American football might be the most popular sport in the United States but it is no match for soccer, as the world’s game and its fans are just as passionate. Have you ever seen Liverpool FC fans sing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” before each home match? Have you ever heard of a team with over 60,000 annual season ticket holders like Real Madrid? Have you ever seen soccer fans all over the world jump and fist pump to Kernkraft 400 by Zombie Nation? Well that passion and love for the game has transitioned to Major League Soccer fans as well. Here’s a look at five of the top MLS fan bases in the country.
One of the largest fan bases of any MLS team is Sporting Kansas City’s KC Cauldron. The group gets its name because the team’s former name was the Wizards. The Cauldron has its own website , kccauldron.com, where you can buy tickets to games. The site also features all of the KC supporter groups, the history of the Cauldron, bus tickets for road games, news and events, links to its social media sites, and even its own store.
The group’s popularity has exploded along with the team. Season tickets for their section are sold out, leaving only a few hundred for The Cauldron to sell for each game. They tailgate before each game, stand and chant during the game, hold huge banners, and have confetti cannons. The Cauldron has even been designated as a non-profit organization. You can become a member for $20 which goes towards free drinks at tailgates, subsidized travel for all fans and funds the choreographed displays the group does before every home match. The Cauldron might be the most well-known of KC’s supporters groups but, there are 18 other groups as well. All of the groups make up such a strong fan base that Sporting KC even has a full-time Supporter Liason Manager on its staff. It’s no wonder why soccer’s popularity is growing across the country.
The Seattle Sounders have an official supporters group with the Sounders FC Alliance and four independent supporter groups: the Emerald City Supporters, Gorilla FC, the North End Faithful, and the Eastside Supporters. Drew Carey is a minority owner in the team and requested that the Alliance be established to give fans a voice in the team. European teams like Real Madrid and FC Barcelona have this as well.
A membership to the Alliance is free for season ticket holders and $125 for non-season ticket holders. But the Alliance is unique in that in addition to shop discounts, an annual report, and newsletters, fans are invited to the annual business meetings, and are given voting privileges. They can help decide the general manger’s fate, the club’s charitable partners, and to help advise on matters that affect the game-day and fan experiences. Carey also thought the team should have a band that plays at games and thus The Sound Wave was born. It’s a 53-person band with brass and marching percussion instruments. They lead fans to the stadium in the March to the Match, which was started by the Emerald City Supporters in 2005. Like the Cauldron, they are also known for large, creative fan displays before games.
Perhaps one of the oldest MLS supporter groups in existence is the New York Red Bulls’ Empire Supporters Club, which was founded before the team was even in the league. The group was established in 1995 in anticipation of a MLS franchise and tries to incorporate different types of soccer fandom into its mix.
According to its website, empiresupportersclub.com, the group is part South American Barra, European Ultra, British Supporter, and local flavor singing and chanting in both English and Spanish. Speaking of songs, they even have a page with MP3 versions of the songs they sing complete with lyrics so all newbies can learn them. The names of them are pretty entertaining as well with titles such as “Your Mayor Smoked Crack” and “Cans Of Red Bull In Our Trousers.” They also have a Refer-A-Friend program, as well as T-shirt design contests. The Red Bulls have recognized this group as well as the Garden State Ultras and the Viking Army as official supporter groups and they are collectively known as the South Ward.
Next on our list is La Barra Brava, one of the four major supporters groups dedicated to D.C. United. The other three are the Screaming Eagles, La Norte, and the District Ultas who are known for their streamers and large drum on the north end of the stadium. But La Barra Brava is the oldest, founded in 1995,and has members from over 20 different countries.
Their tailgates are legendary, complete with free food and free beer courtesy of Heineken, who is a tailgate sponsor. In the 100 sections, La Barra Brava fans have standing room only while jumping, singing, and chanting the whole game. According to its website, barra-brava.com, membership costs $32 and includes an exclusive Barra Brava jersey, discount on tickets, free food and beer at tailgates, road trips around the league, and away game viewing parties.
The fans frequently travel to all road games except New England or Colorado. According to its website, it was due to negative experiences in the past. The D.C. United supporters are so numerous that the groups have their own ticket booth located outside of gate B at RFK Stadium. Barra Brava FC has even formed its own highly competitive men’s amateur soccer teams that play in the Washington Premier League, Washington International Soccer League, and the Northern Virginia Soccer League. Finally, La Barra Brava is also involved in giving back to the community by doing raffles, fundraisers, and mini-golf tournaments to raise money for various D.C. charities.
The final spot on this list goes to the Portland Timbers’ Timbers Army. Seeing the thousands that pack into Providence Park, it’s hard to imagine that the Army was started by just eight people back in 2001 but it has steadily grown over the years. Membership is $25 a year for a keychain, limited edition patch, merchandise discounts, access to ticket sales, and discounts to dozens of local merchants from bars to acupuncturists to even real estate brokers.
The money from memberships and 107 Individual Supporters Trust (107ist) merchandise goes to funding many of the group’s charitable efforts. According to its website, timbersarmy.org, the 107ist has donated over $180,000 to Portland public schools to build playgrounds, soccer fields, uniforms, and soccer equipment. But volunteerism is a big part of the group with members volunteering all over the city for various organizations. And of course, they are known for their tifos. In 2015, they received an honorable mention from Major League Soccer for their tifos South Park, Wonderland, and Eastbound and Down.
With this level of commitment from these fan sections, it’s no wonder soccer is growing in popularity in the United States. Who knows? Maybe when it comes to MLS, the best is yet to come.
Image by Roshan Yadama of Portland Timbers at Seattle Sounders via flickr.com.