On Tuesday, college football fans found out that, for the first time in over 100 years, Ohio State and Michigan would not play the annual rivalry game. Anyone living in Central Ohio can attest to how important that game, and the entire week leading up to it, is to this region.
The loss of The Game leaves an enormous sports void in Columbus, and the entire state of Ohio, a void that the Columbus Crew is more than happy to fill with one of the most important games in team history on Saturday night. With the increased attention of Columbus on the Crew, having the day to themselves provides an opportunity to grow an important part of the fan base: the new and casual fan. With an entertaining and talented young team heading to a shiny new stadium, growing the fan base can go a long way to ensure a healthy future for the Black & Gold.
There’s no doubt that Ohio State has been, is, and will continue to be the biggest sports entity in the city of Columbus. It’s hard to ignore why. Ohio State was well into its second century of churning out alumni when Major League Soccer began in 1996. The football program has maintained an elite level of success for more than 50 years. Columbus’s first love is, and will be Ohio State.
That’s not to say, however, that the Crew can’t have an opportunity to grab a bigger piece of the fan pie. This city loves winning. Anyone who sat in a nearly empty Nationwide Arena in the late 2000s can tell you the difference winning can make.
Since the Blue Jackets have established consistent success in the past several seasons, the team has seen a noticeable increase in fan support. Not accounting for the COVID-19-shortened 2019-2020 season, Nationwide arena was at an all-time high when it came to an average attendance of over 16,000 fans the past two seasons. This is up significantly from 14,000 in 2012-2013 season.
It wasn’t just in person either. According to Nielsen, Fox Sports Ohio (the local TV provider for the CBJ and the Crew) saw a 41 percent increase in average ratings for the 2019-2020 Blue Jacket season. If you win, the city of Columbus will show up massively.
The casual fan is crucial to a sports franchise. They help fill out the smaller, but passionate fan base that makes up the heart of an organization. The Crew undoubtedly has one of the best and most passionate fanbases, one that is do-or-die regardless of success. This is a group of supporters that single-handedly started a grass-roots movement that successfully prevented the Crew from moving.
But, just like any group of diehards, they cannot support a franchise alone. Casual fans help fill out the stadium and bring the financial stability required to maintain a healthy organization. Both the most passionate of fans and the most casual are important, as sports are ultimately a business and the fans are the customers.
Additionally, in Columbus, fanbase growth goes a long way to build community support of an organization. It allows for the Crew to be talked about more in local news, sports radio and by the casual sports fan.
There is no better time for the Crew to grab the attention of this city. With a talented young team, built for the future, this season’s success looks to be just the beginning. Just this week, both owner Dee Haslam and team president Tim Bezbatchenko commented that the best is yet to come with this roster. This team will continue its successful run in an amazing new state-of-the-art stadium in the entertainment center of downtown. If the Crew is to grow the fanbase, now is the time, and it should start on Saturday. Watching the Crew compete for MLS’s biggest trophy is a great introduction for the casual fan, and without any other sports in the city on that day, the Black & Gold have the stage to themselves.
Casual fans don’t always stay casual. Most diehards started with a fleeting interest that grew over time. When the casual fan base grows, the entire fan base grows and the organization continues to stay viable. So tell your friends, your family, your neighbors to tune into Fox at 8:30 p.m ET tomorrow night on FOX. Share the Crew. Make the Massive even more massive!