FC Dallas' Plea for Attention

Friday, November 12, 2010 | View Comments

I don't envy anyone tasked with marketing most of Major League Soccer's 16 franchises. I can only imagine how difficult it is to sell a product with such a weak national profile whose biggest game is an afterthought during the NFL season, and whose stadiums are too often removed from city centers (i.e., where local media is typically based). More coverage means more awareness, which logically means more fans.

The struggle for media coverage is just as much a part of how successful MLS clubs can be in their markets as good ticket promotions, well run advertising campaigns, or winning streaks on the field. Billboards might get you a few walkups, but prominent stories through trusted local outlets represent the best kind of publicity.

So I'm having trouble faulting FC Dallas president Doug Quinn for his rather desperate plea for attention via an open letter to the Dallas-Ft. Worth media. Quinn has a winning team on the verge of an MLS Cup Final appearance; it's his job to promote them by whatever means appropriate. Allow me to be cliche when I say it makes sense to "strike while the iron is hot."

But Quinn is handicapped if Dallas media types ignore the local soccer team. If a playoff run happens in Frisco, and no one is around to cover it, does it make a sound? He needs TV crews interviewing players, newspaper reporters covering practice, and the brand of FC Dallas spread across as many media platforms as is possible. I can imagine the frustration he must feel if the 5 o'clock news comes on and there's nary a mention of his club. Doing whatever he can to prod the media into action, up to and including public pleas for attention, registers on the "whatever it takes" scale. If he isn't pulling out the stops, he's not doing his job.

Cliché storm over, by the way.

Quinn's tact involves getting FC Dallas' fans to act on the club's behalf. A smart move, because while the jokes come easy about Pizza Hut Park and poor attendance, the team certainly has fans willing to help. Social media makes contacting media outlets directly as easy as a click of a mouse. Any FC Dallas fan worth his or her salt should be clicking like mad.

There is a flipside to Quinn's pleas, of course, despite the notion that he's doing right by going public. Some of the lack of coverage is certainly of the club's own making; with a stadium in the hinterlands, a history of frugality and an attendance record that high school football teams in Texas find amusing, it's hard to blame Dallas media for giving the team only cursory attention. Media outlets are beholden to ratings, subscribers and web hits, meaning that if the public in general doesn't care, it's not worth the time and effort. Newspapers in particular are feeling the effects of dwindling revenue; with the NHL Stars, the NFL Cowboys and the NBA Mavericks all in season, the impetus to use scarce resources to cover soccer is lacking.

Oops, one more cliché. It's all very chicken-and-egg.

Without the coverage they deserve for their Conference Final appearance, FC Dallas won't be able to maximize return on their 2010 success. But without an existing base of interest, media are hesitant to provide significant coverage. For a breakthrough to occur, something has to give; considering where FC Dallas plays their home games and the trouble they've had marketing the team, no change appears imminent. It's possible that an MLS Cup title would boost professional soccer's fortunes in the Dallas area, but it's hardly a given.

Quinn's letter makes FC Dallas and MLS look small time and insignificant. It would be easy to rip him for that, to declare that the club and the league would be better served to refrain from belittling themselves through such actions. Considering that one of the league's overriding problems to this point has been a disproportionate sense of entitlement, however, pretense should have no place in the way MLS clubs operate. In the absence of as much attention from mainstream media as many would like, clubs should be more open to working with all forms of coverage. Of course Quinn is right to push his product at traditional outlets in Dallas, those with the most power to help him sell FCD on a local level, but there's a lesson to be learned in the situation that led to his letter that applies to the way MLS treats those people willing and able to cover them now.

Ask any blogger or reporter who doesn't write for a name outlet how hard it can be getting any kind of cooperation. Quinn's letter proves the point; MLS clubs need all the love the can get, and shouldn't be turning their backs on anyone willing to give some.

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