It wasn’t too long ago that MLS supporters’ groups who consistently numbered more than a hundred hardy souls per game could be counted on the fingers of one hand nationwide, and were about as popular as herpes with MLS front office folks.
Those times have changed as the groups have grown and the atmosphere and publicity they bring to MLS clubs that help them differentiate those teams in crowded sports marketplaces have been recognised by MLS headquarters and most owners. Now, supporters’ groups are right there in the top reasons listed by Don Garber on why World Cup fans should buy into MLS:
Grant Wahl: Now that the World Cup is over, MLS is one of the few leagues in the world that is in-season right now. Do you feel like the league has put itself in a position to demand the attention of Americans who got into soccer during the World Cup?
Garber: We’re certainly putting ourselves in the position to ask for their attention. I don’t believe we’re positioned yet to demand anything from our fans. Our pitch to the World Cup viewer is give us 90 minutes and we’ll give you the game that you fell in love with at the World Cup. We’ll show you that our stadiums are world-class, our supporters groups are growing and the quality of play is pretty darn good, better than most people think. That’s not just me talking, that’s Sir Alex Ferguson and Thierry Henry talking.
More interestingly, the culture and influence of supporters’ groups is being noticed outside American soccer circles, too. Only last week, Portland’s unofficial supporters’ group, the Timbers Army, was picked at #5 in The Oregonian newspaper’s top 25 “Most influential People in Oregon Sports,” behind the likes of Paul Allen and Phil Knight, and ahead of the actual owner of the Timbers, Merrit Paulson, who comes in at #7:
5. Timbers Army (NR): Drumming, chanting, scarf-wearing soccer supporters transformed overnight from a band of PGE Park rowdies to an effective and influential political organization. Their political clout ends up greasing the wheels on the effort to bring Major League Soccer to Portland. Two favorite sayings: Rose City till we die. If you want to be in the Timbers Army, you already are.
As the resolution to the recent Timbers logo controversy showed, the Timbers Army — now with its formal arm, the 107ist Supporters’ Trust — is savvy in protecting supporters’ culture while helping the club move forward to MLS.
Philadephia’s Sons of Ben have never lacked for publicity even before their Union was born (for which they quite rightly pay homage to Steven Wells for), but their own DIY culture was recognised today too by Philadelphia Magazine in its Best of Philly 2010:
Supporters organisations have taken a lot of heat over the years in the United States (some of it deserved, most of it not), so at least from my admittedly partisan perspective on them, it’s very good to see recognition of their work in the wider local communities. That can only be good for broader recognition of the role supporters can play in the sport, for soccer’s long-term good in the United States.