One element that Major League Soccer clubs still lack is a deeper, richer connection to its fans.
That’s not a criticism of the way clubs are run. The methods and marketing strategies aren’t always perfect, of course, but where deeper roots and more unbreakable connections are missed, it’s mostly about history.
The oldest MLS clubs, the “96ers,” are just 17 years old. (Yes, yes, some clubs have been around longer, in various forms, but stay with me here …)
Seventeen years isn’t anything to spit at. But let’s just pick a couple of random clubs for comparison: Germany’s Bayern Munich is 112 years old. Spain’s Real Madrid is a regal 110. Notts County in England has been around since 1862 – so, 150 long years.
These are the regional roots that matter, the bonds of time. When your father and his father and his father supported a club, it’s almost literally in your blood.
That’s simply not something MLS clubs can create by throwing more marketing dollars at it. This happens organically or not at all.
Which is why I love this Seattle Sounders plan, the ability of fans to retain or dismiss the club’s general manager by vote.
I know some find it gimmicky; I see it differently. This is one way of establishing those deeper connections with supporters.
Look at it like this: t-shirt night or a post-game concert is fine for drawing folks to a match, hopefully turning a few into “fans” along the way. But to empowering the faithful, to cultivate something bigger, to foster links that make the tried and trues part of the organization’s very fabric, all of that is a longer stride toward nourishing a culture, toward creating “true supporters.”
Besides, the upcoming vote is reaping press that a soccer club all the way across the country might not find otherwise. I present this story from today’s New York Times as Exhibit A.