Thursday, November 5, 2009

State of the Club - On the Abyss and Looking Down

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.

13 comments:

BMer916 said...

i couldn't agree more Nick. the fact that the Rapids are shown in standard definition on TV is another example on the lack of love from Kroenke. not to mention not even sending an announcing crew on road games, and sometimes not even showing the game on Altitude at all.

The PR around Denver is so poor. we had the top scorer, and the top assist guy in the league for most of the season. That, to me, looks like the most exciting offensive package, but no one even really knows that except the loyal fans.

they need to somehow get the public excited, maybe lower ticket prices so that DSG isn't 20% full every game, or lower beer prices too. make the game look good on TV, in HD, not like total crap in standard definition. i'm totally cool with the players we have, a DP would be nice, but we have a national USMNT hero now with Casey, he should be a good draw, maybe Denverites don't even know he's on the Rapids?

Bonji said...

Another quality post. As a point of order the club was started by Anschutz Entertainment Group and Phil Anschutz in 1996 as MLS started up. Kroenke bought the club back in 2003.

Nick Thomas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nick Thomas said...

Thanks Bonji. My mistake on who originally owned the club. The fact remains, though, that it is Kroenke's money that largely keeps the club going and which could eventually decide whether it can actually continue.

George said...

nicky, i totally agree on the promotion budget. when The Dick opened, there were billboards and banners all over town. i remember brucio at du Nord even had a post (or a link to a post) about the presence the rapids had at denver international airport. i see fewer and fewer of those banners around town. that would be a good start, but what is the team's budget? is that p.r. budget going down or up or staying static? i think promotion is step one.
georgie

B! said...

Good work laying it all out! In my mind the only thing you missed was pointing out that the only club with a worse average attendance record was KC and they play in a 10,000 person stadium!!!

Tough year and with no acknowledgement from the owner that he even owns the team, it is hard to consider continuing to pay for season tickets (which of course I will do anyway).

-Ben!

Josh said...

Nick, well done. I think you have skillfully and tactifully captured some core problems this organization seems to suffer from.

I'd love nothing more than to see and feel a true paradigm shift in the philosophy and culture surrounding the Rapids into that of a "top-of-the-class" winner.

Here's to hoping real success will shortly be here.

-Josh V

Sean said...

Nick well stated. While I hold the media to some degree accountable for the lack of respect given to Rapids, I would also point out that while supporter groups in DC, Columbus, Chicago, and LA have been growing exponentially over the years, it seems to me as a Rapidman living outside Colorado, that Class VI, C-Firm and company have given the local press very little to comment on.

I understand the problems between stadium policies versus the fan experience at DSG Park are often at odds with potentially rowdier supporters, but this shouldn't hinder the ones that persist to be more visible.

I have enjoyed games next to Class VI and even have a NO FAN ALONE scarf - a great slogan - because, let's face it, even at the games with attendance this year and as a Denver fan, you can feel alone in your support for the team. But I am not aware of any original chants, songs, or prominent public displays from the supporter groups to get more people excited and generate a grassroots push to Plush and Co. to enhance both the onfield product and stadium experience.

The media will not lead the way in promoting the team. It's up to the true supporter groups to get out and actively spread the word around town that soccer is for real and Denver needs to support it's local side. Take a page from the Sons of Ben supporter group in Philly. Their grassroots support for a team that did not yet exist not only brought MLS to their market, creating Union, but a new stadium to boot.

It's easy for me being out of state, but I also want the team to thrive. Seattle, Toronto, Philly are all the wave of the future for MLS clubs and Colorado cannot just hope to be a part of it through tepid local support and sedentary ownership.

Keep pushing and good things will happen!

johncos said...

Blame the fans who actually pay to go to the games for the lack of fans at the game? That's just downright silly. There is plenty of blame to go around and 0% of it should be assigned to the supporters groups and actual fans at the games.

Great post Nick... sorry to be negative.

Sean said...

Johncos-

Whoa! Slow down there, champ! I’m not putting blame on anyone for the attendance problems suffered by Rapids this season. Excepting Toronto and Seattle, I believe attendance has been down across the board. What I want to do is point out that supporter groups in other MLS markets have been more visible in their efforts to publicly support the team.

Full disclosure, I live in Los Angeles, so I’m somewhat removed from the local scene. But I’m still connected and follow the team with a pretty fierce dedication. And here’s what I know. While attendance figures for other clubs are dropping, membership for the Barra Brava in DC and Chicago’s Section 8 are on the upswing. Barra Brava alone have TEN TIMES more season ticket holders than the Rapids as a whole. DC came into the league with Colorado, does not have it’s own soccer-specific stadium and have endured much greater local and political opposition than the Rapids, who are met with general indifference. Having lived in Denver and seen the lack of media coverage in a predominantly football market and conversely, seen personally the Barra Brava in action, I can say that in order for a club to become relevant in the local community you need to have a strong fan base that put themselves out there publicly for the team. As much as we both love the Rapids, can you honestly say that Marcello’s weekly radio show and the spotty advertising efforts on their own are going to create the kind of fervor you’d want to see packing the stands at Dick’s every home game?

All I’m saying is, the supporter groups need to get out there more. It’s not their job obviously, and it’s certainly not their fault that the front office still doesn’t seem to get that soccer is not just a kids’ game. But in light of the apparent failures by the club to generate buzz for the team and the sport, the supporter groups must take it upon themselves to take up the mantle and get people excited about their team. 16th Street marches on game day, community events in the city, something – anything. The fans that have stuck with the club are great and are amazing in light of the treatment shown by the front office. But if they can become as prominent downtown as well as parking lot tailgating tents, the city may actually start to pay attention to the club and maybe too, might Kroenke.

Please correct me if I’m wrong on the supporter tip. Nick, any comment?

johncos said...

Sean,
Well Sport, I understand your point. I believe it is a great idea and I would be delighted if we had thousands of supporters filling the stands and news reports, even occasionally, about the team. I just don't think it is the supporters job to make it happen. The club is the one that should "take it upon themselves to take up the mantle and get people excited about their team."

Sure, I am envious of the crowds in Toronto, Seattle or even in Chicago at tonight's game. I would love to have that sort of vibe at DSGP and we are doing our part. Considering the last few years, I think the Rapids are lucky to have as many fans as they do. I'm worried that the few fans they have left just might be at their breaking point... I know I am.

Josh said...

FWIW, Class VI has seen its membership climb each of the last three seasons DESPITE the product on and off the field the Rapids have offered. We are now, combined with C-Firm, nearly 300 members strong.

How is it that the supporters group grows while the attendance and interest in the team shrink?

I don't think Class VI/C-Firm are doing anything wrong and honestly take a little offense to suggestions otherwise.

Scott said...

Been out of town for a while without a computer so just reading this post by you Nick was good for a fan since the begining to hear. I do honestly believe that what you said is very accurate.

To put a note out there about the local TV coverage of the team. I once this season emailed one of the sports personalities at 9 News and he told me that it was not a lack of effort on their part to cover the rapids but rather that the team (or someone in the front office) was not getting them the footage and info that they wanted. I am not sure why this is the case but if it is true, it needs to change yesterday.