Major League Soccer comes to San Diego
S1: This week on Roundtable , a major announcement for the future of men's professional soccer in San Diego.
S2: This is absolutely incredible and I'm so proud to be able to welcome Major League Soccer to our phenomenal city. You.
S1: What this new team means for the San Diego community and why it took so long to make it happen.
S3: I feel like San Diego has kind of run a soccer marathon and they're now crossing the finish line.
S1: Don't go anywhere. We're diving into the expansion of Major League Soccer and San Diego coming up next. Who says San Diego isn't a sports town. A new major League soccer team is on its way to our city. And play is set to begin in just a couple of years.
S4: It gives me great pleasure to announce that the 30th team in Major League Soccer , the largest professional soccer league in the world , has been granted to the city of San Diego. Welcome.
S1: The team is looking to build roots in a city that already has shown a passion for the pitch. And it's not coming cheap. New owners are reportedly paying around $500 million for the rights to play here , but their arrival in San Diego means more than just matches. It also brings with it development in a sport that has long been called the future in San Diego. Still , there are some questions about how this new team will fit into our region's already pretty busy soccer landscape. Joining me to talk about this week's announcement and what it means for the San Diego community are Mark Zeigler. He's a sportswriter with the San Diego Union Tribune. Todd Strain is back with us. He's a sports reporter and anchor from NBC seven San Diego. And Tony Sanchez is also here. He's the co-host of the San Diego soccer podcast , Two Balls and a Mic. I want to welcome you all here to roundtable. So Major League Soccer , it's here. Well , sort of soon , starting in 2025. I want to start with some quick first reactions from you all , starting with Mark.
S5: This has been a long , long wait. If you go back to the inception of MLS in 1996 , the first commissioner , Don , Doug Logan , said , you know , San Diego is a prime expansion candidate. Those were his exact words. And that was 19 , you know , early to late 90s. And here we are in 2023 , finally getting the team.
S1: And Todd , I remember the last time we had you on roundtable , you sort of expressed some skepticism about Major League Soccer coming. I think you said something like , I'll believe it when I see it.
S3: And as Mark said , it's just taking years to get here. I feel like San Diego has kind of run a soccer marathon and they're now crossing the finish line. Um , the reason I said I'll believe it when I see it is because , as mentioned , for years this has been going on and we have never gotten an MLS team until now. And also , as we know in the MLS , many times they've getting close to having an expansion franchise in cities like Sacramento and it just hasn't happened and it's collapsed late. That didn't happen. So congratulations to everyone involved here. They got this across the goal line and we now have an MLS team.
S6: Obviously , there's already professional soccer in town , both men's and women's. But now with the MLS , you have a different brand of the beautiful game that hasn't been here in Southern California and promotes opportunities to work with Tijuana and work with the region and work with the talent that's already been here for years.
S1: And we'll definitely get into some of that cross-border connection and the importance of it a little bit later. Mark , I think some of your reporting was some of the first saying that this Major League soccer team was going to be coming to San Diego generally.
S5: That was the biggest holdup. And they took them. It took them , you know , six , eight months to get that done. It's a 30 year lease , as I understand it. The team name , you know , right now the placeholder is San Diego Football Club or San Diego FC or SDSU FC. It's not permanent , but I think it probably will be. Tom Pen , the CEO , admitted yesterday that it's either going to be San Diego FC or FC San Diego , and their only real question is whether they put the football first or the city first. I don't think they'll have a an official mascot. You know , one might develop organically like you've seen in a couple other places around the world. It's not really in the ethos of global soccer to have mascots. It is obviously in the United States , Mexico , a little bit , Australia , Canada , but elsewhere you don't see them very often. And I think they're going to kind of adopt that approach. Crest in colors , I think will come in late summer , early fall , and we'll go from there. I mean , we're 21 months from from the opening kick. So there's a there's a lot of time and a lot of run up.
S1: And Tod , you know , this team , it's a major investment. It reportedly comes with a price tag of $500 million , which is a record for a major League soccer team. One of their main investors is billionaire Mohammed Mansour.
