congregate. It’s less about winning and losing, it’s more about participating’ (Cited in Hann, 2001: 106).
At the same time though, Jihad represents the forces that have consistently marginalized soccer in the United States over the last century: foreignness, political instability and disorganization in leadership, and to a degree, soccer hooliganism. As Markovits and Hellerman observe, ‘Almost three years since D.C. United traded Salvadorian forward Raul Diaz Arce after the 1997 season, there have been fights in the stands whenever visiting teams that feature Salvadorian players come to RFK Stadium. The Salvadorian fans cheer for the visitors, which sparks trouble with the home fans…this demonstrates how interest and loyalty to a major league professional team based on ethnic or national identity of its players will prove ephemeral, as the teams of the NASL found out. Perhaps just as important, such incidents serve to reinforce the negative image (violence engendered by ethnic allegiance) that soccer often projects’ (Markovits and Hellerman, 2001: 200).
And yet despite the attractions of both Jihad and McWorld respectively, Barber agues that ‘democracy will continue to be obstructed by the undemocratic and antidemocratic trends toward uniformitarian globalism and intolerant retribalization’ (Barber, 1992). He feels globalization will eventually vanquish retribalization, but yet ‘with its concern for accountability, the protection of minorities, and the universal rule of law, a confederalized representative system would serve the political needs of McWorld as well as oligarchic bureaucratism or meritocratic elitism is currently doing. As we are already beginning to see, many nations may survive in the long term only as confederations that afford local regions smaller than “nations” extensive jurisdiction…the participatory and direct form of democracy that engages citizens in civic activity and civic judgment and goes well beyond just voting and accountability – the system I have called “strong democracy” – suits the political needs of decentralized communities as well as theocratic and nationalist party dictatorships have done’ (Barber, 1992).
However, MLS and it’s single-entity structure of ownership will not change anytime soon to a system more democratic. Says Garber, ‘You can conceive of it changing when there’s economic viability, when we don’t need centralized thinking in order to ensure financial stability, and that’s going to take some time’ (Cited in Hann, 2001: 106). Tim Leiweke, President of the Anschutz Entertainment Group, which owns six Major League Soccer teams, agrees with Garber. At a recent soccer symposium, Leiweke said, ‘Within the next 365 days, the league will announce that it will be adding two more teams. Then, we will add two more down the road [none of which will be operated by AEG]. Our purpose is not to be the majority owner of Major League Soccer. Someday we will have 20 teams with 20 different owners’ (ESPN.com News Service, 2002). Until then though, the future of Major League Soccer and professional association football in the United States appear to being moving in the direction, challenged minimally, of a more McDonaldized system.
Major League Soccer, in this McDonaldized arrangement, places an emphasis on avoiding disparity in the financial stability of team owners, maintaining strict financial control and gain economies of scale in purchasing power, offering league-wide integrated marketing programs, including integrated sponsorship packages and licensing deals, a centralized control on all major aspects of team operations and locations, and enforcing salary caps consistent with United States law. These means are rationally meant to produce a successful business as well as a successful soccer league, as the name itself – Major League Soccer – stands for an apogee of the sport in the United States being alone, uncontested, and at the very top of a pyramidal structure. Still, these rational courses of operation – as sterilized and homogenized as they may be – which are meant suit as many preferences as possible, may, indeed, disenchant not only core supporters, but potential fans who are more likely to move once the re-enchanting processes of festivities and razzmatazz no longer seem exciting.
The McDonaldization of American soccer is being guided by the principle dimensions of Weber’s theory of an increasingly rationalized society – efficiency, calculability, predictability, increasing control of humans though nonhuman technologies, and the irrationality of rationality – although to which degree McDonaldization is occurring cannot easily be measured. It is happening though, Weber’s foreboding future of an ever increasingly rationalized society.
Major League Soccer and its structure of single-entity ownership lean more towards the bureaucratic pole of organization rather than the personalistic end. In doing so, the Neo-American Professional Sports League Model, this bureaucratic system of operation, is what Weber would have feared been included in the greater network of rationalized systems. The ‘iron cage’ of rationality would contribute in developing a world that has grown gradually more disenchanted, and this disenchantment would almost certainly spell doom for MLS among the soccer community. Still, it is to soon to determine if there are any damaging results to Major League Soccer and its development of the sport in American sporting space. However, if trends in society are anything to go by, MLS, and its re-enchanting qualities, is quickly moving in a progressive direction as it is fast becoming a sport for a society that is ever-increasingly becoming dependent on logo identification and brand affiliation.
