Friday, August 10, 2007

The MLS, small groups and community

This is my attempt at a more concise explanation of what this brain dump tried to get across.

Important points from Applebee's America:
  • The most important Gut Values today are community and authenticity. People are desperate to connect with one another and be part of a cause greater than themselves. They're tired of spin and sloganeering from political, business, and religious institutions that constantly fail them.
  • In this age of skepticism and media diversification, people are abandoning traditional opinion leaders for “Navigators.” These otherwise average Americans help their family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers negotiate the swift currents of change in twenty-first-century America.
  • Once you squander a Gut Values Connection, you may never get it back...
Much of Applebees America is about people finding community, connections and authenticity in places like Applebees restaurants, churches and political campaigns. How these organizations make themselves a conduit of people's lives and by being community minded and authentic, they gain the loyalty of customers. By community minded, I don't mean these organizations donate to the local United Way and issue a press release, they allow communities to form and to be conduits of meaning.

In American sports, there is very little of this. The two places this kind of community thrives is college sports and professional soccer.

College sports has community ingrained in it. Life long fans and alumni make up the most hard core supporters of any team. They send donations, they join booster clubs, they buy season tickets. They do more for a team than any average NFL or MLB fan would do. They develop deeper connections to a team that goes beyond buying a t-shirt or a ticket.

Major League Soccer could develop this same kind of community and loyalty. Imagine if the league promoted the dozens of active supporter clubs as the backbone of the league.

Simply on the surface, supporter clubs like the Red Patch Boys in Toronto provide a much better fan experience than other sports. Coordinated chants and the passion in the stands is simply attractive to the new fan or to any fan.

But, there is a deeper social aspect to supporter clubs that the league can take advantage of.

Supporter clubs in leagues world wide are the social glue that hold leagues together. Its not uncommon for team management to meet regularly with supporter clubs. It is also not uncommon for supporter clubs to evolve into supporter trusts, charities that donate money to the club to help keep the team going.

Fans have connections to deep to a club that they would hand over money to the management with no other expectation that the team would continue to exist. That isn't the kind of connection that exist in any other American sport (outside of college and high school). I've never heard of any Red Sox fan, or especially a group of Red Sox fans, simply donating money. Not, that I expect that to happen with any MLS club, I'm just using it as an example.

That said, like the Red Patch Boys in Toronto, there are things (like interfering with scalping) that supporter clubs can do to the direct financial benefit of clubs. Not that just simply providing a social structure surrounding a club and their brand doesn't have a direct financial benefit to a club.

If people feel directly apart of something larger than themselves, they will (to put it frankly) be more loyal customers. They will buy more shirts (even after the rush on Beckham jersies falls off), they will watch more games on t.v. and they will buy more tickets.

So, what can MLS clubs do encourage fans building social bonds through supporter clubs?

1. Less of this.

2. Learn the lessons of political campaigns. Since 2002 or there-abouts, politics has been infested with bloggers, meetups and other social stuff. Learn to love this quote:
Joe Trippi: The people are coming to this thing. And whatever we do, they take it and make it better. It's their campaign now. We're at the point where, if this is going to work, it's going to be because of them. All we have to do now is have faith in them.

We've all been talking about it, and it's like this. It's like we're standing on top of this fifteen-story building. All these people have gathered. Now... what we have to do is jump. And trust them to catch us.

Howard Dean: You're absolutely right. I can see it. But do we have to be crazy about it?
So, read The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, especially the last chapter.

Read this

Here's an example. I'm at a Chivas/Galaxy derby stood next to a dude wearing a Dodgers T-shirt when the Chivas hardcore burst into the stadium like a red-and-white tornado. Dodgers dude nearly has a heart attack.

"What the fuck!" he yells, taking a step back. "Who the hell are they!" I explain they're soccer fans and this shouting, jumping, yelling, screaming carnival is how soccer fans trend to behave.

It's baseball dude's first soccer match. You can bet it won't be his last. There's no doubt that David Beckham will put meat in the seats, but it's the noisy, life-affirming, autonomous, independent, witty, irreverent punk-culture of the fans that'll hook them.

Yeah, I know. I'm being ridiculously optimistic. I'm ignoring the fact there are vast deserts of inert fan-zombiedom in the MLS. And even at the noisy-fan infected grounds, the pogoing mobs of flag-waving fanatics are flanked on either side by dumbstruck armies of gawking, spoon-fed sports consumers. (Hey, English footie snobs, remind you of anything?)

But what if the disease spreads? spread the disease.

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