It's been a few games since Saputo Stadium has opened and there is one question that I keep getting asked... WHERE ARE THE FANS? After breaking the attendance record not once but twice at the Olympic Stadium earlier in the season, it seems as though the honeymoon is over.
The Impact currently have no competition. The Habs are in the off season. The Alouettes, who play in the CFL, are just beginning their season. A little note for my American and international readers, the CFL is like the NFL, but with less talent and different rules. The weather has been fantastic on game days (ended up being a gorgeous evening for the KC game).
Let's look at the numbers so far:
SAPUTO STADIUM OPENER vs Seattle: About 17,000
Game vs Houston (The Return of Brian Ching): About 12,000
Game vs arch rival TFC: About 14,000
Game vs KC: About 12,000
The team is battling for a playoff spot. The stadium is brand new and it is gorgeous. There isn't one bad seat in the house. The sales staff are working their butts off trying to get people interested and buying. There are tickets available for pretty much any budget. So where is everyone? With the amount of people living in the city and surroundings, the Impact can't find 20,000 people to come per game?
Anyone who follows me on Twitter, Facebook or knows me in my human form knows that I have been a strong promoter of the Impact. I've been very vocal everywhere that fans need to get behind this team. Here's are my thoughts:
Right after the jump
LOCATION AND GAME TIMES
Located in the city's east end, this was often the excuse for the Expos' poor attendance until they took off for Washington. THIS IS NOT AN EXCUSE! There is a metro station right at the stadium, it is accessible by highway and only 10-15 minutes max from downtown. There is plenty of parking available parking. There are many people who come from the west part of the island.
Game times, however, could be a factor. 7:30pm games on a weekday can be a little harsh due to the city's traffic and construction issues. The KC game started at 7pm which was even worse! I believe that an 8:00pm start would be more fan friendly. Traffic will have calmed down just in time to get to the stadium without any hassles.
Also, whoever decided to put this week's game against Columbus on a Sunday evening at 7:30pm deserves to be fired. It's the end of the weekend. The kids are tired. The parents have to prepare for the week and are tired as well. The last thing on their mind is going to see a game in the evening. This should be a 2:00pm start.
For those of you who don't know, in Montreal, June 24 and July 1st are holidays. Many tried to say that fans were not coming out to games because of the long weekends. This is just about the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. Not everyone goes away on every long weekend. It was gorgeous outside, people have time off, the kids are done school... Why not come to an Impact game? MLS and Baseball stadiums looked pretty full to me during the Fourth of July weekend in the US!! Using long weekends as an excuse is cheap, just like someone blaming McDonalds for making them fat.
Tickets for Saputo Stadium start at $15 and go up to $85. The organization has done its best to make the game as affordable as possible to everyone. Yes, it is an increase from the NASL days but the reality is, in order to play in the MLS, there are more expenses to cover. This is a business and Joey Saputo has bills to pay. The Impact will never have 3 designated players by topping out ticket prices at $50. As a quick comparison, prices in Seattle range from $30-$115. Pricing is not an issue.
The MLS is known to have horrible officiating. Some of these refs belong in prison for the job they do. A perfect example is this week's home game vs. KC. The Impact should have won the game but then the referees' got involved. Two penalties against the Impact. Questionable whistles all night long. It was hell for everyone watching.
This is the kind of circus act that hurts the league's credibility. While the die hards will deal with the heart attacks that come along with these horrible refs, it is enough to turn away a casual fan from ever coming back. Why would they? They spend their good earned money and it is expected that the refs get too involved and dictate the game? It's enough to make me wonder why I put up with the league's crap. No one would go to a game if they knew there was a good chance that the ref would steal the show. I'm also pretty sure that parents who brought their children will not necessarily be rushing back to the stadium after hearing the chorus of F-bombs being belted out by the home fans. (As I left the stadium after the KC game, I even heard a child scream out F-you ref... couldn't have been more than 7 years old.)
Don Garber and the MLS need to get serious about this and now. Why not bring in a gentleman like Pierluigi Collina, the former Italian ref who was so well respected during his career? Have him oversee the referees and referee development in North America. If quick action isn't taken, even some of the die hards will start to walk away.
