When news broke Monday about the corporate sponsor-driven tifo effort in Seattle, it seemed the perfect opportunity to poke fun of Portland’s northerly neighbors.
But I couldn’t do it.
Offering up an opportunity to a corporate sponsor to create something that should be entirely supporter driven isn’t really a laughing matter. It’s an indication that Seattle’s front office is willfully ignorant of the culture that pays its bills.
But, Kristen, supporters are involved in the creation of this thing!
Sure. Sure they are.
I exchanged a few emails with the Alliance Council’s president, Stephanie Steiner, about how this happened. She, along with more than a few other Sounders supporters, is not happy.
According to Steiner, Delta set up a focus group to learn about the awareness of their brand support of Sounders FC, and how they could build it. Suggestions from the focus group included several community events, pop up clinics, and appearances by players, but what Delta and the Sounders front office have announced is “far beyond” what the group discussed.
“They FOed all over it,” Steiner says. “The whole idea that came from the focus group was a huge community event with art as the vehicle and Delta as ‘oh, by the way.’ Instead they spun it to huge art with Delta as the vehicle and the community became the ‘oh, by the way.’”
Emerald City Supporters tifo for a November 2013 playoff game welcomed the Timbers and Timbers Army to what was expected to be their “nightmare.” Photo: Brandon Farris
Corporate sponsored tifo isn’t new. People will come out of the woodwork to tell you all about big money pieces done in leagues around the world. And a quick Google search will bring up an EASports Clint Dempsey tifo done in Seattle in the not-too-distant past. But this is different.
Fans were asked what they wanted. They offered opinions and ideas. Those ideas were twisted into something that opens Pandora’s Box: an essential part of supporters culture being hijacked by a corporate sponsor and a team’s front office under the guise of being a fan-led effort.
Emerald City Supporter and Alliance Council member Jerry Neil was part of the focus group. “I told them what makes tifo, tifo. I also stressed that it wasn’t a good idea, but they went with it anyway,” Neil says. “They said if they were going to go with that idea they would inquire further, but they didn’t do that.”
Other supporters groups within MLS have been approached with ideas for corporate sponsored tifo and, as far as I can see, those approaches have been rebuked. While it may occasionally be offered up as a form of protest, the purpose and motivation for tifo should not be for commercial enterprise. I saw someone on Twitter refer to this as “advertifo.”
The spirit of tifo is this: art created by supporters, folks who volunteer their time and resources, in order to honor the players on the field. And that’s how it should stay.
Aside from all of this, Seattle’s front office has forgotten the First Rule of Tifo: don’t talk about it.
Especially if you’re turning it over to a corporate sponsor.