The relationship between MLS and the Internet goes way back. In the mid-90s, a U.S. Men’s National Team Supporters Group, Sam’s Army, was one of the first groups of fans to use the Internet to connect and meet up with each other (they had a website and a listserv). In the late 90s, D.C. United used the Internet to hold a “name the team contest” and Kim Kolb, the Screaming Eagles Communications Director, explained that “people that would have previously only connected casually at RFK connected several times a during the week (or a day), cementing relationships. These first steps then moved to Big Soccer, a big catchall soccer message board. Again, increasing interaction between fans.” Discussions on Big Soccer led a group of Philadelphia supporters to create the Sons of Ben. The Sons of Ben started traveling to local games to heckle other teams, and is often credited with the eventual creation of Philadelphia Union in 2008.
With MLS officially kicking off in 1996, the same time as the Internet was gaining traction, soccer in the United States was in a unique position. While the Big Four sports (football, basketball, baseball, and hockey) had been around much longer and were more invested in traditional marketing, MLS was able to jump in and build their fan base by connecting fans directly with players and teams through this new technology.
Since dialing in to a tech-savvy generation of potential and current fans in the 2000s, MLS has seen some impressive growth. With more than 2.5 million followers on Google+, MLS is second only to the NBA. Attendance for MLS games has increased by 35% since 2009, and average attendance grew 12.5% from 2014 to 2015. The MLS teams in Portland, Columbus, Orlando, San Jose, and Salt Lake regularly draw higher crowds than the MLB, NHL, NBA, and NFL teams in their cities. And with more teams being added each year, MLS is growing with no intention of slowing down.
As many of us know, social media isn’t just a marketing strategy for brands - it has become a part of our daily lives. There are very few companies or people who aren’t involved with it in some way, whether you’re on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, G+, Tumblr, Pinterest, Vine, etc., etc., etc. And the Colorado Rapids are no different.
I took a few minutes to talk with Dylan Gannon, the Rapids’ Digital Content Coordinator, about how the Rapids are using social media to interact with fans and to grow the fan base.
Burgundy Wave: What are some of the ways that the Rapids use social media to interact with fans?
Dylan Gannon: Each audience is very different. We have the most fans on Facebook. We can go more in-depth and get more interactions. Instagram is more about the players and coaches. Twitter is more banter and gives people a look at what the Rapids are doing. Snapchat [@MLSRapids] is fun because the players can be a part of it, so the fans can connect with them.
Editor’s Note: You can also find the Rapids on YouTube.
BW: What is goal of using social media?
DG: Social media is the connection from the players/teams/Front Office to the fans. We want the fans to feel like they are a part of the team. We try to balance news content with fun with banter and bring some personality into it. We want to get people out to their first game and turn them into lifelong fans.
BW: How has social media contributed to the growth of the fan base?
DG: It’s been really big - we want to take advantage of people on their phones all the time. We hope that current fans will see things, then RT or share so their friends will see it, too.
We want to hear from you - what’s your favorite way to see what the team is up to?