Bart Wiley, the current general manager for the USL Sounders and business development director for the Sounders FC, writes about his recent trip to Toronto for the MLS All-Star Game.
I left Seattle Monday afternoon headed for my first MLS All-Star Game. I was looking forward to the game, but was really anticipating many good conversations with other members of MLS teams. Before the All-Star Game on Thursday night, there was a Toronto FC (TFC) match on Tuesday night. They were facing the Montreal Impact of the USL First Division. Ask anyone with MLS - the atmosphere at TFC matches is incredible - I was eager to see what all the buzz was about.
Encounter with The Red Patch Boys
One of my responsibilities with Sounders FC is to encourage the
genesis and growth of supporters groups. They will play a key role in
the atmosphere created at Qwest Field. The current Sounders have a
band of supporters - we want to take that group, cultivate it, find
other groups, and support their efforts.
So prior to heading to BMO Field for the Toronto / Montreal match on Tuesday night, I had lunch with a lead member of the Red Patch Boys, TFC's largest supporter group. My goal - to ask as many questions as possible, see what they do, how they do it, how they assembled the group, how the front office supports them, what is allowed, what is prohibited - all with the thought of applying some of their practices to Sounders FC supporters. The gentleman I met with is one of the founding members - we talked about their initial meeting with the front office staff of TFC, the beginning of their website, how TFC supports their efforts, how they grew their group to over 600 paid members, what they do at matches, how they do it - all good stuff. I learned a lot and was looking forward to heading to the stadium to see what all the buzz was about.
TFC Front Office
At 3:00 PM I headed over to BMO Field to meet with Paul Bierne, the Director of Operations for TFC. It was my second visit to the Field, but first without a large white bubble over the playing surface. I was there in October of 2007 with several members of Sounders FC ownership and the weather was much colder then. Dodging rain drops on the way to the field, I met Paul on the pitch for a brief tour. He then handed me off to several members of the game day production crew. I spent the next two hours with them asking several pages of questions about their match day experience. Everything from the use of confetti cannons to the sponsor elements incorporated into their pre-match schedule. It was very helpful and insightful – and it's always nice to meet new people who are in the same business. Speaking of which, all my experiences with MLS teams thus far have been fantastic. I've traveled to a few matches now in different cities and everyone I meet is nothing but helpful and kind. They are very excited about the things going on in Seattle and can't wait to attend a Sounders FC match.
I joined Chuck Arnold and Sue Harris for a pre-match, self-guided stadium tour. We then found our seats that were located at field level. Directly behind us was the TFC supporters group, The North End Elites. We heard them before we saw them - they were loud, somewhat PG-13 in their chants and certainly prepared to support their club. We chuckled at a few of their chants - most of which were directly tossed at the Montreal Impact supporters across the stadium. I'm not sure the Montreal supporters heard anything the North End Elites were saying and I'm not sure they wanted to! The south end of the stadium is occupied mostly by the Red Patch Boys and U-Sector, another TFC supporters group. They were massive in size and voice and their electricity filled the place. Not one minute went by without hearing or seeing something they were doing. It was amazing. It lived up to expectations and it seemed to carry TFC to an early 1-0 lead. Soon after the TFC goal, Joey Gjertsen of the Montreal Impact went to take a corner kick right in front of the Red Patch Boys - you should have seen all the streamers thrown at him! It was incredible. A wave of red and white came at him. As he took the corner, streamers were wrapped around both his legs and as he ran back down the field, he wore streamers around his waist. Later in the half, I left my seat to go stand with the Red Patch Boys – that was an experience! It was intoxicating and I hope we can bring that type of energy to Qwest Field next year. It will take a lot of work but I'm confident we can - we have a great base of soccer supporters in Seattle and I know they will support Sounders FC in a fantastic way. Montreal scored on a set piece to draw the match midway through the 1st half - and despite TFC's prolonged attempts to re-take the lead, the match ended in a 1-1 draw.
Back at the hotel, we joined Adrian Hanauer, Chris Henderson and
Gary Wright for a bite in the lobby. We talked about many different
elements of Sounders FC business and all looked forward to attending
the All-Star Game on Thursday night. I'm sure we'll all learn much
more tomorrow as we set in MLS meetings and have impromptu gatherings
with other staff members from MLS teams.