The remora is worth considering.
It exists only because of another creature and, not only that, it has evolved to more effectively live because of that other creature, developing a sort of sucker oval on its head that allows it to attach itself to the shark whose existence enables the remora’s.
The remora travels everywhere the shark travels. It eats because the shark eats. While it gives the shark benefits from its presence, the remora faces an existential question: does it truly exist as an independent being?
This is a post about fandom and the things supporters do out of love. It is also an exploration of the idea of independence and it all started because of this:
The Dark Clouds are an admirable fan group, arguably responsible for keeping professional soccer in Minnesota alive and inspiring Bill McGuire to purchase the team. Additionally, the interests of a soccer club and its supporters group should be largely aligned and include a competitive team, a fun game day atmosphere and vigorous support for the team in the community.
So why did this in particular strike a chord?
Why does independence really matter?
It must matter if supporters groups go out of their way to call out their independence, like so many do.
Nobody wants to be a marketing tool. Yet, in the world of corporate soccer the unique selling proposition of the sport to new fans is invariably the ability to experience soccer supporter culture and is why MLS does things like put pictures of fans with smoke even though smoke is not allowed in MLS stadiums.
I am not arguing that supporters should stop having fun because some corporate entity will turn it into advertising. I don’t even think that supporters don’t have a valuable role to play in supporting the organization because, rightfully, supporters groups want to increase their own membership and match attendance. While it also serves the team financially, a packed supporters section and a full stadium are also critical ingredients to great atmosphere.
There is a difference between a sales rep and an advocate and it comes down to authenticity. Sales rep extol the virtues of their product because they are paid to do so, and we know how to judge their claims because of it. Advocates extol the virtues of a product because they believe in it, with no financial incentive to do so and that makes them powerful persuaders.
The risk for the front offices, however, is that they don’t have control over their advocates as independent people tend to have their own agenda, be vocal about it and regularly get off the corporate message. Thus begins the subtle battle for control, the fight over who is the remora and who is the shark.
Front offices assiduously work to break down the independence of supporters groups. First it starts with free tickets, just some extras that maybe the SG can give away to entice new people to come. Maybe they work together on the location of the supporters section or offer special access to the executives and maybe a player or two. Then it goes to the club giving the SG a cut of the money from SG section tickets, just to support tifo and that sort of thing. Before you know it, the SG has been bought by the front office or at least feels an obligation.
After all, when the club has done so much for you financially and otherwise, how do you say no when the front office ask nicely for you and a few others to call 5-20 of your friends and sell some season tickets?
When the obligation bites and the former fan finds himself operating the phones like a ticket rep, perhaps, like the remora and the shark, the supporters group and the front office have evolved to where they have two bodies but one existential question: is this independence?