Soccer clubs have a unique connection with their fans – or better yet, supporters – that is unlike the relationship seen in any other sport.
To pay homage, the USL is rolling out a new initiative across its USL Championship league that will see clubs do everything from feature fan-generated content to vote on a variety of things that will directly impact what their favorite clubs do on the field.
Titled “Supporters Week,” the seven-day celebration will begin on August 17 and will run through August 24 across the USL Championship’s 36 markets.
Ryan Madden, USL vice president of communications, said that the initiative started as the league and its clubs wanted to find a way to show more appreciation for the supporters around the league. The USL, which sits below MLS in the second-tier of soccer in the U.S., has seen a boom in clubs over the last number of years as soccer continues to rise in popularity. Many USL clubs have found fervent fanbases in cities that might have otherwise been overlooked for professional soccer, catching the eye of MLS – such as FC Cincinnati, which was founded in USL in 2016 before moving to MLS in 2018 as an expansion club.
“For a lot of our clubs, every week is supporter’s week,” Madden said. “But from a USL HQ perspective, we wanted to find a cool, unique way to say thank you. The reality is our league doesn’t exist without the fans so the least we can do is to creatively engage, empower, and work to see the league more clearly through their eyes.”
At its most basic, the initiative will see clubs taking some easy steps, such as featuring supporters in its profile pictures on social media or shifting the content on their respective websites away from the field and onto some of the things going on in the community. USL is also working with the clubs to have supporters capture content for them, which they’ll share across league- and club-owned channels.
Tim Holt, the managing director of San Antonio FC said the celebration gives the clubs an “opportunity within the season to shine a spotlight on [the supporters].”
“I don’t have to explain just how vital the supporters groups are – the supporter culture is the differentiator between American pro soccer and every other sport,” Holt said. “What’s even more important is that the supporters groups as theirs, it’s authentic and it’s not club dictated; we always try to be supportive on a regular basis, but this will just give them a little bit more.”
In San Antonio, that means letting fans vote on which kit the jersey will wear for its home match on August 24. Holt said the club is also planning a variety of different editorial and fan-generated features during the week.
“We want to turn things over to the supporters and give them the reins,” he said.
Nine clubs across the league will be giving supporters a chance to vote and choose something related to game day, such as which jersey it wears, to what color gloves the OKC Energy FC goalkeeper wears, to what Indy Eleven head coach Martin Rennie wears for the August 18 game.
Brad Estes, president of Louisville City FC, said that while the club spends time trying to draw potential new fans to games because “once they come generally we don’t have trouble getting people back since the atmosphere is so great,” it also wants to do more to reward those who help create that atmohspere – those hardcore supporters.
“We feel like we can do more to tailor that experience for them,” Estes said, who noted that the club meets frequently with its supporters groups and is currently polling them over what they’d like to see in the club’s new stadium. Louisville City also recently formed a specific fan experience committee among its employees to further up that element of its game day.
The league is also working with soccer media company Copa90 to launch a supporters capsule collection. Featuring minimalist marks from seven clubs, the limited-edition apparel line was designed in conjunction with the clubs and their supporters. The line will be sold exclusively through the Copa90 store.
“Copa90 is built on the idea of empowering soccer fans across the globe in new ways, and this project fits in perfectly with that mission,” Will McDonough, vice president of brand and commercial strategy at Copa 90 said in a statement.