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What could the Premier League learn from MLS?
We are constantly told by the British media that the Premier League is the best league in the world, and now in terms of entertainment it probably is. There are question marks over the standard at times but in general you watch a whole season, and you will be entertained. Now this enhanced reputation of the premier league has meant that the demographic attending live football has changed quite a lot though. When I started going to the Swans at the end of the 80s with my Dad, it was all men and boys with a few women here and there but primarily it was a working class thing. Nowadays I’m sure you have seen that the demographics have changed considerably and going to the football on a saturday for some is as much of a social event as anything else.
Now since I started going to watch the Swans back then, I have always preferred away games. Maybe it was seeing new stadiums and places (Oxford, Wycombe, Leyton Orient, Brentford – we are talking big business here) but the main thing I loved was that every single person going had made a choice to spend a whole day away at the football and so would a) get there in time to have a beer at the stadium before b) sing throughout non stop and give support to the team c) leave when the game has ended completely.
Now anyone who has been to home games in recent years in the Premier League be it at the Swans, or the Emirates or any of these new stadiums, must agree that at home sometimes, it becomes for some just a place to go and moan about the team, no matter how good they are playing. Last season for example as a Jack in Exile I was home for the Man Utd game and got a ticket in the West Stand. Now up there, it was a good view, but you try singing, and people look at you like your weird, I mean we are playing Man Utd at home for gods sake! Then of course everyone turns up just before the kick off, leave for a burger at 40mins because they cant last a 3 hours without food, and then leave at 85 mins, to ‘avoid the traffic’
These few things get to me no end, and if your a fan who has supported the swans for years you probably agree. The thing about leaving early gets me, because if your going from 1-5 to watch the game, why leave to save 5 minutes at the end? Its like going to play Golf and leaving on hole 16, to ‘miss the traffic’. Then yes people get in just before kick off, and so the atmosphere doesnt have much time to get going, but again, you cant drink booze on the terraces. Then the thing with the singing, I mean to me that is one of the best things about football, but sitting down all game doesnt make it easy.
So with all my ramblings, if you have followed me this far, you must be wondering where am I going?
Well as a Jack in Exile, living in Portland, Oregon, I have started going to see the Portland Timbers, who are in the MLS. Now just because you have seen Beckham come here, dont think thats all there is here. The standard is improving year in year out, and is now probably around the championship level, and so is catching up, but where the Premier League and specifically the Swans could learn is to study how things are here for the fans.
Its quite remarkable the difference but these are the main differences :-
1) All fans who want to sing and stand throughout buy season tickets to a designated area, you just have to have a seat even if you never use it – called the Timbers Army. You are allowed to stand all game if you go in this one area. They have signs saying ‘if your watching in here, be prepared for the rest of the fans to stand and sing for 90 minutes’. I dont know if we could do safe standing in the UK, but for 25% of the crowd at each match it would turn up the atmosphere no end.
2)Throughout the whole game people come round selling beers and food. Guess what you still get to watch the game, and get quietly more drunk as you go. Perfect. Food comes to the kids so they sit still and it all works beautifully.
3) The Timbers Army section is open 2 or 3 hours before kick off and is serving food and drink. They want people INSIDE the stadium as early as possible. Compare this to the Liberty where you cant get in before 2pm, and then you cant drink at your seats.
4)They are an organized fan base. Depending on who they are playing they might have flags on each persons seat, or an umbrella or a coloured paper or they may raise some big banner to the roof. Imagine if when the teams ran out at the Liberty this season if we gave each fan in a certain section a snorkel, or had a huge Swim away banner hanging from the roof.
This shows you what I mean….
5)They also have Capo’s as they do in South America, and whilst the first couple of times your a bit like ‘hmmmm thats a bit over the top’ guess what, they keep the mood positive, they dont get on the teams backs, they work with the band to make sure everyone is singing the same thing, and it works. They make sure that all the fans in that section are singing non stop for 90 minutes, and to players look at how much they thank away fans for their support when they all sing all game, instead of moan and groan when a few passes go missing as we have all heard. This video shows you what I mean…
6)Normally this whole area is full an hour before kick off (remember you can drink, so whats the difference from the pub)
7)No one leaves before the end. Normally most people dont leave here until 20 minutes after kick off when the team have finally finished thanking the fans for their efforts.
8)They even have their own celebration, much like Man City have the Posnan, the Timbers have Tetris. After a goal they sing then go left then go right like 10 foot each. Its pretty impressive…
So what am I suggesting?
Well just at the Liberty rethinking a little how things are organised. Open the stadium a bit earlier, make it more welcoming, get people through the gates as the more people in, the more money for the stadium.
If there was a chance to reallocate the seating so the East stand could be organised into safe standing, with the option for bringing out big banners before the games, and getting the atmosphere kicking, way better than just the goal music! It would be an easy way to get back to the atmosphere on the north bank. Get the bloke with the drum in tune with everyone else and just make such a racket the opposition are scared again like with the North Bank. Let the people who want to sit down and be quiet in one zone and reallocate seating so those wanting to sing, stand and drink could all be next to each other. For the swans to kick on, the fans involvement will be huge, so if anyone wants to come to see the Timbers hit me up and I can show you what I mean. Its quite out there the first time you see it, but it works.
Anyways either way, Swansea Till I die!