A couple weeks ago, with a Tuesday off, I took my kids out to the greater DSGP complex to watch the Rapids practice. Seemed like cheap, good fun. And we're big fans, so this seemed like a good 'fan bucket list' thing to do. As the players walked over from the locker room in the stadium complex, my four year old excitedly pointed from player to player: "Who’s that Abba?" (that’s dad in Hebrew).
"That’s Dom Badji."
"That’s Dillon Powers."
"Which one’s Axel Hoo-berg?"
"The really, really tall one."
"Ohh. He’s my favorite."
Although I had been told by resident practice queen Joan Dobrzynski to bring a sharpie and something to sign, the kids were too antsy to make it till 11:30, so we packed up and went home before practice ended. It was a really neat experience, and one that is completely unique: no other team in Denver allows fans to watch the players practice. I was looking forward to bringing the kids back to watch again sometime this summer.
Yeah, that won’t be happening now, because the Rapids front office has decided to put a black tarp all around the practice field. What was once an unimpeded view of the whole field from atop a small berm is now an obstructed view for adults, and a view of a giant black tarp for anyone under 5 feet tall.
The observer I spoke with suggested that, rather than some calculated plan for increased secrecy at practices (what secrets could practice hold? Are they building a robot striker that can reliably score? Will Pablo now deliver electric shocks to defenders that blow assignments?), this was more likely an effort at marketing and branding. The tarps have the Rapids crest, but also the new UCCS school in soccer management.
In a related item, C38 had their banner in section 108 removed to make way for some Trans America branding.
@BMer916 working on it. We got Transamerica'd.— Centennial 38 SG (@C38sg) May 5, 2015
I’m sure they’ll get that sorted out, but in the meantime, it feels like the team is sacrificing fan enjoyment for a shot at some corporate synergy.
I, in turn, have a soccer management lesson for KSE and the Rapids. When Major League Baseball had royally pissed off all its dedicated fans cancelling the World Series and going on strike, the main component of it’s charm offensive was to become more accessible to fans. In short, every team was told: sign autographs. Open the stadium early. Host fan events. Sign memorabilia for kids until your damn hand falls off. Because when your fans leave you, so does the money.
The Rapids are in last place. They finished last season near the bottom. They lack a proven scorer, a winning system, and a marquee player. Their coach is renowned around MLS not for his coaching acumen or brilliant tactics but because he grew a cool mustache. Recently, the team was surpassed by DC United and now sits dead last in average attendance. This is not the time to become less ingratiating, less open, and less accessible to fans. It’s the time to become more accessible.
Don’t block practice from your most hardcore fans. Don’t alienate your supporters group. Don’t make it harder for kids to see their favorite players. You can’t laud Joan in a PR piece on your website in December, then block practice from her in May. Be the team that cares more about your fans than all the other teams in Denver, not less.