It's a question faced by just about every parent with a petulant, contrarian child. Now it's being asked in Major League Soccer. Which is more effective, the carrot or the stick?
The tired but amazingly resilient "You Suck A------" goal kick chant, still a supporters' staple at several MLS stadiums despite the league's effort to abolish it, has become American soccer's version of a toddler's temper tantrum. It's pointless, crude and defiant. Fans simply don't want to be told what to do.
MLS's interest in ending 'YSA' is well established. But edicts from executives worried about profanity's impact on families, TV networks and sponsors are the sort of thing that could embolden those jumping, singing and drinking fans who fear the erosion of their independence.
So the New York Red Bulls -- one of four MLS teams now working to eliminate 'YSA' from its stadium -- have introduced a bit of carrot. Cynics may see it as a bribe. But at this point, according to a club source, Red Bull believes the desired ends more than justify the company's substantial means.
The team has notified its three fan groups -- the Empire Supporters Club, the Garden State Ultras and the Viking Army -- that $500 will be contributed to each for every home game during which 'YSA' isn't heard in Red Bull Arena's South Ward. The money will be doled out in $2,000 increments, meaning the stadium will have to be 'YSA' free for four games before the supporters are rewarded.
"We can use this money for reimbursement for nearly anything we do, from buying batteries for the megaphone to offsetting costs for bus trips," the ESC informed its members in a message forwarded to SI.com on Monday.
The only other club to go public with its appeal to end 'YSA' is Real Salt Lake, which has no interest in paying for compliance. (The two other teams are in the Eastern Conference).
"We're trying to appeal to our fans' sense of class," RSL VP of Communications Trey Fitz-Gerald said. "We've got this 'Believe' chant that is awesome. We are the only club in the 100-plus year history of American soccer to have a team anthem created by one of its own fans. We think that raises the bar a little bit. We think we should try to hold ourselves to a higher standard and not use 'YSA'."
Both RSL and the Red Bulls sent a letter to fans outlining the repercussions if 'YSA' and other "foul" chanting persists into August. Penalties could include the loss of flag, smoke bomb and banner privileges, the revocation of parking passes and other credentials and the prohibition of drums and capo (cheerleader) stands.
MLS and its clubs value and promote the supporters culture that differentiates them from other North American sports. That live experience has become one of American soccer's most effective selling points. But MLS has decided that 'YSA', which isn't original or funny and appears to be profane simply for the sake of it, clearly doesn't apply. The league wants change to be a local exercise and has pushed its clubs to take the lead on the chant's eradication.
Most fans tend to agree (good luck finding one who will admit publicly to yelling it.) Among them is ESC board member Eric Rios, who said the Red Bulls' incentive program demonstrates a welcome signal that the team desires a harmonious, rather than an adversarial, relationship with it's most devoted supporters.
"We meet together in the (Red Bull) front office every month or two months and this is one of the hot topics in every meeting," Rios told SI.com. "They've worked with us. The one thing that's jumped on in our case is, 'What else do they want to take away?' They really don't want to take anything away. They want to keep everything. In fact, they want to give us more. That's the reason they put this plan in place. We didn't ask for the money. We sat down with them and they said, 'This is what we're going to offer you guys to get rid of it'."
Rios said 'YSA', which can trace its Red Bull roots back to the MetroStars days at Giants Stadium, has become a crutch for inebriated fans who find it easy to remember or for those who use it as a way to antagonize MLS Commissioner Don Garber. Many Red Bulls partisans still bristle at Garber's pursuit of an expansion team across the Hudson River and "just want to hate on somebody," Rios said.
But he acknowledged more should be expected from a club with nearly two decades of history.
"We're at the point where it's old. It's not funny anymore. We can do better," he said.
Now Red Bulls supporters will profit if they do.