Dear Colorado Rapids,
As a small little cog in the much larger world of Kroenke Sports, and the even larger world of professional football, I understand you as an organization don't really owe me much. Granted, I am a season ticket holder and in a very small way I do contribute to your bank account. In the end, I don't expect a whole lot in return for the pittance I provide except great soccer and great place to watch it played. For this, I would like to thank you because I believe the experience you provide to me and my family is second to none in the Denver sports market. With somewhat limited resources, compared to other sports moneymakers found in Denver, I appreciate the honesty and hard work your team is building to create an atmosphere of winning at Dick's Sporting Goods Park.
Too often the other sports teams in the local area take for granted their fan base and build their products at the expense of these fans. The little guy is forgotten when the team hops into the bed of their corporate security blankets. Ticket prices skyrocket and price out the little guy, or just assume the little guy will come back for more. The Colorado Rapids seem different to me. You actually seem to make decisions based on what is best for the fans. I know deep down the almighty dollar affects every decision, but as a fan I believe the team still hasn't sold its soul to the devil of capitalism and to this I say thank you.
For those who don't know what the Colorado Rapids are about I would point out these small (and some big) things the organization has done to make me feel like I've invested in a group looking to bring me the best entertainment for my dollars -
1) Recognition of the Supporter's Group. Soccer is unique in its relationship to its fan base. Teams recognize that there is a casual and voracious fan base. Understanding the difference and being able to market to both is a treacherous tightrope. Fall to either side and the other group becomes callous.
For whatever reason, whether the Rapids supporter's finally got it or whether the organization pushed for it, a single unified supporters group emerged this year and I think the team and group are better for it. Having an organization understand the rabid fan and playing to its strengths helps the team on the field. An understanding by the players connects us in some small way. In an intimate setting like Dick's this bond between fan and athlete is what I think differentiates soccer from the Big 4.
2) Building a Team. Of the major sports, soccer and MLS are somewhat unique in the pantheon of American Sports. It is a young league not overly commercialized and at its core are athletes who enjoy the sport and don't forget the fans. Overblown egos are not apparent. The league tries to balance the many forces that have caused the other sports leagues to become the have and have-nots. While there are still forces at play that cause MLS to cater to certain teams, overall the balance works.
Colorado is not the league's darling. Even though Rapids have been around since the league inception (one of the originals!) we have what I see as a perceived second class standing in the hierarchy of MLS, and obtaining players can be a struggle. Even with the challenges, the Rapids Organization has done a great job of team building this year. Deciding to move on from the 2010 Cup winning team was a challenge. Building a solid team from General Manager, to Player Development, to Manager has created a new set of players with talent and excitement on the pitch. They have built a core group through the draft and through acquisitions that make our team competitive. Finally, they awarded the fan base with the signing of the Rapids first designated player.
All of these moves are appreciated. Hopefully the player's see the value in this strategy and support the club and management. Building a solid foundation with players that grow with the club will continue to matter to getting a more casual fan to come see what is going on at Dick's.
3) Colorado Jersey. Marketing really deserves an "A" for this. A jersey that has been clamored for and really looks good on the away team's pitch. A theme that sits well with us from the Centennial State. In addition to the away kit, loved the home jerseys with the names of season ticket holders emblazoned on them. Now all that is needed is a third unique kit, perhaps harkening back to the NASL days, just don't do a Caribou with leather trimming!
4) Broadcasting Improvement. Bringing in a true play by play announcer in Richard Fleming instantly added credibility to a network that frankly was embarrassing. Mr. Fleming has brought a professional and knowhow to the broadcast that makes the presentation solid and contributes to the underlying theme that the Rapids are a class organization.
In addition Mr. Fleming has embraced the Colorado culture and has added a nice touch by being available through social media.
I realize this is a thank you letter, but I would be remiss if I didn't comment on some things I think could be improved upon...
1) Stadium Improvements. Dick's is a great place to watch a soccer match, though I think the organization could improve upon the experience. Love what you did to the Cantina and establishing a branding that pulls together the common theme of Colorado as its center piece. I also love the addition of Oskar Blues beers to the lineup. Keep it up, I would love to see more Colorado specific eateries and ties developed into 2014 and beyond. The current offerings fail to inspire a Colorado feel.
2) Minority Involvement. Denver is a melting pot for minorities. A lot of these groups have strong ties to the soccer world especially through the professional soccer league in Mexico. This is a demographic that should be more heavily targeted. I would be impressed if the organization tried to market more to an already deep rooted soccer group with soccer ties. Schedule more friendlies with Mexican ties. Get more fans involved.
3) Empty Seats. There is always a strong push in late Summer to fill Dick's. Where is this intensity in the Early Spring? It's always embarrassing to sit in a stadium where I can see the Colorado written on the seats. Use some of that marketing know how and fill the seats. Heck give seats away early in the season as a trial and allow these trialists first crack for the more weather friendly summer matches.
In closing, thank you! Thank you for a great fan experience, thank you for supporting your supporters, thank you for bringing in some great new players, and thank you for continued efforts to bring a superior MLS product to Denver! May the season last longer in 2014!
C38 Member (Section 108!), Burgundy Wave Writer, and Rapids soccer fan(atic)