Whitecaps first MLS game today

UPDATE:

Full marks. They got it right. Aside from the corny ‘wave your BMO card in the air for a chance to win a $50 gift certificate’ we weren’t treated like we were all A.D.D. sufferers in need of marketing stunts every 30 seconds.

There were no cheerleaders, mascots, almost no canned music, no prizes shot out of air cannons and no radio-voice announcer pummelling us with exortations to ‘make some noise Vancouver!’ They let the game be what we came for and the fans reacted well to it. The highlight was actually not the Southsiders (although I was at the other end and couldn’t really hear them much so I could be wrong) but rather the chorus of drummers sitting up at the top of the east stand. And they weren’t planted there by the Caps. I’ve been told they’ve all gone and bought season tickets and warned the Caps that they were a drumming group and would be bringing their bongos and such with them. They were great and the crowd lapped it up.

The Canucks should really take note of what happened today. The sport was the only item on display. It was not a sideshow that connected various marketing campaigns soundtracked by the idiocy that is top 40 FM radio.

We got a compact stadium with great sightlines, a nice sunny day and two teams that played like they wanted to be there. Yes, it was long on athleticism and physicality and a bit short, save for Chiumiento and maybe DeRo and Dunfield, on ideas and technique but it was something I was happy to see. It was a huge upgrade on the dire bore-fest that recent seasons at Swangard had become.

I took two of my kids to see the Canucks a couple weeks ago and got the tickets through Ticketmaster (ie. not scalpers). It was over $370 for three tickets. My tickets today were $18 each and we sat in the second row behind the north goal. It was a bargain and as soon as we got home my son wanted to watch it again on TV (via the PVR).

They will do well and create fans that last if they stick with this approach. For me the best comparison is that you can sell millions of Justin Beiber records to people with no attention span, or critical lens, and maybe get some secondary product sales and keep that going for a few years with a sufficient marketing budget but it’s not sustainable unless people are willing to actually care about Justin Bieber rather than just having them accept being sold a Justin Beiber product periodically.

Bands like Radiohead and Wilco have always gone very low key on the marketing front and let the product speak for itself. They don’t over-promise and they don’t carpet bomb you with marketing tat. They already have well-established, financially successful careers and fans who will go out of their way to pay for the records (and concert tickets) when they’re released even though music is very easy to get for free these days. People want to be associated with them and while it may take a bit longer and have some hiccups along the way, the Caps will cultivate a true fan base and not a perpetual series of JCL jersey wearers who are already looking for the next big thing if they keep the focus on the game and not the three periods of insult to your intelligence that a Canucks game has become. The Canucks get away with it because this is a ‘hockey town’. The Caps though went a long way today to establishing this as a ‘soccer town’.

Credit where credit is due. 10 out of 10.

***************

I’m going to the Caps v Toronto game today and I think it’s going to be great. Not so much the product on the field because that will take some time but I think it’s a chance for Vancouver sports fans to have a truly exciting atmosphere at home games.

Let’s face it, the sterility at Canucks home games, aside from the playoffs, is embarrassing. The product on the ice is fantastic but the attempts to manufacture atmosphere and engage the crowd are patronizing.

As one of my favourite authors, Milan Kundera said, “The rules to a relationship are written very early” He was talking about men and women and how the patterns and expectations within a long term relationship are set in the first few meetings and, afterwards, are very hard to change. That’s going to be the case for the Caps. I really don’t follow MLS closely at all but I know the best thing that’s happened to the league in many years was when Toronto FC’s first home game turned into a fan-created display of awesomeness.  The Red Patch Boys set the tone and defined the atmosphere. It wasn’t about cheerleaders and mascots and signs telling you when to ‘make some noise!’

Seattle took their cue from that and is now considered the loudest and most difficult place to play for visitors. The Southsiders will not let the side down. They will represent all that is good about crowds at games and, if allowed, they will give us the true fan driven team sport experience that is status quo in Europe and South America but sadly lacking in almost all North American pro sport arenas.

