Major League Soccer held a season kick-off event in New York City earlier this week where FC Dallas Chairman Clark Hunt was on hand as a member of the Board of Governors for the league. We were all here in the Metroplex (Well Buzz was working out of town) but Roberto Abramowitz was kind enough to pass on the audio of Hunt discussing FC Dallas and the league as a whole.
FC Dallas has recently attracted some negative attention for the execution of publicizing their ‘Mexican Superstars’ ticket package, which is touched upon in the media scrum.
What does it take to get [MLS] where everyone says they want it to go in the next ten or 25 years?
I think I would go back and look at the last 10 years, maybe a little bit past before Seattle got in the league. Just where we were, not only in terms of the number of franchises but also from a fan engagement standpoint. Look at how we’ve grown over that 10 to 12 year period. Look at markets like Atlanta, like Los Angeles, with LAFC, that growth is happening.
There’s not going to be one magic silver bullet, there never is. When you’re building a sports league it’s something that takes decades. It’s unlike other investments. Something that my dad taught me and my siblings is you have to be patient with these things and you have to work hard at that every year because building a fan base is an ongoing process, so I think given another 10, 20, 30 years, you will be able to look at Major League Soccer and say ‘Wow, this is one of the best soccer leagues in the world, and one of the most dominant sports leagues in the United States’.
Is the academy-led model one which can work to draw more fan interest in Dallas?
I would just go back to my comments about building a fan base being an ongoing process, and I have no doubt that we have a much broader fan base today than we did five years ago or 10 years ago. I think our fans are excited that so many of our players are now in the US national team pool both at the senior level and at the junior level. That’ll help spur our fan base as we go forward. We’re also not shy about going out and when we can, adding talented players. Thiago Santos this year from Brazil. Franco Jara, this summer I think will make a big difference from a leadership standpoint with our young players.
Of course, winning a championship never hurts. You know, we were this close in 2016, but we did win the open cup and the supporter shield that year. I had the experience of losing in the final in 2010 so hopefully, we’ll be able to get back to the championship. Based on my experience and the other football, I know that winning a championship helps you build a fan base.
We’ve seen the likes of Chicharito and Pizarro come to MLS this offseason. Is that a level you’re not comfortable with?
There’s not a level that we’re not comfortable with. We’ll do whatever it takes to win a championship at FC Dallas. We do have an ethos as a club, and that’s building it with our Academy. Half of our starting lineup has come through our Academy and we’re going to continue to do that, but when we have an opportunity at a player that can help us win a championship, really without regard to his nationality. That’s not something we’d look at. We have a lot of Hispanic players in our club already, a lot with dual citizenship, Mexican US citizenship. So we do have that demographic as part of the club and hopefully, the players that come through our Academy will be able to lift the trophy.
If the Mexico national team or Club America draws fans locally, why doesn’t FCD?
Well, of course, we welcome fans regardless of their background, and we do have a significant Hispanic fan base that comes to our games. Approximately a third of our fan base is Hispanic. When the Mexican national team or club America comes to town, they do garner big crowds.
That’s really a byproduct of the fans who live in Dallas having cheered on those teams in many cases for decades. Their families have been fans of the Mexican national team, fans of club America, so it makes sense that they get support. It’s our job to convince the fans, the people who have grown up in Dallas, that they want to be fans of FC Dallas.
But how are you going to go about doing that?
It’s really about building a competitive team on the field. I think that’s a big part of how you build a fan base. Over the last decade, we have been one of the most competitive teams in the league. We’ve made the playoffs almost every year over the last five or six years. We need to go ahead and get it over the top and win a championship. I think that’ll play a key role.
You don’t think marketing has anything that?
Absolutely. And we do market, uh, extensively through it throughout the metroplex. Uh, but again, I would go back to saying there’s really no silver bullet from a marketing standpoint. You’ve got to build fans one fan at a time.