S3: I said , can you confirm or deny the 500 million price tag ? He says , We never confirm our our bids or our franchise fees , but I'm not going to deny that number either. And. I asked myself or point blank , who is a billionaire ? The answer groups were $6 billion worldwide. He's been an early investor and Facebook , so many high tech things that have been huge success. So he is a very acclaimed businessman. And I asked him , many people say , you're crazy for investing this this much in an MLS team. And and he called it , quote , a great business opportunity. He says it checks all the boxes. He believes he can make this team financially responsible and financially a winner. But I also think he wants to get in the beautiful game. He's been a lifelong fan and this is his inroads into the game. And let's face it , a man with that kind of wealth , he can afford to maybe lose the money if that. A little money on soccer , if that's the thing , to get him into the game. So what about him ? He is a brilliant businessman who is successful everywhere. He is truly a man of the earth. He is obviously multinational from Egypt based out of London. He is just a winner and everything in life. And I think it's going to be a great a great front man for this organization in San Diego that , as Tony Touch on , hopes to touch two nations. And what a perfect man to do that other than Mohamed Mansoor.
S1: And we know that he's not the only owner. The Saquon tribe is also a co-owner as well. They're out there in San Diego's East County , and they'll reportedly become the first Native American tribe to have an ownership stake in a professional soccer team.
S5: Cody Martinez , the tribal chairman , met with a local developer , Brad Turman , in December 2020 , and they were just having dinner and started sharing their passion for for maybe bringing a major League soccer team to San Diego. And it kind of went from there. And then they met someone else who met someone else who connected them. And but the tribe has been involved in this from the start , and that was never questioned. They they have sponsored sports , professional sports in San Diego for for 40 years. And the next logical step for them was to get to the owner's table , which is very , very rare , as you mentioned , for a Native American tribe. The only other tribe is Mohegan Tribe in Connecticut that owns the Connecticut son of of the women's professional basketball and WNBA. And so they they wanted to do this. The issue was the way their tribal governance is set up. They have a tribal chairman who was elected. And I and my understanding is that Major League Soccer is like , this is great. We would love to have them as owners , but to have them as the only majority owner is a little could be problematic in case the tribe decides in 5 or 10 years because Major League soccer teams face it , most of them , the huge majority of them , lose money and lose a lot of money. It's still a growing league. Maybe they don't have the stomach for that and maybe they don't think it's the right investment. In 5 or 10 years , they elect a different tribal chairman who wants to go in a different direction. Now all of a sudden you have a you have a problem. And so they wanted to partner the tribe with an owner that would would be the face who could who might be a little bit more stable in that sense. Not saying that they're not stable because they've been here 12,000 years , but someone that they could partner with them and that's how they they partnered with the masseuse.
S1: And Tony , it sounds like there's also kind of a surprising third owner , at least something I hadn't heard about. And it was announced at that news conference this week. He's a padre , right ? Absolutely.
S6: Manny Machado was the incoming surprise with this investment group. And I do think that's an intentional act in order to get that city connection. Pun intended in a sense , to make sure that the community comes out and sees the investment that they're making in San Diego with a superstar like Manny Machado that we've seen be incredibly involved in the area and has his entire family dedicated to this community that they live and love. This is that next step. And actually , I asked Manny Machado , like , what does this mean for the legacy of Manny Machado here in San Diego ? And he's incredibly proud of that next step that he's taking and helping those young athletes , especially with the academies that are incoming with the Right to Dream project as well. That's something that's he's incredibly invested in. And then you can tell he's really passionate about the development of this city and the community that I mean , he's one of our own at the end.
S1: And so this new team is coming in here , Tony , but we already have a lot of soccer in town. We're talking about San Diego , loyal , the wave , the soccer's the cholos just south of the border in Tijuana.
S6: I mean , honestly , since the NFL and it's a void that's been needing to be filled in a lot of ways. Major League Soccer in a way is still very new in terms of the global game , whereas obviously something like the Premier League , something like the even Liga Max over in Mexico has been established in the region for for years in a sense. Also a very new team , relatively speaking , coming in to the first division in the early 20 tens , winning very early with the San Diegan Joe Corona , who actually is that story of a lot of the players in this region that are US citizens that live in Mexico cross every day. And so you're going to see those stories pop up a little bit more now they can come back home and do and have their expression of soccer in their hometown and represent something that has never been here. And this opportunity has never really been here. And it's going to be part of the landscape now for the future. And there was a time where soccer fans in San Diego were asking , hey , let's get let's get a team. Let's get this. Well , now you have ample choices. You have a USL championship team , NWSL , you have an incoming MLS team. And that's just going to bring even more soccer here in the form of Mexican friendlies with the national teams. And people are going to want to have San Diego as a destination for their games.
