As a big fan of Orlando soccer, I was looking forward to last Saturday’s games. It was an important weekend for both the men’s and women’s team coming out of the international break, and soccer in Orlando was getting back into the swing of things.
The Orlando Pride were in Houston, taking on the Dash at BBVA Compass Stadium there while Orlando City SC, the franchise’s MLS side, was hosting the Montreal Impact at home. As a season ticket holder for both teams, I was all set to man The Wall, the standing supporters’ section on the north side of Orlando City Stadium. Unfortunately, in doing so, I would miss the Pride’s game in Texas, but as Orlando City was set to honor the 49 victims of the Pulse shooting as part of the one-year anniversary of that horrific event, I felt it was important to show my ally-ship for that memorial and my support for the men’s team.
This wasn’t the first tribute to the Pulse victims of the season. The Crown, the supporters’ group for the Orlando Pride, had started the tribute to the victims at the women’s previous home match against the Boston Breakers, raising a special tifo in memory of those lost. And the supporters’ groups for the men’s side also had a special tifo planned for their game.
But just as I was set to head out to the men’s match, I checked Twitter one last time, and this tweet caught my eye.
— The Crown (@PridesCrown) June 17, 2017
Since I wasn’t able to experience matchday with the Crown, I thought it would be a great time to get out and enjoy the company of the team’s supporters. Being a member of the Crown in good standing, I have felt disconnected from the group because I don’t use Facebook, the primary means of communicating within the group and because I don’t live close enough to engage when it’s not match-day. So I was excited at the chance to attend this watch party and chose to head to the Crown’s event instead of going to the Orlando City game.
I arrived early to Ocean Sun Brewing, where a chalkboard sign welcomed Crown members for the watch party. Nobody was there yet, but I wasn’t concerned since I was there an hour before the scheduled start time. With the Orlando City match playing on the big screen, I settled in to grab a bite and watch the BroSo match while I waited for Pride fans to show up. I even killed some time with a post on Instagram hyping the watch party.
As time passed, I was getting more jazzed to cheer with my fellow Pride supporters. The Crown even liked my Instagram post and commented on it. But as time ticked closer to the start of the match, nobody was there. I was feeling puzzled, and I was getting a hunch the watch party was going to be impacted by the City match. It made sense that there could be a low turn-out to the watch party since a traveling group of Crown members had made the trip to Houston and many of the passionate supporters were also supporters for the men’s side, but I was getting concerned this watch party could be a bust. The bar manager didn’t have a way to play go90 on any television, and I was concerned I might be stuck watching the Pride on my phone.
I felt slightly better once my group of friends (Jay, Sammy and Michelle) arrived, but they were as puzzled as I was. The four of us turned out to be the entire watch party. One of my friends, Jay, has also brought her son to enjoy the Pride play since her son loves soccer but hadn’t embraced NWSL so far. This watch party experience certainly wasn’t helping. She ended up leaving while the rest of us sorted out a way to watch Orlando Pride for this “Crown watch party.” Thankfully, Michelle had her laptop with her, so the three of us gathered around the MacBook like a fire on a cold night.
It was disappointing to go to a planned watch party unable to see a four-goal performance on a television. I couldn’t understand how the supporters’ group could advertise this on the group’s social media without any participation or even a tweet canceling the event. The bar manager told us that if we had the appropriate AV cable, he would let us connect to one of the screens, but we didn’t know this ahead of time, and no one had brought any. It just reflected a lack of planning and, perhaps, more concerning, a lack of leadership and engagement from the official supporters’ group that neither any representatives of The Crown’s organizers or any Pride fans showed up to the event.
Establishing a supporters’ group takes time, building a culture like the more established groups have done–Rose City Riveters, Spirit Squadron, or Cloud 9, for example–takes time. The Crown does do a great job to enhance the gameday experience, and the tifos they have created this season have been stunning statements of dedication. But it’s a bad look to publicize an event and not have anyone show up to run it, and this type of thing detracts from what the Crown is trying to accomplish. It felt like the watch party didn’t really matter or it was more of an afterthought. I am hopeful, however, that this night was just a one-time miss, and not something more, as it is a challenge to grow support for a newer team.
After the event, I reached out to the Crown for a comment for this story. This was the statement received:
Hi Luis, I apologize as there was a mix-up. The person who normally runs the watch party wasn’t available at the last minute. He called Ocean Sun and they said no problem they will put it on thinking that it was on Lifetime. For future matches, we are purchasing the brewery a Chromecast so they aren’t relying on anyone to bring a laptop and HDMI cord.
TBH – if you want to get a true representation of the group the best time to connect is our tailgates. The watch parties are very hit or miss dependent on the MLS schedule, time of the match, and who is traveling to watch live. You are always welcome out to Broken Cauldron!
Of course, home games and home game tailgates are more fun. But a supporters’ group needs a strong base of involvement and engagement at home when the team is away as well. A strong base celebrates together home and away, and The Crown has demonstrated that although they are an enthusiastic supporters’ group, they still have room to grow as they mature into one at the caliber we see in other NWSL cities across the league.