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Juanners Op-ed: Disdain, Disconnect, and Disillusion

The Rapids remain the perfect soccer mom experience. They can absolutely change that.

John Babiak

This op-ed was written by Juan, a member of the Colorado Rapids Community. The views in this piece do not necessarily reflect that of Burgundy Wave or its staff. Informed, passionate, and differing views are welcome at Burgundy Wave. Juan’s words should be seen by as much of this community as possible to foster discussion and action. It is with that spirit that this op-ed is published on Burgundy Wave.

Foreword

My love for the Colorado Rapids is immeasurable. This club has given me so many memories, friends, and a community in Centennial 38 that I value and treasure so much. Through all the ups and downs, I am a Colorado Rapids supporter. I happily (and begrudgingly) support the team through everything. Not only that, I support the community who love this team online and off. I support the media and journalists who cover the team. I live and breathe this team. With that being said-and as you may have gathered from the title of this piece- this is not a love letter to the club. I don’t intend to speak on behalf of anyone and I understand a lot of these problems can be chalked up to a lackluster and indifferent ownership.

If KSE was an organization that was involved a lot more in the day-to-day operations or invested into supporting roles throughout the front office then this letter wouldn’t have needed to be written. I still think, however, that my criticism of the team extends much more than just “invest in the team!” or “replace the video screen!” or any of the many tirades online (Though, those are popular and valid complaints for a reason.)

My qualms with the club have nothing to do with any of that and instead come from a lack of love for the supporters. I nowadays have this feeling of disdain from the team that leads to a massive disconnect and in the end it leaves me disillusioned. I know I’m not the only one who feels this as I’ve heard these complaints from many close friends who have felt the love for the team slowly start to diminish. I don’t want my love for the club to screech slowly to a stop. I hope this piece gets read by all the right people and can spark a change necessary to repair that relationship between the club and supporters.

Disdain

Dis·dain - /disˈdān/

noun

the feeling that someone or something is unworthy of one’s consideration or respect; contempt.

On August 16th, 2017 current Senior Vice President of Business Operations Wayne Brant and current Executive Vice President and General Manager Padraig Smith released an op-ed to Colorado Rapids fans in the Denver Post after the firing of then head coach Pablo Mastroeni.

This was the first time I had seen a direct communication between prominent figures in the club and the fans. It was an open, honest, and candid letter addressing the issues around the team, the club culture, and it established a clear philosophy going forward. To their credit, they’ve done about as much as they have promised in that letter. The sporting side of the Colorado Rapids has been the best it’s ever been. Even in the regressive 2022 year, the Colorado Rapids have been a fun team to watch, they have developed young players, and they’ve played an attacking brand of soccer since. However, a club is much more than it’s on the field talent and results. So while I do give the sporting effort on the pitch an A+, everything off the field is a lot less to be desired.

In short, I name this passage “disdain” because the Rapids as a club do not treat their supporters with any respect or grace. This feeling of disdain happens when players fail to clap away fans - William Yarbrough shouldn’t have to be calling his teammates back to clap the away fans in attendance. This feeling of disdain happens when coaches and players after a humiliating road stretch in August, insult the fans’ intelligence. We knew the Rapids weren’t making the playoffs (despite the very tiny chance that was still there). But the club reiterated and insisted “we’re not out yet!” This feeling of disdain happens when the club actively makes it hard for reporters to report on the team with their “secrecy and misinformation”.

The club has lost any humility and modesty and has opted to become an entity that is above the everyday supporter. They believe that they don’t owe the fans anything. And, truthfully speaking: they don’t. The club has every right to believe that they are above the supporter and that they are above this humility and modesty. They are, at the end of the day, a product and we are its consumers. However, it’s funny to me at least, that the club constantly wonders why they can’t retain a natural and organic support.

