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Building the Colorado Rapids’ Experience: Prologue

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In a four-part series, Jeff Casimir looks at how the Colorado Rapids could change the gameday experience to attract more fans.

MLS: D.C. United at Colorado Rapids Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

After the high of the 2016 playoff run, this hasn’t been the season we hoped for. There are a lot of places to point fingers and theories about what it’ll take to turn things around. But being a fan is about more than the wins and losses.

First, some real talk. Even when the Broncos are in the Super Bowl, general sports enthusiasm doesn’t beat an average summer day in Boston or Chicago. There are a lot of things to love about Colorado and professional sports are only going to be a small part of the story. In short, improving the Colorado Rapids’ visibility and attendance isn’t going to be easy.

Filling DSGP takes about 2% of the population of Denver and that’s a big challenge. When results on the field are poor it’s tougher, but I believe it’s possible to build a community stronger than the on-field results. Let’s call it the Rapids Experience.

Whatever the structure and potential financial resources within KSE, let’s be real about money. Attendance isn’t great. Merchandise isn’t great. Forbes ranks the Rapids as the second least-valuable team in the league and projects a negative yearly profit. It takes money to make money, but when you’re already spending more than you’re bringing in, pressure is high and your ability to make big changes are limited.

Merchandise is a nice to have. TV rights are multi-year contracts and difficult to change. But attendance can change quickly. If DSGP were pushing capacity every game then there’d be a lot of new options. Though announced attendance is often around 14K of the 18K capacity, the in-stadium experience tells you that actual butts-in-seats are probably much lower. Every game I recall this season my row has been less than half-full. Looking around the stadium it appears 50-60% of seats are filled.

I don’t believe that the organization can independently close the attendance gap. It’s not (just) that the average Denverite hasn’t heard of the Rapids, it’s that they don’t care. I often have trouble giving away free tickets because friends just aren’t that into it. Buy a thousand billboards all over the region and you’re not going to double attendance.

What the Rapids need is me. And you. They need 8,000 regular fans who bring along two friends. Those fans have to be season ticket holders and those friends have to convert into multi-game attendees. Deliver a great game experience, build a network of advocates, sell out some games, turn the money into investment on-and-off-the-field, repeat.

What if that doesn’t happen? You have a low-value franchise that doesn’t own the stadium and has no meaningful local fan base. That’s a recipe for relocation. KSE and MLS would be crazy not to move the Rapids somewhere else.

I want soccer to stay and thrive in Colorado. I want to see the environment grow strong enough to support an NWSL team. I want the US National Teams to play here not just because it’s altitude acclimation for Mexico City, but because it’s a great place to see and play soccer.

Over the coming weeks, let’s explore a series of ideas and suggestions to build that army of 8,000 advocates who fill 18,000 seats and create the Rapids Experience.