S1: And we'll certainly get into later how all these teams might or might not all kind of work together. But a question for everybody here.
S5: I mean , how couldn't you if you look at the TV ratings with World Cups always in the top five , it's right on the border. It has a long history of success. Going back to the Soccers and all those indoor championships they won at a time when when soccer was almost dormant in this country and the indoor game was really the only thing that was was was vibrant and going. And San Diego was the best by a mile. There's been success with college teams. There's been huge success with the youth teams. And really the club system in this country really got off the ground and got going in San Diego and also in other parts of Southern California , largely because of the weather , but because of some really sophisticated club infrastructures with clubs like the La Jolla Nomads. And then now you have the San Diego surf. Now you have 6 or 8 really big clubs in San Diego as well , you know , and it's just kind of gone from there. And I think they've always wanted to be here. You know , I think in other parts of the country they had a really introduce the sport to the fan base here. They don't have to do that in it's what I call soccer literate culture. And and that's double edged. I mean , people here know what really good soccer looks like. And so if you don't bring a really good product with good players and sophisticated playing style , you know , people might stop their nose at it. But but it's it's definitely a soccer market and the soccer hotbed.
S3: And this is obviously it's a win for San Diego soccer fans for all the reasons that Mark mentioned. It's also a huge win for the MLS because most of the soccer fans I know they don't watch on a regular basis. That's going to change. If you have a San Diego team in town , you're going to start watching your team. You're going to watch other MLS matches , you're going to pay attention to those things and that's a huge win for the MLS as they go down , you know , the road with the Saturday night Apple Games. So they now have this San Diego market that they can they can draw from. And you're going to see MLS jerseys , more MLS jerseys in town just by the virtue of having a team here. So , of course , as we know , this is a huge win for San Diego soccer fans. Whether you're hardcore and you listen to the two balls in a mic podcast or you're just a mom , you know , taking your son or daughter to a game , this is a huge win for us in San Diego. It's also a huge win for MLS to get a team here.
S1: We'd like to hear from you. What do you think about the prospects of Major League Soccer in San Diego ? Are you excited or what are you thinking ? Give us a call at (619) 452-0228. You can leave us a voicemail there or you can email us at Roundtable at pbs.org.
S1: You're listening to KPBS Roundtable. You're listening to KPBS roundtable. I'm Matt Hoffman. We're talking about this week's announcement that Major League Soccer is coming to San Diego. Finally with us is Mark Ziegler from the Union Tribune. Todd Strain from NBC seven and Tony Sanchez from the podcast Two Balls and a Mic. All right , Mark. So we touched on this a little bit earlier , but the effort to bring Major League Soccer , it's been going on here to get it here for years , decades , even according to the MLS. Anybody listening remember Soccer City ? I mean , that was that competing ballot measure with San Diego State. Millions were spent trying to get that through. But as we know , SDSU won that sort of battle there.
S5: But initially he came to San Diego , had meetings with city leaders. I was there. He was sitting in in Qualcomm Stadium in suites , talking to them and talking about bringing his team here. And that was , I believe , 2000. You had John Moores , the Padres owner who had brought bought or secured secure rights to the stadium , professional soccer. And he was interested. And you've had various people in and around that. And then you get to Soccer City and you had these competing ballot measures for for the Mission Valley property and and they had submitted a bid. They had Landon Donovan on board and they had basically said if we if we win , we're getting an MLS team. And Don Garber had the commission , MLS had basically said , Yeah , that's what's going to happen and they didn't win. And part of their campaign rhetoric was if San Diego State wins , MLS is dead. You will never get an MLS team in that stadium. And you know , credit to to the state's athletic director , John David Wicker , guys like Eric Judson from JMI that helped them with the stadium , a delegation to the president of San Diego State , Jack McGrory , who was advising the university at that time. People like Adam Day , who now is with the second tribe , all said , you know what ? No , we're not going to we're not going to buy into that. We think we're going to get MLS. We're going to build a stadium to MLS specs. Um , and it was a little bit of a leap of faith. I mean , they went to the MLS headquarters the next day after the election , said we're in for MLS. And the MLS leadership kind of looked at them like , really ? And then they found an ownership group and it's done. And so I think , you know , it has to you have to go back and trace it to to the embers of that soccer city defeat in the election in 2018. And that started the ball rolling five years later. Here we are.
