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Where did the Rapids rank in The Athletic’s MLS supporter survey?

A few weeks ago, The Athletic ran a site-wide poll for MLS fans. Let’s take a look at the results.

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2019 MLS Cup - Toronto FC v Seattle Sounders Photo by Andy Mead/ISI Photos/Getty Images

A few weeks ago, The Athletic ran a site-wide poll for MLS fans, which you can see here.

The Colorado Rapids had an overall lackluster presence, which… sadly isn’t surprising. But this is one of those opportunities for us to get an understanding of the rest of the league in a slightly more formalized and civil manner than your average Reddit forum. So, without further ado, let’s take a look at the results of the poll and see where we stack up amongst the rest of the league.

  1. Number of supporters in the poll by team

Rapids fans comprised just 1.6% of the poll. Across 2,300 people total, that translates to about 37 people. Obviously, that’s not a big enough sample size for a real statistical representation of the fanbase as a whole, so while the results have some interesting takeaways, you may also want to take the rest of this with a grain of salt.

Nonetheless, it’s disappointing to see how few people really did respond. We were ahead of the two expansions teams, Orlando, and Montreal. But more people responded from fans of upcoming teams than we did. After a 25-year history, we’ve failed to get more fans than those of teams who have yet to even have a logo—much less play a single MLS match. That’s a bit disappointing.

2. In-Market vs Out-of-Market presence

Not a surprising result, but we are a very heavily in-market team. In fact, we are the most in-market team. A whopping 94.4% of Rapids supporters are in-market. Even Charlotte, a team that doesn’t exist yet, has comparatively more out-of-market supporters than we do. That just… ugh. The lowest was Columbus, with 57.1%. Part of this might have come from their #SaveTheCrew campaign, which drew international recognition, but having over a third of your fanbase live out of market seems weird.

However, there is another point worth discussing here. If 19 out of 20 Rapids fans are in-market, then that means that 19 out of 20 Rapids fans are probably going to be limited to seeing Rapids games either in person or on Altitude. Given that Altitude is (still) in a legal quagmire with Xfinity and DirecTV, that means that an enormous percentage of the fanbase is not able to watch the games. If MLS returns, especially if they play behind closed doors, that means making Altitude widely available to the fanbase going to be even more crucial.

The next sections are bundled together as three individual results, and then a fourth combining the three.

3. Ownership

YIKES. This is easily the worst result for the Rapids of the four sections. A total score of... 2.6. Out of 10. We voted our owner as the second worst, with the only team’s owner coming in with a lower score being Houston Dynamo, with a shockingly low score of 1.7. In fact, across all three categories, a score of 2.6 was the second-lowest overall, again only beat by the score for Houston’s owner. That means amongst all owners, all coaches and all rosters, Stan Kroenke comes in as the second-worst overall in the entire league.

More on this in a bit...

4. Coaching

Robin Fraser earned himself a 7.5 on this scale—easily the Rapids’ highest-earning score in these three categories.

This contrasts a little bit with a point below, but this is a rating that we give ourselves. Quite frankly, I feel like this is a pretty fair placement for him. He’s definitely in the top half and while he doesn’t have the proven record of a Frank deBoer, a Bob Bradley, or a Brian Schmetzer, he has done very good work in the limited time we have had with him. I fully believe that given more time in the driver’s seat, and more games to demonstrate his talent, Fraser has a huge opportunity to raise that score even further.

5. Roster

This one… This one was interesting. On one hand, it sits way higher than it should be, and on the other hand, it feels much lower. The Rapids earned a 6.5 on this. The lowest was Houston with 4.5, and the highest was LAFC at 8.6, so around the average for the league.

I feel like this really comes down to two points. We do have a very good roster right now—arguably the best that the Rapids have ever seen. We have a great combination of a core of young, very talented players (Andre Shinyashiki, Cole Bassett, Sam Vines, Jonathan Lewis), a few senior players who are providing experience and leadership (Kei Kamara, Drew Moor), and a few who bridge the gap (Younes Namli, Jack Price, Nicolas Benezet). We got club Defender of the Year Lalas Abubakar back permanently, we signed a very promising international talent in Braian Galvan, and are set to compete in 2020.

But by the same token, in many ways, we still don’t have a roster that can compete. Right now, we are only playing with only a single DP, Younes Namli. While signs are very promising with him, almost every other team is playing with two or three. Not only that, but Namli’s price tag isn’t all that much compared to other DPs.

For a point of comparison, let’s look at Toronto FC and Atlanta United, the winner and runner-up of the Eastern Conference championship last year. Each play with three DPs and are considered among the top of the league every year.

Atlanta’s three DPs are Pity Martinez, Ezequiel Barco, and Josef Martinez. Their salaries are $900k, $1.4 million, and $3 million. Their total salary just between three players is $5.3 million, which is nearly as much as the rest of the team’s salary.

This difference is made even bigger when it comes to Toronto. Their three DPs were Alejandro Pozuelo, Jozy Altidore, and Michael Bradley. Salaries are $3.8 million, $6.3 million, and $6.5 million. A total of $16.6 million. That is nearly three times the base MLS team salary between only three players. Their cheapest DP is over three times as much as our only DP. Their DP salary is well over ten times what we spend.

From this standpoint, then, yes, it is easy to see why we might not have a roster that can be seen as competitive. Without Kroenke willing to splash some serious cash, we won’t be able to pay players who are at the top of their game. We won’t be seeing players like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Wayne Rooney, David Beckham, Clint Dempsey, or Carlos Vela on our roster unless Kroenke decides to spend enough to bring them to Denver.

