Let’s assume they know what they’re doing

Until they give me a reason to do otherwise, I’m going to be very generous in how I read Nashville SC’s motivations and strategies, both for the team and for the fans.

And I think you should, too. 

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Last week, when Nashville announced that only a very limited number of tickets would be available for the their first EVER playoff game, the moaning started. The limit, as you know, had to do with the fact that the Nashville Marathon (aside: the Devil’s race) was being held on the same day and utilized the stadium as the finishing line/meet up space. While the marathon has since been cancelled and NSC may yet change the ticketing access to this event, I want to focus on the frustration from fans at the first announcement of the ticket sales.

I get being disappointed. Hell, I had rolled my season tickets over to next year (I’ve been buying single game tickets to games after the restart), so I didn’t even get a chance to get into the ring to buy playoff tickets.  Disappointed? Hell yes. Angry at the team? Ummmmmm, no. Why should I be?  I read people claiming that the team should have asked the city to move the marathon, that the team should have done this or that?  That the team didn’t even try to make the situation better.

I don’t believe any of it. In my mind, what Nashville SC has shown is that they are thinking creatively and proactively about how to make each game, the entire project, a wonderful fan experience. And I think we owe them our generosity in how we interpret their actions.

This is true for at least two reasons.

First, Nashville SC may be our passion, but it is also, as Davey Shepherd always reminds me, a business.  As a business, those who run it have to make it successful. 

They have several routes to do that.  They can build a team that wins, since winning has been shown repeatedly to bring in crowds.  They can make the experience of going to the games as seamless and as fun as possible, so that I’m tempted to keep buying tickets regardless of how the team actually performs on the pitch.  While we may disagree on some of their decisions, they are highly motivated to make this work in ways that encourage us to show up, that encourage us to tune in for away games, that encourage us to bring along friends.  Making us happy is in their best interest.

Secondly, I believe Nashville SC CEO Ian Ayre has shown a dedication to, and a talent for, focus on the fan experience.  Say what you will about singing “Hey brother hey sister,” having a song commissioned was proactive thinking.  The pre-kickoff “Gibson Guitar Riff”?  That shows a mind trying to combine soccer with Nashville.  The design of the stadium?  Same.  Everything they do may not ultimately work, but the front office clearly seemed invested and interested in making it work. They’re not just sitting on their hands hoping it comes together.  They are trying out ideas, listening to the supporters and working to make this a success.

It seems to me that the very least we can is ASSUME that the team sees the same opportunities that we do, and probably a few more.  Given their track record so far, it seems insane to me to act as if they aren’t trying.

Am I telling you to never criticize Nashville SC? Of course not. Half the fun of sports is day-after-armchair-coaching.  Don’t like the formation? Have at it. Don’t like the subs that were made? Make your case. Assume, of course, that the manager might know a little about soccer and sees the players a wee bit differently than do you and can make his own case for what he did, but you are clearly in bounds to critique those decisions.

You don’t like the fan experience? Don’t like the commissioned song? Then, you are clearly in your rights to critique those aspects of the team.  However, I think you do so with the spirit in mind that the team is trying to do the very things you want; build a great team and a great experience. 

It’s really the idea of criticizing their motives or their abilities that I find odd. They are not going to get everything right. Of course not. You wouldn’t either. But they deserve our generosity in understanding that they are working hard to make this a success. 

So, when something happens, say their first-ever playoff game is scheduled the same place and time as the marathon, rather than saying, “They should just move the marathon,” why not assume that the team has thought about this, has tried to get things shuffled around, has worked on the calendar, and not been able to find a better option? Believe me, they want us in those seats every bit as much as we want to be in them. 

If it gets to a point that the team, the front office, the manager, shows us that they simply don’t care, then let’s have at it (although, to be clear, I don’t see that happening). But as for now, NSC seems to be showing some of the best focus on the experience in the league today. NSC, along with teams like LAFC, Atlanta United and Sporting KC seem to understand the importance of helping craft a great crowd experience.

Perhaps one of the parts we play is to continue to create a good atmosphere by working with more supportive assumptions.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Broadway Sports Media as a whole.

Author: John Sloopgrew up in Asheville, NC, and after forays to Georgia and Iowa, found his way to Nashville over 25 years ago. On a trip to Portland, Oregon, 15 years ago, he watched the (then) USL Portland Timbers youth squad play one afternoon and fell completely and totally in love with soccer, to the detriment of his love of all other sports. In addition to thinking, writing, watching, and talking about soccer, Sloop teaches media and rhetoric at Vanderbilt. He is currently serving as the Chair of the Board of the Belcourt Theater and is part of the team that runs Tenx9 Nashville, a monthly story telling event.

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