The Caps job in this is to stay out of the way and let the fans design their reaction to the team and the experience that is game day.

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19 Responses to Whitecaps first MLS game today

  1. Colin Elmes says:

    Totally agree Gregor.

    I am bringing my air gun with me just incase I catch a glimpse of Winger.

    I was a season ticket holder back in 70’s and 80’s. Really looking forward to today. Have not been in the “Empire” space since the last Whitecaps game there in 1980. I am sure the memories will flow back.

    • Gregor says:

      Yeah, we had season tickets back in about ’75/’76 and I remember going with my dad. Taking my 8 year old today and looking forward to it.

      Talked with a Whitecap staffer through the week and they have a few ‘surprises’ planned but he acknowledged they really don’t know everything that’s going to happen because they suspect there will be a few Southsider-like groups there doing their own thing.

      Hopefully they keep the scripted surprises to a minimum and let the atmosphere be fan-driven. Already dreading the free ponchos and drums…for me that’s just turning us all into sheep.

  2. Canadian Spur says:

    I can’t wait to sit in the stands and sing and chant and generally soak up the experience. My 16 year old daughter is more exited about going to this match than she ever was about a Hockey game. The game is almost secondary at this point.

  3. Larry says:

    I’ve attended four Sounders games in the last couple of years and the highlight is the march from Occidental square to Qwest field. It sets the tone for a memorable experience.

    About 2 hrs before the game, usually 5,000 or so Sounders fans gather at Occidental Square for the pre-game “warmup”. The fans are led by the ECS (Emerald City Supporters), plus a marching band (hey, it’s US OK). The fans then march to the stadium with the ECS bringing up the rear. Here’s a sample of the atmosphere…

    The Southsiders are gathering at Oscar’s Pub (Hastings & Boundary). Hopefully they will set the new standard for a Whitecaps pre-game at this opener with a march to Empire. If you’re in the area, you might want to check it out.

  4. RR says:

    Ah, the good ‘ol days in “the village of Vancouver by the sea.” What a treat it was to watch the likes Allan Ball, John Craven, Phil Parkes, Willie Johnston, and Kevin Hector going up against Georgie Best, Johan Cruyff, Georgio Chinaglia, and Franz Beckenbauer…
    Personal highlight, being there to see the Caps down the Rowdies at Giants Stadium to win the NASL championship in ’79. Still have the ticket stubs.

    Good luck lads!

  5. K says:

    Exciting day all around for Canadian soccer. All-Canada MLS match nationally televised, loads of goals, 17 year old Teibert starting and performing well….not to mention the rest of the Canucks on the field. Great stuff!

  6. Colin Elmes says:

    Agree Gregor. great day. And no halftime minisoccer. thank god for that too! So the drummer group wasnt planted? even better. From a soccer perspective- Toronto was woeful. Fit right in to make the day memorable

  7. Rich says:

    Have to agree. All in all a great day.

    We sat very close to the 150 or so, TFC fans. The banter was great but no fear of it ‘spilling over’. (credit to them for making the journey) at times the atmosphere was really quite European.

    A very appropriate response to the ‘white out, poncho’ experiment. ‘No thanks. Here, you can have them back! Don’t insult us with gimmicks, entertain us with football’.

    My only issue was the turf. I think it really does have a detrimental effect on the professional game. At times the players looked quite uncomfortable on it.

  8. Hank says:

    Simply an amazing day! Game 1 of regular season Whitecap game felt like Game 7 of the Stanley Cup with the Canucks. Blew me away of how much fun it was to a part of that. We’re now looking forward to the next game as are, I would expect, 23000 others.

  9. Soccer Xtremist says:

    Took my family (my wife, both rugrats and myself) to the game for the price of one freaking Canucks ticket. And it was an absolute blast. Last fall I went to a Whitecaps game at Swangard (first in five years), and it was horrendous. The only atmosphere was the Portland fans in the corner. Even the Southsiders disappointed. And the game was terrible.

