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  • Richard Fleming

Can World Cup Be A Catalyst For The Likes Of The Rapids?

We saw with the FIFA World Cup final how gripping the sport of soccer can truly be. High octane action, pulsating drama, fever-pitch passion from fans, all interwoven with the personalities we label heroes.

The World Cup has allowed us little respite from the sport, but it has also whetted our appetite for the return of MLS, in its 28th season, and welcoming a 29th franchise in St. Louis City SC.

MLS releases its schedule for 2023 on Tuesday, a magical moment in any offseason, as fans finally get to plot their calendar for the next 11 months or more, and the upcoming season offers much to be excited about.

The new year, and new season, will certainly offer a golden opportunity to the Colorado Rapids. With the potential for greater eyeballs due to the new TV deal between MLS and Apple, the club must grasp the moment as they clamor to claw back some of the fans lost in recent years.

They averaged 14,473 spectators across their 17 home games last season, a slight increase on the numbers from 2019 (14,284), which was the last 'full' season before Covid restrictions hit all sport across the world. Those 2022 numbers were some way off the record average set for DICK'S Sporting Goods Park (16,278), which was achieved during the success of 2016, when the team welcomed Tim Howard and reached the Western Conference Championship game. As form fell away post-2016, so too did the fans.

In 2017, the average slipped to 15,322, before rallying slightly in 2018 (15,333). The average plummeted by more than a thousand the following season, which coincided with the dreadful run under Anthony Hudson, and has struggled to fully recover, despite the results dramatically improving under Robin Fraser.

There could, of course, be many reasons for the crowd average lingering in the 14s. Prior to 2019, the Rapids hadn't seen those numbers since 2011 (averaged 14,838).

Poor form was then followed by Covid and lockdowns. The absence of Altitude TV on Comcast will have taken a toll, also. It can take months, maybe years, to build a fanbase, but all can be shattered in a matter of moments.

A collection of events conspired to make following the club a test of resolve. TV squabbles made them too difficult to follow, and on-field form made them too tough to love. TV numbers dropped off, a global pandemic struck, and the team on the field was wretched for more than two seasons.

In that time, people moved on. The Rapids now has the hard job of making the boys in burgundy an attractive proposition for a Saturday night. Certainly, fans will no longer have the issue of Altitude TV being removed from the Comcast catalogue of content, something which created huge resentment among fans.

The ability to watch the Rapids without hindrance is a big plus. The results have to improve on last season and, from a recent article in Burgundy Wave, it appears the fans need to feel the love from the club, and DSGP needs to feel a little more homely.

There is no magic wand, no fairy dust, no overnight transformation. The rebuild of the team may be a quicker fix than regaining the fans lost. But it all needs to start somewhere, and soon. The players are an honest, hard-working, and talented bunch, albeit missing a few components in key areas. With additions being made to the backroom staff, the Rapids need to get out and shout their stories from the rooftops. We need to have stories told rather than content sold. A club cannot do without marketing, but a sports team grows on creating heroes, telling tales, digging deep and humanizing the players, to help create that bond and connection with die-hards as well as newbies. My four foundation pieces for good storytelling and content are as follows. It needs to be informative, engaging, entertaining, and educational.

So, 2023 represents something of a clean slate. No more Altitude TV, instead the big boys from Apple are bowling into town. The club, to an extent through no fault of their own, has lost some of that community connection.

Success on the field will do wonders, but it has to come in partnership with reconnecting with those fans lost. Make them fall back in love with the sport, the team, and the players.

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