The soccer-ification of sports

The weekend provided a very interesting interesting story in The New York Times about how the Ottawa Senators are encouraging soccer-fan behavior in one section of selected home games.

Here’s a bit from the story:

“But not in Section 319 in the upper deck, where red-and-black-clad fans stood, beating on drums and raising a din all night. “Oh, when the Sens! Go marching in!” they sang again and again, between chants of “This is our house!” When Ottawa scored, the fans, mostly young men, jumped around with such reckless joy that they almost tumbled from their rows.

The raucous proceedings, taking place under the watchful gaze of club employees, are believed to be the first team-supported attempt to foster the atmosphere of an avid soccer crowd in the N.H.L. If it catches on, the Senators’ arena will feel less like a library.”

I have become something of a soccer fan. I have been to three different MLS stadiums over the past couple of years, I watch the beautiful game on television, I  went to see Manchester City and Olympiacos play at TCF Bank Stadium.

All of that said, American sports — especially MLB, NHL and NBA — can learn a little something from soccer in this country.

I understand that it is easy to scoff at such a suggestion, but I’m completely serious.

In my experiences at MLS games — especially in Portland and Kansas City — there seems to be a much greater sense of community among the fans. They know each other, they have a beer together. When I was tailgating with my buddy before a Sporting Kansas City match, a fan was going around with a massive homemade get well card for an injured player.

Some of that is likely the result of players making less and teams needing the fans more. But even so, the soccer fanbase is certainly younger (lots of millennials), much less corporate and potentially more engaged than other U.S. pro sports.

To their credit, the Timberwolves have worked to build some community and steal some of the good from soccer. There is the T-Wolves Army in the end zone near the visitors bench. There is certainly some chanting, there is the dude with the face paint who leads cheers, there are those inflatable noise sticks. It looks like they are having fun.

That’s much of what’s happening in Ottawa during certain games this season. From the story:

“For those games, fans in that section can bring in drums and flags, they can stand up the whole time and they can make as much noise as they want,” said Chris Atack, the Senators’ director for season-ticket and group sales. “They still have to respect the code of conduct — no profanity, no drunkenness, no abusive language, no throwing things — but otherwise, be loud and have fun.”

I also think the scarves that the Wolves game to season-ticket holders a couple of years ago was a nice touch.

My takeaway from the whole thing is that I find it interesting that established pro sports in North America are looking to steal some of the good from the upstart. And there is certainly some good.

Other items I found interesting in the story:

– “Ottawa also has problems selling out regular-season games. The official attendance last Tuesday was 16,436, about 2,700 short of capacity. But a couple of thousand more seats were empty.”

I had no idea that any of the Canadian teams struggled to sell tickets. I thought they were all tough tickets.

– If this catches on in Ottawa, expect this to spread. The team has already gotten inquiries from Nashville and Arizona on how to replicate.

I’m not complaining. Any way to replicate the energy seen in soccer stadiums — especially while potentially bringing in some young professionals as fans — is fine by me.



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