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The Cascadia Cup: Ours to Fight For

Don Garber's patronizing appeals to let him and his corporation trademark the Cascadia Cup are an insult to soccer fans in Cascadia and across North America.

Steve Dykes

October 6, 2024: today's match between the Sounders and the Timbers decides the twenty-first winner of the Dick's Sporting Goods Annual Cascadia Cup Presented by Budweiser. Thousands of visiting fans wave Southwest Airlines Official No Pity Scarves and lift Coca-Cola-Sponsored commemorative two-sticks extolling the virtues of sugary beverages and their tangential relationship to the decades-old rivalry.

Temporary workers hired by the home team are about to hoist the highly anticipated Tostitos Tifo Presented by Johnson & Johnson. The crowd goes wild, as the cartoonish image of a lightly bandaged Sounders legend snacking on corn chips and juggling a soccer ball is unfurled at one end of the stadium.

And the crowd here in Oklahoma City loves it -- well, except those dedicated fans who made the trek all the way from Minnesota.

Heavy handed though the above divination may be, it is one of many frightening versions of a future in which Don Garber and Major League Soccer successfully managed to trademark the Cascadia Cup, thereby stealing the trophy and its history from the fans who created it.

Garber continued his ill-advised attempt to trademark the Cascadia Cup yesterday, claiming he wants merely to prevent the Cup from being "exploited by people that shouldn’t be exploiting it," presumably so he can sell it to people that should be exploiting it.

"The goal is to have a trademark that’s managed, so that we – the league that has its teams playing in the Cascadia Cup – can ensure that that trademark is managed properly," Garber told reporters on Thursday. "That it’s not offered to those that might not have the right to be associated with Major League Soccer."

"There are so many things that go into intellectual property management," Garber continued, condescendingly. "We’re very confident that by communicating with [Cascadia supporters] better and just talking about what our plans are that they’ll be pleased that we’ve got their interest and the interest of the league in mind."

Honestly, Don, try not to be so obvious about your diabolical schemes. You couldn't have appeared more villainous if you had been speaking to reporters from a secret volcano lair, wearing a monocle, kicking a puppy, and drilling for oil beneath Muppet Studios.

Perhaps the most bewildering aspect of his comments was the distrust he expressed for the supporters groups -- the organizations that have, more than anything else over the past few years, lent international legitimacy to his league and expanded its domestic popularity -- even as he implored their members to trust him.

But what reason could Garber have not to trust the supporters groups? Over the years he and the league have received from the supporters groups, free of charge:

  • Three well organized fan bases that help their teams sell out every home match
  • A legitimate and lucrative three-way rivalry that is, for the most part, civil in its tone
  • Songs, chants, and tifo displays that honor local soccer heroes and stoke the flames of the rivalry
  • The very existence of the Cascadia Cup they are attempting to abscond with
  • All broadcasts, rebroadcasts, reproductions, and other uses of the pictures and accounts of the above activities of the supporters groups without their express written consent

On the other hand, the supporters groups have ample reason to distrust Garber and the league. In addition to the intellectual property management skills Garber boasts, sports leagues are quite adept at facilitating the relocation of franchises and selling off decades-old names, traditions, and landmarks to the highest bidders.

Is Garber prepared to promise, in a legally binding manner, that the teams that make up the Cascadia rivalry will forever exist as part of the MLS, residing in their current cities? Of course not -- the league's primary motivation is to maximize profit. If that means the future Atlanta Whitecaps get to buy their franchise history by taking Vancouver's USL-era Cascadia Cup victories with them, so be it.

The only thing that makes a sports team what it is is its fans. Owners may buy and sell; players and coaches may come and go; colors, kits and badges may change with the style of the times; stadiums may be renamed, renovated, or replaced. Only the fans may endow their teams with tradition, legacy, and meaning.

And indeed, the supporters groups that represent those fans are the only organizations that can be trusted to preserve, protect, and defend traditions like the Cascadia Cup.