    On Saturday, the atmosphere was phenomenal. I remember watching the first TFC game on TV, and thinking there’s no way we could replicate that out here. Too laid back are we. I stand corrected.

    And to be perfectly honest, the level of play far exceeded expectations. Of course, it’s entirely possible that TFC is just that bad, and I’m OK with that, but on Saturday, the Whitecaps looked like footballers. Chiumiento is a player. Hassli is a beast of a man with surprisingly good touch. And Dunfield is going to be soccer’s version of Trevor Linden in this town. Watching him walk out was like seeing a kid in a candy store.

    The two players that impressed me most were Rochat and Demerit. My 7-year-old daughter went home with a Whitecaps pennant, which we hung on the wall next to my 1979 Caps pennant. My 11 year old, a fledgling centerback who just recently decided to drop the other kind of football for the more beautiful version, went home a charter member of the Jay Demerit fan club, with a #6 Whitecaps T-shirt he has not taken off since.

    I am sure we’re all in a state of euphoria. And a 0-0 draw in a typical Vancouver March downpour may have left us with different views. But today, we can sit back and enjoy. We beat Toronto (which is always perfect), we scored our first goal, which I had a wonderful view of 20 rows back directly behind the goal. (And it should be noted here that Toronto took what seemed like a decade to score their franchise’s first tally.)

    This Whitecap doubter is a convert. Good job Barber et al. Full marks.

  10. Colin Elmes says:

    Speaking of Canucks. About a month ago The Sun carried a story where Aqulini was interviewed at a Van Board of trade meeting. Someone must have asked the question re any concern over Whitecaps eroding Canucks fan base. Francisco quickly pointed out the difference in salary caps( 2.5 million caps, Canucks 50 gizzilion something) and called MLS a “B” league. No “wish them luck in their inaugural season” platitudes to be found. Reminds me of when they fired Nonis a few years back and we got to see the owners skills in front of the camera trying to answer reporters questions. Canucks game day people should come out and watch some home games soon….

  11. K says:

    Quick question – now that one home game is down….advice on the best way to get to Empire, park, and get to the field???

    23000 fans showing up regularly and surely a season-ticket line that will grow very quickly may make the Canucks quiver a bit…..especially when the inevitable Whitecaps v. Manchester United game is held at BC place in front of 60,000. No the Caps will not be #1, and yes MLS is a “B” league, but that doesn’t make it any less passionate or supported! The salary cap issue is nothing – if anything the supporters will relate better to the kid making $36,000 a year than the kid making $360,000 per year…Canucks are gonna have to ramp up the PR bandwagon me thinks.

  12. Bruce says:

    Anyone know details about the Whitecaps potentially taking 10+ players per age group out of BCSPL?

    • Gregor says:

      It’s not potentially. Prospects will now be full time with the Caps but it begs the question: when will these players be selected and will it necessitate some BCPL teams re-stocking from MSL

    • Bruce says:

      I do know that South Fraser delayed their U13 and U14 selections to help deal with any potential impact the Whitecaps may have on their team.

  13. K says:

    Which suggests South Fraser is aware of the Whitecaps tryout dates for those ages??

  14. Fred Cutler says:

    Spot on, Gregor. Maybe I hit you with a poncho? We were 30 rows up above the North end’s left post.
    Now, I’m not so sure you can call the ‘Caps tackling and midfield defensive tactical sense mere ‘athleticism’. I know TFC is no Arsenal, but we looked like Barcelona a few weeks back winning the ball back in the middle of the park whenever Arsenal, um, I mean TFC, tried to put a few passes together. It really was embarrassing for Toronto when their centre backs looked scared to play a 15 yard pass forward to a midfielder with his back to goal. I do hope it’s not another summer, I mean Winter, of discontent in Toronto.

    Shall we call our new club Greycaps FC? Or, in a nod to our winter weather: Graycaps FC?

  15. m says:

    who was that good looking guy who won the 50/50? 😉

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