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A Missive from Abroad

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While on vacation overseas, I had a chance to take in some local football. Here are some things I saw that might be good for the Colorado Rapids, both the team and the fans, to adopt.

One of the holy responsibilities of every married man with children is schlepping the little buggers to grandma and grandpas house over Winter Break. This can range anywhere from a mild inconvenience to a substantial chore for most families. However, my wife’s family lives in Israel, so this is a trip of epic proportions. Taking two toddlers from Denver to Jerusalem requires the planning of the D-Day invasion and the patience of a saint. Let me tell you, waiting in line at passport control with a cranky two-year old is like the fifth circle in hell.

But the upside is that I get to be in country that has soccer during the long, cold months when MLS is on hiatus. While taking in the local third tier club here in Jerusalem, I saw some things that were fantastic parts of both club business and fan culture, which I humbly suggest the Colorado Rapids and their fans outright steal as soon as possible.

Children’s pricing for tickets, every match

All Hapoel Katamon matches have adult tickets and kids tickets; roughly $11 and $5.50, respectively. The Rapids already get a lot of kids to matches, but mostly through inviting local soccer teams for a special half-price (or free) ticket, a few times a year. I’m talking about a cheap seat for kids, every game.

Denver is one of the best places to raise a family, but taking your family to see the Broncos, Avs, or Rockies is so expensive as to border on being financially irresponsible. Offering a kids ticket for all matches would help the Rapids stand out in a busy sports landscape. I know the Rapids have a ‘family’ ticket, but that only works if you want four tickets, hot dogs and cokes. My wife hates sports, we are vegetarians, and my kids are too young for Coke, so this doesn’t work, and I suspect more than a few fans feel the same.

Other sports franchises like the Rockies are experimenting with ‘flex seating’; pricing seats differently for certain teams and popular dates like fireworks night. The Rapids could be the only team in town to offer a ‘kids ticket’, any game. Soccer is growing exponentially in the US, but the key to its growth is hooking kids when they are young. The Rapids need to play the long game by drawing the under-15 crowd now so that in 10 years, those half-price 10-year-olds will eventually become full-fare Centennial 38 fanatics.

Flags, Confetti, Flags, Balloons, Flags

I have no idea what it is, but giant color-coordinated flags, balloons and confetti just made the match seem larger than life.

There is no such thing as ‘too many flags’. There is also no such thing as a flag that is ‘too big’. C38 does a good job already. The Rapids should do everything in their power to let them do a great job; smoke bombs, balloons, huge flags, and confetti. The Rapids should spend as much time as they can (and invest some of their own money too) backing C38 in order to every game a parade, circus, and punk rock show rolled into one.

Fan Ownership

For this, a little background. Jerusalem had two first division clubs: Beitar Jerusalem and Hapoel Jerusalem, both over 90 years old. But back in 2007, mismanagement, debt, and relegation from the top flight to the third division led Hapoel Jerusalem fans to revolt in the most extreme way: they turned their back on their club and formed a team of their own. Fans invested their own money, created stock and formed their own club, Hapoel Katamon named after the South Jerusalem neighborhood, Katamon, where the club began in 1920. Hapoel Katamon played their way up from the absolute-bottom fifth-division all the way into the second tier, and have first-division aspirations (and support too: they lead the league in attendance).

Katamon fans appoint the board, vote on coaching and management, and have a real voice in the club. It is far beyond what Green Bay Packer fans get for their investment.  It’s also not as crazy an idea as it sounds: Swansea and Portsmouth, Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, and every team in Argentina (!) are at least partially fan owned. In the US, Seattle Sounders 2 gave their fans a 20% stake in the club. It would be a game changer for some team in MLS to be the first team that is truly of-and-for the fans.

In short, fans are more invested when they are literally invested.

Silence is Golden

Around minute 35, the fans at Hapoel held one finger in the air, in silence. The only sound to be heard was the players yelling to each other and the dull thud of the ball being struck. Then the supporters club leader screamed out a slogan, and the fans barked back in a bellicose unison ‘oh-oh-oh-oh’ to the phrase. This repeated four or five times At the end, the whole crowd joined in main chant of the team (‘Oh, Hapoel rises, Hapoel rises’).

I’ve never been at a sporting event where thousands stood silently during the match, and believe me, it is truly something special. It might not be easy to establish a tradition like this at a Rapids game, but I think once started, it would be a mind-blowingly good addition to the fan culture in Denver.

No doubt many Rapids fans would like to import cool elements of club culture from abroad, like the EPL or Liga MX. If you have an idea you’d like to see the Rapids take on, please share it below!