Let's begin with the differences between the Los Angeles Dodgers and LAFC: The Dodgers are a Los Angeles institution, with generations of fans and are arguably the second-favorite team in Southern California, behind only the Los Angeles Lakers. And LAFC are a brand new team, not set to play in MLS for a few years yet, entering a crowded marketplace with one failed MLS team's specter looming.
But many current owners and executives for the Dodgers are also owners of the new MLS team in LA, making it, along with the NBA champion Golden State Warriors, the most closely connected pro franchise to LAFC. So how's it going for the Dodgers, who's involved, and what difference does it make for Los Angeles Football Club?
Of course, Major League Baseball is in the midst of the 2015 season, but for the moment, the Dodgers are atop the National League West division, albeit by the slimmest of margins. The season isn't quite at the halfway point, but the Dodgers are still in the playoff chase.
When the group that purchased the Dodgers in March 2012, Guggenheim Partners, it represented the end of a tumultuous era for the team. The McCourts, who previously owned the team, had reached some real highs, like the "Mannywood" era when Manny Ramirez went on a roll after joining the Dodgers, but also bigger lows. As concerns mounted that the McCourts didn't actually have enough money to run an MLB team and reports began circulating regarding development projects on the Dodger Stadium grounds (not to mention skyrocketing prices for parking at the stadium), Frank and Jamie McCourt announced in 2009 they were getting divorced. From there, the situation got worse, as investment in the team dropped because of the financial uncertainty exacerbated by a very public and messy divorce, Frank McCourt's desperate attempts to hold onto ownership of the Dodgers as fans began voting with their wallets and staying away from games, and Major League Baseball eventually seized the team in 2011 and put it up for sale.
By having the likes of Magic Johnson, one of the most beloved people in Los Angeles, period, as a public face of the new Dodgers owners, morale immediately went up. What improved it further was real investment in the team, with blockbuster trades for Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, and the emergence of young prospects like Clayton Kershaw and Yasiel Puig, giving the Dodgers some tangible success the past few seasons. Winning the division the last two seasons, the Dodgers have still not returned to the World Series, the goal that continues to drive the team forward. Could that come this year? It's certainly possible, though there is a lot of baseball yet to be played this season.
Like the Warriors, one of LAFC's principal co-owners, Peter Guber, co-owns the Dodgers. Clearly, he is connected and has experience in running not just one but two major pro sports franchises, and so far, doing it quite well.
Besides Guber, Los Angeles icon Johnson also co-owns both the Dodgers and LAFC, and he has a fair amount of business success to go with his celebrity and sporting accomplishments. Another beloved local sports star, Nomar Garciaparra, works on the broadcasting side for the Dodgers and his local roots (he grew up in LA and played for the Dodgers late in his career), and he also has a stake in LAFC.
Tucker Kain, serving as the CFO for the Dodgers, became a new owner for LAFC following the initial announcement of 22 owners, as did Lon Rosen, who is currently executive vice president and chief marketing officer for the Dodgers.
So how can the overlap between the Dodgers and LAFC inform the latter club's approach? First and foremost, with the Dodgers being in the same market as the new MLS team, those who run the baseball team should have an idea of what works as far as marketing and understanding the Los Angeles market specifically. Again, LAFC won't have the brand recognition of the Dodgers, which is more or less priceless, but there is still much to be learned from how the Dodgers appeal to a broad range of fans and how they harness that appeal.
One of the things I love most about going to Dodgers games is the intersection of races, classes and ages among the fanbase. Unlike NBA games in the city, which tend to be on the pricy side for many Angelinos, affordable Dodgers tickets can be found for every regular season game, and seeing the mix of people who really don't come together in many other realms in Southern California, is pretty cool. If LAFC can truly tap into that, and find a truly multiracial and multiethnic fanbase that cuts across class lines too, they should be more than successful -- they should be on their way to being a Los Angeles institution.
Of course, it has taken the Dodgers a lot of money to become instantly relevant again, but they still haven't made it back to the World Series (or indeed, won it) since 1988. Given the investment and the stakes in what tends to be a pretty fickle market, even for a very popular team like the Dodgers, there is still work to be done, and in MLS, where simply spending a ton of money in a league with far more financial and roster restrictions, the formula may not be completely applicable. Also, we've seen that for every LA Galaxy, that has spent big in the past and eventually found a winning formula in MLS, there are the likes of the New York Red Bulls, who finally, finally won a trophy in 2013, or Toronto FC, by far the least successful MLS team in history, who still have never made the league playoffs.
Baseball is a very different sport to soccer, of course, and just because something works in one sport doesn't mean it will in the other. However, one promising development for LAFC, perhaps, is that the Dodgers have tweaked their plan somewhat, looking to rely more on developing talent through their farm system than to simply try to sign every expensive free agent they can. Of course, time will tell if that's the best strategy for winning a World Series, but it is transparently becoming more and more of a blueprint for MLS teams, in signing Homegrown players from club academies and actually giving them productive minutes. And although I've been critical of LAFC refusing to take on the nearly-defunct Chivas USA Academy, hopefully experience on the baseball side will tell the ownership, who to their credit have said they intend to build a strong MLS academy, do need to take player development seriously.
There's also the possible downside that the preoccupation with making the Dodgers successful could pull the owners away from making LAFC a real priority. That is, of course, a possibility, though one would hope that the fact that there are 24 owners, and two of the three primary owners, Henry Nguyen and Tom Penn, are not involved with any other major sports teams in North America or Europe, should mitigate this issue. You can make fun of the huge group of owners, but hopefully the advantage is that they won't become absentee owners en masse like a certain Jorge Vergara did with his MLS team.
As with any of these examinations, time will tell whether LAFC can be successful and whether the influence of the Dodgers will truly be useful. It seems like a net positive overall, and if the baseball team can continue to do well overall ahead of 2018, that should help improve LAFC's brand equity to some extent in Southern California ("Hey, if they can make the Dodgers successful..."). Of course, the Dodgers owners haven't been around for that long, so there could be bumps in the road yet. Will they be able to cope with any issues and come out of them stronger, or even avoid as many issues as possible? That's a good question that we'll have to continue to monitor. But signs are certainly positive for the first few years with these owners, and the fact that they haven't been a disaster at all should be a net positive in looking to the development of LAFC.
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