by Alan Chapman
Defense against The Dark Arts, or, Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong.
As any quick look at some of the recent stories concerning RayoOKC will tell you it’s time to light the cigars, break out into a chorus of You’ll Never Walk Alone, and push the curvaceous Diva onto the stage. It’s all going horribly wrong. Women and children first! The end is nigh!
But is it though? Is it really? Sure, Rayo Vallecano de Madrid got relegated, but does that mean that here in Oklahoma we have to head for the lifeboats? Spoiler alert: no it doesn’t. Rayo VdM is not a “parent club”, a “cash cow” or a “sugar daddy”. They put up the majority of the initial investment for the club in partnership with local owners. They have said that some, not all, of their stake in RayoOKC is for sale if any local parties have an interest in purchasing a share in the team. As far as I have been led to believe there was never a plan to keep throwing fistfuls of unmarked bills at RayoOKC from anyone in Spain, regardless of their league status. Any statement to “take the sails down” is just that, a statement. There are no obvious sails that I can see to be taken down. Maybe it was a statement to arouse interest from potential local investors? Maybe it was a statement to ensure that the local owners here in the state could be under no illusion that more money was possible from Rayo VdM? Maybe it was a statement that the expertise and advice from the managing partners would be less forthcoming as all the attention and effort of those involved has to move to the promotion fight next season? Maybe, just maybe, it was a statement meant to appease fans in Madrid, angry at the relegation, who were under the assumption that money would be diverted to OKC instead of staying at the home club?
To us in the OKC metro, the financial investment from Rayo VdM to start a club here was considerable. However on the grand scale of professional soccer it was pocket change. If Rayo VdM hadn’t spent that money here, instead had spent every penny of it at home their predicament would be exactly the same. This wasn’t a case of spending money on RayoOKC and missing out on buying Cristiano Ronaldo. The money spent here would barely cover the season’s bill for half time orange slices in a top flight La Liga club.
That investment, that money, has already been allocated. But what if it hadn’t been? Like any sports team it is up to the management and directors to ensure its survival by building a fan base and making smart, strategic decisions. In short: by selling a product people want. We can discuss the media markets, the potential fan base for a geographic area, the city specific culture, the nature of the league allocating expansion franchises based on a fee, the tax breaks offered by a municipality to encourage investment, or whatever else the number crunchers look at to decide where to place their franchise. But it comes down to one simple fact: a team is successful if it has fans that support it. Financially support it. Home fans buy tickets, shirts, scarves, and whatever other merchandise the club comes up with. The club sells advertising, naming rights, kit sponsorship, etc. That money is what funds the team; it is the same in all sports. A big financial injection, as has happened to many clubs in the EPL, will allow the club to buy a few new players, or build a new stand on the stadium, but it doesn’t often sustain season after season of daily operating expenses. Sadly, this is why some clubs here will buy ex global superstars, long past their prime. A familiar name, a chance to see a legend on the field, will sell more tickets and shirts; it’s as simple as that. It is thankfully rare for a successful franchise to pull up the stakes and leave a city, and it usually has to do with issues not connected to the team. The threat of moving is all too often a tactic to pry some more money out of the local government for a new stadium. When the Thunder moved to OKC it was more about local business leaders wanting a franchise than a lack of support from the fans in Seattle.
So are the majority owners “exploring a possible sale of OKC”? They are exploring a partial sale of some of their interests, I would wager largely as a sign to their home fans that they are not spending money here that’s needed there. Hardly a fire sale where everything must go and they’ll take a nickel for the froth off the coffee.
Is the “future in question after the relegation of the Spanish club”? No. That is hyperbole pure and simple.
Has it been a “rough last week” for RayoOKC? In ways, yes it has. The cup loss to the Energy wasn’t what they or the fans wanted. The financial dealings of Rayo VdM really don’t concern the team here, unless it is a chance for more local people to take a financial interest in the club. The doom and gloom predictions all gloss over last Saturday as well. RayoOKC secured their first home victory and had three players named to the NASL team of the week. That’s an achievement to be celebrated, not buried behind a wall of manufactured drama.
But that’s how spin works. The story is positioned in whatever light the journalist wants to use to bolster their underlying agenda. This isn’t an attack on journalists; it’s a basic human quality that we all share. We grab onto certain “facts” and ignore others that don’t support our position. And let’s be honest, a dry list of information and statistics is not what anyone wants to read anyway. So let’s spin the story the other way:
“Oklahoma offshoot brings success to Rayo VdM in spite of disappointing season”
“New OKC soccer club averages 4900 attendance through first 6 games”
“Local derby spurs interest in metro soccer”
“First spring season for home fans ends on a high”
These headlines are all true as well, just coming at the facts from a different angle. The story from Madrid is not unimportant, but it is not the whole story. The ultimate success, or even survival, of Rayo OKC rests with the people of Oklahoma. We can embrace and succeed or we can ignore and fail, and that’s how it should be.
So before we pronounce this great soccer experiment an abject failure and hit the internet with the hashtag #HindenTanicFC, let’s recognize one fact. The average RayoOKC home attendance per match would fill the actual Titanic twice over and still leave 500 people stood on the docks.