A lot has changed in sports over the centuries and decades, but a lot of the same principles still remain. I’m reminded of that every time I walk into a live sports event and you just…feel it. That’s what makes sports special.
The sound of a crowd all cheering or gasping in unison, the echoes of passion permeating the air, and the look of deep memories being made by the minute. These are the ingredients to growing and sustaining a fan base, the elements that can turn an outing into an experience, a casual fan into a diehard.
I felt that familiar twang as I attended my very first (and one of their first) LAFC game at Banc of California Stadium. The new Major League Soccer club, which entered the market trying to win over fans in LA who for years have had the Galaxy, is creating fan connections with what feels like a cultural phenomenon. And it starts with creating a live experience that elicits emotion and demonstrates the devotion of the community, makes you feel you can be part of something greater than yourself.
It starts with the player introductions. I’ve seen this at a Galaxy game, too, and I love it – the call and response interplay for player introductions. For LAFC, the PA announcer would say the first name of the player and the crowd would reply with the player’s last name in unison. Sure, not every fan will be part of it, but it’s hard to tell because it sounds like most are and it makes others want to be part of it, too.
Another favored tradition, which prevails in most of the soccer/futbol world – kid escorts for the players coming on the field. This is not something only LAFC does, but it remains an effective part of the pregame nonetheless, offering a memorable and share-able experience for young fans, while getting them and their families out to a game. The more individual, super-memorable experiences you can create for kids, the better. That’s creating at least a dozen and a half fans for life, with a story to tell at school the next day.
And after the anthem is played and the pregame ceremonies are complete, the raucous crowd starts up again – the supporters group. If I were a sports team, heck – I’d be willing to pay groups of fans to bring the noise (literally) and the enthusiasm, passion, and pageantry to the game. In the reserved Supporters’ Section behind one of the goals, there are drums going, flags waving, and a handful of chants boisterously recited the entire 90 minutes plus. It makes you feel like you’re at a loud party the entire time, conjuring what we hear (and I’ve experienced) about the European experience, where soccer isn’t just a pastime, but a way of life.
It inspires others, too. On the other side of the stadium, where I was sitting, there were about a dozen attempts from a dozen sections to get The Wave started. All the while the game on the pitch was going on and the only times it interrupted the fans were known by everyone getting on their feet when LAFC got the ball into the opposing box or had a chance on net. The whole scene reminds one of being at a college game, where the marching band and cheering squad is bringing it all game long and passing that energy onto you, making each opportunity to cheer more enticing.
I try to study each game I attend. To catch something clever with their sponsorship or game presentation, identify something unique or innovative for fan engagement. (You can see a slideshow here!). But the the thing that stuck with me for LAFC was simply that special energy that made me feel like I had gone to a party, where everyone was invited. Where, win or lose, for 90 minutes, you’re part of something great. And that’s what sports fandom is all about.