Editor's note: Just hours after this piece was published, the Charleston Battery reversed its decision on the press credentials of the Post and Courier, due in part to an unclear amount of intervention on the part of the USL front office.
Let's get some context out of the way. The Charleston Battery have been around for a long time. Yes, longer than MLS. Some pretty well-known players have plied their trade on Daniel Island, such as Raúl Díaz Arce, Ozzie Alonso, and Lamar Neagle. The soccer-specific stadium there opened in 1999, the same year as Crew (Mapfre) Stadium in Columbus.
The club was founded by a group led by Tony Bakker, an Englishman and owner of software company Blackbaud. After more than twenty years of success on and off the field, Bakker sold the club, the stadium, and the franchise rights in February to B Sports Entertainment, an entity owned by local tech entrepreneur Eric Bowman. The company founded by Bowman in 2009, SPARC LLC, was sold last year for a reported $53 million.
When Bakker sold the club, which by most accounts has a favorable reputation with fans, there seemed to be some optimism around the move. It wasn't that people were clamoring for Bakker to go, but the new group promised that improvements would be coming to the stadium, and a younger, perhaps more ambitious owner would be pulling the strings.
You're getting the idea. Things have gone relatively smoothly between the club and the community for over two decades, and in the early going, the sale of the team didn't seem to disrupt that.
Andrew Miller of the Post and Courier newspaper in Charleston is the media authority on the team, and for the moment at least, he won't be covering any matches from inside MUSC Health Stadium. As Miller reported on Thursday, the club saw fit to pull press credentials from the paper, over a business reporter's e-mailed inquiry into a lawsuit involving Bowman and SPARC. Let that sink in.
A lower division soccer team in the United States has revoked the access of the town's primary newspaper.
The problems with this are plentiful, and some more obvious than others - decreased legitimacy and visibility in the community - but one thing in particular began to rear its head in the immediate aftermath of the news, and it's the primary reason I'm writing this.
A guy who is new in the USL made an awful decision that is bringing the wrong sort of attention to a league that doesn't need it.
I'm a vocal yet professional critic of the USL. I'm a fan; I criticize because I care. The league has many shortcomings that it needs to address in the coming years, but by and large, I think it will do so. Making terrible, bridge-burning decisions is not one of the league's problems, and when one of the clubs in its membership does something like this, the USL needs to take swift action.
Bowman needs to know, if he doesn't already, that this is a really bad look. The league would do well to make sure that all of its clubs know this, and whether this is done privately or publicly, it needs to happen. Barring some revelation of more sinister actions on the part of the Post and Courier, I'd like to think that its credentials will soon be restored.
But what of the long-term effects? The relationship between the club and the paper will not be the same any time soon, and the USL will still bear the black eye of this mess. What's even more bothersome is that additional shenanigans could follow. The league can't afford this kind of ridiculousness.
I don't honestly know if the league will intervene, much less make its own statement. For its growing image going forward, however, the USL should absolutely do what is necessary to separate itself from the decision of one club owner in Charleston, South Carolina, and make sure it doesn't happen again.