Teams asking fans for input via the official club website is a well-meaning exercise fraught with danger. Either things end up getting hijacked by rival supporters, or attempts at fostering a fan culture risk coming off as forced, inauthentic and patronizing.
In the US, where soccer teams are malleable, young franchises, there’s a clear risk of an awkward culture clash between American-style marketing and branding impulses and the desire to replicate the kind of organic fan culture seen in other countries where clubs have been in existence for a hundred years or more.
New York City FC, though, only has 17 days till it plays an actual MLS match. So it’s in a bit of a hurry to develop its own traditions in the most impatient city on earth. New York Minute, and all that.
So the club has asked “the fans, our 12th man”, to come up with a nickname for the club, and innocently offered some suggestions: Roughnecks, Skyscrapers, New York’s Loudest, 262 Crew, Blue Steel.
Wait, Blue Steel?
Yes, because the team plays in blue and New York City has a lot of skyscrapers, which were built with steel. And steel is tough.
The Telegraph reports on this Zoolander connection with the kind of condescension that one of the landed gentry in Downton Abbey might use towards a servant who’s brought them the wrong flavor of tea and failed to properly toast the scones.
And suffering Zoolander-related taunts from rival fans would probably upset the fanbase even more than the failure to get Frank Lampard walking through Central Park in the springtime, eating a cream cheese bagel.
It’s enough to make unofficial fan groups want to electrocute themselves on the third rail.
Hey, soccer clubs: you don’t define the fans, the fans define you.