I imagine if you’re listening to the 3four3 podcast, you also watch the Champions League.
And so you are well aware that one of the semi-finalists is Villarreal, from Spain.
Being a semi-finalist in the Champions League is usually reserved for one of maybe a dozen superpower clubs.
Villarreal is so far down that pecking order that on paper at least they shouldn’t be in this position. In fact, on paper, they shouldn’t even be participating in the Champions League at all. The reason they got to participate, is they earned their entrance by winning last year’s Europa League.
Which, by the way, on paper again, they had little business achieving.
But here in lies the crux of the matter, “on paper“.
Well, thank God that what a club can and can’t achieve is not determined by what’s on paper.
Thank God that something like a closed super league did not get off the ground and implemented.
Because then a handful of gatekeepers would dictate what club, and tied to that, what communities, get to participate at all.
Villarreal would never be allowed into the competition, and hence never have had the chance to earn any of the benefits – economic or otherwise, that come along with climbing up the hierarchy.
Never have had that opportunity.
Villarreal, the city, has a grand total population of get this, 50,000 people.
Total city population, guys, 50,000.
Here in the States, to even float the idea that a city with a population of 50,000 could be home to a club that could build its way up to be one of the top four teams in the world, would be viewed as preposterous. They would laugh you out of the room.
But here we are, and all due to the fact there are no gatekeepers picking winners and losers in the marketplace.
All due to the fact that the ecosystem is open.
Without that, without the economic carrot that exists with earning one’s way up the Spanish divisions and tables. And then maybe build to one day, get to Europa League. And heck maybe one day the Champions League itself, Villarreal would have been suffocated out of existence a long time ago.
Without that incentive, there is little reason for anyone to invest in pursuing sporting excellence, business excellence, or any excellence at all.
For what would be the point?
What would be the point if you are perpetually cast as a second, third, or fourth class citizen, with a literal cap on what you can achieve.
Since of course here at 3four3 we direct all our energies in helping the American soccer ecosystem progress, obviously I’m going to relate the Villarreal story to what happens here.
In short, it doesn’t.
It’s not allowed to happen.
Because here in the US, we have the dire situation I just described. And it’s for no other reason, no other reason, than to preserve monopoly power, for a small group who can then dictate to the rest of the country what they can and can’t achieve, and under what conditions.
Villarreal, population 50,000, spent the 90s in the 2nd division.
Earned their way up through sporting merit to La Liga and played in the top tier through the 2000s. Was relegated back to the second division in 2012, but then earned their way back the following year.
In 2020, they came in fifth place, which earned them a spot in Europa League.
They then went on to win that competition by beating none other than Manchester United itself. That in turn, earned them a place in the Champions League this year, where they went on to beat behemoths Juventus, and then Bayern Munich.
Now, yes, it looks like Liverpool will end up knocking them out in the semi-finals.
But again, Villarreal, city with population 50,000.
Don’t tell me an American 2nd division club, in whatever city they find themselves, couldn’t build themselves up to be one of the top clubs in the country, to say nothing of the world.
Don’t tell me a club like San Antonio FC, owned by the San Antonio Spurs mind you, isn’t capable of building this.
But of course that can only be done if the ecosystem was open – meaning promotion and relegation.
With the ecosystem closed, of course San Antonio FC isn’t going to build.
It would be a monumental waste of time, energy, money, you name it, to double, triple or 10x their budget.
It would be ridiculous for them to double their stadium capacity.
There’s no incentive to do these things – you can’t move up divisions if you are USL champion and, consequently, enjoy the organic, economic, windfalls or a return on investment. That only comes with moving up.
The number of fans won’t magically double if you just double your stadium size, or make your roster doubly as good.
But the fans could double, if there was a point to the competition that is moving up.
If people knew that their support influenced the probability that the club could move up, that’s an incentive.
Right now, there is no incentive for either the club, fans, or would-be fans to invest or care more than they currently do.
Guys, the same goes for all the other USL clubs, and clubs in the 3rd tier, and clubs that could be formed.
Don’t tell me that Orange County – population 3.2 million – here in Southern California, a hotbed, if not the hotbed of soccer in the United States, can’t host a club that builds up to be among the best in the country, if not the world.
Villarreal, population 50,000, is in the Champions League semi-finals.
Guys, how many cities in the United States could be host to a club that could build an earn its way to MLS?
It’s an incredibly low bar. We’re talking building something that could basically compete in the German 3rd division, the English third division, the Dutch or Portuguese second divisions. That’s the level we’re talking about here. It’s easy. It’s easy, both from a sporting perspective and a business perspective.
But the requirement is we must open the ecosystem and afford everyone the opportunity to compete and merit their way.
Before I let you go, if you’ll allow me one more thing.
The story of Villarreal, or the story of Leicester City winning the Premier League – these are not to be viewed as one-off Cinderella things. These just happen to be the ultra-high profile global class cases. The ones that hit the mainstream.
But there are countless cases, every single year, occurring in open ecosystems around the world.
No, not necessarily cases of a small club going up all the divisions and winning the first division title. No, that’s not what I’m talking about.
But yes, countless cases of triumphs of clubs going up divisions, competing, bringing joy, deep, sincere, authentic, emotional attachment and opportunity to their respective communities.
That too should be happening here in the supposed land of freedom and opportunity, the United States of America.
How can you help make this a reality?
There’s many ways, but for now, I’ll leave you with perhaps the most important one:
Teach others within your circles.
Thank you for listening. And until next time, keep building and keep pushing the envelope wherever you are.
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