Monday, June 1, 2009

A Look at Attendance and Atmosphere

Over the years, all MLS clubs have been under the microscope of those who wish to shoot down its importance to the game in this country. It's detractors will often point to attendance figures, stadium atmosphere, TV ratings metrics to emphasize their points. In the last few seasons two new franchises have made waves with their seemingly rabid fan-bases (Seattle and Toronto, for those living under a rock) emerging from seemingly nowhere. We understand that they didn't just pop up out of thin air, and that a lot of strategic marketing, as well as a thirst for the sport in these two cities, were driving forces in creating such exciting new soccer markets in this country.

During the first few months of this young MLS season, many detractors have voiced loudly their opinions as to why MLS attendance is down. Many of them write off economic conditions, and don't give it as much credence as it deserves. Attendance is down across baseball as well. The NBA and NHL officials are concerned about entering their first full season ticket renewal season under these new economic conditions. 'America's Team' the Dallas Cowboys, are concerned about selling out their overpriced luxury boxes. There is a litany of leagues and teams who are seeing drops in profit and game day attendances. Yet when it comes to MLS, its detractors simply write it off, and focus on the fact that the Revs only got 9k for a cold day in April, or KC can only get 8K into a small venue.

These same detractors also fail to do any research into the actual numbers. The Revs are currently averaging about 11.5K fans throughout their first 4 matches of the season. Which is about 6k less than their final season average of a year ago (which included a Brazil double header, and a Beckhambonanza). Yet through the first 4 games of last season the Revs only averaged about 10.8K fans per game at Gillette.

I'm sure if you went through the league, a number of teams are in similar situations. Some of the northern teams play games in 40-50 degree rainy weather through the months of March and April. Sure Toronto and Seattle set the bar, because they are northern cities, playing in outdoor stadiums, but we should be applauding them, rather than comparing them to other cities. Of course certain markets need to be put on notice, but sometimes people need to look a little deeper into situations before they just blindly start labeling places failed markets

I think a better metric, and although it is a bit subjective to judge, stadium atmosphere is a better way to judge a market and a fan base. Those who look back to the numbers of 96-98 can say that the Revs are a less supported team now, than they were then. Some of that may be true, and some of the original hard core fans were abandoned by the franchises attempt to cater to soccer moms and preteans. However, I truly believe that the atmosphere inside Gillette, especially within the Fort, has never been better. That attitude, and rabid support in and around the Fort is also beginning to spill over throughout the stadium. In years past, if you sat around midfield, it was almost as though you were sitting in church. The occasional hoot and holler was back grounded by 12 year old screaming girls and boys, and silly PA announcements. Now with the efforts of the Revs most ardent supporters, and the cooperation of management, the atmosphere within the stadium seems to be almost infectious.

This past Saturday night was really the first night that the stadium felt alive all season. We could be critical of the first 3 games, and the almost dead feeling in the stadium, and we probably should be. I feel like a lot of that was due to weather, attendance and apathy. The weather here in New England has been dismal for Revs games so far this season. There has also been little to cheer about. Although the team is positioned to make a run, and stole a few points early on in the season, the fans knew the team wasn't playing well. Still the members of the Fort, and the surrounding sections had sounded better than they ever had. I truly believe the crowd helped lift them in the game against Dallas. Although attendance was low, the Fort End of the field was packed, and loud. When Ralston came on after half, the buzz in the stadium increased exponentially. Then when Nyassi netted his goal to level the game, you could feel the air being sucked out of the FC Dallas players, as the Fort end really picked up its team.

Coming into Saturday's game, there was definitely something in the air. People knew that they might be able to see the clubs legendary striker make his first appearance of the season. Then, after a Larentowicz injury early in the match, Twellman was called upon to help save a team that was really holding on by a thread in the game. Once he trotted out on the field, you could almost feel the anticipation within the stadium. It was not a nervous energy either. It was more of a collective wanting to explode. Although DC scored shortly after Twellman entered the game, the fans were not to be denied. The fans within the stadium began to really pick up their efforts, and so did the players on the field. Come the second half, the building was really rocking for the first time in a while.

Throughout this off season, and even in the past few years, it appears the Revs have changed their marketing philosophy. They seem to be engaging the soccer fans of the community, rather than just trying to create younger fans. Some of this may be due to the younger fans they initially targeted growing up, but I think most of it is due to the clubs recognition that those are the types of fans that they need to attract. They have been very active in creating away viewing parties at local Boston pubs. They helped host World Soccer Daily's trip to the Banshee for the UEFA Champions League earlier in the year. Nicol and some players have also made themselves more available to media like WSD, and Planet Mikey on WEEI. The organization has also laxest on some pretty draconian rules within the stadium, and with its security. Allowing Tifo, and other banners, which were nixed in the past. All of this has really helped to make the game day experience within the stadium much more desirable.

The club has not even come close to seeing its full potential in this region, however. When you go to watch a Premier League game at the Banshee or the Landing, you see hundreds of supporters waking up at early hours to go check out the game they love. When you drive around this area, you seem fields, and kids playing this game more than you do any other sport. Barca shirts, Liverpool shirts, Argentina and Brazil national team shirts, as worn throughout the city (and region) of Boston on any given day. Tens of thousands packed bars, City Hall and Hanover Street during the World Cup final (as well as other games during the tournament). People in Boston love this game, and the Revs are their only real option to watch live professional men's football. Some of these fans are the same detractors who ignorantly bash this game, but they have one thing in common with all of us. They LOVE this game. The onus is not just on the club to try and convince these people to watch this team, but I believe it is on us as fans as well. If we ever want this team to be as supported as it can be, we need to reach out to these soccer fans, and try to bring them in. The negative attitude of the past, that they just won't show up no matter, needs to be forgotten. We may not be able to convince all of them at once, and I doubt we ever will, but every small amount that we can will help network to a larger potential fan-base than can come and help lift our team to victory every game day.

We are going to do sporadic updates on attendance and atmosphere within the stadium, throughout the season. We also hope to report on a few of the away game viewings. We would love to hear some suggestions for game day experience ideas, and how to reach out to new fans. Eventually we are going to post supporters songs and chant lyrics on here, once we finally finish developing the new site and layout. We want this to be your stop as a supporter, and help make this team as big as it can possibly be. We think the sky is the limit, so let's get to work.



Anonymous said...

Who writes this blog? Can't seem to find your bio.

MLSR said...

Great post.

Anonymous said...

excellent work. some people are really lazy.