S1: And Tony , one important aspect of soccer and their sort of fans and the fandom is the relationship of these fan groups with clubs. They're known as supporter groups. Some were mentioned in the announcement yesterday , the most loyal The Sirens for the Wave , The American Outlaws.
S6: And you see different iterations of this throughout the world , whether it's over in England where supporter groups over there were sometimes the founding members of said club that gave the money , gave the support to start the clubs that are now billion dollar franchises in Mexico. We have another iteration where it's the Southern American South American North American Mexican type of fandom , which is Las Vegas. And those are mostly singing , passionate and sometimes a little bit more of that. Hooliganism that is tend to be seen. And sometimes they're seen as the the ultras , the ultra supporters , because of their extremism and their unwavering support. Here in San Diego , there's a couple of those supporter groups , whether it's the that loyal , whether it's the locals for for the loyal , those are fan bases and groups that came together because they wanted soccer here , because there was nothing in the professional sense. And so you see some of the most passionate individuals that have put essentially a third and fourth shift a day just to put some of these tifo some of these artworks that you see in the stadium , those large pieces of of cloth that get covered into the section of 109. And you also have that philanthropic philanthropic aspect. During the pandemic , they had a huge hand in helping people get vaccinated and just get out there in the community. And the child of the loyal sometimes have Thanksgiving drives , backpack drives for the kids in the community of Barrio Logan and Chicano Park area. So you have many different ways to express yourself in the stands , whether it's songs , whether it's chants , whether it's it's jeers. But for the most part , the one unifying aspect is that you're going to be supporting and chanting , standing in your section and giving every ounce of your being so to the support of your team that's on the field.
S1: You know , one word that we heard quite a bit this week was community. And it seems like this new team is really trying to connect with San Diego and they've already kind of started something of a listening tour and that's going to be going on in the months ahead. Here's a little bit about what Chairman Mohamed Mansour had to say about this sense of community.
S7: One thing to make clear , this soccer club is your soccer club. It belongs to this city. We are merely custodians. It's your community. And this soccer club is going to be here in San Diego for a long , long time.
S6: And some question asked. Tom Penn , the CEO of San Diego FC , is you're going to have listening sessions , but what are you listening for ? And I do think that they have the right intentions in having the community be able to come out and represent themselves and be able to tell exactly the group exactly what they want. I do believe that there is some sort of cynicism where , yeah , the supporters and the people will tell you what they want , but at the end of the day , the MLS is just going to do what the MLS is going to want to do at the end. But it's it's something that they've already started. I actually followed their efforts through Chula Vista. They visited a youth , a youth academy youth soccer team with Chula Vista FC. They went over to Eastlake Soccer League just to get to know the people , hand out some MLS scarves. They had a billboard where you can write. What does a team in San Diego look to you ? And then you can write with a Sharpie what that team is supposed to mean. And so those are efforts that you love to see. You like to see them get actually down with the community. And something that I think a big aspect that both loyal Wave have struggled is to get captured. The attention of the Latino fan base of the Mexican fan base of the Liga , America's fan base. And now with this MLS team , I think it's an opportunity for them to appeal to that community and communities that really haven't been reached out and haven't been convinced by the USL , by the NWSL to come out. We were talking about the San Diego Football Club name. If it's going to be in the front , it's in the back. Another aspect that I would throw in there would be what does the F what type of football are we talking about ? Is it San Diego Football Club in Spanish with the U.
S3: They said it over over again , not just beach and fish tacos. We want to represent all of San Diego. We want to represent Tijuana. They I know they have people in their organization already who are who are native to East County in the South Bay and working there. So I think I 100% agree with you. They have to connect with all of San Diego and not just the coastal elite. And I think that's a target for them. So so that would be something key to watch moving forward , guys.
