The Timbers Army is largely given free reign of their section as the FO has seen the kind of marketing power the group has over the financial success of the team. Other supporters groups around the league are not so lucky.(Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
Since about 2007, Major League Soccer has entered into what many soccer fans in the US have termed "MLS 2.0," a name given for the way the league was operating and organizing its efforts to be more modern and European. It's a term that's often associated with software or game programs as they get a major update. MLS's 2.0 update was just as major as teams like Toronto FC became an instant hit within their respective cities and ushered in a new era of focused marketing efforts targeting young adults who were looking for something unique and different, but also had extra cash to spend.
All it all it's worked out tremendously. I can tell you right now that I'm planted firmly in this targeted demographic and have been since 2006 when I first started following the league and American soccer in general. The Portland Timbers have been capitalizing on this new marketing movement for a few years now and it's paid off in dividends for their MLS debut which has seen sold out games and one of the loudest and more orchestrated supporters groups in the nation. It's something I'm personally very proud to be apart of.
Unfortunately, as teams like the Portland Timbers, Toronto FC, New York Red Bulls, Philadelphia Union and the Seattle Sounders (amongst others) have made great strides in reaching out to this new core demographic of heavy spending, young, soccer evangelists, a few of the original MLS teams have clung onto their "MLS 1.0" ways by cracking down on the burgeoning supporters culture growing in each of their respective markets.Over the past few weeks, the New England Revolution, Columbus Crew and FC Dallas have each taken incredible steps to interfere, disrupt, or otherwise crackdown on the various supporters groups.
At this point I'm sure most people who frequent this site are aware of what's happening in New England. The short version is that a couple weeks ago enhanced security by TeamsOps and city police officers arrested members of "The Fort" for little more than singing chants that contained words of a colorful variety... namely the "You Suck A**hole" chant.
Then this past weekend at the Columbus Crew game some stadium security team members were hassling some drummers, the end result of which had every single one of their supporters walking out on the game in solidarity. When asked by the Columbus FO whether they supported the team, members reportedly stated: "[We are] supporting eachother."
Finally, at the FC Dallas vs. Portland Timbers games there were various reports coming in via Twitter that security there was hassling both the FCD supporters and the Portland Timbers supporters. I can't confirm anything at the moment, but considering FC Dallas is owned by the same people who own the Columbus Crew there could be a connection.
My main point in writing this editorial isn't to justify the use of swear words in supporters culture, nor is it to justify a belief that supporters groups should be given free reign of their respective sections. Honestly, I'm not really a fan of the fairly mild cursing that goes on in the Timbers Army chants. My point is to simply highlight the obvious in that, where other teams have found great success, some older MLS teams continue to struggle due to the archaic tactics at appealing to the types of fans who don't really have any loyalty for the team, but rather just want a cheap source of entertainment for the family.
Believe it or not, even in cities that under perform in attendance and popularity, these same supporters groups are going to be the best vessel for word of mouth marketing (largely considered to be the best form of marketing). If the New England Revolution, Columbus Crew, and FC Dallas continue to crack down on them they'll effectively be shooting their own marketing department in the foot.