6. Composite score of ownership, coaching, and roster

This score essentially just acted as a sum of the previous three, but it goes to show how we feel about the club overall. A score of 16.6 is pretty low, especially compared to Seattle’s overwhelming score of 26.9. What is important here isn’t even so much the score as much as it is where we sit in comparison to the league and we’re fairly low. We have a total score about the same as some teams that surprised me, including NYRB and our archrivals RSL. Houston Dynamo has a horrendously low score of 12.5.

But, this isn’t an objective look at the league. This is how we feel about ourselves. Having that low of a score is very revealing. We’ve got faith in our coach and a fair amount of faith in our roster. But we can pretty much all agree that our owner is our Achilles’ heel.

7. Worst owner in MLS

*sigh*... Let’s be honest here—we do kind of deserve this. What surprised me was how clear of a margin of victory there was. We ran away with this with a whopping 30% of the vote. Second place was Bob Kraft, owner of the New England Revolution, with only 20.7%. Third place was held by Gabriel Brener, the owner of the Houston Dynamo, with 8.5%.

I wanted to bring back the point above, about how low we voted our owner. Through the eyes of the Rapids, it’s obvious that we’re going to give our owner a low score. But throughout the rest of the league, that ownership gets harder and harder to give an accurate judgment. That didn’t stop nearly 700 people from saying that Kroenke was the worst in the league—an even more damning statement considering that the owner of Austin FC, Anthony Precourt, threatened to uproot the Columbus Crew and move to Austin amidst an already crowded market. I thought for sure that Precourt would have been voted the worst. But, no. It’s us.

8. Worst coach in MLS

Okay, this one really bothers me.

This side of the poll just thoroughly confuses me. Fraser was voted in as the 6th worst coach with 4.7% of the votes. Ahead of him are Orlando’s Oscar Pareja (an ex-Rapids coach), Nashville’s Gary Smith (another Rapids head coach), Vancouver’s Marc Dos Santos, DC United’s Ben Olsen, and Cincinnati’s (temporary) Yoann Damet. Damet ran away with this with a total of 18.2 percent of the vote, almost twice as much as Olsen’s second place.

I will point out that there is a very small difference between these places around where the Rapids are. Fraser has 4.7% of the vote, but the coaches for the Revs, NYRB, Montreal, and Chicago all got less than 0.4% fewer votes. That is an incredibly small margin.

I chalk this result up as being, honestly, kind of meaningless. For one, we know that Fraser has already earned himself a spot significantly higher than 6th worst. Second, there are plenty of coaches here who have not earned the same level of respect. Gary Smith, with Nashville, is the 4th worst coach after having played only two games with them. Arsenal legend Thierry Henry is 9th worst after having coached two games with Montreal (winning one and tying one). It is hard to really say too much about this when you don’t have a thorough (and fair) assessment of every head coach in the league.

9. Should MLS institute pro/rel in some form?

This question wasn’t directed towards Rapids fans in any way as much as it was just a general question across the league, but I do believe that this question is important for Rapids supporters.

After floundering in the lowest rung of the western conference in the last few years, had pro/rel been implemented, Colorado would have been under serious threat of relegation. An already-small fanbase would have most likely been cut even further. We would have been relegated to presumably the USL Championship, where we would be competing against the Colorado Springs Switchbacks. Plus, in the past few years in our handful of US Open Cup competitions, we haven’t had a great track record when it comes to USL teams.

That’s not to say that the Rapids would be guaranteed to get relegated, or even that we wouldn’t get promoted out of USL after a single season there. But when it comes to the conversation of pro/rel, the most secure teams are in favor of it to ensure a higher level of competition in the league, while we would most likely be one of the more likely teams to drop out of MLS.

Based on the poll, MLS supporters in general are in favor of pro/rel, with 62.6% saying it should be implemented in the league. There were tons of different systems proposed, but The Athletic distilled them into three main ideas: split the league in half, get rid of single entity, and combine MLS and Liga MX.

10. Confidence in Don Garber

Again, a similar thing where this wasn’t directed at Rapids fans in particular, but the answers were broken up by club and I think it reveals a lot about where clubs rank MLS Commissioner Don Garber.

Generally speaking, teams that are newer to the league voted higher. In fact, the two teams that voted him the highest are Sacramento and St. Louis—and they don’t even exist in MLS yet. Same with the teams that are newer to the league, like Atlanta, LAFC, Nashville, Miami, and even Cincinnati. Plus, Garber helped to oversee the addition of crucial pieces like the Designated Player rule, so of course the LA Galaxy fanbase loves him.

Picture yourself as a newcomer in MLS. Garber has seen to it that you were let into the league as an expansion team. Regardless of what else he says or does, to some degree, Garber has personally approved your team. You’ll always sort of owe him.

But, on the other end, you have many of the established teams. If you aren’t LA Galaxy, you’ll probably have a feeling like I do: “What have you done for me lately?” If you are a Rapids fan, the answer is probably not much. The team with the least confidence in him is Columbus Crew, which isn’t surprising, seeing as how Garber was going to allow Precourt to move the team. But the Rapids aren’t much higher, giving him a 5.77 compared to CC’s 5.3.

So there are the results of the poll. Overall, a fascinating—if somewhat worrying—look at the Rapids place in the league from the fans. Do you think the results pretty accurate, or do you think that they are way off base?