Can the Revolution ever thrive in the Boston sports market?
Stepping into on Sunday afternoon was like stepping into an alternate dimension, one where local fans embraced the New England Revolution as strongly as they do the Boston Red Sox or New England Patriots. There was barely room to stand in the Dorchester Bar, the site of a MLS Cup final viewing party, which was filled with fans clad in Revs gear, an experience something like stumbling into a stable full of unicorns. These fans, however, were very real and very loud. Before and during the championship game between the Revolution and the LA Galaxy the loyal supporters contributed profane chants, along with theatrical cheering and booing, trying to will their team to victory despite the fact that the game was taking place several time zones away.
Despite their best efforts, . That’s what they do at the MLS Cup final. . It’s officially at the point where calling the Revs the “Buffalo Bills of MLS Cup” is completely unfair. To the Bills. But the defeat does raise serious questions for the Revs – can they survive (and even thrive) in a market that boasts some of the most successful teams in US sports. Teams that have histories stretching back decades before MLS – and the Revs – even existed.
OK, it’s a bit unfair to label the Revolution as perennial losers. Historically speaking a team has to be good just to get that many chances to fail in the last game of the season. Still, outside of New England, this year’s Revolution team will be a footnote to the story of Landon Donovan ending his career with a championship. Inside of New England, it probably won’t be remembered much at all. In Boston, news of the Galaxy’s victory over the Revolution was mostly drowned out by pregame coverage of Sunday’s regular season Patriots game against the Chargers.
It’s no secret that MLS, despite its growth in popularity is some way off the riches of the NBA or NFL, but the Revolution have had a particularly tough time getting fan support. A large problem is, oddly enough, that the region is too obsessed with sports. While the Revolution have been five-time Cup runners up since 2002, the New England Patriots, Boston Red Sox, Boston Celtics and Boston Bruins have all won championships (multiple ones in the case of the Patriots and Red Sox). That’s a lot of teams, and a lot of sports history. It doesn’t leave much room for the Revolution, a team playing a game that’s still in the early stages of being accepted as a spectator sport locally.
It also doesn’t help that the Revolutions’ owners, the Kraft family, devote most of their time and energy to the much more popular and lucrative Patriots. The worst aspect of this arrangement is that the Revs play their home games in Gillette Stadium, a football stadium closer to Providence, Rhode Island than Boston. In an April article for Boston Magazine entitled ” Kevin Alexander detailed the Revolution’s attendance woes in painful detail:
A week later, the Krafts’ other team, the , faced off against the Columbus Crew in their final MLS home game of the year. At 26,548, the crowd was the best of the season, but the fans’ uneven distribution throughout the lower bowl of the 68,756-capacity stadium left big pockets of empty seats. A red tarp covered a large swath behind the first 20 rows in back of the southern goal. Across the field, the Revs’ biggest supporters’ group, the Midnight Riders, did their best to bring the ruckus, but at times Gillette was so quiet that you could clearly hear the players’ yells and the dull thud of boot on ball. And this was with a crowd 78%bigger than usual: The Revs averaged 14,844 fans per game last season, fourth worst in the 19-team league.
The good news for the Revolution is that recent events have rendered some of Alexander’s points moot. It’s harder to argue that the Krafts are too cheap to sign a Designated Player to draw in more soccer fans . As the Revs went on their post-Jones signing tear, , their last home game of this season was attended by 30,000 fans. There’s even been renewed talk of there .
Ultimately, there is only one sure thing that would allow the Revolution to truly capture the headlines away from their peers and that would finally be taking home the Cup. Until New England somehow reverse their history of failing at MLS’s highest stage, the sight of huge gatherings of Revs fans will remain what it is now: an occasional novelty that has to be sought out.