Why I Don’t Blame Montreal for the Poor Canada Friendly Game Attendance

After Tuesday night’s Canada-Curacao friendly game at Stade Saputo, I recorded a little post-game review with colleague Kevin Laramée from Canadian Soccer News. One of his questions regarded the poor attendance at the mid-week game, which frankly neither of us were very surprised about.

6,026. That was one of the worst attendance numbers I have been given for a game at the Montreal Impact’s home in a while. Over social media, a quick glance would suffice to find comments about how horrible Montreal is at not even cracking the five-figure attendance number for a national team game.

And that’s fair.

I felt quite ashamed that the senior national team, who were in town for the first time in ten years, didn’t even draw more than an old school Impact game.

But then I looked to the control group that I usually use to take the pulse of soccer culture within the mainstream: my mom.

When I first bought season tickets for the Montreal Impact in 2012, my mom wasn’t on board with the idea. She didn’t really know the game or the players. She would usually tag along when I couldn’t find someone to come with me.

Five years later, she knows every player on the team from Piatti to Choiniere. She took over my season tickets when I got the privilege of being able to cover the team as a media member—I tried really hard not to make this look like a humblebrag there.

For Tuesday’s Canada game however, my mom didn’t feel like paying the extra cash to watch Les Rouges. Bernier coming back with the national team wasn’t enough to convince her. And Samuel Piette? She came across the name for the first time a couple of weeks ago.

My analogy here is that casual fans that have come to appreciate soccer through the Impact have little interest for the national team because they had little to no prior exposure to the team itself and, by extension, its players.

Sofiane Benzaza of Kan Football Club and Mount Royal Soccer had the perfect comparison for Piette: He was a bit like the Yeti for soccer fans in Canada, but mainly in Quebec. We hear little about him, we know he’s from Repentigny on the north shore of Montreal and that he plays somewhere in Spain. But we never hear about him. The Montreal public got to see him for the first in his professional career last Tuesday—and the player was so excited that he bought a whole section’s worth of tickets.

I don’t blame Montreal for not having shown up in numbers to Stade Saputo for this game for the same reason that I don’t blame Montreal for not having shown up in numbers for FC Montreal, the Impact’s former USL affiliate.

I was the only independent print media covering the now defunct club, and that coverage can still be read right here in The Link. At home games, a few hundred fans would show up to watch them play. In general, only hardcore fans are going to show up when a team plays in relative obscurity.

Where was the mainstream media to review, preview, profile or talk about FC Montreal at least once a month to show the public the Impact’s incoming youth? I haven’t seen much. Well, it wasn’t a surprise to see small audiences at the games. The team was already losing, what’s the point in seeing a couple of unknowns run around?

Same goes for the Canadian national team. Had the public known more about the players, interest would have risen. Would it have an immediate impact? Of course not. But slow and steady wins the race.

My answer to the question of bringing more fans to Canada games is the same I told Kevin between the two Stade Saputo dugouts: play more games in Canada, play them across the country and suck it up.

You’re going to draw 6,000, 7,000, 8,000 at certain games. But on the flip side, you’ll have more opportunities for the soccer media, and then the mainstream sports media, to talk about Canadian soccer.

Stop playing in front of empty stadiums in places that have little to no media attention. I do acknowledge the Canadian winter and the obstacles of playing in those times. I’m not calling for winter games or any miracle of that sort, but playing more games here in the realm of what’s possible would make for a great start.

And lastly, sports media needs to wake up and do its homework when the national team plays on home soil. I know, some players play in countries that are unusual to the soccer eye—or even the sports eye—but putting names on the faces and context to the names is necessary for people to gain interest.

Yes, attendance will still be subpar and yes, depending on certain visiting nations you may see more away fans than Canada fans. That’s just how it goes. But right now, playing more games on home soil and talking about the team more on various platforms is what will make more casual fans become supporters of the Canadian national team.

In the meantime, I’ll introduce my mom to Manjrekar James and try to convince her to buy tickets to the next game.

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