S3: There's there's no there's no doubt about it. And if you can capture that group that really isn't soccer knowledgeable , what you'll find when you go to soccer games as a fan , it's an interactive experience. As we previously talked about , there's chanting , you're involved , you're singing , the players play off you a little bit , you're into the game , you're part of the game versus like if you go to the Padre game , you're sitting there , you're having your beer , you're watching the game , and then Tatis hits a double or triple and you react to that and then you're quiet again. Soccer is not like that. It's interactive. So fans that maybe aren't familiar with the game will go there and they'll experience something completely different. And I think you'll grow your base just by going to these games and seeing different. It's fun , it's cool. It's a it's an immersive experience.
S1: And so. Mark , obviously we already have some soccer here. We actually have a lot of soccer here and I've been doing some reading and seeing some examples and , and I've been doing some reading and seeing some examples where Major League Soccer will come in and maybe push other teams out of existing markets. But it sounds like there are scenarios where they can coexist. So maybe simple question , but I don't know if it's a simple answer. Is this town big enough for for everybody ? It sounds like some supporter groups with the loyal or maybe a little bit worried here.
S5: Um , and you know , with the loyal with Albion in in Nissa , which is an independent league , um , you know , with the wave , um , you know , you have another division one soccer program now with UCSD that you didn't have ten years ago. So you can go down the list , you know , the , you have more youth clubs , your moral bust , and you also have the show lows in in Tijuana. You know that that we're in a first division team in the not too distant past. So we're going to find out. You know , I think some of these demographics don't cross over. We'll be interested to see how much the Wave and an MLS franchise crossover. I think the the big competitors will be the loyal and MLS. And to your point about MLS , quote unquote pushing USL championship teams out in the USL championship is sort of the de facto second division. What complicates it is that in other countries , all these leagues are aligned , right ? So you have a first division in the bottom couple teams are relegated to the top couple of teams in the second division and promoted and they're all connected and they're all run by the same organization. It doesn't exist in this country. So USL championship is a separate entity than MLS , and NESA is a separate entity. And so there is a lawsuit and it's been going on and on in various forms for years now against US soccer and an MLS and antitrust lawsuit brought by people that were in the former NASL , which is yet another sort of Second Division league that had aspirations to be a first division league. And I think MLS is very sensitive to that. And so it's very much of a hands off approach. Now when they come into a market , they don't try to enforce or impose their will on a USL team if there is one there. They just kind of do their thing and you know what happens ? You decide your future. They don't want to be in any way , shape or form seen as as influence. And so it's going to be interesting to see mostly to me , to see what happens with the loyal. You know , they chose that name loyal and and their slogan is Loyal to the soil. And I think they're a little bit trapped by that. I mean , they have to , you know , respect that name and respect their fans who who gave them their loyalty because of that name. But it's going to be a really tough road. I mean , there's a reason why almost no USL championship teams are in MLS markets right now. It's very hard to compete and we'll see. They've sort of stayed right now. Their intention to do that. They could not come to terms or association or merger partnership , whatever you want to call it , with the MLS Club right now , Tom Pen , the CEO of San Diego FC or FC San Diego , whatever we're calling them , told me yesterday that , you know , they hope to remain , you know , keep dialogue open. But right now , I'm not really sure what what the place of the loyal would be. They're not going to take their name. They've already started season ticket drives. They've already started to reach out and listening tour.
S1: And they're you definitely mentioned that the National Women's Soccer League , obviously , they may not be as more , quote unquote competitors with them in terms of the wave , but we know that the wave and the loyal , they've done a really good job in terms of connecting with the community here and the loyal , as you mentioned , they play in the USL , sort of the de facto second league. And Tony , I know that you work with those who are fans of the Loyal a lot. You guys have a podcast that often talks about them.
