In this first installment of a series on building culture in communities, I will discuss the culture that has been established around the minor league Detroit City Football Club.
The Culture Question: Part I
What Can We Learn From Supporter Culture?
If you’re looking into how to build culture in a community, it’s an obvious choice to start by looking at how culture develops around sports teams. If you’re looking into how culture develops around sports teams, it’s an obvious choice to start by looking at the Detroit City Football Club.
DCFC is a minor league soccer team playing in the National Premier Soccer League’s Midwest Division. The players are unpaid, and the home field is a high school in downtown Detroit. The club has only been around for a season.
So why are they regularly drawing over 1,700 fans (not people- fans) to their home games?
Because Detroit City Football Club has a culture.
And it’s not just “Detroit City Football Club”. It’s also “DCFC”, “Le Rouge”, and “City.” It’s the slogan “City ‘Till I Die”, and the flags that wave in the supporter section reading, “This is our HOPE”, emblazoned with the team logo. It’s the fact that supporters regularly have new, gigantic flags at the matches, including the appropriately named “Big Bertha”, which I believe I read was around 16 feet by 11feet. It’s flags like “Fort Knox” in reference to forward Knox Cameron, or “Our City…Your
Nightmare”, which stretched pretty well full across the bleachers.
What about the constant smoke bombs going off after every DCFC goal, and the steady beat of the drums and chants coming from the supporter section? The culture is so thick around City that one could cut it with a knife if it wouldn’t just bend and break the knife first.
Speaking of the chanting, it starts early and happens often (uh…or always). At the match I attended against Greater Binghampton, the mass of the supporters section didn’t sit down until halftime and was rarely quiet for more than about fifteen seconds at a time between chants (or cheers, en route to a 4-0 shutout victory).
So what can we learn from the DCFC Supporter Culture? What do they do that’s so vital to building a winning culture and bringing people around who love to be a part of that culture?
1) Win or Lose, They’re There, and You’ll Know It
Now granted, I’ve never seen a City loss. But I know that even in draws and rare losses, the City Supporters are still loud and proud. They’ll cheer no matter what. Because they love their team and their culture. No matter what sort of organization we’re putting together, we’re going to experience setbacks and losses. That’s okay. Your culture should still be built on cheering on and supporting your team no matter what. Because victories and losses are both temporary. Knowing this, sing loud, sing often, and support your team like you love them as much as you do.
2) They’re Unified
Take 1,700 relative strangers and put them in bleachers outdoors. Give one guy a megaphone. Suddenly, those 1,700 people are unified in song, chant, or cheer. How does that happen?! Everyone at these matches is united behind a single goal- to see their team win. That means creating a winning atmosphere, which in sports, means a positive, loud, exciting atmosphere. Because everyone wants this, everyone is willing to fall in behind one guy with a megaphone and support their team. It also helps that the guy with the megaphone really knows what he’s doing and has a good feel for pacing the supporter section.
3) They’re An Actual Community
The supporters of DCFC get together and cheer at matches, but they also meet up before the matches to hang out (and eventually march into the stadium cheering and chanting) and go out after the game to celebrate- together. No matter what kind of community you’re building, having time outside of “business time” to actually build and foster the relationships that support that community is going to be vital. There is no separate “business relationship” and “social relationship” when it comes to building a culture of community. There’s one relationship among people that has to span business and social connections.
4) They’ve Got Brand Identity
Le Rouge knows exactly what and who Le Rouge is. Le Rouge is loud, proud, inspiring, and winning. The supporters know this, too. It’s easy to get behind a winning culture! There are various groups that contribute to this, like The Northern Guard Supporters, Motor City Supporters, and Le Rouge Supporters. They have a very well-established web presence with consistent material and representation across all platforms, despite these being run by different people in different locations. If you’re building a community, you have to have a brand identity and know it.
5) They Offer Something Everyone Wants
This one should be a no-brainer, but I’ll spell it out anyway. Everyone craves community. Take that to the extreme- a desire to be part of a community is one of the greatest contributing factors to youth gang activity. Thankfully, coming out to cheer at a soccer match isn’t as dangerous or illegal as gang activity, and neither should whatever you’re organizing your community for be. But the fact remains, Le Rouge draws massive, passionate crowds to their games because people want to be a part of something. In Detroit, it’s par for the course now to look for outlets for hope and recovery from blah blah blah, the same story you’ve always heard about Detroit. Soccer happens to provide an avenue for that hope and optimism to flourish in Detroit. Your community or organization should provide that same sense of purpose, belonging, and hope. You can build a culture around that much easier than you can build a culture around just about anything else. The bigger the purpose, the closer the belonging, and the stronger the hope, the more powerful the culture.
So whatever your endeavors in community building are, take these five principles from the Detroit City Football Club and wield them well. If a minor league, first-season soccer team from the city America most likes to pick on for being hopeless and rundown can create a positive, optimistic, hopeful culture using them, you should be able to as well.