MARKETING / PROMOTIONS
This is a major issue. Sadly, not enough has been done. The Impact started late and ended early. The marketing team only came out with a few posters/billboards and ads. The concept of ‘Defending our house' is great and caused a nice buzz when it was released but it wasn't enough. This is the big leagues.
The Montreal Impact logo needs to be EVERYWHERE! Up close and personal... RIGHT IN YOUR FACE!!
This should have started the moment the NASL season ended.
Here are my suggestions (which I have shared many times):
- More billboards and radio ads
- Creative TV commercials
* During the offseason, I wrote an open letter to the media and the organization. My ideas for TV commercials included introducing the players to the fans. One example included having Ricketts, Bush and Sutton all over the city, making tough saves on anything (falling wine bottles, frisbees, a puck, etc...) just for fun and to show that the team was getting ready for the season.
- Free tickets to youth Soccer clubs
* Make an agreement with every youth Soccer organization and offer one free pair of tickets per registered player. Just get them to the field!
- Promotion nights
* Pick 4 games and make it ‘Kids get in free night'. For every adult ticket purchased, a child under the age of 12 gets a free ticket.
* Kids eat free night.
* Guaranteed win night.
* Free official team caps night.
- Student promos
* Either for season or half season packages. Reduced rate and a free jersey.
* Student night: Show your student card, get 20% off everything.
- Have players deliver season tickets
* It worked for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Who wouldn't want Patrice Bernier or Zarek Valentin or another player showing up at their door?
- Montreal Ultras flashmobs
* These guys love to sing and cheer like there is no tomorrow. Have them set up flash mobs at different times and different locations. Just to get people talking!
There are so many promotions and creative things that you can do. It literally took me 3 minutes to write all my suggestions down. The whole point is to get fans in the stands at least once. Create a buzz. The stands will be full. The team will make back whatever money it invests. People will spend money on souvenirs, food or whatever. Get them to the game, fill the stadium. If you get them there, they will come back.
For those of you asking why people didn't come back after the home opener or the game against the Galaxy, the answer is simple: Those were more than games, they were events. Even the Expos had a lot of people for their home opener. For the Galaxy game, although there were 60,000 people in the stands, about 42,000 were there only to see David Beckham.
One of the biggest questions I get is: Where are the Eurosnobs? For those of you who don't know, a Eurosnob is someone who thinks the MLS is not good quality and who prefers to get up at 6am on a Sunday morning to watch their favorite European team play.
The answer is simple: If you don't reach out to them, they won't come. The issue here again is marketing.
With Marco Di Vaio, Alessandro Nesta, Matteo Ferrari and Bernardo Corradi, all the local Italians should be lining up outside Saputo Stadium, trying to get in. Sadly, they are not. Why? No marketing is done towards them!
The Eurosnobs love parties/street festivals that are held every summer by their local church. They love Italian bands playing outside, free food, games for the kids... a real community party.
Here's what I suggest:
Have a huge street party, like the church parties/festivals in the different ethnic neighbourhoods (for you locals, St-Leonard, LaSalle and some part of Laval would be the main targets). Everyone is invited! All cultures! Come one come all! Bring all the players and make them mingle amongst the locals. They can meet the players they've been following all these years on TV, build a connection with them. The players can sell the league, talk about why they came to Montreal to play, etc... The players could also get involved in a friendly pickup game with some of the younger kids, sign autographs, chef Zarek Valentin (he loves to cook) can work the grill. There are so many extra things you can do to boost this kind of event.
Bring a community together, talk about the beautiful game, give them free food, sprinkle some free tickets here and there... that's how you get the Eurosnobs to come out and give the Impact and the MLS a chance! Go get them and bring them to the field.
If you remove the games held at the Olympic Stadium, the Impact's average attendance numbers would be awful. This is a great organisation, blessed with a great owner and a great leadership team. I'd hate to see this team be included in the ‘attendance problems' conversation that we hear so often today in pro sports. There is nothing more that I'd like to see than a Saputo Stadium full of fans cheering the Impact and intimidating the opponent.
Is it just a dream?
Until next time fans,