S6: And it even goes back all the way to Soccer City , right ? We have a lot of the efforts , a lot of the same people that were disheartened by the loss of Soccer City and what that meant. And so it almost seems like local rose out of the ashes of soccer city. And so you had a lot of those same people who worked tirelessly , worked hours and days and years , honestly , to get soccer in a professional way here in San Diego. They have. And and , you know , had San Diego loyal. They battled through through a pandemic. They were able to come back and and have a competitive team. And the product is is fun and so the team stuck by them. Owner Andrew Vesalius made sure to keep the team going and running as much as they could. And so the the the thing here with the supporter is that , well , now you have an MLS team and so this is exactly what you fought for back in Soccer city and now you have it. But at what cost. And so that's a lot of the dilemmas that some of the hard core supporters of the San Diego loyal face themselves making that choice because you've always wanted Major League soccer. You've always wanted top flight soccer in your city. Well , MLS incoming. But at the same time , it seems like it's going to crush what you've been working so hard for. The friends , the community , the players that you've met with , the players in the USL , potentially not being of caliber to make it to the MLS Club. And so you start losing those connections , those communities , players start leaving the city. And so it's again , it's going to be very interesting to see exactly what happens. But honestly , my vision this whole time in my position has been that if there's anywhere in the nation where it's going to work with these two teams , it's going to be San Diego. And it has to do with the fact that there's just so many rich , diverse resources when it comes to the fandom , the style of soccer , the style of of wanting to consume the sport that I've played in the region since I was little. And I can tell you that not a lot of people are going to be fond of the MLS play style. Not a lot of people are fond of the USL play style. If you go over to the NWSL , those fans , they filled out that stadium with 33 , 33,000 plus in that opening game. So not a lot of crossing happens with the San Diego Loyal. It's a very different crowd. But that just tells you that there is something in San Diego that wants to be satisfied when it comes to the soccer fan. And I think San Diego Loyal has had that niche here in San Diego where now they can keep it and see who is truly loyal to the soil , but at the same time realize that it's going to be a incredibly difficult road. And I think on both sides , they they are acknowledging this , but still holding hope that something's going to get worked out. And I think for the supporters , it's a it's an interesting spot where you're going to have to choose. Right. If the both teams play at the same time the same day. And you like both teams , well , you have to choose. And that's going to be that's going to be where we're we're really going to see where the differences are. And the lines in the sand are drawn with the fans money and where that goes.
S5: I'd add also that , um , you know , in most markets it's zero chance in the USL team survives , right ? Zero chance. I mean look what happened in Austin. I mean that team just completely fizzled. So they're going to move and they haven't moved yet. And they're just they're not playing. They're not doing anything. Um , if there is a market where it could happen , this is it. And that that speaks to the market but also speaks to what the loyal has done. The loyal has done an absolutely incredible job and the MLS folks acknowledge that of connecting with the community , um , connecting with their fan base. And look , they've only been around for years. You think this team had been around for 40 years with the type of support and loyalty that those fans showed to the club. So if it can work , it can work. And remember , we live in a large county. So there's and the traffic patterns are such that when you have a stadium admission valley , there are people in parts of the county who are not going to be inclined to come to the games , right , because it's just too far to go. And the public transportation isn't sophisticated enough or efficient enough to get them there. And , you know , we know what Saturday traffic looks like going up and down the corridors in the 15 or the five. I could see a team moving into one of those further regions of the county and establishing itself there. And , you know , in many ways , like the Padres talked about having a Triple A team in Escondido for a while and it probably made a lot of sense. And so there are options and there's possibilities. So I wouldn't completely write them off. But , you know , like Tony said , it's going to be really hard and history just tells us that.
S1: And Todd , we definitely want to get your thoughts here to , you know , Todd , something that seemed a little bit odd to me was no mention of Landon Donovan and all this. And when I say all this , I mean the ownership group. I mean , he was one of us. Soccer's biggest stars even played in Major League Soccer. He lived. Here in San Diego. He was behind that group that tried to bring a team here previously , also co-founder of the San Diego Loyal. So deep roots in the soccer community.
S3: And as we've already chronicled here , Soccer City basically said if it's not us , it's never going to happen. Well , that is proven to be incorrect on the flip side. Landon Donovan is an MLS Hall of Famer. He's one of the greatest players in MLS history. He's one of the great American soccer players. And then at the same time , on the other flip side , he's aligned with the Loyal. So he's being pulled and tugged in different directions here. And that is I don't have an answer. I don't know how this is going to play out with Landon Donovan in San Diego and the new MLS team. I think that's a really difficult position for all involved. He can't. He'll look really bad if he just bails on the oil and switches over to MLS , which I don't think it's going to happen any time soon. It might be a gradual thing , but that is definitely a situation to keep an eye on. I don't want to speculate. I don't know how that's going to happen. It's going to be interesting and it's it's going to be a little bit fascinating how that plays out.
