VANCOUVER, CANADA - OCTOBER 6: Pre-game fireworks are set off in the newly renovated BC Place before the Vancouver Whitecaps FC game against Real Salt Lake at the Bell Pitch at BC Place October 6, 2011 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Kim Stallknecht/Getty Images)
Ten more sleeps.
Ten more sleeps until players, pundits, and prognosticators alike get to watch the Whitecaps play a game where the points matter. It would have only been nine, but the stupid leap year conspired against us to delay our obsession by another night.
The marketing machine at the Whitecaps front office is in full force, pumping advertising streams full of the "Round 2" campaign, sending a loud and strong message that this'll be a different year; that the results will be different.
Okay, well, while 'marketing machine,' 'full force', and 'pumping advertising streams' may be slight exaggerations, the front office has been clear about their message that everything has changed, and that year two in the MLS will be much more successful.
The roster and management has been completed overhauled since last year, which will obviously provide a much different on field product. After the jump, we'll look at 2012's off field expectations.
Return Of A Winning Mentality
The Whitecaps have had a near perfect preseason so far, thumping Montreal and handling Houston and UVIC with relative ease in the more formal preseason friendlies, and showed well in 1-1 draws with both Seattle and Real Salt Lake in less formal matches. This will no doubt help the team play with the swagger that comes with being a successful side.
As we saw last year, this early swagger can quickly disappear and become a butthole-clenching fear. This was evident numerous times last year, such as the game at home against New England when rather than looking like a calm, organized defensive side, the Whitecaps players had "OMG DONT FUCK UP" written on their foreheads.
This mentality of winning must continue throughout the season. It is imperative that the Whitecaps bring home some silverware this year. Supporters in Vancouver have long been able to hang their hat on a history of successes, and another season at the bottom of the table and without silverware would test even the most loyal supporters and drastically effect season ticket renewal rates for 2013.
I expect Vancouver to be competitive throughout the season, resulting in a playoff position and the Voyageurs Cup, and will likely lose out to the Sounders for the Cascadia Cup. Certainly, the swagger will return and supporters will have reason to be confident each and every kickoff.
Drop In Attendance
The attendance numbers for the Whitecaps were likely the best story coming out of 2011. Unfortunately, I don't believe that trend will continue for Round 2.
Of the four people who I work with that were season ticket holders in 2011, three have decided not to renew. Their reasoning seem to be pretty similar. Last year, the Whitecaps were a bit of a novelty: a new product for most consumers, in an outdoor stadium, with a unique atmosphere.
Well, the team now plays indoors (I don't care if the roof is open, it's still inside,) and the product was lackluster. The atmosphere was still excellent, but for many casual soccer fans, the price point is too steep for those with only a modest interest. Many of these may still buy single match tickets, or the multi-match packs offered last season, but it is concerning to hear so many people opt out.
MLS expansion teams have had mixed results in their second year, with some teams such as Toronto and Seattle having no problems filling the seats, and others such as Philadelphia and San Jose seeing drops in average attendance. Vancouverites are a fickle fan base, and we are on the heels of a Grey Cup win for the BC Lions, and on brink of another deep Canucks playoff run. These are two teams much more entrenched in the hearts and minds of sports fans and media, and will continue to draw the majority of the attention.
New signings, such as Barry Robson and Young-pyo Lee will no doubt help ticket sales, at least for their first few games with the team, and the Galaxy/Red Bulls/Montreal games will still have strong crowds, but I expect a significant drop in season tickets, and a less significant drop in total gate, somewhere in the 17,000 per game average by seasons end.
Match Day Atmosphere Continues to Grow
Save for a few blips, the match day atmosphere seemed to get better each and every game, lead by the Southsiders. The Whitecaps supporter group gained much notoriety around the league as part of the Cascadia soccer revolution which truly epitomized what soccer culture should look like in North America. By the end of 2012, tifo displays were becoming much more common and intricate, and fans around the stadium began picking up the basic chants of "You Fat Bastard," "SSSSS...BOOM!" and even more complicated "Boundary Road."
I anticipate even greater things for 2012. The Southsiders have continued to grow, both in numbers and in creativity, and it seems that the Whitecaps front office is now encouraging the supporters culture as opposed to last years hesitance. Meanwhile, new fans and casual fans are becoming acclimatized to the soccer culture. Near the end of last year, I heard my fair share of unlikely candidates humming and clapping along to Southsiders tunes, and plenty of children with infectious smiles clapping and mumbling along, wanting to be a part of the fun.
It all points to further saturation of soccer culture in Vancouver fans, and will no doubt mean Vancouver Whitecaps matches will be the best event in the city once again.
In the end, the Whitecaps have a lot to look forward to. If the results are there, the casual fan will show up, and there is still good core of supporters who will be there for every minute of 2012.