Sunday’s Super Bowl matchup isn’t a surprising one for NFL fans, but for MLS followers it’s the source of a comical amount of chagrin. After all, Super Bowl owners Stan Kroenke (of the Los Angeles Rams) and the Kraft family (of the New England Patriots) appear to care deeply about their NFL teams. They spend lots of money on them. Everything is first class.
Meanwhile, they’re among the least ambitious owners in MLS. Literally. In SI.com’s 2018 MLS Ambition Rankings, Kroenke’s Colorado Rapids were No. 21, two spots from the bottom. (Sample line: “It still isn’t 100 percent clear that Stan Kroenke remembers that he’s got an MLS team in his vast sporting portfolio.”) For its part, the Krafts’ New England Revolution was even lower, at No. 22 (“the Krafts have more than enough to finance a second juggernaut in Foxborough. They just choose not to.”)
One MLS owner told me he has never met Kroenke in the 14 years that the Rapids have been owned by Silent Stan, who never bothers to attend MLS owners meetings. As for the Krafts, they have spent years promising they’ll finally build a soccer stadium in Boston without actually putting shovels in the dirt. What’s more, from its lame 1990s-era logo to its “RevolutionSoccer.net” team website, the Revs are the sad definition of MLS 1.0. To be fair, their teams have enjoyed some semblance of success over time, with the Rapids winning MLS Cup in 2010 and the Revs making it to five finals (and losing all) between 2002 and 2014, but their present-day practices pale in comparison to their more progressive and proactive counterparts.
The only reason SI didn’t choose Kroenke–who also owns Arsenal and is in the process of building a multi-billion-dollar stadium in L.A. for the Rams–and the Krafts as the very worst owners in MLS last year was because Anthony Precourt had set new records for declaring war on his own fanbase by threatening to move his Columbus Crew to Austin. And now that the Crew have found new ownership this year and have shiny new stadium plans, you can bet that Columbus will rise well above the Rapids and Revolution in the next Ambition Rankings.
To enhance the point even more, this Super Bowl is taking place in Atlanta, the home of sports owner Arthur Blank, whose MLS champion Atlanta United gets nearly equal billing (and financial support) as Blank’s NFL Falcons. That’s part of the reason why Atlanta United was No. 1 in our 2018 MLS Ambition Rankings—and why Atlanta’s average MLS attendance (53,002) put to shame those of New England (18,347) and Colorado (15,333).
It was Blank who had the vision in the early 2000s to turn down the chance to start an MLS team, citing what he believed was the too-conservative league desire of having him build a 20,000-seat soccer stadium in the suburbs. And it was Blank who was smart enough to buy into MLS more recently at a time when he could put his team in a giant new stadium built downtown with soccer in mind—and fill that stadium with fans, no less.
The Krafts and Kroenke, whose MLS teams play in stadiums that are soccer dead zones far outside any urban setting, haven’t come close to showing that kind of ambition. And while the Krafts finally broke ground on a new Revolution training facility recently, I’ll believe it when I see it that they have a Boston soccer stadium in place. Until then, all that any of us soccer folks will do when we hear the names Kroenke and Kraft is shake our heads and wonder why these guys don’t have a Blank-style approach to their soccer teams, not just their winning NFL teams.