Frequent contributor Jon Marthaler has written about virtually every sport in the Twin Cities, and fills in on Saturdays for the RandBall blog on StarTribune.com. He'll cover the professional soccer scene in the Twin Cities, whether at the Metrodome or at the National Sports Center.
Email Jon to talk about soccer.
In 2012, the Minnesota Stars did everything they could think of to draw fans to their Metrodome home opener, including selling tickets at a discount from normal prices. 8,600 fans walked through the turnstiles that night, one of the biggest Minnesota soccer crowds for years.
So when the attendance was announced last Saturday at 6,754 for the Minnesota United home opener, there were plenty of people who viewed it as a disappointing turnout. Team president Nick Rogers, however, was not among them.
"I think we were satisfied, which is to say we weren't disappointed," he said. "We obviously would like to have more people there, and our goal is to have more people there in the future, but I think we have a pretty solid foundation."
Rogers also noted that not only were all of the tickets sold at full price for Saturday's game, the team was going up against Timberwolves and Swarm home games, the last Minnesota RollerGirls derby of the year, and the Final Four on TV. "There was a lot happening in town, and we pulled in 6700 people," he said. "So I felt pretty good about it. But we have a lot of work to do, we're not stopping to congratulate ourselves just yet."
Saturday night's weather was simply awful, with rain pouring down and temperatures in the 40s, making the Dome a the only comfortable place to watch a game. Despite some worries, the team president was happy with the experience. "I was a little concerned that if we brought in the number of people that we ended up bringing in, that maybe it wouldn't be loud enough, but I thought it was great," he said.
He also gave credit where credit was due, to the loudest group in the stadium - the Dark Clouds supporters group, who unveiled a few giant three-dimensional loon puppets before the game. "I'd like to see them do another one," said Rogers. "A bigger one."
Minnesota has hired former Houston Dynamo account executive Sean Sittnick as their director of ticket sales, along with two sales executives to work underneath him - all to start building a season ticket base, something Rogers knows the club needs to work on. "We're not there yet," he said. "We're still under the 1,000 number. That's an area we really need to push."
"It's sort of a complicated conversation. Our season tickets this year are flex tickets, so we can sell these for the rest of the year. We need to have a season ticket holder base - I look at San Antonio, what they're doing. They’ve got
four or five thousand [update: the number is more like two or three thousand] season ticket holders, which is incredible... We have high aspirations for our number, but that will be a work in progress."
As for the rest of the Metrodome schedule - four more games, through mid-June - Rogers has a few numbers in mind of what he'd like to see. I threw out a few potential attendance numbers to get his reactions.
5,000 fans? "That'd be disappointing. I think we need to build on what we've done. Having said that, this is our first year managing the club, and we're trying some things that are different. In the past, we played all our games at 7:30pm. We’re already switching that up; we played at 7:00 [last week], and our next game is going to be at 2:30 in the afternoon... Like this past game, we're going to have two hours of tailgating and concerts outside the Metrodome beforehand. So hopefully we can bring people in before that, get them in the Dome. 2:30 on a Saturday, if there's a lower number, I think we'll try to learn from that and go forward. For me, if we're not moving upward, it is going to be somewhat disappointing."
How about an average of 10,000 fans? "I think we'd be satisfied. I think we still want to strive for a little bit higher. I think there are enough people that are interested in this, around here. I would be jumping up and down happily if we could average 15,000 for the rest of these games. That might be a bit of a stretch. 10,000 would be good, not great. Averaging 15,000 would blow me away. If we could average 10,000, then I’d be happy."
What if the crowds stay down around the 6,700 mark? "I think if we can't show some growth, if we can't build on what we’re doing, it's not going to be satisfying. I think we have to keep moving forward and upward while we're playing downtown. There are some additional challenges when we move back to Blaine, and part of that is going to be on us at the games downtown, selling that experience and explaining to people why it's worth it to make the trip that for some people is a little bit further than what they’re used to driving."
For now, though, Rogers will take the 6,700 that came out on Saturday. And he knows he's got a week and a half, until the team's April 20th game against Edmonton, to start making headway on his goals.
Coming tomorrow: Rogers talks about promoting, marketing, and publicizing the team.
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