Bringing the Fans to MLS: Part II- Families

soccer_mom1They are the bane of many an MLS fan, yet they continue to represent a substantial portion of Americn soccer crowds.  Teams cater to them, by offering special four packs, pre-game soccer celebrations and mascots. Who are these fans?  They are familes.  Kids, soccer moms minivans and more.

This is part two of our MLS attendance series.  You can see part I here. We have collected anecdotes from hundreds of friends, coworkers, fans, familes, store owners and acquaintainces in an effort to determine what will bring more fans to MLS. We have asked these questions at soccer matches of all levels, dinner parties, social gatherings and board meetings.  We have been asking these questions since February with an eye towards seeking out trends about MLS fandom and what brings people to Major League Soccer League stadiums.

“Hard core” MLS fans have railed against the presence of familes for years.  Complaints against these fans include: “they are too quiet”  “they don’t care about the game”  “the don’t let me have fun” “they come once a year and don’t support the team” “they get up every 20 minutes” and “the stadium doesn’t let me do x because of familes.”

So we asked these families (moms and dads), what they wanted from the MLS experience.   Overwhelmingly, they want their kids to have fun.  These parents are looking for a night out, and the bounce houses, mascots and T-shirt tosses are part of that.  They are looking for affordability and fun.  Many are shocked about how “professional” the MLS experience is and that the matches are “big-time.”  They are “amused” by the supporters groups, but don’t want to sit with them. They are also very willing to purchase team gear for their kids.

But perhaps more interesting was the number of these parents who desperately wanted to both understand the game and have their children understand the game.  Like the non-soccer fans discussed earlier this week, many of these parents wanted someone to explain the nuance of a sport unfamiliar to many of them.  They wanted to know the back stories of the players and whom to cheer. For many, they wanted to comprehend the intricacies of a game their kids devote hours per week to playing and appreciate more than the distance of a goalie’s punts. They view MLS as a way to connect with their kids and enter their world, but need the information to get there.

Unlike many soccer fans, MLS is not competing with European soccer clubs for the attention of these families.  While most will not become season ticket holders right away, they will come back if they enjoy the experience and if the game means something to them.  The “quality” of the game is not that important, because the level of play is far higher than anything they have seen before. They think they can co-exist with the hard core supporters and actually appreciate the atmosphere and noise they bring.

So what do we think?  Are families an important part of the MLS fanbase?  Should the League turn away from efforts to bring familes to games in lieu of younger, more passionate fans?  Can these families become those passionate fans?  Let us know your thoughts.

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16 Responses

  1. I understand that families are part of the scene but I think they should be roped off. instead of supporter sections there should be family sections.

  2. I’m with victory. Their should be family sections.
    It would be a good idea to sell a basic rule and terminology booklet for people new to the game. These booklets should be sold just outside the gates, with the programs, and at the MLS and team websites. These probably shouldn’t be marked up that much so everyone that wants brush up on the game can. If make the booklet easy to read, attractive, and advertise their ticket deals and the charities they support (I think families would me more likely to buy more tickets if they knew the team was helping out the community)it would be a hot seller and might help boost regular attendees considerably.
    Families don’t usually bother diehards. Fair weather fans that don’t take the game seriously bother diehards. If teams actively try to educate the less knowledgeable people in attendance then the families become diehards.

  3. These are interesting thoughts. When it comes to the rules of the game, the sense I got was that these parents were looked for a second level analysis…(e.g. the relative merits of certain formations, advantage calls, etc….). I’m not sure if this informatino can be conveyed in a booklet…yet the idea of handing out something covered with team info is appealing.

  4. I don’t mean to get off into a rant here but let me first start off by addressing the blog post and then move on to respond to some of the other comments here.

    I think families are pretty well addressed by MLS marketing campaigns, while as you pointed out the mediums used to reach the audience is frequently seemingly novice if not completely misguided. It’s as you already pointed out, when a franchise only puts it’s greatest offers out to the people who are on the website, well they are missing the opportunity for growth.

    But the problem with explaining the game is a problem that comes from the pace and free-flowing nature of the game. I compare soccer with American football for example. In American football the game affords itself, due to the stop and go pace, to explanation. Between each play the commentators have to fill the gaps and explaining and reviewing the previous play is a great use of that time. I will admit, that even as young as 10-years old I was learning about cover-two defenses and zone-blocking schemes due to television coverage. But things like that in soccer coverage you will never pick up on. It wasn’t until I combined over 17 years of playing experience, with 4 years of refereeing and finally dashed in my 8 years of coaching before I really felt I developed any time of deep understanding of the game. I never really gained a nugget, even about the offsides rule from television coverage despite seeing the replays over years and years.