What is particularly significant about the Neo-American Professional Sports League Model under which MLS operates is the power relations involved in the quest for profit maximization. Coakley writes, ‘Owners are large corporations, partnerships of wealthy individuals, or very wealthy individuals who have millions or even billions of dollars in personal assets. Leagues are organized as monopolies, teams usually play in publicly subsidized facilities, owners make good to excellent returns on their investments, and support from media companies and corporate sponsors almost guarantees continued financial success’ (Coakley, 1997: 341). Even though the Traditional American Professional Sports League Model has been beneficial money-wise to the owners and operators of the clubs and the leagues, more could be done to balance competition and greater increase profits. It is this fact that is probably most attractive about Major League Soccer and other single-entity sports leagues to the investor-operator – the near monopolization of the organization.
However, there are a growing number folks (and not just the players) in America’s soccer community questioning the single-entity structure and consequences on the sport within various markets throughout the United States. Soccer promoter Eduardo Aguirre argues that MLS finds itself in an ominously anti-competitive situation, particularly when the Anschutz Entertainment Group operates more than half the teams. He says, ‘The only way club teams are going to grow is if they change the structure of the MLS. Where’s the competition? You have the Anschutz Group that owns 60% of the teams. How can you create competition’ (Dillman, 2002: 9)?
Although it may seem so, ‘the increased ownership that Philip Anschutz has assumed doesn’t provided anything that would provide for competitive imbalance or disproportionate economics,’ says MLS Commissioner Don Garber (Mahoney, 2002: 13). He continues by saying, ‘Phil Anschutz’s goal is to support professional soccer in this country and help Major League Soccer grow. He is enormously respected as a visionary guy who has taken businesses others didn’t believe in and made them not only viable, but successful’ (Mahoney, 2002: 8-13). One thing is for certain, without Anschutz, there would more than likely be no pro soccer league in the United States.
Grahame Jones, on the other hand, believes Major League Soccer’s preoccupation with material consumption and consumer pacification, an apolitical stance on a number of issues, and an amplified association with the American suburban utopia are, and will continue to, have unfavorable consequences to the development of soccer as a premier sport in the United States. Jones feels MLS, in order to be a success, will need to buck this McDonaldizing trend by altering the league’s image and, to a degree, injecting some attitude and unpolitical correctness in the system. He writes:
‘What soccer fans in this country wouldn’t give for just a few angry words, a few blunt comments, a few honest appraisals, a few remarks that have the ring of truth and passion about them…At the All-Star break of Major League Soccer’s seventh season, the majority of the league’s players, coaches, and officials still have a difficult time being outspoken. Political correctness and fear of reprisal rules the day and ruins the league…it’s the same with the U.S. national teams. No one ever has anything critical to say. It’s all puff and no pastry’ (Jones, 2002: 3).
It isn’t that way in the rest of the world. From an on-going feud between Brazil’s World Cup winning coach, Luiz Felipe Scolari, and the team’s two-time World Player of the Year superstar, Ronaldo to a public vote of no confidence from French World Cup winner Marcel Desailly against his current club coach, Claudio Ranieri of Chelsea, the pot is consistently kept boiling by the opinions of those unafraid to voice them, media included. One of the examples Jones cites is the recent exploits of the always volatile France forward Nicolas Anelka, who lays into one of his former coaches, Luis Fernandez of Paris St. Germain. Anelka, now with Manchester City, told British magazine FourFourTwo:
‘When he came in [as coach], we had a young team with great potential, but he dismantled it to bring in his own players…It was impossible to talk to him. He gets angry whenever you try to have a discussion with him. He is not an intelligent man. As soon as you try to talk to him, he just loses it, simple as that’ (Jones, 2002: 3).
Fernandez, a respected former midfielder for France, started his career with Minguettes, an amateur team in Lyon. It’s a humble he remains proud of to this day. In reaction to Anelka’s comments, Fernandez poked fun at the player, who was not selected to France’s World Cup squad. He’s quoted as saying:
‘If Anelka is looking for another club after Manchester City, I just want him to know that AS Minguettes are interested in signing him. After Arsenal, Real Madrid, Paris St. Germain, Liverpool, and Manchester City, Minguettes could be a good opportunity. He has everything to do well there. But he must be careful because it’s a good club and he will have to struggle to become a regular first choice’ (Jones, 2002: 3).
For American soccer to catch-on, according to Jones, the sport needs to develop a similar nasty edge. He contends that ‘as long as everything is sweetness and light, as long as anything that even resembles an unwelcome truth is swept under the rug, as long as it’s all rah-rah and public relations, the sport will go nowhere’ (Jones, 2002: 3). When players and coaches are not good enough, they need to be told that fact publicly.
