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Matt Kearny | Fan loyalty is earned

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It has been interesting to follow the phenomenon of the fan passion and loyalty directed to the Seattle Seahawks as they steadily built the foundation that resulted in a Super Bowl championship.

Great play and incredible marketing genius have made the 12th Man known throughout the country. To the point where for many, there is almost a sense of honor and prestige associated with being a fan of the team.

Obviously the sheer numbers and intensity can’t possibly be matched by fan bases for our local teams, but it made me pause to think how we sometimes take for granted how Wenatchee Valley teams stack up in comparison to our contemporaries.

Since it’s hockey season, let’s look at the Wenatchee Wild first. As they are now in the final two months of the season, the team ranks second in home attendance in the 24-team North American Soccer League, averaging more than 2,900 fans per game at Town Toyota Center. That is well over double the average attendance in the league. You need only go to this past weekend for an amazing stark comparison. The Wild are fighting for the fourth and final playoff spot with Kenai River, and recently were on the Brown Bears’ home ice for a three-game set. The opening game of that series drew 323 fans. The Wild’s lowest attendance for a home game so far this season is 2,158.

The AppleSox have a similar story, as they are often pushing capacity at Paul Thomas Sr. Baseball Stadium. Last summer, they were fourth in attendance in the highly competitive West Coast League, which extends from British Columbia into southern Oregon. Last year was not an aberration for the AppleSox, as they have always been at or near the top of the standings and in attendance.

It’s not by accident these clubs have enjoyed this type of success at the gate. They are very well-run and deliver an excellent fan experience. They provide an exciting brand of play, and they win a lot of games — always a nice formula.

Other area teams with a passionate fan base include the Wenatchee Valley Rams. This opportunity for players to continue to compete in football beyond their school years has turned into a highly successful program. Anything short of at least competing in the championship game of the Washington Football League is considered a disappointment.

And don’t forget Apple City Roller Derby. This season they streamlined from three teams down to one, aiming to improve their caliber of play in order to compete at a higher level. And the enthusiasm of their fans is hard to match anywhere.

Next to step into the arena will be the Wenatchee United Soccer FC, making their debut in May in what is billed to be a high-caliber outdoor semipro soccer league. With the increasing popularity of soccer in the Wenatchee Valley, the United has a real opportunity to appeal to a wide range of demographics covering age, gender and race.

The Wenatchee Valley may not have the horsepower or the national stage of a Seahawks franchise that has raised the bar in terms of a fan following. But it does have one thing in common with the Super Bowl champions — nearly all franchises the area teams compete against would trade for their sustained success and fan base in a heartbeat.

Matt Kearny is director of sports tourism for the Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce and can be reached at 509-662-2116 or matt@wenatchee.org.

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