Robert Simmons has already made his mark at what one Arsenal supporter has called our ‘eloquent’ site. Here, he describes the experience of being an American who chooses to follow the Lads and offers thoughts about how Ellis Short might drive up interest in SAFC in their native land. You almost hear John McEnroe asking Robert why …
“Oh, you’re a football fan Robert! Who are you a fan of?”
Not surprised by this question, I reply to my new friend quickly, “Sunderland” (as if there could ever be any option)
The confused face looks blankly at me. “Why the hell are you a fan of Sunderland?” is the inevitable response.
This is the exact conversation I had last week while I was on vacation. I was staying at the beach with my family and while I was at a local pub watching a bit of the build up to the opening weekend of the Premier League I met a man who was from somewhere just outside London.
We ended up talking for about an hour about Sunderland, the Mags, and the upcoming weekend of matches. Even then the man just couldn’t wrap his mind around someone from America willingly choosing to be a fan of Sunderland. His surprise did not shock me, I’ve come to expect it when I talk to people about Sunderland but it did get me thinking more about how Sunderland could be begin to grow their fan base in America.
For me growing up, and for most fans I believe, we choose our sports teams based on two main factors. The first is: is there a team close to me? If there is a team nearby they are the easiest to follow because they are in the news, they are more likely to be on local television, and chances are you can get to see them play.
The other major factor in choosing a team is: who does your dad follow? This factor often trumps the location factor because our dad can ingrain in us from a young age who we should follow. Some of my children’s first words were “Go Gators” (a cheer for my favorite American college football team).
Even now I have my own children singing “Wise men say……”.
Before kids can walk and talk it seems their fate of what team to follow has already been decided, and as a parent, I for one am all for that.
That is all well and good for American fans who are fans of American sports teams, but it doesn’t help us in our pursuit of a club in Europe to support. I’ve chronicled my story of how I came to support Sunderland here, but apparently I am a rare breed of fan because most Americans support clubs with lots of money and who can attract the big name international players. That’s likely not going to be something Sunderland can do any time soon, so it’s doubtful our American fan base is going to grow because of that.
So here are just a few suggestions from me as to how Sunderland can begin to get a hold of the hearts and the pocketbooks of the fans in America.
* Bring the club over to play in the pre-season. In July of 2011 The Mags played a small club based in Orlando Florida. It was a team that doesn’t even play in the highest division here in the States. The Orlando club beat the Mags and I had a good laugh. However, many of the fans who attended that day became Newcastle fans. At the time nobody had heard of many of the Newcastle players, but because they saw them live they started following them.
* Sign an American player. I know that Americans have played for us in the past, and there have been others we’ve tried to sign and it didn’t work out, but Americans love to support other Americans. Clubs like Fulham and Everton have huge American followings all because of Tim Howard, Landon Donovan, and Clint Dempsey. Now I know that none of those names will be coming to Sunderland, but there is plenty of young talent in the States and I’d love to see us have an American on the senior team.
* Have a player who racks up fantasy football points. I’ll admit this is an odd one. However, there are lots of Americans who aren’t fans of a particular team but love to play fantasy football. I’m in a league right now with 30 guys, 10 of whom don’t have a club that they support. These non-partisan guys tend to start to follow the teams who have players who get them lots of points. I actually had a conversation with a guy from the States who follows Sunderland because he had Kevin Phillips on his fantasy team and Phillips helped him win his league.
Those are my three ideas. Two of which that club has direct control over, one is just my hope that we’ll have a player score enough goals to warrant starting for your fantasy team.
While gaining fans in America fans does not guarantee us anything in terms of success, it would make my life in the States a little more fun as a fan of our beloved Sunderland. And as a bonus it may help provide a little extra funding to bring in a player or two to help the squad continue to grow.
* Robert’s site is http://onlysafc.blogspot.fr/