February 24th was a big night for the Montreal Impact - and I'm not talking about the game. The couple of hours before the game at La Cage aux Sports was a big event. The Montreal Impact, and Joey Saputo, finally figured out that buzz doesn't occur naturally.
There needs to be a product on the pitch, or at the very least, a feeling that the product on the pitch stands for something; whether it is success, local pride or just an explosion of soccer passion. Seeing the crowd at la Cage aux Sports, seeing the new jersey officially unveiled, it all gave an excellent ambiance as a lead up to an important match.
But that's the thing with buzz. It only occurs with this team before important matches. The trick going forward is going to be making every match important. That's what will bring people onto the Impact wagon. That's what builds fan momentum. The moments before and after the match, walking to the stadium (or bar or friends house) are just as important as the product on the pitch.
Tuesday night, Montréal built an atmosphere - something we haven't done since 2013. Here's my thoughts on how we keep it going.
Partner with la Cage aux Sports
This is imperative. This bar is the coolest sports experience I've ever had. They have an excellent partnership with the Montreal Canadiens and offer deals on meals or drinks or whatever if the Habs win.
We have (usually) only one game a week, and our home games are broadcast in French on TVA Sports or RDS - two stations that are always on in the bar anyway.
- But what if we were the bar's "summer Habs"?
- What if it was half priced appetizers if the Impact win on a PK?
- What if it was blue and white Impact flags on the walls instead of le saint flannel of the CH?
It would mean that in each major market of the Impact, from Ottawa/Gatineau, Québec to Trois-Rivières and Saguenay we'd have a dedicated presence. A location guaranteed to be showing the game during the summer. It would bring soccer fans out of living rooms and into the bar (good for their bottom line) and generate interest for our team in our market (good for the Impact).
If the locations in Gatineau, or Sherbrooke or Trois-Rivières have an atmosphere even half as electric as the one last Tuesday, we'll have a solid fanbase in markets that don't mind spending 30 bucks on tickets to go to Montréal for a weekend trip in no time.
Lastly, we need to start making a big deal out of soccer in this city. It's easy to write off things as gimmicky, but having greater access to the players as fans makes a difference. It's why P.K. Subban is beloved in Montréal. We hear from him, see him and can match his personality to his stellar performance on the ice.
Impact media do a fantastic job making videos, but unless you follow the Twitter account, you don't get to see them. This needs to change. Let's make personable guys like Bakary Soumaré, Patrice Bernier and Laurent Ciman available to fans in new and interesting ways.
As an example, I was a casual Impact follower until 2013 when I saw Marco Di Vaio and Bernier on tout Le Monde en Parle. Their performance and personalities made me go out and get tickets. I wound up going with 12 family members.
We need a face for the Impact. A hero, if you will. Someone we can all cheer for, whose face we recognize and instantly identify with.