JANUARY 3, 2012 — Detroit City FC’s inaugural season was nothing short of hat trick for owners Sean Mann, Todd Kropp, Alex Wright, Dave Dwaihy and Ben Steffans: the team made the playoffs of the National Premier Soccer League’s Midwest Great Lakes Conference, finished with a respectable regular-season record of 5-2-5 and, perhaps most importantly, generated a level of buzz and fan loyalty that was unimaginable pre-season.
“We had eight home games and averaged 1,200 fans per game,” says Mann. “Attendance increased 10 to 20% each game between word-of-mouth and repeat customers.”
The team saw an extremely enthusiastic fan base develop, mirroring the soccer culture predominantly seen in S. American and Europe. There were supporters clubs marching to the games, away game fan road trips, drums, rowdy cheers and chants, smoke bombs (until that was kiboshed for safety reasons), tons of DCFC gear -- both sanctioned and not -- face paint, and banners and signs that collectively displayed a rabidity that surprised many first-time soccer match attendees. It would not be a stretch to say that a “Le Rouge” -- the team’s nickname -- culture became quickly entrenched.
In the winter before Year 2, the owners are spending time supporting DCFC team members that are active college players, designing merchandise for next season and developing fun game promotions and sponsorship opportunities. Last year saw free bike parking and a jean short cannon, so who knows what to expect.
Mann thinks the DCFC’s success is due to many factors.
“Sports have infiltrated every aspect of our lives, it’s a common denominator,” he says. “Soccer, globally, has a reputation about being about more than the club, and that resonates here in Detroit.” He points out how the club’s motto -- “Passion for the city - passion for the game” -- plays into that symbiotic relationship.
The size of the club -- it’s not the Lions or Tigers, that’s for sure -- plays a role as well. “Not to diss any major sports team, but Detroit is a unique city and that’s why we love it,” says Mann. “Major league teams, the experience is pretty much the same in any city, but the DCFC is unique and special.”
One of the most resonant ways DCFC nurtures that uniqueness is by working with small local businesses, including Pure Detroit, as both sponsors and partners of the club. “It’s a positive narrative for the city, so the businesses latched onto that in one respect,” says Mann. “And there were fans from all over the region at these games, so it was a good avenue for promoting small business in the region.” He says there will be even more fun and more frequent small business promotions in 2013.
As Le Rouge fans say, “City ‘til I die!” But hopefully they can hang on until the season starts up again in May. There will again be 8 homes games: 6 league matches and 2 friendlies, which will take place Friday and Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons. Home pitch will again be Detroit Cass Tech High School. [PD]