Shh, I can’t hear the crickets

I’m not going to talk about the Revolution’s mistakes on the field this season. I think sharper minds than mine have said all that must be said there. There’s enough talent out there to give me hope, and enough mistakes to dash that hope against the rocks, game after game.

What I want to talk about is a bit less measurable, but just as important: the New England Revolution has a serious atmosphere problem, and I think as a new fan, I’m just the person that the Krafts and Major League Soccer need to be listening to.

Are we in the wrong stadium?

Are we in the wrong stadium?

I’m a pretty reserved person. So it disappoints me that every game, sitting at midfield, I get looks as I yell encouragement, chant with the Fort, or shout in exasperation. Most of the time, I’m surrounded by a few adults and a bevy of little-leaguers or high schoolers, all of whom are more interested in the passing cotton candy than in what’s going on on the field. 1

Considering the people around me, I’m self-conscious and, by most standards, restrained during Revs games. My girlfriend, too. But on Saturday, she was chastised by a nearby father, who for some reason had brought his five-year-old daughter. The little girl had, for the entire game, been covering her ears in fright any time anybody yelled, cheered, or made general sounds of frustration. I can only imagine her reaction when the muskets fired – I was out of my seat at the time. 2

I’m all for family events, and I hope when I have kids that I can bring them to Revolution games, and teach them the offside rule, and all our chants. 3 But if I have a kid who is that visibly uncomfortable to be at games, I’m going to take her home.

MLS is the premier adult soccer league in the United States, and the pundits can’t keep complaining about being taken seriously if we don’t treat it as such. There’s a big difference between encouraging sportsmanship and civility and treating this sport in New England like the circus, or Shrek 6: E-Shrek-trik Boogaloo. And it’s not just the stadium policies. It’s about the attitude of the administration. It’s about positioning.

I know this basic argument has been made over and over, and the Revs front office will always say the same thing: “Families pay the bills.” Well, here’s my response:

Families pay the bills because you’re excluding the fans.

The team, as far as I know, is not earning money hand-over-fist. 4 They might be in the black, but it’s got to be a mediocre situation – our attendance numbers are consistently near the bottom of the league. And that’s because you’re not targeting the soccer population – you’re targeting the amusement crowd. This will get you by – Gillette has a shopping center, a lot of concessions, and Slyde the infuriatingly-off-brand Fox. So you’ll get enough families, probably, to keep you afloat. But eventually, you’ll turn the Revolution into the Harlem Globetrotters Washington Generals.

We’re never going to have real crowd noise when the loud, excited fans are ostracized by the now-and-then families. We’re never going to get a crowd that is really behind the team – which I think would do a world of difference for the boys on the field – if we continue to reel in the distracted middle schoolers who care more about catching the eye of the big-screen’s camera or seeing who can annoy his friends the most.

The Fort can only do so much. When the rest of the crowd is dead, the team will suffer, sales will suffer, and sales will suffer because the team suffers. And the crowd will be dead until we find out a way to fit everyone in the audience on the big screen (this seems to produce a lot of crowd noise), or until we can actually turn the environment into something that invites enthusiastic soccer fans – enthusiastic Revolution fans.

I can’t sell my friends on the atmosphere that Gillette provides, right now. It’s cheaper to watch the game from home, where you don’t have to watch your language, you don’t need a designated driver, and you don’t feel the bizarre embarrassment of cheering for your team in an ocean of silent people. The friends I brought along last night left deeply disappointed – in the team, in the atmosphere, in the experience.

I remember Fortgate, 5 and I want to say what a lot of people were trying to say then: this isn’t about profanity. I don’t want to even mention it, but I know the point will arise. Yes, profanity will likely be a byproduct of any sort of real soccer atmosphere. But it’s just that – a byproduct.

What matters is that I want to go to a game and support my team with an entire stadium of fans. People there to watch the game. People excited about the game. And I can’t be the only one.

Notes:

  1. Last night, the high school girls’ soccer team in front of us decided that the 28th-or-so minute was a good time to turn around and sing happy birthday to their coach. Not the most invested crowd.
  2. A thought: look at Portland – how do you think that five-year-old would react to a chainsaw? And as much as I hate the Timbers, who do you think treats them like a second-rate team?
  3. And tell them about the winter of 2011, when everything changed and the Revs became a powerhouse for decades to come.
  4. If that were the case, would they bother to put up Revs logos over the Pats logos on game days?
  5. For the record, I never could stand the “YSA” chant. It’s just classless and uncreative.

