L.A. Verses Seattle in the Summer of Soccer

Needed: more fans in L.A. like these (still cheering on Seattle in the waning moments of Wednesday’s game even with the Sounders dead and buried at 4-0). (AP Photo)i-b06cb7119f8718cc00f27465709a8a03-seattlefans.jpgAs I lined up to take the shuttle bus at the Rose Bowl after last Saturday’s Galaxy-Barcelona exhibition game, I chatted with three teenage fans about their experience.

The trio were Galaxy fans and often attended games at Home Depot Center.

But on this night – just for one evening they insisted – they were Barcelona fans, their bare chests daubed in the club’s colors and carrying flags signifying their allegiance.

The conversation became more striking after seeing the frenzied 67,000 in attendance Wednesday night in Seattle for the Sounders game against the European champions.

Many came to see visiting Barcelona, but they were cheering for the home Sounders.

“They were amazing,” French striker Thierry Henry, who seems likely to join MLS after his career with Barca winds down, told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. “It reminded me of Europe. They were really cheering for the Sounders. We were definitely the away team.

“It’s a tremendous atmosphere. They made it difficult for us in the first half.”

In contrast, Barca fans easily outnumbered Galaxy supporters among the 93,000-plus in attendance at the Rose Bowl.

Why the difference?

After seeing the fanaticism in Seattle first hand earlier this season it was something I anticipated and asked MLS Commissioner Don Garber, who on Tuesday marked his 10th year guiding the league’s business fortunes, about at the half of Saturday’s game:

“I don’t think there’s any one reason,” he said. “It’s a perfect storm of a lot of things that have worked – branding, the right team on the field, the right stadium environment, the right sort of authenticity that exists from start to finish and there was a lot of pent-up demand – there’s not a lot of competition in that market. But I feel good that we’re moving in the right direction in almost every one of our markets.”

Perhaps, but it makes me – and other journalists – wonder about the long-term effect this summer of soccer with its incredible attendances ultimately means for MLS.

Thanks to the Riot Squad and Angel City Brigade, the Galaxy certainly has that kind of support. There’s just not as many of them as in Seattle. Even the rank and file supporters in Seattle outside of hard-core fan groups certainly look and sound more into soccer than their counterparts among the affluent/celebrity crowd that appear to populate the stadium at Galaxy games. And their loyalty to the Sounders is more unwavering than that of Galaxy fans apparently.

Is their hope Southern California fans will eventually match the fanaticism of those in the Pacific Northwest in similar numbers? Will that “authenticity” Garber spoke about ever exist here?

Garber again:

“Two years ago we didn’t have the L.A. Riot Squad and have the Galaxians (I’m guessing he really means the Angel City Brigade here) like they are now either so the sport is slowly building up its core. The international following has sort of taken off with incredible, incredible speed, faster than we thought it would. This summer of soccer has attracted almost two million spectators, many of those games are games that we’ve promoted and most of those games have been against our teams. So if we can start participating against those teams like we are now and playing somewhat (evenly with them) then I think slowly that core fan base is going to grow and then you’ll start seeing some of that core fan base transfer over.”

Well, I hope he’s right, but I’m not convinced, especially here in LA.

Still, Garber pointed to the recent furor over David Beckham as proof that more and more people are feeling passionately about the Galaxy as opposed to the visiting European team:

“He creates drama every one of our fans go to expect. The opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference. And we have people now that care about what goes on on our fields and I’d rather deal with people having challenges and issues with some of the things that take place on the field than not care at all. … It’s been one of the biggest stories in professional sports right around the world and that’s a good thing for Major League Soccer.”

Many of you who read this blog I would consider hard-core fans. What do you think about Garber’s comments? Will we ever see fans cheering for the Galaxy or Chivas USA with the kind of enthusiasm (and in the numbers) seen in Seattle? Sound off in the comments section below.

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  • UCLABZ

    Numbers… yes
    Enthusiasm… no

    I don’t think you can expect that kind of fanaticism from the people of LA. I grew up 2 hours from Green Bay, WI. There is very little to do and people have a lot of free time on their hands. Getting to see the Packers live is a big deal. That is why the games are sold out for the next hundred years. In contrast the people of LA are busy (and dare I say self-absorbed).

    I don’t think anything in LA can match that enthusiasm. Put a good product on the field and people will turn up en masse.

  • Buck T.

    UCLABZ’s comments on nothing else to do ring true to me.

    The key is the Galaxy’s ownership prioritize revenue over a successful team, and the fans smell that rat a mile away. It stinks. Once they stop mucking around with the personnel and stop pineapple-coring the management every 18 months, and get back to allowing the team to win and build something successful on the field again, then the respectability and draw of the Galaxy will go up.

    There’s no hope for Chivas USA save relocation and re-branding.

  • eric goodall

    We will get there, the Galaxy Supporters groups just need some inspiration from a winning team, times are a changing, soccer is growing, resistence is futile.