As admitted to me by Wayne Brant, they are the “perfect soccer mom experience.” An experience that has lacked a lot of the atmosphere, excitement, and buzz from other MLS stadiums and teams. They have built a culture that adheres to rich, upper class, millennials who really couldn’t care less about soccer. Their partnership with the yuppy brewery Number 38 (in a heavily gentrified area of Colorado), their social media who’s overt use of phrases like “x” and “collabs” screams plastic and boring, and to the way the team’s PR machine “Elevate” only seems to highlight the bright spots and never the low points. I wonder just how many times their video team filmed a “travel vlog” only for the team to lose. They only ever posted one travel vlog in 2022, coincidentally the teams first road win at RBNY.

They club does not lead with any humility. They instead will simply carry on and this “oh well” mentality as the team does nothing for supporters. As Rapids fans, and as a soccer fan in general, there’s an understanding that not every year can be a championship year. Not every game can be won. And not every fault demands an excuse. However, if you’re going to give us an inside look into the team then give us that inside look. If you don’t think playoffs are in reach, be honest and candid about it. If you’re going to do anything, it doesn’t have to be a collab. It can just simply be whatever it is.

Disconnect

Dis·con·nect /ˌdiskəˈnekt/

noun:

a discrepancy or lack of connection.

When the Rapids traded for Kellyn Acosta, they had an impromptu meet and greet at the stadium a day after the trade was completed. I, of course, attended and was able to meet Kellyn and took some time to talk to him. I wished him a happy birthday and moved on. It was a genuine experience and one that was close and intimate. In 2018, left back Sam Vines was seen casually walking around the C38 tailgate. Nobody bothered him for autographs or made him feel uncomfortable. He was simply chilling and hanging out with us supporters. He wasn’t making the rounds or doing an interview. He was just…there. With us.

Tim Howard after his big penalty stop in the 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs came over to C38 and took someone’s scarf and could be seen wearing it proudly. Nicolas Mezquida is friends with a lot of Los Lokos and even had come over and wore their shirt. These are moments in my fandom that I’ve seen the connection between myself & my identity and the club as a whole. These moments are starting to become far and few between.

Nowadays, the club feels distant and there aren’t enough of these moments for fans to really get to know their players. The last time that I can remember that was a genuine experience was when Jack Price and Diego Rubio were at the 2022 Rapids Garage Sale. Having those two players just there at the garage sale elevated the experience of going to the sale a lot more than when the club promotes “Player x will be at location x!”. When players are among the communities that support them and make an effort to get to know the fans, it breeds a positive club culture. The Rapids treat their players like hot items in a store and restrict the amount of time that fans get with players. I understand that not every player can meet every fan and be friends with everybody, but it’s not like they are the Denver Broncos and should get superstar privilege.

The Rapids still operate within MLS which is young and still growing. It’s still early enough for the league and the club to have players make connections. The closest I’ve felt to a player is watching Diego Rubio’s live streams on Twitch. Engagement like that is always fun to see and be a part of. Ideally, you’d want players to interact with fans in an offline setting, but just casually having Diego Rubio’s live stream while I work or watch other stuff is as good as it will be for the time being.

This connection doesn’t lie solely on the shoulders of the players. This connection should extend to everyone in the organization. People within the organization would build those positive relationships and this connection to the club comes from different sources. The social media team used to come say hello to some of us in C38. Communications Director Ryan Madden would come by and say hello. On a C38 bus ride to Kansas City, the video guy working for the club at the time (Chris) rode with us on the bus to KC. He didn’t have to do that at all. But the fact that he boarded the bus with us, took some shots, and filmed some great content on our bus ride spoke volumes about the connection C38 and the front office peeps who actually tried hard.

It feels nowadays that C38 is the best marketing tool for the Rapids and they use every bit of our passion and make it their own thing. Years ago, the Rapids sold their very own “tailgate package” with C38 members as the face of their marketing. The team and front office use us and that’s all fine and dandy, but there’s a disconnect when members of the front office come to our tailgate, get their shots for their video series or social media, and then leave without making an effort to really get to know the hardcore fans they desperately want more of. And, admittedly, C38 members aren’t the friendliest and can oftentimes make it hard, (you know who you are). But the underlying disconnect is still felt. It’s ultimately this grandiose idea of self importance from the club as a whole that has led us here. As the league grows, I understand that these sort of connections will start to snip away one by one, but if the Rapids, again, wonder why they can’t retain an organic and natural crowd, this is another one of the many reasons to pile on as to why the Rapids organization has been behind other teams.

