I have been extremely hesitant to cover the “controversy” over the league’s attempt to trademark the Cascadia Cup in Canada. Yet with Commissioner taking time on Monday to address the issue, I thought it timely to provide some thoughts on the dispute. By way of background, some supporters groups have reacted with outrage over the league’s alleged usurping of a fan created event for purposes of profit or business. The Cascadia Cup tracks the matches between Vancouver, Portland and Seattle and crowns an annual winner based on total points in the series. The Cup was created by supporters’ groups in 2004 and has been a publicized part of the MLS season since 2011. For more on the background, click here.
In late 2012, the league, which heavily promotes the Cup through its website and television partners, took steps to trademark the term “Cascadia Cup” in Canada. In the face of complaints from supporters, the league issued multiple statements indicating that the intent behind the trademark application was simply to prevent exploitation from outside groups and retain the intellectual property associated with the event within the league family. The statement did little to mollify supporters who were concerned the league would take steps to attach a title sponsor to the event (a la the Subaru Rocky Mountain Cup), somehow cheapening the Cup.
There is no dispute that the Cascadia Cup competition was a supporter event. These supporters are among the league’s most devoted fans and are highly invested in the success of their team and their league. However, it is that level of devotion that makes the level of outrage curious. I have frequently written about how American soccer fans are far more interested in the success of their fledgling league than fans of the other major sports. Thus, even if the league’s plan (which it has not stated, but which is one of the big concerns stated by supporters) is to monetize the Cascadia Cup, these same invested fans should be supportive of such a relatively benign effort to improve the business of the league. If monetizing the Cup allows the league to generate revenue and utilize that revenue to improve the league, this is a win-win. Because of the passion of the supporters, the Cascadia Cup is one of the most marketable rivalries the league has. In a year in which the league is emphasizing rivalries, the Cascadia Cup is especially valuable. This should be viewed as an opportunity, not a controversy.