OK, this one isn't from me, but another newcomer to the RSL blogger world Norm, whom I have run into but could not claim to really know. He offers up and open letter to Real Salt Lake (hmm, that sounds familiar) on his blog (http://josiahnormanlybbert.blogspot.com/2009/12/my-letter-to-real-salt-lake.html)
He makes some great points but he is off target on some things, so lets start with what is the easiest. He has become a diehard fan since the team moved to the new stadium, welcome to about half of the RSL fans. I am hoping that he has season tickets, if not then a lot of what he says has to be taken with a "grain of salt" mentality as it is easy to pick on things when you are on a fence (sitting on a fence is a very uncomfortable position).
So most of his letter boils down to the perceived lack of "atmosphere" at Rio Tinto, he is upset that fans all around the stadium aren't jumping up and down and chanting. I suggest a trip to Europe to see that most often it is a very small section of fans that indeed make up the atmosphere in a stadium and 80% are content to watch a match and cheer only for goals or horrible calls. I am not sure where the expectation of a stadium full of chanting fans comes from, you don't have that in any sport in the US. Oh yes you can get a "Charge" if you prompt a stadium, you can even get a "Defense" chant if you play the right music and start them off, but I have attended professional and collegiate sporting events in 12 different states, I have been to the SuperBowl, the World Series, NCAA Final Four matches, various Bowl games, and other events and not once have I ever seen US sports fans around an entire stadium chanting, standing, waving flags, or anything else that could be considered "atmosphere".
For more of my thoughts about Norm's letter, check after the jump
Worse yet is that Norm fails to understand that he is in Utah, where the behavior he is trying to encourage is not only frowned upon by many but one of the largest areas of complaints that Real Salt Lake receives. It isn’t the supporter culture in general that they hate, it is the fact that too often the chants have adult language. I only can imagine what would happen if the bulk of fans could hear or understand what La Barra is saying in most of their chants, it would not be pretty.
He makes a great point about the Halloween match against Columbus and the low attendance, and he is right on target with his theories, well kinda. It wasn’t the lack of advance notice that kept many fans away, as the walkup to most matches is several thousand, it was that RSL didn’t give away tickets, and they shouldn’t have. Having the match on a kid oriented holiday was a death punch for attendance, when you give most kids a chance to chose between free candy or going to a soccer match you will lose most of the time, then add in the parent factor of I have spent money on costumes and candy and they want me to pitch that and spend more to go watch soccer. End result is about 12,000 fans for a mid afternoon match, and if it happens again it will be the same result.
It is interesting that the next real point is a semi valid one but again he misses the real issues. He talks about how the south supporter section should be sold out for each match, a nice thought but when it happens it is a disaster. See selling tickets to the general public and telling them that they will be near people who make noise and stand during matches, goes in one ear and out the other of the people buying the tickets and then they complain to the ushers and security about the noise and that people are standing. It causes issues that RSL then has to deal with, because the people don’t listen when they are sold their tickets or just want cheap seats and then want the world handed to them. Welcome to dealing with fans.
Ah, the fun of La Barra Real, listen I like most of them, but they are also the biggest babies and most spoiled people in the stadium and to be honest I could care less about them anymore. If it weren’t for RSL kissing their butts so much and tossing money their way, that group would be 10 people. They are great passionate fans, until someone gets kicked out for throwing smoke bombs, then they walk out on their team. They are super loud, until they break another seat and someone gets kicked out then they either leave or sit down in protest. They bring signs and banners, and in Seattle thought they were the only fans that mattered, they tried to keep all the early entry passes (meant for 3 groups) for themselves despite the fact that they didn’t even pick them up. They (and I don’t blame them) took total advantage of the MLS tickets for supporters and didn’t offer a single on to supporter groups with more season tickets or who had been around longer. They refused to march to the match with other RSL or fans, instead walked a couple minutes behind them so they could try to get their own attention. They don’t want to chant in English or teach their chants to others, they don’t want to be part of anything but themselves. That attitude will be the death of the group eventually.
Ah the idea of getting college students to matches, great idea. The shame is that they didn’t show up even when given free tickets at Rice Eccles in any number, you really think they will pay for them or that as soon as they get in trouble for underage drinking that they will come back? Nope as much as I would love to see it happen, I just think you would be creating a disaster of more people who expect something for nothing. Those aren’t fans, they are free loaders and will dump you in a second as soon as someone else offers them something else.
A great culture in Seattle, ah yes I have heard this one all year too. Yes they sold 20,000 season tickets before their first match, but the reality check that over 15,000 of them were to Qwest field seat license holders (NFL season ticket holders) is so rarely mentioned. Yup they get 30,000 fans to matches by the best marketing plan since Nintendo short supplied the Wii for two years, they refuse to sell more tickets. The stadium will hold 65,000 people, but the Sounders wisely refuse to sell more, and keep a fake shortage of supply getting them crazed attention. Yes if RSL had a millionaire to foot the bill for a bunch of pregame activities, I bet we could get a marching band (if we do I quit coming to matches) that could walk around the stadium too. Yes they have a great deal with their stadium location, there is no doubt that a downtown stadium in Salt Lake would have been able to help out in so many ways, you can thank Rocky, Corroon, and the Salt Lake County Council for that not happening. The reality is that Salt Lake isn’t Seattle and never is going to be.
Nothing you said was wrong, you are right as a fan to voice your opinions as loudly as you want, many of your ideas are great but since your history with the club is short you miss that many of these things have been tried, and like me you tend to look at things RSL from a very optimistic viewpoint. The reality is that we are the smallest market in MLS, indeed we would not get a team in the MLS of today and hopefully with the infusion of some new capital and new ideas from the new minority owner some things can be done to help the team become even more of a success.
I will leave you with this thought, I believe RSL fans are close to being great fans, but when they bitch and moan about playing against Mexican teams, or that Everton was back again, instead of showing up in huge numbers to support their team and consider themselves lucky to be able to see the two top teams from Mexico in one season (and have their team play well against both). Well until the fans take every opportunity to embrace the team, it will be what soccer is in the US a niche sport. The dedicated fans will go to great lengths to support their team, they buy tickets, they buy merchandise, they will travel when they can, and they will cheer, but remember that our passion isn’t their passion. Someday maybe the fans in section 4, 32, 28, 15 will want to be as loud and crazy as the fans in 8-12, but you can’t force them to be and until they are willing to try it, well we are fighting an uphill battle.
I love that others out there are thinking about what the team needs to do to be more successful, I urge all of you to think about what you would do if you were in charge. Then share those ideas with the team, write a letter, go to a townhall meeting, heck if you are crazy enough write a blog. Soccer is a community, its fans are a tribe, and it creeps into the culture of the cities in which it is played, and it becomes an obsession for most who become fans of it, it is the greatest thing on the planet.
OFF MY SOAPBOX