Disillusion

dis·il·lu·sion

noun:

disappointment resulting from the discovery that something is not as good as one believed it to be.

Longtime C38 member Dave Wegner always says to me that I’m not “one of the jaded ones” when it comes to supporting this team. I’d like to say I have measured takes, (except Gyasi Zardes that one I won’t ever let go of) I am eager and excited to work for and on behalf of C38, and I always try to put a positive spin on a lot of what this team does.

I don’t think I’ll ever be jaded when it comes to the team but what I won’t do is just blindly accept it for what it is. I’m speaking out about this because the Rapids are an organization that has a lot of work to do to cultivate a real positive culture for the fans who not only come out to games very regularly but those who have never been one. I’m tired of the club feeling like they’re above having to do a lot of the basics when it comes to building the culture. I used to think it was just C38’s job to do but I realize now more so than ever that the Rapids set the tone for just how much they care about the supporters; they are the ones who need the supporters to elevate the team.

Comparison is the thief of joy, but when I go to away days to places like Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Nashville, and Kansas City, the clubs operating in those markets do a lot more than the Rapids do for their supporters. The moment you’re within blocks of Subaru Park in Chester, Pennsylvania, there’s an immersion into the club. The streets, highways, a massive billboard, the walls leading to the stadium: everything about it immerses you to the Philadelphia Union. When I visited Kansas City for the holidays, SKC’s presence was felt throughout all of Kansas and Missouri. Not only in the amount of billboards and things plastered with their logo, but the Power and Light experience for the World Cup is one that Denver has never had (and could very easily have). The energy, time, and resources that SKC have to really invest into their soccer communities (and not just the white ones) blows the Rapids out of the water.

This disillusion I have with the Rapids has grown tremendously these last few years. The team is probably the most talented it’s ever been, however, when the Rapids call Denver a soccer city, I just don’t see it. The Rapids don’t invest in their local communities and aren’t a pillar for said community to rally around. They instead try to attract the casual crowd that goes to Rockies games. They want to sell the team to rich white millennials who aren’t willing to convert into diehard fans. The community of die hard fans is right outside their stadium in the Central Park area who has little to zero Rapids presence. The local dive bar across the street has no idea that a pro sports team plays there. There is not a single business in the area that has any Rapids signage or promotion.

They have no reach inside their immediate 5 mile radius but they will beg and plead for the attention of the upper class gentrified areas of Denver like RiNo where a luchador inspired mural hangs for the gentrified communities to gawk at. Nevermind in an area as widely Latino as the one near them or other areas of Denver that are deemed to be “shady” or a “bad part of town”.

You don’t need me to tell you their outreach is mostly vanilla as the Rapids pay no mind to Latin fans and even less so care about their Spanish communication with no active accounts promoting the team in Spanish. For now, the Rapids will remain the “perfect soccer mom experience”. And they’ll keep making changes and efforts to attract the rich, white, millennial. However, it’s not enough for me to hear them say they’re a soccer city and for them to constantly wonder why they’re being lapped by other teams around them who do care about the sport and the communities that they’re heavily invested in.

Epilogue

I’ve had to rewrite this a bunch of times and want to express that the one solution to this is having KSE invest into roles in the club that focus on this kind of stuff. I know that the front office is spread thin and that their resources are limited. But it’s not a good enough excuse for me. I long for a time where the executives at KSE wake up and backfill the various roles still missing from the organization, but I also hope that the Rapids as they are now focus on and increase their presence in communities unlike Rino or Lodo. I hope that they can look around within their five mile radius, focus on the communities close to DSGP, and make an effort to be better. They absolutely can.