S1: We'd like to hear your thoughts on all this. Is San Diego , a soccer city ? Give us a call at (619) 452-0228. You can leave us a voicemail there. If you do , be sure to leave your name and where you're calling from , or you can email us at Roundtable at pbs.org. Coming up after the break , does the arrival of yet another soccer team in San Diego fill the void left by the Chargers ? You're listening to KPBS Roundtable. You're listening to KPBS Roundtable. I'm Matt Hoffman. We're talking about this week's announcement that Major League Soccer is coming to America's finest city that starts in 2025. With us is Mark Ziegler from the Union Tribune , Todd Strain from NBC seven and Tony Sanchez from the podcast Two Balls and a Mic. You know , guys , as we wrap up here , a couple of questions left. I'm curious what you all think here. Obviously , San Diego lost pro football when the Chargers moved up north to Los Angeles. I remember at the time some people were saying , who cares ? No big deal , We're going to get an MLS team. Do you think it's fair to say that this is a replacement for NFL football , or is that , you know , apples to oranges ? And we begin to hear from everybody. Todd , let's start with you here.
S3: No way. No way. MLS soccer is popular. It's growing. San Diego is a soccer smart city. San Diego is a city that loves soccer. No. You were talking decades away from the MLS , even touching the NFL in terms of hardcore interests , casual fan interests , dollars it brings into economic dollars. It brings into the region. No way. This is not a replacement for the Chargers in any shape or form. This is a great get for San Diego , but it is not the NFL and it does not have the scope or the power that the Chargers will ever have in this city. Mark.
S5: Um , I would say yes and no to your question. No , for all the reasons that Todd just so eloquently outlined. Um , yes. From the stance that San Diego , you know , I've lived here over 30 years , and what I've sensed in this community is this huge inferiority complex , right ? We're a big city. We're an important region in the world , and we don't win anything , you know , in professional sports except for some indoor soccer titles. And we don't you know , we don't do anything. And and so I think getting a major a quote unquote , major league team back into the city after losing the NFL and they're apples and oranges. But I think it helps heal that wound a little bit. And it feeds into that inferiority complex and helps people feel a little bit better about themselves. In the same way that you saw what happened to San Jose. You know , my main beat is covering the state basketball. You saw what happened when they went to the championship game. I mean , this upwelling of pride that we don't see in this city very often , you see it when the Padres get close to the World Series. You saw it with the Chargers , you know , would have a good run. And and so it's there and that and so I think this this helps a little bit , but it doesn't replace it. And the fan bases are completely different. Um , but it's , it's something that people can be proud of and just say , yeah , you know , we have a basketball team that made it to the final Four and we have now we're having a soccer team coming and we have a really good baseball team that's not playing well right now , but we have a good baseball team. Um , and , and people feel better about themselves. So in that sense , I think it helps sort of chip away at that that scar and that loss from the Chargers.
S6: Yeah , there's , I could see there being a lot of people that have that Band-Aid of the MLS over the huge wound and gap that the San Diego Chargers left. And I agree that there is no replacing the San Diego Chargers. If you were a fan. However , I do feel that if you were to if you asked me again after the 2026 World Cup , I think we can have a better idea of what that answer will be , only because that 2026 World Cup is going to be a catalyst for so many things. Back in the 90s , when the World Cup was here , it didn't really have that impact that maybe they were hoping that would catch on. I've always said that the only people that don't realize how good they are at soccer in America is America. They have everything , every tool , all the resources to be a global superpower in this sport , domestically , internationally , whatever it is that they want , they have the resources. And as a Mexican supporter , that hurts to say. And that's something that I've always been able to to separate is , you know , what if this region was to get the sport in , be respected and have everything that we know is already here that the community has built , then it's just a matter of somebody coming and taking it and taking it to the next level. And so as far as replacing the Chargers , I don't believe that's that's possible. But in terms of planting that seed and having another great oak of a tree of sports sprouting up from the dead trunk of the San Diego Chargers is then I do believe that that's a that's a that's a net positive in all senses. And I think that it's going to be beneficial for for the city. And I saw more baseball fans talk about soccer than I've ever seen in the last day , especially with Manny Machado coming in with his investment group.
S1: And as we wrap up here , final thoughts from everybody. Quick final thoughts , if possible. So we know this new ownership team is here , paid $500 million reportedly to bring the team here , starting playing a couple of years. What do you all see happening over the next couple of years or what are you going to be watching for moving forward ? And Todd , we can start with you.
