I had planned this week to publish an article about the meanings and purpose of the shadowy supporter’s group Diaspora SG after getting an exclusive and extensive interview with one of the officers who made the ludicrous claim that they now had over 1000 members.
That’s what I was going to write about.
Then Saturday night happened. And my plan changed.
Over the course of that last season and a half, we have had, in one way or another, some bad luck on game nights. We’ve sat through massive storms; we’ve waited hours through weather delays (or, sadly, left during weather delays); we’ve watched uneven performances on nights when the weather cooperated. The two times we had gone to Nissan, we witnessed the dreary variety of scoreless draws. While going to a game is always a better time than most other things I could be doing, I have to admit that I prepared for the game Saturday night with a bit of trepidation. I was talking to one of my friends about dreading how a crowd of 15,000 just rattled around in that big bowl, destroying the intimacy that I often feel when First Tennessee Park is full.
But the afternoon and evening unfolded beautifully. After sharing beers with friends over at Acme, we scootered over to the tailgates, dropping by briefly at all four supporters groups. With pitch perfect weather, everyone seemed in positive spirits. We all got to enter the stadium and sit in our MLS season ticket seats, definitely adding to the excitement, allowing us to imagine what will be. If you were there, you know how the game unfolded. I don’t need to rehearse except to say it was one of the best full 90 minutes of football I’ve seen from this team. We were dominant against one of the few teams above us in the table, and we maintained a clean sheet (zero goals against us in three games at Nissan is an omen, I hope). And on top of that, the crowd felt electric. The supporters section was in full throat the entire game; I could hear the roar better than I ever have at First Tennessee. Indeed, in my seats near midfield, you could make out every chant, every song. All of that added to the general mood and excitement.
I don’t know what else to say except the experience was flat out dynamite. I left Saturday night feeling as jazzed and energized about this team as I’ve ever been. And that got me to thinking about what draws us to this sport and what keeps us coming back.
When I got into soccer, it had nothing to do with the game, which I didn’t understand at all. I went to my first game because a friend twisted my arm into going, and it wasn’t even MLS. It was a USL U18 team. And yet, I feel in love with soccer because of the atmosphere. The loud ass supporters section, the festive feeling, the joyous anticipation of a score. While the reasons I return now may be slightly different (hell, I’m an addict, there’s no way I could stay away), what drew me in had more to do with atmosphere than anything else.
The reason I’m thinking about this is that I’ve seen some subset of fans expressing concern over the “marketing” of NSC. They tell us a number of things: 1. There is no buzz about the team outside of the already attending community; 2. They don't see any publicity anywhere (again, outside of the already committed fans); 3. They worry that the team is not doing any of the systemic but informal outreach they think NSC should be doing with local groups.
On an emotional level, I understand their concern. We all want this to be hugely successful. We’ve been telling everyone that it will be. In so many ways, we’ve promised the Nashville community that it will be. And we see cities like Austin, where deposits for season tickets are selling out quickly, so we naturally have a bit of fear go up.
“What if this doesn’t work? Why isn’t the team doing more?”
But, when I pause and reflect, I believe we are asking the wrong questions. First off, NSC has a professional front office with a marketing plan firmly in place that they will follow. It’s not like we are going to say something and someone over at NSC is going to say, “Damn, we forgot that marketing part of this. Better get started.”
Whether it’s the plan you would hope for or not is a different matter, but I trust they know what they are doing. I would guess in part they want to separate out USL and MLS from each other. But, in fact, I don’t know. The only thing I know is that they are going to follow their plan, and any worry I have about it goes to absolutely no good end. There is no upside to me being concerned about matters over which I have no control.
What I can help with, what we can all help with, however, is the very damned thing that got me hooked on this sport. The atmosphere, the excitement. I’m not just talking about in the supporter’s section but everywhere in the stands. I wrote earlier this year about the philosophy of the Free Beer Movement. That’s about inviting someone to a game, someone who has never been before, and showing them a good time. And while that’s a good philosophy, I want to point out that once we get them there, we are still part of that crowd, that atmosphere that keeps some people coming back.
Assume that the front office of NSC is interested in all of things they should be interested in as a sports business: building a great side by using resources smartly, marketing and selling tickets, getting butts into the seats. Assume they will do that, and then let’s keep making the experience wonderful, as magic as Saturday night. Hell, no matter where you sat that night, people were celebrating, cheering and pulling for the team. There was a renewed sense of energy. Almost anyone who was at that game—even if it was the first soccer game of their life—would be back the next week.
Keep that going and everything else will fall into place.
This is an opinion piece and expresses the views of the author, and does not necessarily reflect the views of Speedway Soccer as an organization.