“Fresno” Football Club?
The week of April 8th was an odd one. Fresno won. It was great. Fresno Bee also published an article on the Foxes leaving Fresno. Marek Warszawski, a reporter for the Fresno Bee, wrote a report detailing the current issues with Fresno FC’s stadium plans. In the article, many different options were thrown around to accommodate a 20-acre space for the club to build. The article concluded that Fresno FC would have to leave Fresno to find the land.
The news is alarming. The club could move the team north into Madera County. Until I read the article, it never crossed my mind that the team would consider a move that far. A place in Fresno has always been the rumor. Fans were unhappy about the prospect of a move outside of downtown Fresno, but leaving Fresno County? That’s a step too far.
There are many reasons why a move outside of Fresno would be detrimental to the team. One reason brought up in a recent Twitter thread encapsulates the main issue: to move the club away from Fresno is to abandon the quintessential part of this club – its roots. Fresno FC took much of its fanbase from the Fresno Fuego, a PDL team that it purchased in 2017. Despite the purchase of the Fuego and the use of its success, a lot changed with Fresno FC. The colors, the league, the players, and the coaching all changed – but most importantly, the ownership changed.
Part of what made Fuego so successful as a franchise was the high attendance for a PDL side – Fuego often averaged very close to 4,000 fans at every game. That is high attendance, even for some current USL teams, and it should have been nothing to scoff at for the new ownership group. However, that initial support has not grown. 4,871 was the average attendance in 2018 – a jump of just 900 fans per game. While the USL Championship does play considerably more games, it seems strange that a move two levels up the American soccer pyramid would bring only 900 more fans.
That is the rub. The current ownership group doesn’t understand the soccer culture that exists in Fresno. They will use it, gladly, to promote the team and fill seats, but so far they seem baffled at how to effectively grow it. Many markets remain untapped. More than anything, even the 12th place finish last year, the biggest failing of the club so far has been marketing itself to people who will actually attend games. The news of the team possibly leaving Fresno shows that the ownership is tone-deaf. They don’t understand the pride Fresno has in itself. If we have a soccer team, we want it in Fresno and we want it to benefit Fresno.
The justification for leaving Fresno given in the article focuses on two factors: 20 acres for a complex and the lack of land to accommodate. What the article fails to talk about is the financial cost of moving the team. If a central location like downtown can’t entice substantial growth – a rural place like Madera county will probably mean a drop in attendance.
Where You Go, We’ll Follow
A consistent message sung at games by the supporters’ groups is no matter where the Foxes go we will follow. That isn’t really the truth, at least, it probably isn’t for most fans. Super fans will likely follow the club to a location outside Fresno County, but superfans are few and far between. Average fans or new fans are unlikely to travel 20 minutes outside of Fresno for anything more than a few games. Most likely, a move outside of Fresno will mean a decrease in season ticket sales and a decrease in match attendance.
Take me, for example. I own 3 season tickets, which is expensive – $750.00 a year. I am committed to bringing my family to see the Foxes play because I love the team. I promised myself that if Fresno ever had a professional team, I would support them. The issue I am facing is: if the Foxes move outside of the county, am I willing to shell out the money for a season ticket?
Consider the reality of the situation. If the team moves, I probably won’t make it out to every game. It will be hard to make it to most games. It’s far more convenient to watch ESPN+ and get the kids to bed early than to drive 40-plus minutes to a stadium in some other place to see the Foxes play on a Wednesday or Friday night. I am not a new fan, I am not an average fan, I am a fan that spends a lot of money on the Foxes. That will change if they make drastic changes to the location or culture of the team.
The Twitter Spat
So this happened. Fresno FC official twitter posted the article about the possibility of the Foxes leaving Fresno. A move that was unwise for a club that doesn’t update their Twitter very often. In an even worse move, the Foxes official twitter came after fans who expressed honest opinions about what a move outside Fresno County would probably mean for the club.
While the response of the team was disparaging to a fan, and not just any fan, but a reasonably connected one – check out foxtrotpod to find out more – it was never retracted. The official twitter actually doubled down:
While I don’t doubt that whoever is behind the official Twitter felt this way, it was callous. A fan expressed an opinion that is borne out of concern for the welfare of the club, and the front office came after him. It was a terrible decision to double down on their initial sarcasm. As a fan that discusses the club on Reddit, it hurt. I don’t participate in the FresnoFC Reddit or USL Reddit to talk trash on the club – I do it because I love the club. I do it because I am invested. To hit out at the fans who follow the club that closely shows a real disconnect from the fanbase.
The sad part is, that it isn’t going to be a fan (even a well connected one) that endangers the livelihood of the team or front office. It’s going to be the lack of an effective marketing strategy or the insistence on building an entire soccer complex on 20 acres rather than a stadium downtown and training facilities elsewhere or the front office coming after fans who dare to voice their frustration about decisions that negatively affect the team. There is plenty of criticism that can be lobed at the twitter, or marketing, or ownership – but at the end of the day, it’s going to hurt the club and fans if the Foxes move out of Fresno.
Something we keep saying, something that seems close to the heart of the team, is the idea that the club and team are built for Fresno. I think that this message resonates because everyone wants it to be true. Fresno wants a soccer team. Fresno wants to win. Fresno wants something good, and beautiful, and exciting that puts us in a good light nationally. The Foxes could be that thing, but only if they stay in Fresno. I could bring up the failed stadium projects that moved from downtown hubs to suburbs, I could talk about community and its place in attendance stats, but at the end of the day, all that matters is that the Foxes rep Fresno, and they can only do that in Fresno.
How is that for a #hottake?