What Makes the Montreal Impact Fan Culture so Unique?
Soccer has recently evolved from a popular sport to a multibillion dollar industry.
With the incredible boom in television broadcast rights, salaries, media attention, transfers and sponsorship deals, fan culture has transitioned to a consumer culture in most countries.
Even in Europe, the heart of the soccer industry and home of the best players, hearing passionless stadiums is frequent.
This trend marks the development of a new culture of spectators taking over the traditional model of club supporters: being a medium for fans to express support, passion and identification to a subculture.
But the Montreal Impact is different.
The club formed in 1993 and joined Major League Soccer in 2012. It has been founded on a different model: fan culture is based on passionate attachment to Montreal, club engagement, and inclusiveness.
The new MLS season is upon us, and even after an unfortunate draw against the Seattle Sounders in the last seconds of the game, fans were still chanting and cheering for their beloved players.
The home opener against Seattle was the site of one of the noisiest and warmest crowds MLS has seen in recent years.
The action packed contest hosted at Olympic Stadium, one of the Impact’s group of supporters, known as the Ultras, gathered together in a designated section of the stadium.
“Our role is to support and facilitate engagement from the crowd. Last year we helped a section by paying the installation of a giant bell in the stadium,” said Hugues Leger, Impact’s Vice President of marketing “But I want to underline that we are lucky enough in Montreal to have independent and authentic supporters to come up with these ideas.”
“We are only here to assist them if they need help.”
The first home game of the season was played at the Olympic Stadium because of Montreal’s weather. Ordinarily, the Ultras sit in Section 131 of the Impact’s usual home venue, Saputo Stadium. Every chant, flag, scarf, banner and cheer is conceived with the same message in mind: ‘Toujours fidèles à l’IMFC’.
“Passion and love, that’s what drives us all,” said PDP, a longtime member of the Ultras.
What makes Montreal a unique place to follow soccer is its precursory role in the MLS, argues PDP.
“In our league, there are probably only two other ultra groups; San Jose and Washington DC,” said PDP. “As Montreal fans, we like to believe that we provide an atmosphere as intense as in certain parts of Europe and South America.”
PDP takes Europe’s traditional passionate soccer culture as a model, but doesn’t hesitate to criticize modern practices of banning turbulent supporters and gentrifying crowds through high ticket prices. On the other hand, he is glad to welcome international students, bringing the same dedication that they experienced in their home countries.
“What we’re trying to build here is the same intensity that you guys experienced as passionate children on your continent, and it’s a real chance for us to welcome and include you,” he said.
Lucas Klocanas, a French student who grew up with an admiration for Marseille’s burning atmosphere, has now become one of those frequent Section 131 members that PDP is proud to welcome.
He described his attachment to the club as being “relatively new, but already pretty intense.” When asked if he felt a sense of belongingness even as a foreign fan entering the ultra group, Lucas seemed pretty satisfied. “As long as you are ready to stand behind the team, the other supporters will respect you. Whoever you are, they will give you flags, stimulate you and include you into the atmosphere they want to create.”
For a fan growing up with some intense traditional European crowds, one would think that Lucas couldn’t find the same emotions outside his continent. But the Impact’s public proved him wrong.
“I’ve always liked the idea of living the game through real supporting rather than being a passive spectator,” said Lucas.
“With Montreal’s ultras, I’ve found the same culture of love and attachment to a club that I experienced in Marseille—I must say I was surprised to feel such an atmosphere that conveyed some of my biggest emotions as a longtime soccer fan.”
The Impact is definitely an opportunity for students and soccer fans to live a passionate and intense experience. With growing sportive ambition and the guarantee of being in a friendly environment, going to Stade Saputo is a perfect way for international students to take part in the team’s culture.
The club’s administration also tries to further this joyful and intense environment. Hugues Leger insists on the cultural significance of fans.
“The whole soccer culture is based on supporters. It’s a very important element for us as well, and we want to encourage it and grow our fan base,” said Leger. “In Montreal, we are lucky enough to have ultras, but we also try to stimulate other sections.”