    I have to admit I have always been very disappointed with the television coverage in that never really talk these points up. I watch people who are pros and supposedly have years more soccer experience and knowledge than me but they never explain nor point out the elements that people should be impressed with or that novices wouldn’t understand.

    Now regarding the comments. I think separating the fans into special areas is almost especially un-American. However, I think something should be done to allow fans to also be educated about the difference in the atmosphere of soccer. I again liken this to failure of soccer coverage to educate people on the differences of the game. But I think some of the blame also must be put on us, the hardcore soccer fans. We are not doing a good job of inviting these casual new fans who are actually at the games or watching the game with us into our understanding.

    Just my two cents, fellas. Keep up the great work.

  5. I like the idea of a family section instead of promoting the entire game to families. Go to a baseball game if you want to sit around with kids who don’t have a clue what they are watching and really don’t care.

    I believe that several MLS clubs already allow you to request tickets based on qualifiers like “no alcohol” (yikes!).

    Also, the league needs to just accept the disparity between forwards and defenders and stop allowing the defenders to mug forwards in a misguided attempt to bring balance to the game. It only makes the game more unbalanced in the long-run.

  6. As John Reyes has said, the game is free flowing. It is more difficult to explain the more subtle aspects of the game in play-by-play.

    This got me thinking, perhaps during half time a games they can show the stadium main “jumbotron”(or at half time shows of televised matches) a quick tutorial on things that are difficult to explain in a couple of seconds.

    These 1-2 minute lessons could help better educate supporters/viewers on formations, illustrate more complex rules, teach skills (traps, back heels, crosses, dummies, etc) and teach the responsibilities of ref and assistant refs. This probably would be popular and would have no problem having sponsored.

  7. These are interesting ideas, but perhaps the best option is simply to have someone whispering in their ear.

  8. Baseball is an example of a sport that has thrown in their entire lot with families. As a result, many parks are quiet, sterile places where you risk ejection merely for heckling too loud. But MLB values the dollars of parents who buy their kids $50 seats (that the kids end up not sitting in much, if at all) and feel obligated to buy the family a full meal from the concessions (and then grumble about the price).

    MLS should not make families its primary concern. Instead, focus on every young person who played soccer as a child but is now old enough to have their own disposable income. They will drink high-profit beer, join supporter groups that encourage them to come more often (or buy season tickets), blog and tweet, and develop a deeper bond with the team.

    That’s not to say that (as stated above) there shouldn’t be family sections. Sounders FC put inexpensive “all inclusive” seating at the opposite end of the stadium from the supporters’ group sections, so that parents can treat their kids to “free” soda and snacks while keeping them from the rowdy, standing, banner-waving supporters.

    But family items should be one niche and not the meat and potatoes. Make a nice place for them, but don’t sterilize the experience for the love of their money.

  9. [...] is part five of our MLS attendance series.  You can see part I here,  part II here, part III here and part IV here. We have collected anecdotes from hundreds of friends, coworkers, [...]

  10. [...] is part five of our MLS attendance series.  You can see part I here,  part II here, part III here and part IV here. We have collected anecdotes from hundreds of friends, coworkers, [...]

  11. [...] is part three of our MLS attendance series.  You can see part I here and part II here. We have collected anecdotes from hundreds of friends, coworkers, fans, familes, store owners and [...]

  12. [...] game”.  This is part four of our MLS attendance series.  You can see part I here,  part II here and part III here. We have collected anecdotes from hundreds of friends, coworkers, fans, families, [...]

  13. [...] is part three of our MLS attendance series.  You can see part I here and part II here. We have collected anecdotes from hundreds of friends, coworkers, fans, families, store owners and [...]

  14. [...] is part five of our MLS attendance series.  You can see part I here,  part II here, part III here and part IV here. We have collected anecdotes from hundreds of friends, coworkers, [...]

  15. [...] game”.  This is part four of our MLS attendance series.  You can see part I here,  part II here and part III here. We have collected anecdotes from hundreds of friends, coworkers, fans, families, [...]

  16. […] is part five of our MLS attendance series.  You can see part I here,  part II here, part III here and part IV here. We have collected anecdotes from hundreds of friends, coworkers, […]

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