  • JBT

    In the early days of the Galaxy the crowds were huge and Partisan, But years of Greedy AEG Ownership destroyed that. Even if they win it all who will really care since the Galaxy experience feels so bland and manufactured…

  • KingSnake

    I don’t believe a word Garber says. Never have, probably never will. (He’s in marketing by trade, and truth tends to get in the way of staying on message …)

  • C

    LA has already been there, the team is older and no longer a new thing. Seattle is new and they market that.

    LA has been there and will be there, with the ACB and LARS

  • C

    Also UCLABZ, you sound like the typical non-Californian assuming all of LA is like the movies, get out of Westwood and see the Real LA

  • Studs Up

    The main elements for me in building a passionate supporters base are fan demographics and obviously media support (which I won’t get into).

    As long as most soccer teams try to cater to families with their 2.5 little kids as their main support vein you’ll never develop a passionate fan base.

    You need the 18-35 crowd’s energy to accomplish that. In a sophisticated sports market you’ll need a top notch team that can bring these people in and keep them. The Barca-Galaxy crowd was the perfect example of what I am talking about. Mostly younger people that know the game and know how to have fun. Soccer is not minor league baseball.

    LA has always drawn well and been consistantly up there in attendance figures but you’ll never hear a unified voice in song at our games. The Galaxians were there from day one but never could grow in size. Riot Squad and ACB are trying but even their demographics don’t jive and don’t seem able to get together until just this year on one cross stadium cheer of LA and Galaxy. The main reason for this high attendance and low enthusiasm is the huge family presence at our games.

    I say leave your wives and kids at home and drag your buddies and girl friends to the games. Sit close to the supporters groups and join in. Soccer needs involved fans who can stand the whole game and have fun. Us couch potates should stay home or buy a stadium suite. All the best seats should go to supporters and family groups should be tucked away in the corners or up on the grass berm.

    Re Seattle, the paramount reason for their success is the enthusiastic soccer loving ownership. Without their love for the game and their vision to build a “soccer team” it will never have worked. All other things have worked out for them as Garber correctly stated. We’ll see if they can sustain that after a few years. I hope so.

    Btw, I don’t see too many little kids in Seattle crowds.

    PS – I am looking forward to other new teams coming in with same passion as Seattle and maybe their collective enthusiam will push other exiting team fans to get off their butts and join in the fun. We need a fan revolution in this country to claim this sport from the apathetic fans and the media.

  • frankie boy

    One thing that would help if the LARS, Galaxians and Angel City Brigade would swallow their differences and sit together in the south end zone….the remodel made the groups in Columbus do that and as a result the Nordecke has become pretty hard-core and a real help to the Crew…

  • http://www.eloquentbooks.com/Classesapart.html Philip O’Mara

    Read a great new romantic comedy following the fortunes of Paul Marriott, the Secretary of the Barnstorm Village Sunday soccer team, and coach of a school cricket team in Yorkshire, England. The story describes the remarkable camaraderie between the players and supporters of this little club and their desire to achieve success. Nonetheless, the team is known more for its antics off the field, rather than their performances on it.

    During his time at the club he meets and becomes involved with Emma Potter, who is the sister of James Potter, a major player for their bitter rivals Moortown Inn. Thus, begins an entangled web of romance and conflict. He also begins working at Derry High School, a school with a poor reputation of academic success, where he becomes coach of the school cricket team. Here he develops an amazing relationship with the children and embarks on an epic journey.
    http://www.eloquentbooks.com/ClassesApart.html

  • DB

    “Will we ever see fans cheering for the Galaxy or Chivas USA with the kind of enthusiasm (and in the numbers) seen in Seattle?”

    Bunny hopping for 90 minutes while singing like a school girl and otherwise acting like a fool isnt the only measure of enthusiasm. Just because Galaxy fans dont behave like Sounder fans doesnt mean they arent enthusiastic or that they dont know the game. And 30,000 Sounders fans all whining in unison may be enthusiastic, but it doesnt mean that they understand the game. Actually, the opposite is true. Whining about every call against your side shows a lack of understanding of the laws of the game.

    Is it surprising that Galaxy fans dont act like Europeans? Were not in Europe. Acting like an idiot in the stands isnt the only way to watch end enjoy a game.

    As far as Seattle numbers go, no, well never see those here. Besides having a smaller stadium, the LA traffic is a pain in the a$$. With the lack of train service, theres no way well consistently fill the HDC. Seattle has a great set up with Quest field being so close to downtown and public transportation.

    Re: Chivas USA, from the start their target demographic was the Mexican and Mexican-American community. Not being part of that community, many of us were and are turned off by not feeling wanted by the club. That will never change. They can have them.

  • Town Fan

    Is it any coincidence that the two teams who’s fans Garber points to are the two newest teams? The first two teams to focus marketing efforts on the 18-30 male crowd? AEG (and Soccer LA or whatever the name of the previous owners was) have been caught up attracting the 3 bazillion AYSO players in this country and their Soccer Mom’s. They spend their efforts to get them to one match/season and ignore the season ticket holder until it’s time to renew. Until AEG figures this out….

    Of course, AEG are also the people who brought us 19 Entertainment and the Beckham Experiment…so I’m not holding my breath for any change.