Soccer/Football/Futbol is different from most professional sports in America. Most clubs don't have cheerleaders, they don't need public address announcers or reader boards telling fans when to clap their hands. Ideally, they don't even need a marching band. In Seattle's case we are going to have the Sound Wave, but we will also have the Emerald City Supporters.
What Football/Futbol/Soccer has instead are Supporters. Groups of them. These groups aren't just fans. They are ultras. These are the ones that provide the life in the stadiums that fuel the action on the field.
Their leadership insists this is true. As Greg Mockos of ECS says,
The players play better when they are supported, NOT merely applauded. Support implies you have a stake in the team and that shall the team fail in certain respects you fail. The normal fan, when his team looses, surely goes home sad, yet he does not feel like he has lost, he feels like the professionals on the field fell short of expectation. A supporter goes home after a loss and feels as if a part of him/her has lost something.
ECS brings vigor to the players on the field through its chants and vocal displays, and brings atmosphere to Qwest field.
But really, what impact can supporters have on a team? No matter how passionate a group of fans is do they impact the play on the field? Can they help the team's bottom line?
Today we answer those questions.
For the Soccer fan, you likely already feel this is true. Most of us would rather be in a stadium with life and action. We hold as the standard in North America Toronto FC and DC United for the atmosphere in the stadium.
This isn't just passion, this isn't just life outside of the USA. Our own nation's capitol has a group that is as impressive as any in the world.
Our dream, of the 300 level being open and full and banners hanging from rafters with Cups on display is the same goals that the Front Office has. This isn't about supporting hooliganism, or beer drinking. This is a sport where the 12th Man is active for 90 minutes with only one interruption.
In soccer, players expect a professional league to have fans with passion - not stadiums with hydroraces and shell games. As Matt Taylor said in a recent interview, part of the reason that he's more excited to be in Europe than in MLS is because the fans make him feel like a professional.
The first time I felt that I was a professional was when I signed my contract in 2004 with MLS. Even though I feel that player contracts and conditions in MLS are not ideal from a player's perspective, it was a good feeling to sign on the dotted line.
In Europe, I definitely feel that I am having a true professional experience that in many ways, at least for now, cannot be found in MLS. I am playing often in sold out stadiums full of passionate fans that sing and chant for 90+ minutes. Here the game means everything to the people, and every game is important.
If the money is the same, and the quality is similar, a player will go where they can feel appreciated by the community. Supporter's Groups are KEY to making that happen. Seattle already lost one star player to the Norwegian League, and when I asked Cam Weaver about his thoughts on Seattle Sounders FC and the chance that he might play here someday here was his response.
I am excited to follow Sounders FC. Seattle should be a great place to play, I would love to play there someday. Not sure if it will happen, but these things are always complicated.
I am enjoying my time here in Norway and getting to travel around Europe. Soccer is a passion here much more than the states.
Norway's top league averages less than 10,000 fans, but still Cam calls out the passion that they display every single match. Players want to play, and they want to be treated like professionals. The game atmosphere is more than just people buying seats. It must consist of the passion that even lower level leagues receive in Europe.
These are performers. They want to see victories, and they want to be appreciated for their efforts. Whether it is players in Italy that point to the excitement in the stands after goals, or if its our own Sebastien Le Toux who expresses his own excitement at 18,000 active fans at Qwest Field.
The difference to have 20 000 fans than few thousand passive it's for me that the fans give lots of energy to the players, and to hear that the fans are behind you during all the game , i feel less tired on the field and i can do more effort when i am tired because the fan help me to pass my physical limit. And for a player it is amazing to play in front of lots of people because when i am on the field i feel the love people have for the club and the city. I don't know if i explain well myself but i hope you will understand what i want to say...
To play in front of already 18,000 fans it's great. I never play in front of 18,000 people in Seattle. So i am sure it will be wonderful.
These are three MLS quality players who all say that the passion of fans is part of the very reason they choose where they play. One of the key ways that a team in MLS can rise above the rest of the league in recruiting players is by having active and passionate fans. Players will play in this league as it continues to develop, but it will get better players as the fans go beyond the mom&pop attitude and show that they are as committed to the team, as the team is to them.
So player recruitment is one reason why a team's Front Office should support the supporters, but also so that they can help market the team. When a football/futbol fan watches MLS they tend to see static crowds and a lower-level of play then their home nations' leagues. I have heard that there is an estimate that only about 1500 season ticket holders are ex-patriots.
If that is all that Sounders FC has managed to attract in the higher league the market is not nearly tapped out. The 2000 census showed that there are over 15,000 Europeans living in Seattle and over 17,000 from other nations in the Americas. That is just for the city, not the county, nor the metro area. There are still 10s of thousands of fans available to be convinced that SSFC is their team for local live soccer.
One of the ways that Seattle Sounders FC can connect with these communities better, is by having exciting supporters groups that connect the MLS game to the games of the EPL, La Liga, Bundesliga or the FMF. The stadium experience should be similar to what those leagues have.
Currently ECS is the best way for that to happen. As Keith Hodo, co-leader of ECS says, their goal is to
help[s] orchestrate a song or chant that keeps other supporters (fans) focused on the match in front of them. Ultimately the goal of the supporters is to push the players onwards to victory and make the gameday experience more enjoyable for everyone else. Of course, sometimes a supporters group can be a little colorful with language or gesture but at the end of the day it's all in good jest.
One should join the group
because it's a good group of people who really enjoy soccer and having a great time. At first it's a little overwhelming as it's out of the norm for fans in the States to orchestrate songs together or yell at players in unison. At least that's how I saw it the first time. However, as I looked around I realized that they were the people having the most fun at the matches and I had to become a part of it. One of my favorite things about the group is that it is full of stories of how people got interested in it and they're all great to hear.
Sounders FC needs to capture the energy of these kinds of communities because the goals between ECS and the team are quite similar - Winning football in front of a full stadium.
The following is a start
We're in a very interesting position with Sounders FC and the aspirations of the team. I think all of us that support the team believe our ownership when they say that they want to be world class and be successful in a short period. Part of being successful means investing in your fans, that and we need money to create the overhead displays and banners. One of the coolest things that we talked with the club about was the idea of a referral program which helps us grow along with the club. Ultimately it costs the club very little to help us and the club gets the passionate fans which help make the gameday that much more special.
But it can be so much more. There are empty seats scattered all over the stadium, and one of the key ways to fill them is to capture the energy that Supporters supply. In American only collegiate basketball and football have the kind of life that can be displayed in a Qwest Stadium full of soccer lovers.
But supporters are more than just about professionalism in the stadium, but also on the pitch. A vibrant culture in the stands can help bring some of Americas talent back home. 18,000+ chanting in unison is certainly better than the few thousand of Norway, or Germany, or the USL. There are further steps the team can take in order to have a more international atmosphere at their games, we have a start, but in order to be a top team in the region fans will need to see more than there currently is.