51 responses to Jeff Plush's letter to fans on the Rapids' blog as of 10am November 5. It shows there are some passionate fans out there. Not that I ever had any doubt about that. What I do have doubts over are the very future of this club and here's why.
I have never really understood why sports trophies are given to the owners of clubs when they win championships. In England, it's always the players who lift the trophies. Anyway, that aside, I was watching the Yankees win the World Series last night and, as one of the Steinbrenner family held the trophy, he gave a sincere thanks to the fans because, as he said, there is no club without the fans. Given the response by the fans who care to the MD's letter, the same can be said of the Rapids. Without the true support of the fans who go to every game, there is no Colorado Rapids club. That is why every future action of the club has to be about keeping those hard core fans happy. I know the club has done better this year reaching out to such fans but it has a long way to go to get away from the overreliance on getting families into the stadium. There is a place for families, of course, - mine included, and many families are no doubt season ticket holders, but the club should not be concentrating on getting families for one or two games a year so they can laugh at distracting mascots at crucial moments of a game. It has to focus more on keeping the hardcore fans happy.
And how is it going to do that? I can't pretend to have the answers but I do know two things which have to improve to make the club sustainable. Investment on the field and a better profile for the club within the city of Denver.
Stan Kroenke bought this club in 2003. Without his money, there is no club. There is not enough money coming in from ticket sales to support the club significantly and there is still no club sponsorship. So, we have to largely rely on the owner for any investment in players. In truth, this doesn't work. It's his money and he can spend it how he wants but it is clear he is far more interested in Arsenal than he ever will be in the Rapids. After all, just a couple of days after the Rapids were eliminated from the playoffs, he was busy buying up more Arsenal shares. With Arsenal shares at something like $14,000 each, just think what a few hundred shares here and there could buy for the Rapids. A Designated Player perhaps? You could say the same about trimming a few zeros off Carmelo Anthony's salary as I am sure some of Kroenke's worth goes into that too but it didn't show much sensitivity to the Rapids' plight to be so active on the Arsenal front moments after the elimination from the playoffs. As I say, it is his money and it his club but it is clear where the priorities are.
Money alone will not buy a successful team. Maybe a DP is not the right answer. But it is clear from the terrible decline of the team in the last several weeks of the season that there was no strength in depth once Clark, Smith et al were injured. Gary Smith's frustration at the end of the Salt Lake game spoke volumes. The squad is not that far off from being a serious MLS challenger but it needs one or two exceptional players who will help take it to that level. Without financial investment, be it from a sponsor, or from the owner, it isn't going to happen. I guess the club could receive some significant money by selling one of its more high profile players to Europe, such as Casey or Cummings, but, even replacing one of them with a top level player, wouldn't really add to the squad per se. Gary Smith needs reassurance he can go out and buy some high level guys or, I fear, he may be off to seek greener pastures. What price he may get an offer from Toronto where his friend, Chris Cummins, has just left the managerial position?
The other priority has to be improving the club's profile within the city. Another example of insensitivity to the Rapids' plight was CBS4 news on the Monday night after the Rapids were confirmed as missing the playoffs following New England's victory over Columbus. Vic Lombardi, who claims to be a soccer fan, pontificated over how good the Denver sporting scene is right now with success for the Broncos, Rockies, Nuggets and Avalanche. Granted, the Rapids may never be up there with those teams in terms of following but that doesn't really matter. The fact is there is an 18,000 seater stadium called DSG Park which can be full with the right ingredient on the pitch. That means at minimum 18,000 people the local media could cater to. There is an entrenched view on the part of the powers that be at local television companies and the Denver Post that soccer simply doesn't matter. Who are they to say that? They should not be letting their personal preferences dictate which sports are important. Soccer is important to a lot of people and it is nothing short of outrageous that nearly all of them, Lionel Bienvenu excepted, consistently relegate it to nothing. Who are they catering to? Themselves or sports fans? I think we know the answer to that one. The media coverage has to improve despite all these obstacles. And it doesn't have to be an MLS Cup winning team to improve such coverage. Are we only interested in teams if they win? I mean, would coverage of the Broncos have stopped if Josh McDaniels hadn't had such a fairytale start to the season?
This is what I see as the state of the club, which can be summed up with one word - investment, and not just financially. I am trying to be constructive because I want this franchise to succeed. I have had a great and privileged time getting to know the players and coaching staff in the past year or so and their future is very important to me. As I know it is to thousands of Denverites. Investment in this club, both financially and otherwise, is all important to its very future.