Monday, April 4, 2011

Not a Conspiracy Theory: Tale of the Casual Fan

The Truth is Out There
Matt, I read your conspiracy theory with interest, but I've gotta say, you lost me on this one. For one who has told me several times that you are done talking about matters of attendance, etc., I'm surprised that you would put the energy into developing a conspiracy theory that the team is actually *trying* to suppress the numbers.

All the attendance numbers are much simpler to explain, and, unfortunately, much more difficult to solve. There are the game-by-game excuses; for Saturday, you could point to the cold weather, the Final Four, etc., all of which no doubt had an influence on the casual fan deciding whether or not to go and check out a game.

And then there are the real problems, and they are structural and, possibly, not fixable. Concessions and parking. While concessions can be made much better simply by having a competent staff, the concourse is still too narrow when the attendance approaches 20,000, never mind 25,000. And it can't be fixed. The stadium is built that way. The lack of convenient parking is also a HUGE, HUGE problem, and, unless RB wants to buy all of that land (assuming they even could), there will never be parking. It can't be fixed.

Now, imagine the casual family-outing fan: Dad packs his wife and two kids into the family truckster for the journey from Tom's River to Harrison. They take the exit that says "Soccer Arena," and get rerouted into a neighborhood that has a look straight out of Grand Theft Auto III. They park in the garage and sojourn to the Arena. OK, so far, not terrible, but not great.

They arrive at the Arena. One of the kid's tickets doesn't scan correctly, and dad made the mistake of bringing his non-professional, consumer-grade SLR Canon Rebel to the game and had to spend 5 minutes arguing with security about whether or not the camera is "professional equipment" until the supervisor comes over and says it's ok.

They find their seats and dad goes to get food and snacks for the kids. It's pre-game and the lines aren't that bad. But it still takes 5 minutes to get the food, and the credit card reader isn't working at his register and they have to try 3 other registers before they find one that works. (Of course, it does work, but the employee doesn't know how to use it.)

Back in his seat 3 minutes after kickoff, Dad finally gets to sit down and enjoy a few minutes of soccer, except for the hot dog vendor constantly walking by blocking his view, of course, but that's the norm at American sporting events, so whatever. Halftime. The kids need to hit the bathroom--never particularly pleasant at any sports arena, and little Joey wants something from the Red Bull Shop while mom decides to brave the concessions....

By the 60th minute, after both of the game's goals have been scored, the family is reunited for the rest of the match. Then they squeeze out of the arena, march back to the parking garage, and two hours later, around midnight, they are home.

Mom and dad get the kids tucked in, drop, exhausted, into their own bed, look at each other and say, "Never again."

And that's the story of the casual Red Bull fan.

As for the marketing, who knows? I don't think they are trying to suppress their numbers. I think they either had no ad budget this season, thinking that the team would be its own draw, or someone actually pitched the social media focused campaign, and that person will hopefully be pulled into an office and asked to explain the poor results.

Look, Matt... you, viper, me, YSC, Dave Martinez, Mark Fishkin, Glenn Williams across the pond, etc... we are some of the best marketing the Red Bulls have, to be honest. We give the loyal fans a place to rally in a media market that otherwise ignores MLS, and we should be happy and proud of what we do, even if I am tooting my own horn right now. We go to games, we have a great time, we invite others to join us. It's all we can do. I just can't spend another moment this season fretting about attendance and marketing strategies. It's mostly out of our hands, and to the extent that we can do something about it, I think we do more than most. Be proud of this website and all that you do, and leave the conspiracy theories to the "rebranders."

Oh, and Phuck the Philadelphia Union!
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