Monday, April 7, 2008

Caring About American Soccer

It's one of my favorite topics and it came up twice in the last 24 hours - the importance of the US soccer community caring about American soccer.

Tom Dunmore is writing a piece for ESPN the Magazine and ESPN Soccernet and another for Pitch Invasion on the topic of supporters culture in MLS. He asked my thoughts for the articles and my comments included the following:

"The supporters’ energy and passion is not only felt within the section, it is transferred throughout the stadium. It gives emotion to the game experience for everyone who attends and elevates the meaningfulness of the game that is talked about the following day at school and at work.

That “water cooler talk” is critical because, good or bad, it is the team’s advertising to tens if not hundreds of thousands of others who weren’t at the game. It is unbiased, independent testimony to the game experience. If the experience is bad, the negative impact can be devastating to future sales. If the communication is positive, it can lead to organic growth of the team’s diverse fan base.
"

Then this morning's Soccer America Confidential had a terrific column by one of the country's very best soccer writers, Ridge Mahoney. His column today about the improvement in MLS is enjoyable to read based on both the content and style. If you're too cheap to subscribe to Soccer America and receive its essential online coverage, i'll tease you with a few paragraphs from the end of Ridge's column:

"And I realize what I'm seeing is not just glimpses of soccer scenes savored in other parts of the world, but what fans are feeling: the anticipation and excitement and passion and ferocity they share with players as they battle on the field.

In Toronto and Washington D.C. and Houston and Salt Lake City and Chicago and a few other places, there are a lot of fans who care about their teams. Really care.

MLS isn't EPL or La Liga or Bundesliga or Serie A or the Mexican League, yet no league can progress if the players who play and the people who pay don't really give a damn. When those people are reduced to a tiny minority, MLS will truly be major league."


Now after reading that, you should be motivated to go here and subscribe. Ridge's musings alone are worth the $79.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

"The supporters’ energy and passion is not only felt within the section, it is transferred throughout the stadium. It gives emotion to the game experience for everyone who attends and elevates the meaningfulness of the game that is talked about the following day at school and at work."

God, that's pretentious. Peter, sorry, you're the goods, man, but that's pretentious and an example of overstating the supporters' sections reach and meaning.

peter said...

Maybe it's a bit extreme but if you compare the experience of attending the same level of game at either Columbus Crew Stadium, Dick's Sporting Goods Park or Pizza Hut Park where the supporters sections are much less populated than at Toyota Park, BMO Field, RFK, Robertson and Chivas USA games, most people would agree that the supporters make the TP/BMO/RFK/Robertson/CUSA experience much better. Their chanting, banners, flags and passion are contagious. Without the supporters, the stadium would either be extremely quiet and colorless or filled with canned music. Both alternatives, in my opinion, would generate bad word of mouth or no word of mouth in the community resulting in lower overall attendance.

Anonymous said...

"Most people would agree" or "most people like me would agree?"

I would postulate that MOST people who attend games think it's nice, but not the be-all and end-all.

The "supporters section" or really concentrated singing/chanting/flag waving bit is more prevalent now than it was, say, 7 or 8 years ago, yes? Yet how is league attendance? Pretty comparable?

Did your own former team suffer an attendance downturn despite what was probably the first and best-organized and probably largest supporters section in the league? Despite some great teams?

I'm not saying it's not nice. I'm not saying those folks aren't to be commended, because they are. It's not easy to stand and sing and chant for 90 minutes. Those folks are noticed. And I'm sure it adds to the gameday experience.

I'm just not in agreement with you about how MUCH it adds to the gameday experience, and how the absence of same would have a deleterious impact on overall attendance.

Because, as I'm sure you know, the actual percentage of the ticket-buying public that is really this hard-core is very small. And the percentage of folks who will come with or without a giant jersey and smoke bombs and songs is quite a bit larger.

And, in large part, the supporters do these things to amuse and impress themselves as well as to (they believe) give a boost to the home team.

Of course, that's just my opinion. I could be wrong.

peter said...

i find it hard to disagree with someone who uses "postulate" and "deleterious" in the same post! ;-)

i'm not trying to state why supporters come to games - that's a different issue. i also never said that it's the "be all and end all." All i'm saying is the atmosphere created by supporters encourages more people to come to games than atmospheres like Arrowhead Stadium (extreme example), which discourage people to come to games. i could be totally wrong with this, but i am going to postulate that you haven't been to many non-Fire MLS games. If you had, i think the contrast of atmosphere would be pretty apparent and you would better understand why attendance is pitiful in certain markets that coincidentally(?) have pathetic supporters representation.

We are talking opinion here, not fact, so i'll respect, but disagree with your opinion that the atmosphere created by supporters has a negligible effect on attendance.

Buggy said...

Strong supporters' culture may not significantly and directly increase attendance and revenue; but it certainly increases the popular legitimacy and relevance of the team, which will in time increase attendance and revenue.

Just ask many of the new hispanic fans of the Fire. Several I've spoken to had seen matches involving LA or Dallas previously, but seeing a match in Chicago where a significant percentage (not just Section 8) really CARE about the result will affect one's perception of the live experience substantially.

Anonymous said...

And you would be wrong, respectfully. I've seen MLS matches in every stadium except Toronto. Oh, sure, there's no question there's a difference in atmosphere between Chicago and, say, Gillette Stadium. No question.

But if you say you disagree with the notion that it has little ACTUAL effect on attendance, I would invite you to show me the numbers. Because I'm looking at the same numbers that you are.

I'm asking you to take emotion out of it and look analytically at the situation - with the actual evidence rather than your heart, which is clearly with supporters (which is great). Where is the evidence to back up your claims? Kansas City may have better atmosphere in the ballpark they're in now than they did in Arrowhead, but they drew 30% fewer people for their second game than they did in their first. If a smaller, intimate atmosphere with loud supporters TRULY encourages more people to come, more people would come, wouldn't you think? Doesn't that follow, logically?

And, buggy - with due respect, you and I both know the nuevo hispanic fans of the Fire aren't coming because they saw great atmosphere. There's been great atmosphere at Toyota Park since Day 1. They didn't start showing up until #10 did.

buggy said...

"And, buggy - with due respect, you and I both know the nuevo hispanic fans of the Fire aren't coming because they saw great atmosphere. There's been great atmosphere at Toyota Park since Day 1. They didn't start showing up until #10 did."

Of course not. Nowhere did I suggest so.

But as much as it's important to distinguish "hispanic" fans from Mexican ones and avoid excessive generalizations in their regard; it's important to appreciate that the environment of the match establishes legitimacy to them, and in time can lead to greater respect and connection; that in turn leads to revenue and attendance.

Anonymous said...

And yet....like I said...the Latino fan did not turn out in appreciable numbers until Blanco arrived. They did at first for Campos, who simply couldn't play and they picked up on that.

I'm not singling out Latino fans for their non-attendance. Polish fans, by and large, seemed to have disappeared as Prodbrozny and Nowak did.

But I'm simply not going to buy that it was atmosphere or the supposed legitimacy that it brings that has been the prime motivation behind "new" Latino Fire fans (or attendees of games, if they're not actually fans of the Fire).