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Is Dick's Sporting Goods Park A Fortress For The Rapids?

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The Rapids should have the greatest home pitch advantage in Major League Soccer. Have they made it that way?

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

5,280 Feet.

That is a heck of an elevation.  It is also the (approximate) elevation of Dick's Sporting Goods Park, the home pitch for our Colorado Rapids.

There is only one other park in Major League Soccer that comes close to that elevation--Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah and we all know who plays there.

5,280 Feet.  The lungs burn.  Running is labored.  By halftime you should want to go home.  Especially if you play at sea level.

And yet, that never quite seems the case.  Or does it?

So I did some figuring looking back at home record since the MLS Championship year in 2010.

Year Wins Losses Draws Home Points PPTH Home Attendance
2010 8 2 5 29 64.44% 13,329
2011 6 2 9 27 52.94% 14,838
2012 8 6 3 27 52.94% 15,175
2013 10 3 4 34 66.66% 15,440
2014 6 6 5 23 45.09% 15,082

PPTH: Percentage of Points Taken at Home.  Note:  In 2010 a 30 game regular season was utilized.  That figure went to 34 in 2011.  2010, 2011 and 2013 were playoff years.

OK, so what does this all mean?  At first glance the Rapids are not using the natural advantage they have--the elevation.  And it is no coincidence since 2010 that the Rapids made the playoffs when they loss three or fewer matches at home.

So the question needs to be asked: is Dick's Sporting Goods Park a fortress?

I am not sure that there is a quick and easier answer out there.  But there are a few things that we can gleam from this data and some steps that could be used to build a fortress:

Coaching Changes: It is kind of shocking to think that the Rapids have had three coaches since 2010.  Three coaches means three different philosophies.  Three coaches in different phases of their development.  Three coaches, that honestly, are very different people and how they approached the game.  Gary Smith was a coach who built his teams with a strong defense and utilized counterattacks to wear opponents down.  Oscar Pareja was hired to bring the beautiful game to Colorado using a possession based attack.  And with Pablo Mastroeni, well, the jury is still out as to what his style is or will be.  It has been stated that he wants to use a possession based attack and will field a 4-2-3-1.  A look at the coaching records over the last five years:

Coach Wins Losses Draws Playoff Appearances
Gary Smith 47 30 35 2010, 2011
Oscar Pareja 24 32 12 2013
Pablo Mastroeni 8 18 8 N/A

2010: MLS Cup Championship

The real issue is that without a consistent approach from the sidelines it is difficult for supporters to get behind a team and come out with any regularity.  You can preach patience all you want, but at the end of the day, it was about wins and losses.  Supporters will come out and get behind a coach and support that person, but there has to be consistency in the managerial position.

Dispelling the "Dick's is in Kansas Myth" That People Have: OK, DSGP is not in Downtown Denver.  And no, it is not in Westminster.  Or Lakewood. Or Parker.  Or Golden.  Or wherever you live.  I get that people want to pile on the location of DSGP as the problem.  The location of the the park is not the issue.  The issue more lies with what is around the park.  Yes, there is Northfield Stapleton not too far that has some restaurants and bars, but there is nothing right close to the stadium that you can walk to.  You want to be able to pull up, park, and walk to a pub for a pre-game meal and/or beverage.  Right now, that is not there.  Development of Victory Crossing needs to be a priority for the Rapids and Kroenke Sports.

Season Ticket Holders: The biggest way to build a fortress is butts in the seats.  And your biggest area to draw on is your season ticket holders.  Remember the promotion where you could get your name on the shirt in 2013?  That shirt had less then 2,000 season ticket holder names on it.  Kind of depressing for a club that has been around since the beginning of Major League Soccer.  Alas, some great news out of Commerce City on Monday:

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Congrats to <a href="https://twitter.com/ColoradoRapids">@ColoradoRapids</a> sales &amp; services teams as we passed 1,000 NEW full season tickets for 2015! Welcome to our new fans! <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/OneClub?src=hash">#OneClub</a></p>&mdash; Tim Hinchey III (@tkhinchey3) <a href="https://twitter.com/tkhinchey3/status/572439903562166272">March 2, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

And that tweet was followed up with:

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p><a href="https://twitter.com/ProtectYourNet">@ProtectYourNet</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/ColoradoRapids">@ColoradoRapids</a> approaching 6K</p>&mdash; Tim Hinchey III (@tkhinchey3) <a href="https://twitter.com/tkhinchey3/status/572441486903517184">March 2, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

For a while it seemed as if the Rapids could do nothing right in getting people to the park.  And yes, we are at times beset by some brutal weather.  It seems as if there is at least one snow game a year and when this happens the park is a ghost town.  All that being said, attendance starts and ends with Season Ticket Holders.  The fact that the Rapids are approaching 6,000 season tickets holders is MASSIVE for this club.  But.....

How Do You Keep Season Ticket Holders: It comes down to a couple of things: product on the pitch and experience at the park.  The product on the pitch needs to be a consistent winning program that wins more than it loses and that brand of football needs to be exciting.  People in Denver are spoiled for choice when it comes to sport teams and activities and for the Rapids to compete with that they simply have to be better on the field.

The one thing that the Rapids can control is the experience at Dick's Sporting Goods Park.  When a fan comes in, whether they are a 20 year season ticket holder, or a first time attendee, they need to have a great experience.  From purchasing tickets, to entering the park, to finding their seats, to concessions, to parking.  The experience needs to be top class.  The best in MLS.  Because if people enjoy their first time at the park they are likely to come back and that leads to new season ticket holders.  And if you are a current season ticket holder you want to be treated as a valued customer.

That experience is critical for people to come back.  The Rapids control this.  And it is something that Tim Hinchey and I discussed when we sat down last month.  Mr Hinchey was very aware of the experience as a critical component and it is the first, second, and third thing that is discussed at every meeting he has with his staff.  Mr Hinchey is committed to getting it right for every season ticket holder.

But It Really Does Come Down To Wins and Losses:  Let's face it, the bottom line is the ability to take 3 points.  And building a fortress starts and ends with this.  Win games and people will show up.  End of story.  The Rapids can't afford to have many seasons like they did in 2012 and 2014.  For all the progress that has been made on securing new season ticket holders and attendance numbers, none of it matters if the team on the pitch stinks.

Imagine it: Dick's Sporting Goods Park a true fortress.  A place where teams fear coming to and where they are gassed by halftime.  A place where the Rapids punish teams by being on the front foot to start the match and continue to step on the throats of their opposition until they can't breathe anymore.  This is something that the Rapids have done from time to time over their history, but without much consistency.  It is time for the Rapids to find their home swagger and make teams dread the trip to Commerce City.