S3: Well , it's now up to it's up to the team. It's up to San Diego FC or FC San Diego. They have a brand new stadium. They are in a soccer perfect market. They have a front office with Tom Pen that is well versed in MLS and has a track record of success. They have an owner in Mohammed Mansour in the Saquon tribe that can financially foot the bill. They have a celebrity owner in Manny Machado , so they've checked all the boxes up to this point. Now it's up to them to go out in the community , get the community support , find the right players and make this work and make Snapdragon Stadium the place to be on Saturday nights. It's up to this MLS team to to make it happen. Everything to this point is set.
S1: And Tony , quick final thoughts.
S6: Yeah , I want to make sure that as far as this club moves forward , that they have that intention of listening to the community and the things that they want , right ? But it also becomes incumbent of the community to tell them what they want. A lot of the times that the teams will come in with , we've had two listening sessions with the San Diego Wave and a loyal already and they've heard some stuff , but at the end of the day they've heard the same things over and over again. And then when it comes to the product that they have , the fans may not be happy with what's happening , but they're not raising the voice. So I really want to see that marriage of community and soccer. The last thing that I would want to see is just the perversion of what has been built here , the community being taken advantage of , the community that has played soccer. And it's in their DNA , it's in their blood. I want that to be to be highlighted. I want that to be put on that pedestal , because that's what's going to , at the end of the day , make more dollars for this MLS team. If you respect the game , if you respect what's built here , if you respect us , the community , then that's what that's when will come , That's when the people will come. And I truly believe that there is some sort of end product with an amalgam of San Diego Loyal and this MLS franchise. And if that happens , fantastic. And if not more , more choices for people. But at the end of the day , I do think this is beneficial for soccer and the sport here in the city.
S1: And Mark , you have the final word.
S5: You know , to me , you know , they've done everything right so far. Um , what's going to be fascinating to me to see a couple of things. Tony touched on this before , um , are they going to win ? And we know in San Diego that the key to success in any sport is winning. You know how you play sometimes doesn't matter. I mean , San Diego State doesn't always play the most beautiful brand of basketball , but people love them because they win. And that's just the ethos of this town. We're a front running town. And so to that end , you know , I have this model of we want to build our roster through our academy with very young players , be the youngest team in the MLS. Um , but what are you gonna do in the meantime ? I mean , you're not going to be able to have those players for we discussed for five years , maybe ten years. So how are you going to build this , this roster and , and you'll sell out the first game , you'll sell out maybe a lot of games your first season. But if you're not winning and now you're in a league with 29 other teams that are all trying to win two and only one of them is going to win every year. How are you going to do that and how are you going to how are you going to sort of maintain fan interest ? Again , this is a this is a very sophisticated soccer market. They know what really good soccer looks like. Uh , they know when they watch the World Cup , that's a really good soccer and they watch it. Um , MLS ratings have been some of the lowest of the country here because I think because we haven't had a team , obviously , but also because people kind of snub their noses a little bit. So they're going to have to go capture those people. Uh , and , and , and that's going to be the next step and the next challenge. I mean , the easy part in many respects is done. The hard part comes now.
S1: And we're going to have to end it there for this week's edition of KPBS roundtable. This could go on much , much longer. And I want to thank our guests so much for being here. NBC Seven's Todd Strain. The San Diego Union Tribune sports writer Mark Ziegler and Tony Sanchez from the podcast Two Balls and a Mic. We'd love to hear your thoughts on today's show. You can leave us a voicemail at (619) 452-0228. You can also email us at Roundtable at pbs.org. And keep in mind , listen to the Roundtable podcast anywhere you get your podcasts. Roundtable airs on KPBS at noon on Fridays and again on Sunday at 6 a.m.. Roundtable is produced by Andrew Bracken and Adrian Villalobos as our technical director. I'm your host , Matt Hoffman. Thanks so much for being here with us and have a great weekend.
San Diego will be home to a new Major League Soccer franchise. The team will be just the latest of a number of professional soccer clubs in San Diego, such as the San Diego Wave FC and the San Diego Loyal. What will this new franchise mean for the broader sports community in the region?
Mark Zeigler, sportswriter, San Diego Union-Tribune
Todd Strain, sports anchor, NBC 7 San Diego
Tony Sanchez, Two Balls and a Mic podcast