Building Virtually

By John Sloop, columnist.

Photo by Casey Gower (Speedway Soccer).

So, you got a new Major League Soccer franchise.

You’ve picked a roster, manager and staff. You’ve marketed the team heavily, and you’ve come up with a number of ways to tie the team to the community. You’ve got theme songs, invented traditions, a lot of support.

Hell, you’ve even played your game. In front of a huge freakin’ crowd. While the team wasn’t victorious in the first two games, they’ve actually played both games closely both by score and statistically.

Then, wouldn’t you know it: a pandemic shuts it all down. And you have no idea for how long this is going to go on. So, what now? You make sure your staff and team is safe; you keep up the training, you keep thinking about what the future is going to look like. You wish you could quickly invent a vaccine, but that doesn’t seem likely.

In addition to keeping the team itself ready to play, you need to build on that momentum with which you started the season. That is obviously a pretty big charge under these conditions. And yet, I want to say without much reservation at all, the club seems to be getting this right. #NoShill

First, they are providing a great deal (and a great deal of varied) digital content. Jamie Watson hosting a virtual happy hour and interviewing unusual guess, player Q&A’s, Thursday night trivia, a cooking show with Walker Zimmerman. They provide virtual guitar riffs. Seriously, that’s some interesting content, and, importantly, one way to get to know the players better. It’s access we never would have gotten in a different era and access that helps keep fan and team together as one.

You can challenge Doolsta to a live game (as my fellow columnist Andy Simmons did) and get your ass kicked. Andy noted that getting his ass kicked made him feel that much more committed to the club.

Importantly, the team has also partnered with a new of community projects. In addition to committing to help in the post tornado clean up, the team has partnered with PENCIL, an organization that links local groups to the public schools. In this capacity, they not only have plans to help provide students with access to soccer enrichment but, currently, with students learning from home, the team is helping produce video content to provide students with career and education advice.

In addition, the team’s main web page highlights three different funds they support and encourage contributions by the fans (two different ones focusing on the indirect victims of COVID-19 and one focusing on the tornado victims).

What I want to highlight here is that the team—largely through Ian Ayre—has promised repeatedly that it needs to reflect the community. And while it’s clearly a challenge to do so during a pandemic, they continue to deliver on that promise. And they continue to find ways for the supporters to link together with the team, with individual players, with the club.

I think we all should take advantage. See you at trivia.

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