If you were to survey supporters groups from clubs around the globe about their biggest gripe with their clubs, I’d be willing to wager that the leading complaint would be that there isn’t enough communication between themselves and the club’s executives. Take a walk around the American soccer landscape, and you’re bound to hear it too. And while there might be other popular gripes — such as ticket prices or on-field management — the avenue for the fans to have those complaints heard often isn’t even there to begin with.
So when you see clubs that actively engage with their fans, asking them their opinions and looking for input on a variety of club matters, it’s usually applauded far and wide. The close relationships that exist between club and fans in Orlando, Seattle and Philadelphia are well-known, but until rather recently, were far from the norm. But the lessons learned in those markets isn’t falling on deaf ears, and more and more clubs are slowly starting to reap the benefits of working closely with their most ardent fans to help grow the team’s popularity and stature. But where did the idea come from in the fist place?
The man many would pin as the pioneer of this emerging trend in American soccer: Peter J. Wilt.
Best known as former president and general manager of the Chicago Fire, Wilt has attained legendary status for the transparency with which he runs his clubs and the open communication channels he holds with supporters. A frequent participant in discussions on fan message boards and an ardent Tweet-a-holic, there’s arguably no other executive in American soccer that the average fan has an easier time gaining an audience with.
Case in point? After recently launching the successful bid to make Indy Eleven the latest franchise to join the rapidly growing NASL, I reached out to Peter to see if he might be interested in an interview. He accepted my request in less than five minutes.
So with the Milwaukee native’s ear at my disposal, I asked Peter to dish on his plans for the newly formed Indy Eleven, the state of the game in North America, and even on his hopes for the beer that will be available at the club’s future matches.