By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON, DC (Jul 12, 2017) US Soccer Players - Detroit City FC’s remarkable success at the amateur NPSL level has brought the club into high demand. With average attendances of 5,000 fans for matches that mostly feature college players, DCFC’s potential as a professional club has naturally drawn attention from across the American soccer industry.
The work the five year old team has done to connect with a vibrant local soccer fan base and the name it has made for itself through American soccer is a testament to the possibilities of lower division soccer, the rebirth of Detroit, and the power of community.
Speculation runs rampant that the club is getting attention from several soccer leagues. As expansion continues to be a hot button topic for the likes of the NASL and USL, and two third division competitions works to fill out their rosters ahead of future launches, a club like Detroit City FC has all of the makings of a bellwether operation.
Is that still the case if there's an MLS team in Detroit, sucking up much of the media attention and dominating the professional soccer conversation in the region? Even worse, can it be one if the MLS competition is using a near identical name?
The latest development in the unfolding story of professional soccer’s future in Detroit is the effort by the Dan Gilbert and Tom Gores-led MLS expansion bid to lay some groundwork should they win a franchise. This includes the recent bidding process for the rights to develop the site where an unfinished Wayne County jail currently sits. Gilbert’s Rock Ventures group is proposing a soccer stadium at that location while proposing to build the jail elsewhere. Another group, Walsh Construction, has outlined a plan to finish the jail.
Any MLS team in Detroit hinges on building a stadium. The league would undoubtedly prefer the downtown, Ford Field adjacent location that the unfinished jail site provides. Wayne County accepting the Rock Ventures proposal would rocket Detroit up the power rankings of MLS expansion candidates.
Perhaps with that in mind, the Gilbert and Gores group has taken some steps building towards a club identity. In 2017, that means registering domain names and filing trademarks, both of which they’ve done in the past week. Of course, there’s no MLS team to name, yet. The public nature of those processes make what they’ve done a talking point in Detroit and beyond.
Because, what they’ve done is register a trademark for the name “Detroit City Soccer Club”, piggybacking off the domain name variations registered last September and revealed via a Crain’s Detroit report last week. A spokesman for Palace Sports & Entertainment said the action happened specifically because of last week’s report, the reasoning being that the company needed to protect the trademark to keep their options open.
“Detroit City Soccer Club” is not the name of anything yet. That will come as cold comfort to the fans of Detroit City Football Club, at least in the short term. MLS already has a bunch of Uniteds. They might not want multiple Citys, especially if its from a true expansion team with no preexisting identity.
So go ahead and keep those options open, but keep in mind what any Detroit City variations already means right now now.
This is true not just because of consideration for DCFC’s fans, but because the optics of it simply make no sense. Currying goodwill with Detroit City is just good business for any MLS effort in the city. The team has a built in fan base. Even if some fans of the NPSL team see MLS as antithetical to the soccer they enjoy, it makes little sense for the expansion group to cause itself any avoidable issues.
In fairness, we don't know what happens behind the scenes. There's the possibility that courtesy calls were made. Detroit sports is a small world, and we're talking about some of its biggest players.
The pertinent question here isn’t “Can there be more than one club called Detroit City?”, it’s “Why would anyone suggest the idea of more than one Detroit City?”
It’s an uncomfortable truth that DCFC and its fans can’t really do much to stop MLS coming to the Motor City. The first division expands as it pleases. Once it does, MLS will take most of the soccer spotlight in the region. What that might mean for DCFC’s future is unknowable at the moment. It's certainly a question of identity.
It’s naive to think that the business side of sports won’t eventually trump everything here in the modern world. The fully cynical stance robs us of our ability to mystify soccer in the ways that make it special. Stopping short of that stance means we have to demand that even those who help soccer matter in America do less than the worst thing whenever possible.
Is trademarking “Detroit City Soccer Club” the worst thing? Maybe not, but it’s far from the best thing.
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