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Rapids pull out stops to attack midweek malaise
by Ridge Mahoney, May 14th, 2008 7AM
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[MLS] You have to give the Colorado Rapids some credit; they're throwing everything but the kitchen sink at their ESPN2 Thursday night clash against Rocky Mountain rival Real Salt Lake.

Midweek attendances for MLS games remain problematic, especially those played before summer vacations commence. School nights are seldom late nights, and for children, anytime past 10 p.m. is usually bedtime. In a league with numerous stadiums sited in the suburbs, the youth crowd is a very tough sell during the week. It's a tough sell on the weekends, too, but hustling the kids to and from, say, Commerce City with work and school looming on the next dawn is beyond the ken of most.

Colorado is attacking the midweek malaise in several manners.

Families and small groups of friends are being enticed by a $49 package (for the cheapest game ticket) of four tickets and four Rapids/ESPN commemorative T-shirts. One may question whether an ESPN2 telecast rates "commemorative" status, yet popularizing such games has certainly driven attendances at other sporting events televised by the worldwide leader in sports. And that's a cheapo ticket with or without attire.

Fans of women's soccer are being wooed by a preliminary match between the Fort Collins Force and Washington Freedom and a clinic for kids staged by the players. During the three years of WUSA play, its teams often drew very different crowds than MLS counterparts in the same market and a few WUSA/MLS doubleheaders were also staged. This is one of several experiments to be rolled out at league matches this season.

To entice the typical soccer/sports fan of legal drinking age, the Rapids are also offering a "Pint Pack," which marries those two holy grails: soccer and suds. For 29 bucks, you and your date - or your mate, or your teammate - get two game tickets and two pints, to be quaffed at the stadium's cantina, cleverly named The Cantina, or at concession stands.

To borrow a discarded but still revered ad slogan from a distinguished brewer, "Brilliant!"

Some MLS cities, namely Toronto, hardly need to entice their fans through beer, but in this case, a ticket for less than $15 more or less provides the beer for free. But "Free Beer Night" ain't right. "Pint Pack" has just enough cachet to encourage soccer fans 21 and older to make the trek, have a good time, maybe paint their faces or other body parts, and mug for the cameras.

(This isn't meant to encourage foolish drinking. Fans who drink are, as always, responsible for safe transportation and subject to punishment. The smart ones will stick to one pint and consume it early.)

Also at this game the Rapids are staging their annual "Night of Champions." Any youth soccer team that finished first, second or third in any tournament or league in the past year can attend for free and parade around the field prior to kickoff. This is a shrewd way to build attendance, not to mention excitement and the noise level, without passing our freebies willy-nilly. And if the kids start to nod off in the second half, to home they go. They've had their moment of glory.

Through a recently revived Team Services Department, MLS is pushing its teams to, among other things, promote and market midweek games. For these matches, the bottom line isn't revenues, it's how many fans show up and how much noise they make.

If the Rocky Mountain Cup is truly to become a rivalry, it needs loud crowds at every renewal, midweek or weekend. And if MLS wants more clout on national TV, it needs its telecasts as competitive as possible on the field, and as boisterous and colorful as possible in the stands.

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