Cursing in the A-League

Tuesday, November 02, 2010 | View Comments
"The Cove", Sydney FC's supporters section

Australia's A-League faces many of the same challenges that MLS contends with in the United States; secondary status to more popular professional sports, issues over how best to market the league and its teams, questions of financial stability, how to approach the signing of aging marquee players, etc. etc. All of the parallels are there, while allowing for cultural differences and unique city-to-city attitudes towards the game.

Like MLS, the A-League is dealing with questions on the tenor of its most passionate support. Language in chants and songs is an issue there as it is here with the Union and others; like Union officials did during the MLS season, Sydney FC has reached out to its season ticket holders with a request that the salty language be toned down.

"Sydney FC recently met with the Cove to discuss some of their chants and we hope to see a return to more family-friendly language...

Please remember that Sydney FC appreciates fans and members of all ages come to our games, and we hope that we can all work together to improve the atmosphere while still remaining family friendly.

We would also like to add that we welcome the attendance of fans of our opposition, and we encourage all Sydney FC fans and members to treat them with the same courtesy you would like to be treated at their home venue."

This conflict - the need to "remain family friendly" while also improving stadium atmosphere - is exactly what Don Garber and team executives are dealing with in "MLS 2.0". A supporters culture, where cursing and harsh language directed at opposing players and fans is par for the course, has created a problem to go along with its obvious benefits. Crowds are louder, more engaged, and more passionate than ever before; but as the most raucous portions of those crowds grow and behave in ways that are arguably functions of their intense support, they may also alienate other segments of the fan base.  Every ticket sold is important.

Clubs, both in MLS and the A-League, would prefer to keep the situation from becoming an either/or proposition.  Messages to season ticket holders like the one above that request a change in language reveal the thinking; it's much easier to admonish unruly supporters than it is to convince families to live with cursing.  As long as the family dollar is crucial to the livelihoods of the clubs in question, the situation will remain unchanged, with the committed supporters - the ones less likely to stop coming - to being told to behave themselves.

It's interesting to note that the author of the piece linked above connects this issue of curtailing foul language to making the game more welcoming to women in Australia (citing a note from Bonita Mersiades, a former member of the Australian World Cup bid committee, on the makeup of the fans at an LA Galaxy game - apparently with the implication that more women go to the HDC because there's little to no cursing).  While there may be a segment of female soccer fans turned off by foul language, there are also many women who take part in supporters groups that are guilty of it or who are not offended. On the flip side, there are surely men who could do without cursing or who avoid live games because of it.

One must wonder if both the A-League and MLS are headed towards more contention over the issue.

The sentiments of the supporter quoted in the A-League item could just as easily be those of an American:

"Surely trying to intimidate the opposition and creating a great atmosphere should come first?

I mean it's pretty much the boys upstairs sticking up for those who come to one game every two seasons rather than supporting their season ticket holders?

In my view they should be trying to attract passionate supporters to the games, not kicking the passion out!

Imagine telling every club in England to stop singing 'Who the f*** are Man United' because it has a swear word in it."

As the A-League and MLS "grow up", this issue will only become more pressing and difficult.

Families are integral part of the soccer market in each country, something unlikely to change in the near term.  Supporters groups will surely grow as the two competitions further penetrate their markets and capture the imaginations of soccer fans anxious to replicate European-type support in their homelands.

Can the two be reconciled the satisfaction of everyone involved?  Should supporters just learn to create atmosphere without cursing?  Or are both cultures destined to turn away from "family friendly"?
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