Is Proximity Enough? Soccer and Supporting Local.

If you shop at Target are you supporting local?

The retail giant is from Minneapolis, and it does employ my ex-girlfriend and many, many others in town, but it is still a retail giant. The idea of supporting local brings up visions of the quirky corner store or a small farmer’s market, where you purchase both locally and at local scale.

Target is from here but does a massive corporation qualify as “supporting local”?

I don’t think so. I have never heard anyone, not even my ex-girlfriend, use “support local” as a reason to shop Target.

Analogies are, by their nature, imprecise and not a replacement for reason. They are useful, however, for beginning consideration of a subject and, therefore, I was considering the Target question after hearing some Minnesota United fans try to convince someone to become a fan by suggesting that supporting United was supporting local.

Is Minnesota United, in this post a stand-in for all major pro sports teams, equivalent to Target or does the nature of pro sports give it an pass, a sort of social consciousness version of baseball’s Sherman Anti-trust exemption?

First, what does “support local” even mean?

The movement began as a reaction against the Walmart-ization of America, of massive companies that use economies of scale, and low prices, to drive out the small, unique businesses that give communities their flavor. In other words, it was a reclaiming of identity from the overwhelming weight of commercial standardization, in stores, products, and even building styles, that has been making our country identikit.

Then, to be truly “supporting local” the organization being supported must be part of or preserve the community’s character. The obvious answer is to say, yes, of course a pro sports franchise is part of the community’s character and can even be something for people to rally around. It’s hard to remember in Minnesota, but a city getting behind a major pro sports team going after a championship is thrillingly unifying. Score one for United.

Also key is local ownership. Complicating matters for Minnesota United in this respect is that they are owned by Major League Soccer and operated as a franchise by a local group. This isn’t as cut and dry as, say, the neighborhood SuperAmerica that is family owned and operated because the “owned” part is significantly different for United and, anyway, it’s not the SuperAmerica brand part that makes the gas station local. In classic soccer fashion, this one goes down as a draw for me.

Finally, there is an element of scale at play. If this movement is a fight against an encroaching corporate conformity in America, then a large conformity-driving corporation simply won’t qualify. Here, it is clear that Minnesota United, at least the MLS version with its single entity structure and league-wide adidas contract and centralized sales and marketing, doesn’t qualify.

It is because of this that, as far as being part of the “support local” movement goes, Minnesota United isn’t.

It is because of this that, like Target, corporate pro sports is just too big, too separate from the human-scale corner stores and small businesses, too conformed.

It may be a foregone conclusion that a lower division blogger would reason his way to this conclusion, though in the same breath I will say that there are lots of reasons to support Minnesota United and I will be at their game today. My conclusion is not blind resistance.

It’s just that, for all the reasons to support a major pro sports team, “supporting local” isn’t one of them.

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