Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Chinese Protests at Real Salt Lake & Colorado Games

Sports Law Blog takes an interesting look at some of the gray areas that arise when a political protest occurs at a sporting event. If you haven't heard, the Chinese National Team as part of it's preparation for the Asian Cup played friendlies against MLS teams Real Salt Lake and the Colorado Rapids. At both games some fans were told to leave and those that refused were escorted from the premises.

John Meyer covered the game but not the news for the Denver Post. Good to see some coverage of the game but not a peep about anyone getting thrown out? Not one peep? Does Meyer know that people usually don't get thrown out of soccer games especially for protesting?

I think Dan Loney at Top Drawer soccer put it best when he wrote "There’s legal, and then there’s right." That's exactly how I feel. I'm not a simpleton who thinks this about freedom of speech that somehow magically trumps Stan Kroenke's right to property. But I feel it's the wrong thing to do. I feel it's wrong because for some odd reason as human beings we all tend to take pride in our community and our country when it comes to sports. And because of this, as we saw with the protests and boycotts against South African rugby through the 1970s and 1980s, it's actually one of the few ways to put pressure on tyrants who are in charge of countries like China, Burma, North Korea, is through sport. That is why the US Soccer Federation, Major League Soccer, Dave Checketts and Real Salt Lake, Stan Kroenke and the Colorado Rapids and others should have used this opportunity to publicly snub China and state that it's because of their persecution of their own citizens based on religion, ethnicity and opinions.

The USSF didn't kick it's customers out for their Tibetan and Taiwanese flag. so why did RSL and the Rapids? With Dave Checketts and Real Salt Lake one would assume there are likely a couple factors going on. The first is that they already had Goldman Sach's Whitehall pull out of their real estate / stadium deal at the last minute. Their new development partner, iStar (NYSE : SFI) may not want to tick off the wrong people with China's red hot stock market on the verge of allowing the listing REITs. And RSL's big sponsor, MLM/pyramid scheme (depends on what you think of a setup like Amway) Xango surely doesn't want anyone in the Chinese government throwing up any more barriers than needed for it to sell it's $40 bottles of fruit juice. After all for all the talk about China's market reforms things still get done there if and when the government gives it's okay.

With Kroenke, KSE, and the Colorado Rapids their motivations are more direct and obvious. It's not about the team's sponsors and business partners but Kroenke himself. In case you didn't know, Enos Stanley Kroenke married into the Wal-Mart family. His wife Ann's father was one of the co-founders of Wal-Mart. Not only did Wal-Mart introduce the US to outsourcing to China (that is, they depend on China to supply them with cheap goods for their store shelves) but they already have 73 stores in China. While Kroenke hasn't spoken of wanting to do any real estate deals in China, at least not that I know of, he has purchased part of Arsenal FC (London, England) and is rumored to be looking to be working on a deal to buy the rest of the shares in the team. Why is he doing this? Part of it is the value of Arsenal itself. Another reason is to try to tap their knowledge in marketing a sports team internationally. And if Kroenke is looking to market the St. Louis Rams, the Denver Nuggets, et al. around the world what more important of a market is there than China with it's 1.3 billion consumers? That's the USA + 1 billion people. It's very likely that for Kroenke, KSE and the Rapids not rocking the boat wasn't about being "good hosts" but about making sure they don't alienate their connections in China.

RSL FM sums this situation best with this image Anyone have a few like this for Kroenke and the Rapids?

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