There are a few beacons of hope – honest and outspoken souls such as D.C. United Coach Ray Hudson and L.A. Galaxy defender Alexi Lalas, to name two – but many more are needed. Otherwise, MLS and U.S. Soccer, Jones concludes, will continue to hear the sounds of silence (Jones, 2002: 3).
As Paul Gardner has noted, ‘MLS may not be the greatest league in the world, and it may not have the greatest players in the world, but it plays soccer at a respectable caliber. It has brought urgently needed changes in the overall American soccer scene’ (Gardner, 2002: 29). He points out that MLS has not only survived, but for the first time in this country’s history, promising youngsters can get a soccer education that bears a close resemblance to that offered in the major soccer countries, and the league has played an important role in the national team program. He writes:
‘Without MLS, Bruce Arena’s [U.S. National team coach] task of assembling a team of experienced pros, never mind that of actually qualifying for Korea/Japan [the location for the FIFA World Cup of 2002], would have been vastly more complicated’ Gardner, 2002:28).
Still, questions concerning the future of Major League Soccer and its relationship with the American, if not global, soccer community are plentiful. Does the single-entity set-up create a successful soccer league primarily in the United States, or is its McDonaldization of the sport a dooming achievement in America? Is it possible MLS could franchise into other markets and be, what one could consider, the first global professional soccer league, and where does this theory fit in the globalization process? Does the current structure of the league, in fact, make MLS the most American professional sports league?
Whatever the answers may be, rationalization and McDonaldization in society are here to stay. In the words of the great French chef, Paul Bocuse, who once sued McDonald’s for using his image on a poster without his permission, ‘How can I be seen promoting this tasteless, boneless food in which everything is soft…However, there’s a need for this kind of thing…and trying to get rid of it seems as futile as trying to get rid of the prostitutes in the Bois de Bologne’ (Ritzer, 2000: 232).
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Maguire, J. (2000): “Sport and Globalization.” In J. Coakley and E. Dunning (eds.): Handbook of Sports Studies, London, Sage.
Mahoney, R. (2002): “Anschutz: Phil’s Soccer Family”, Soccer America, April 1, 8-13.
Markovits, A. and Hellerman, S. (2001): Offside: Soccer and American Exceptionalism, Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press.
MLS (2002): http://www.mlsnet.com/
MLS (2001): http://www.mlsnet.com/
MLS (2000): http://www.mlsnet.com/
Murphy, P., Sheard, K. and Waddington, I. (2000): “Figurational Sociology and its Application to Sport.” In J. Coakley and E. Dunning (eds.): Handbook of Sports Studies, London, Sage.
Riess, S. (ed.) (1984): The American Sporting Experience: A Historical Anthology of Sport in America, Champaign, IL, Leisure Press.
Ritzer, G. (2000): The McDonaldization of Society, Thousand Oaks, CA, Pine Forge Press.
Ritzer, G. (1999): Enchanting a Disenchanted World: Revolutionizing the Means of Consumption, Thousand Oaks, CA, Pine Forge Press.
Weber, M. (1930/1992): The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, London and New York, Routledge.
Wilson, J. (2000): “State Side”, MOTD Magazine, August, 76-80.
Wine, S. (2002): “Both Florida MLS teams fold”, http://sports.yahoo.com/mls/news/ap/20020109/ap-mlscontraction.html 9th January, 2002.
 Nickname for Boston, MA
 Ritzer, G. (2000): The McDonaldization of Society, Thousand Oaks, CA, Pine Forge Press.
 Coakley, J. (1998): Sport in Society: Issues and Controversies, Boston, MA, Irwin, McGraw-Hill.
 Ritzer, G. (2000): The McDonaldization of Society, Thousand Oaks, CA, Pine Forge Press.
 League information can be found at Allaway R., Jose, C. and Litterer, D. (2001): The Encyclopedia of American Soccer History, Lanham, MD, Scarecrow Press.
 American football’s equivalent to Babe Ruth or Little League Baseball
 When a player in Major League Soccer reaches a certain level of accomplishment, he will more than likely come into the cross hairs of top European clubs.
 Gratton, C. (2000): “The Peculiar Economics of English Professional Football.” In J. Garland, D. Malcolm, and M. Rowe (eds.): The Future of Football: Challenges for the Twenty-First Century, London, Frank Cass.
 ‘A Major League Soccer overview.’ http://www.sams-army.com/pro/mls/96/mls-overview.txt