Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Inside Look at the Fans

Via 3rd Degree, here's a nice little article in D Magazine about the hard-core supporters of FC Dallas, the Inferno. Basically, the Inferno consist of half-crazed FC Dallas supporters (not fans, and the writer explains the difference) who are willing to sweat out the heat to cheer for their team before, during and after the game. But though they may adore the team, they don't uncritically support everything the team does. That includes the move to Frisco (a suburb far north of Dallas), as supporter "Cupcake" explains:

Since the team was founded, FC Dallas (originally the Dallas Burn) played at the Cotton Bowl, Southlake Carroll’s Dragon Field, and then the Cotton Bowl again, before finally finding a permanent home in Frisco. Cupcake is happy FC Dallas now has its own soccer-specific venue, but the moves to Southlake and then to Frisco killed off a large portion of their passionate fan base—most notably from the region’s Hispanic community—which was far more exuberant than the largely white suburban crowd. “I guess they would rather sell a season ticket to a soccer mom,” says.

Stepping away from section 116, the Inferno do appear to have a point. Besides two smaller Hispanic supporter sister groups banging away on percussion, Pizza Hut Park is filled with a relatively quiet collection of youth groups, families, and soccer teams. Blonde mothers and their daughters wearing youth soccer team t-shirts serve up lemonade and pretzels in the concession stands. At the half, two small fields are set up on the main pitch and kids knock around the ball in a short scrimmage. Standing beneath the second-tier luxury suites, the supporters are only background noise, a handful of rowdy spectators at an otherwise placid sporting event.

It is clear with what vision of the future the front office has cast its lot.

I can tell you from first-hand experience that Pizza Hut park is a great venue for soccer. I can also tell you that I have been there exactly one time. That is largely due to the fact that I don't like driving the 100 miles between where I live and Frisco (I exaggerate a little, but it is an unpleasant drive.) But I did attend games regularly when they played at the Cotton Bowl, only about a 1/2 hour from me. And I can tell you that although the Cotton Bowl looks like it was built 100 years ago and practically swallowed the crowds of around 5-15k that the former Dallas Burn might draw for any given game, the atmosphere was considerably more festive thanks to the tons of Hispanic fans packed into the...well, the "festive" side of the stadium (as it was officially designated) where I would sit for games. Now while it's plainly ridiculous to say that the largely white soccer fans who show up to see FC Dallas in Frisco sit on their hands most of the game and only politely clap when FC Dallas scores, it is true that they're more of the "sit and enjoy the game and only get up and cheer when somebody scores or almost scores" kind of crowd, and being as scores and near-scores happen in soccer about a dozen times a game on average that makes for a fairly peaceful audience. The zigzagging from Southlake in 2003, then back to the Cotton Bowl in 2004, then out to Frisco in 2005, effectively shed the very rowdy and very pro-soccer Hispanic fans in favor of a calmer, less rowdy, wealthier, and whiter fan base. And you can imagine how strange it is to have a soccer team in Texas that draws mostly white fans.

Anyway, the move to Frisco is over and done with, and there's no going back to the days of the Cotton Bowl. But indeed, the move to Frisco is one that cannot be undone, nor can it be expected that Hispanic fans will ever return in droves to watch FC Dallas play unless and until they start moving in large numbers to Frisco (a socio-economic change that may be decades away.) In truth it's not entirely the team's fault as Frisco made an offer that other cities in the Metroplex were not, but there's no denying that the move completely altered the fan base for the team, for better or for worse.

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