By Tyler Trent
Image courtesy of Charlotte FC
Charlotte is a soccer city, which has become even more prominent in the past year. Ranking top 3 in attendance in their inaugural season, the fanbase has stayed very committed despite the ups and downs. Molding a new club from the ground up is a long process that is only made possible by the devoted efforts of a diverse group of people who truly care. The Charlotte metropolitan area is one of the most diverse areas in the United States. Building a supporter culture and a unified community not only within a large metropolitan area, but also throughout multiple states is quite a task.
Often in European soccer, teams are formed in small towns and villages, which naturally leads to a community driven atmosphere. However, professional sports in the United States are often centered in large metropolitan areas, where the sense of belonging and community can often get lost behind the business and money involved. While you can’t deny business and money is a big part of Charlotte FC, they have made significant strides to build the club based on community. One of these strides, was the creation of the Chief Fan Officer (CFO) position – a first of its kind in the world.
The Chief Fan Officer
Image courtesy of Charlotte FC
Shawn McIntosh was announced as the Chief Fan Officer in October 2021 for Charlotte Football Club, after receiving hundreds of applications from varying backgrounds. There are similar jobs to the Chief Fan Officer throughout the United States, such as Supporter Relations or Supporter Liaison positions, but the Chief Fan Officer position goes beyond that to serve as a link between the community and the club. After speaking with Shawn, he cleared up some of those distinctions. The CFO position is a direct link to the President of Charlotte FC, Joe LaBlue. In other positions, such as supporter liaison, they are often working with ticketing sales for supporter groups. Another key difference is the CFO is working with all fans, not just the most loyal supporters, to make sure everyone has direct access to the higher ups at the club and that each voice is heard.
Shawn’s workload has always been heavy, but he will be getting some reinforcements with the recent hire of a Fan Experience Coordinator that will be focusing primarily on executing what supporters need. This will be a position that is “in the trenches” with the fans and will report primarily to Shawn.
While building a club and culture from scratch can be tricky, Shawn doesn’t believe the metropolitan area plays a big part in the difficulty. “You will feel as much a part of the community as you want to be.” He went on to mention that the club has put a focus on showing up for the Carolinas and giving back. Shawn specifically mentioned their mini pitches across Charlotte and the Carolinas. That project provides opportunities for local children to play soccer and have a chance to be a part of a team that helps provide support on and off the field.
Image courtesy of Charlotte FC
Shawn noted that as the team progresses, having players who have made their name in the Charlotte FC Academy and MLS Next Pro side will be another key in continuing to build a connection to a metropolitan area. Brian Romero has already burst onto the scenes as a fan favorite and the first ever homegrown signing of Charlotte FC. As Charlotte FC begins to develop more talented players, having players that represent the community and culture of the Carolinas will become more common and bring even more of the Carolina community together.
Charlotte FC has taken a different approach to building a fan culture than many other teams in the world. The breathtaking introduction video is a prime example of something you don’t see many other teams doing that has fans buying into the experience. The inaugural home game, which broke the MLS attendance record, was monumental in proving that there was something special in Charlotte and that attendees would want to be back. However, all that work began way before the season started. Before Charlotte FC's inaugural season, Shawn traveled to other cities for watch parties of USA matches to talk to potential fans and enjoy the comradery that comes with the beautiful game. Shawn also traveled to other stadiums in the United States to take notes on what he thought worked and what didn't work. He shared his findings and spoke with others in order to help build the gameday experience that would best serve and represent the fans.
The Future of Charlotte Supporter Culture
Ultimately, building a supporter culture is a process that is constantly evolving. Even teams that have been around for decades have culture that is continuously adapting. Supporter culture is something you have to nurture and allow it to adapt as you move on. Shawn acknowledged the need to be constantly working with the supporters to have a culture that represents them and the Carolinas.
Shawn added, “If you think things are great, that’s when things can change for the worst.” It’s definitely true as you can see from looking at many other clubs across the United States and see the schism in their fan base and supporters. Luckily, Charlotte FC has had a good start to the relationship between the club and various supporter groups. Shawn specifically commended the leadership of the supporter groups. “Leadership level across supporter groups has been great, and they have an alignment on making it all work. Even through there are disagreements between each other and the club, a 24/7 dialogue takes place.”
The supporter culture in Charlotte has been amazing so far this season. There has been a comradery between the supporters, traditional media, players, staff, and creatives that you don’t see often in sports in the United States. When you look at Charlotte FC’s supporters, you will see such a varying mix of people and backgrounds. While that culture may evolve and change as the years progress, it will always represent Charlotte and the melting pot of different people and culture.