One thing I really enjoy about writing a blog is the ability to add personal bias into the writing. With that in mind I will tell you upfront that I am a passionate Fulham FC fan (EPL). To give a little background on why, it starts in my childhood when Brian McBride played for the local Columbus Crew (MLS). Back then he had flowing locks and a youthful energy. Soon thereafter he was transferred to Fulham and would become one of the most notorious American footballers of all time, especially in west London. Since then, Fulham have seen such Yanks as Carlos Bocanegra, Casey Keller, Eddie Johnson, and Clint Dempsey. This selection of talent has led to an interesting quandary for local and foreign Fulham fans alike.
You would be hard pressed to find an American Fulham fan before 2004, the year of McBride’s transfer. Since that point support has grown throughout the states thanks to the names previously mentioned as well as increased TV distribution. In a personal sense I made my first trip to Craven Cottage in the summer of 2008 for a friendly against Celtic and will be back again April 2 to watch them take on Blackpool. One of my favorite Fulham sites is http://cc.fulhamfc.com. It offers a lively forum with interaction between supporters worldwide. Within these discussions there are highs and lows regarding the mood. The highs being stories shared and open arms from lifelong fans to ones just joining on. The lows being an uncivilized war of words on whether an American fan can call themselves just that or if they are only there to support their one favorite player (Dempsey). I will certainly admit the prying comes from both sides.
All of this interaction got me to thinking exactly what effect the diversity of this fan base will have on the club? Will it turn into more money for better players? Will it tarnish the reputation of the teams local and loyal fans? To get a better idea on exactly that, I proposed the following question to the users on cc.fulhamfc.com:
Do you see the growth of the FFC fanbase into the USA as a positive or negative effect and why?
The following are all responses received that are appropriate for displaying. Thanks to all who participated.
nags: I think it’s a great means to more money for FFC and that means better players coming to the club and a higher finish in the league with more chance for European footy again. I have been going to the Cottage since 1977 and playing in the Europa League was great for the clubs players and fans
Berserker: I see it as a positive. Agree with 'Nags' entirely. Good that a club can be outward instead of inward looking. Loved the European league last year and hopefully be able to do it again.
Maestro’s Apprentice: I see it as mildly positive. Presumably clubs make some additional revenue but I would not know how much or what the potential is. It helps to have a star player or two or, as in our case, a compatriot such as Dempsey, or even ex-players such as McBride. I am not sure what the great attraction is for any overseas fan (or for that matter for someone from London who decides to support Manchester United) to choose one club rather than take a general interest in the league when you may never get to see the club regularly at their home ground. Visitors to the ground from a long distance are most welcome.
Wil H: I think it depends on whether they respect the long-standing traditions of Saturday-match fans. I don’t have a problem with them so long as they understand what it actually means to be a travelling fan here in London.
Grants Creek:. There are a few insecure (fans), usually the same ones complaining about their national team. I’d be more worried about foreign players in the league than supporters. Of course, they'll tell ya they don't care about the national team….that is until the next Jack Wilshire pops up.
Christopher Fisher: Fulham is very smart to tap into a growing interest overseas in the US, as we will follow our players wherever they go. With that comes some negatives for sure, many "fans" are only going to be Fulham fans so long as their favorite players are there. This will (and has – especially on this board) infuriate the local and true fans who have supported Fulham through the darkest years and are now angry that so many band wagon fans are suddenly showing up at games and on forums. That is completely understandable, and unfortunate. But, it is an unavoidable by product of expansion into global markets where arm chair seasonal fans are an unavoidable addition.
Dallas, Texas: All the Americans I met in London who follow the game liked Fulham because of McBride and Dempsey. But in USA anytime I go to a pub to watch Fulham all the other people are supporting Arsenal or whoever. I'd say Fulham have pretty much failed to dent the USA market, surely a golden opportunity missed? A tour of Australia without any shirts for sale? What was the point in that? No! Go play in NYC, Nike billboards of Dempsey everywhere, it ain't rocket science!
North London White: It's a good way for Fulham to grow internationally, and the more fans around the world we have, the more people recognise us. From growing support in the US, I'm sure this can grow further throughout the world. A US fan base won’t necessarily bring us more money for the club as they would rarely go to any games, but could purchase a fair amount of merchandise.
Overall I feel that it is a positive thing for the club that we now have a fan base in the USA as it will help us become acknowledged around the world as being a proper football club, and not someone like Man Utd or Liverpool
Mr B P: Any new fan who is well behaved and does to spoil the family image of this Club is good news as it increase our status as well as our fan base and our income.
Sam Jack: Generally I would say the Yanks who follow Fulham are positive for the club. However, I do have reservations about the endless searching for bigger fan bases and trying to improve 'the brand' in pursuit of profit and 'success'. Whilst it would be naive to suggest that clubs don't have to think about their sources of revenue, I personally feel that there is more to being a football club than just generating cash, they started off as community collectives and this in my eyes should always be remembered. For me the question is as much, at what point does a Football club lose its soul? I will never accept that Fulham or any club 'is just a business' that needs to seek to expand its fan base at all costs
Parsons v Duncker: It is a positive. But American support is never going to be massive, and will end the moment Dempsey leaves……so it is only a minor positive.
Quills: I was in New York a couple of months ago and the only stuff I saw for sale was Donovan Everton stuff so I'm not sure how strong the American audience actually is. I think it's a good thing generally but I'd like to see the club make more of it and maybe be a bit more proactive in getting good American players over here.