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MLS Caves To Fan Pressure, Lifts Its Ban On The Iron Front Logo

Photo: Diego Diaz (Icon Sportswire/AP)

After months of feuding and ejections and protesting, MLS has come to an agreement with various supporters groups to suspend its ban on Iron Front imagery at matches for the rest of the season:

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MLS will also work with supporters groups in order to review their much-criticized Fan Code of Conduct ahead of next season, which might prove the more important action if the league takes the fans’ input seriously.

It’s safe to say that most MLS fans had no idea what the Iron Front logo actually meant or even looked like prior to the season’s hullabaloo about it. (The logo, seen at the top of this post with the three arrows inside a circle, is borrowed from a German anti-fascist group from the early 1930s.) The image is in no way threatening, meaning the fraidy-cats Alexi Lalas is so worried about would have no reason cower before it. Because of that, that all of this came down to the logo is ridiculous in a way that may redound to MLS’s benefit.

The larger issue at hand wasn’t about the Iron Front logo specifically, but rather the league’s ban of all political signs generally. By narrowing the issue down to just the Iron Front logo, and then “magnanimously” granting fans permission to wave Iron Front flags after the meeting, MLS has secured itself an easy PR win with a small concession that allows it to keep its wider ban on political signage in tact.

That’s not to say the supporters groups got completely boned in these negotiations, though. Getting the Iron Front logo ban lifted is good, as is MLS’s promise to rescind the suspensions of any fans who got in trouble for displaying Iron Front imagery. What’s even better is how the fans’ collective actions around the country made so much noise that it compelled the league to come to them and negotiate.

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MLS has said it wants a big and passionate fan culture, but has balked when the culture that arose was too passionate about what the league considers the wrong things. Fans have now demonstrated real power by resisting the league’s attempts to control them and forcing MLS to make a change, even if only a minor one. Ultimately, the only way to tell in which direction the power has shifted is whether the supporters groups are placated by MLS’s minor concession and acquiesce to the league’s influence going forward, or if they use this concession to demand greater ones in the future.

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