In Spanish, “chivas” means goats. Quite literally, Chivas USA was the goat of MLS during its brief existence. Consistently last in attendance, the fledgling franchise was always the ugly stepbrother of the league’s crown jewel, centerpiece, and innovative pioneer, the LA Galaxy. Now a new era begins for a replacement franchise that has already recaptured many members of the small but proud Chivas USA fanbase. This past week, the new team, Los Angeles Football Club, unveiled its first ever logo and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. The team even revealed a surprising co-owner with celebrity status when Will Ferrell crashed the stage. On paper, things are looking very bright for the new LA team. But when the team plays its first competitive game in 2017, will the atmosphere still be so rosy?
Here are some reasons Chivas USA was a failure. First and foremost was the ownership. The league tried a bit too hard to capture the Latino demographic in southern California when it awarded a franchise to CD Chivas Guadalajara President Jorge Vergara. In a way the effort to appeal to a niche market was lost in translation. While the Spanish speaking population in Southern California appears sizable, not every member of this population is a soccer fan, and even then, not every soccer fan in this group is willing to root for a mediocre team in a league that they view as inferior to the Mexican league or other areas of the globe.
To the ownership, this team would always be a lower priority then the successful mothership in Guadalajara. As a result, a lack of care was evident in the front office, and to the credit of the members of the franchise that actually helped the team be successful on the field, that effort seems like a miracle given that they had their backs to a wall. Some could argue that NYCFC are experiencing a similar problem as a lower priority to the ownership group of Manchester City , only their attendance figures would say otherwise.
Which brings us to the stadium situation. The LA Galaxy were an original franchise when MLS started in the 90s, and the Beckham experiment enhanced their image across the globe. While a shared stadium has worked in other leagues including the NBA and NFL, this was not the case. In their final season, Chivas USA averaged 7,063 in attendance, which was last in the league. In that same season, the Galaxy averaged over 21,000 in attendance, good for third overall. Any televised Chivas USA game from the StubHub (formerly Home Depot) Center was a negative advertisement for the league with so many empty seats present.
With so many other areas of the country vying for a franchise in MLS, the idea to start a new franchise in place of Chivas in Los Angeles rather than moving to an area with a greater desire for a team seemed, and to many still seems, controversial. Teams like Sacramento Republic FC and the San Antonio Scorpions in the lower divisions have demonstrated how they have passionate enough fanbases and ownership groups to be successful. Given how one franchise already failed to catch on in LA, the chance of history repeating itself is always prevalent. However, MLS has put its faith in the sizable media market of Los Angeles and operated under the idea that with the right owner and with the right stadium, LA could have what it takes to support two teams.
Major League Soccer’s decision to disband Chivas and start fresh could be major blessing for the future of the league. By recognizing its failure and addressing how to fix it, Los Angeles could live to see two successful soccer franchises in a city already filled with two basketball teams, a hockey team, a baseball team (the Angels may say they’re from Los Angeles, but Anaheim would disagree), and soon, a football team when the Rams move into the LA Coliseum. The Galaxy already have a major leg up on LAFC in terms of prestige. Time will tell how quickly the new kids in town can catch up.