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Major League Soccer returned last weekend and while there were mixed reviews regarding the launch of Season Pass on Apple TV, mostly around its staid and robotic MLS 360 hub where presenters talk incessantly and too little match action is shown, there were some headline-grabbing attendances that demonstrated the league is in rude health.

The biggest news came at Charlotte FC and Atlanta United where the two attracted crowds of 69,345 and 67,538 respectively for their games against New England Revolution and San Jose Earthquakes, the first time the league had boasted two fixtures with more than 65,000 people in attendance on the same weekend. The figures were better than the average attendances of 13 NFL teams for the season just ended.

Charlotte have been a shining light in this area despite this being only their second season in the league. They set the record for the largest attendance in the 27-season history of MLS when 74,479 took in the match against LA Galaxy at Bank of America Stadium.

Their success in this domain has not been by accident. When Charlotte appointed Shawn McIntosh as chief fan officer in 2021, they became the first club in MLS to do so. Imagine a similar move in Scotland, there would surely be hostility and a degree of suspicion that this individual might be some kind of club stooge. But even in America, where these types of corporate figures are more commonplace, Charlotte understood that the fan officer might not be accepted straight away.

“It’s a big risk,” said the then Charlotte president Nick Kelly when he announced plans to appoint McIntosh. “There’s a reason probably no one’s ever done it because there’s a lot of risk as it relates to making sure they’re welcomed by the fans and ultimately, that they can make a difference. We believe we’re going to have to take these types of risks to be progressive and push our soccer team to the next level.”

The proof of the pudding has been in the eating, however. Charlotte should be applauded for taking note of the fauxs pas made by MLS clubs who have taken unpopular decisions in the past. When Columbus Crew SC changed its name to Columbus SC and adopted a new badge midway through the season in 2021 there was a fan backlash followed by a club u-turn; there was a similar volte face when Chicago Fire did likewise in 2019. Fans at Montreal and New York City have also had disagreements with club hierarchy.


This is where McIntosh earns his corn. He receives feedback from various club departments that cover operations to ticketing and social and his is also in constant contact via Slack with the presidents and vice-presidents of supporters groups who make up the club’s supporters’ council.

It is the kind of communication between club and supporter that Scottish football could learn from.

There are already some signs that our clubs are doing so, for example there has been an increase in attendances at St Mirren as a result of good form but also the goodwill generated when the club polled supporters last summer on a decision to give greater allocation of tickets to home fans for the games against Celtic and Rangers. The bulk of SPFL Premiership clubs have appointed supporter engagement officers in recent years but more could certainly be done. St Johnstone's decision to give over three-quarters of McDiarmid Park to Rangers fans for the sides' recent Scottish Cup tie is a salutary lesson in why your paying punters deserve greater respect.

There is logic in giving fans their voice. It gives them a sense of engagement with their club. Too often in the modern age, supporters believe the higher ups in the boardrooms do not care about them and they feel disconnected. Hand them a little bit of a say in how things operate – and crucially provide a meaningful difference to their match-going experience – and you will be repaid in bucketfuls.

Just look at Charlotte FC. It's hardly rocket science but it does feel like the exception rather than the norm. Listening to fans and implementing schemes that result in them turning up for games in numbers? It'll never catch on.