As a freshly minted (2010) soccer fan who has traveled for one U.S. Soccer tournament and hopes to make a second trip this fall, I've had the sense that I was riding a rising tide of American interest in the sport (1 million+ Americans watched Chelsea v. QPR; MLS attendance is up; new wave of soccer-specific stadia being built around the country, etc.).
But skeptics have a point when they question why this increase in interest is different than previous ones. It's not like Ameirican soccer fans haven't been predicting success for decades, even as the sport's fortunes rose and fell. So am I being rosy-eyed optimisitic?
Well, here's a new reason why I think I might be on to something. The people at U.S. Soccer are smart enough to understand how to use Twitter to promote their brand, and that bodes well.
If you follow U.S. Soccer (and 334,262 of you do), then you might see a Tweet from the organization offering to add you to a "fan roster" if you plan to attend an upcoming match. If you reply, U.S. Soccer puts your Twitter account into a public list of fans attending that game.
Here's why that's brilliant.
Soccer fandom, more than any other sport I've followed, is about a shared communal experience. Soccer fans stand, they sing, they bang on drums, they dance in the aisles. That's true at club matches, but U.S. Soccer relies on fans who are willing to travel hundreds or thousands of miles to support our national teams. That means you show up in a city not-your-own looking for a community of fans to join, places to meet, special deals on beer, etc.
Supporters groups like The American Outlaws and Sam's Army help make those connections, but here's U.S. Soccer stepping directly into the matchmaking game. They're not selling something. They're improving their product by improving the fan experience.
That's how you grow a sport today. Not by hyperbolic, expensive carpet-bombing marketing campaigns, but by partnering with your fans in expanding the future of the thing you both love.
Soccer may or may not continue to rise in the U.S., but there's a new generation of fans falling in love with the game here, and if the institutions involved keep making saavy little moves like this one, they might just get somewhere.