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.
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.
- 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. ↩
- 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? ↩
- And tell them about the winter of 2011, when everything changed and the Revs became a powerhouse for decades to come. ↩
- If that were the case, would they bother to put up Revs logos over the Pats logos on game days? ↩
- For the record, I never could stand the “YSA” chant. It’s just classless and uncreative. ↩