5 Comments

  • Monty says:

    Great post…

  • Jason says:

    “What matters is that I want to go to a game and support my team with an entire stadium of fans. People there to watch the game. People excited about the game. And I can’t be the only one.”

    No, but you’re in the wrong country for that. That’s like saying you want to live somewhere it only rains when it’s convenient for you, where it’s not too hot, not too cold, there are never any natural disasters, crime is non-existent and the schools are all excellent. That’s not the country in which we live. You may have to go to the English Division One to get that, I don’t know.

    For a variety of societal reasons that are too many to get into, this sport is both a reflection of and (in some part) a slave to the makeup of our country, to its status as the biggest polyglot of all time, both in a societal sense and a soccer sense. Your agenda for being at a game is not the only agenda, the best agenda, or the purest agenda. It’s not arrogant at all to want to have your enjoyment of the entire experience maximized, but it sure as hell is arrogant to think that everyone else has to be there for the same reason you want to be there and that their enjoyment has to be secondary to yours.

    And it’s by-product, not biproduct. Just sayin’.

    • Ben says:

      Dang! I always get byproduct wrong. I knew I would, but I didn’t see that handy little red line under the word, so I didn’t check it. Thanks!

      I appreciate your input, and thanks for reading. I agree with some of what you’re saying – there are obviously cultural differences between New England and old England, and even between New England and the Pacific Northwest – though I resent being called arrogant.

      It’s not arrogant to hope that everybody at the movie theater is there to watch the movie. And I think it’s not only pessimistic, but a little bit dismissive of an entire country, to say that I’m in the wrong country to reasonably expect people to go to soccer games to watch and participate. That’s like saying that I can’t ask for less crime because I live in the ghetto. It shows little faith in people, and dismisses the idea that we should be talking about how to improve.

      The point I’m trying to make isn’t that the people that show up to these games are bad people. They’re not, they’re obviously not. I just think that the Revolution is marketing to the wrong crowd, and that they (and we as fans) won’t see any growth of the fanbase, or any sports-like atmosphere, until adjustments are made. I think that a lot of the people that currently show up, whether they’re wannabe-English-hooligans, or eight-year-old little leaguers, are not enjoying the experience as much because of these decisions. I don’t think it’s just me – I know that little girl the other night wasn’t having a good time.

      Also: when you hear interviews with players, you never hear about the crowd at Gillette. You hear about the crowd out in Portland, or Seattle, but never here. Clearly, I’m not the only one expecting a noisy crowd, a crowd that has shown up to cheer on its team.

      If you’re making the argument that it’s fine that New England treats soccer like a Wiggles concert, then I guess I don’t know what to say to that. I suppose it is – there’s nothing morally wrong with that. I just don’t think that’s what soccer should be, and more importantly I don’t think that MLS thinks that’s what soccer should be.

  • Mike says:

    I sat in a different section after the protest from July. As soon as I yelled out “Major League Soccer, Minor League Refs”, security swarmed around the place and had a supervisor near me. I thought this was soccer at Gillette, not at the Gulag! Not to mention all the weird looks that were shot to me. The Revs need to know that this isn’t some cookie cutter, orange slice and kool aide, post game snow cone thing. Changes need to be made and the Revs are too dumb blind and stupid to notice!

  • Rob says:

    My Fire season tickets are next to the away fans’ section at Toyota Park, which I enjoy. I like seeing the different groups come through and hearing their different songs and chants. For the game against the Philadelphia Union, there was a pretty sizable collection of away fans, enough that stadium security had a guy posted in front of the section. One of their chants had a profanity in it and the security guy yelled, “Hey, no profanity!” so they quit using that chant.

    A few minutes later a stadium rep came down to talk to the ring leader of the group and said, “We want you to sing, we want you to have a good time, root for your team, but we need you to keep things clean.”

    The fan turned to his group and said, “Okay, keep it G Rated, guys!”

    The stadium rep said, “We’ll settle for PG to PG-13.” They shook hands, the rep left, and the group went right on singing with no further issues. It didn’t take some heavy-handed display to solve things, it just took a simple, 30 second conversation.

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