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Read my chat with Mark Turner, the man behind the mike of the only Fan Powered Colorado Springs Switchbacks podcast. At least for the time being. Check out his Podcast here:
Mark has some great things to say about the state of the game in Colorado Springs. Read Away!
To start things off, could you tell me a bit about yourselves, and how fell in love with the beautiful game?
My name's Mark Turner and I'm the host of a Switchbacks focused podcast. I'm a Brit who's lived in America for nearly 20 years. Although I'm from Oxford, I follow Nottingham Forest because as well as falling in love with the game, I was won over by a personality of the game: the legendary Brian Clough. Even at 6 I found him a fascinating watch on TV whenever he was being interviewed. The year after I started following them they won the first of their 2 European Cups!!
I was living in Nottingham before I moved across. Walked past a statue of the great man every day. They're a club in all sorts of bother these days, sadly. So how did you end up being "a face" for the Switchbacks? It's some journey from the leafy lanes of Oxfordshire to Colorado Springs!
Work brought me over, and it would be hard to imagine going back now. The lifestyle here is great, and with the massively increased access and exposure to football now, that removes that little bit of homesickness! The Switchbacks started up a couple of years ago, so I was really excited to have a pro team here in our own backyard. About a third of the way through the first season another fan and I started up a podcast covering the Switchbacks. It was really just a whim. We both loved discussing football, and thought if a few people would be interested in hearing our thoughts and analysis, it would be worth doing. We continued the show last season on radio and as a pod, and had fun interviewing players, staff and coaches. The fans seem to enjoy it, not least of all in a small market like COS having another source of SB related info.
What sort of listener-ship are you getting? (And don't try to claim you don't look at the stats!)
We don't look at the stats! Honestly, we've done a shoddy job of tracking numbers. We know we get about 80-100 listens a show via Soundcloud, but couldn't even hazard a guess for iTunes (though I have another show, and seems that iTunes has far and away the most traffic) or radio listeners?? I suppose a conservative guesstimate would be a couple hundred + downloads per EP.
That's not too shabby for a very niche show. What's the average attendance at home games? If the figures are very close to each other I'll be suspicious
About 2,500, to maybe 3,000 on big team games. I think the record is 4,000.
4,000 is pretty impressive. And even 2,500 is a great place to try building from. What's your relationship like with the Front Office?
Decent, though they've had quite a lot of turnover the couple of years of existence, so it's hard to develop relationships with folks.
Do you and the club see it as a joint effort to boost crowd numbers? Some SG's would say marketing is up to the FO, and their job is to make match days fun. Others are active in community outreach trying to boost the "brand"
I think we (our show and the FO collectively) consider it a joint responsibility to promote the team. The FO does a pretty good job of putting out videos, email newsletters, posting to Twitter & FB, etc. As a show, our primary objective is to help raise the profile of the team to hopefully drive up attendance.
To play Devil's Advocate for a second here, is there a risk that your show is preaching to the choir? How do you go about engaging the casual / MLS / anything-else potential fan to make the effort? I'm just keen to get a sense of things all active fan bases can do to boost attendances.
I think the majority of our audience are the choir, but that's to be expected. However, if our show can be entertaining as well as informational, we hope to not only provide something for the ardent fan, but also encourage them to share it with others. Having players on, having a more relaxed less 'media-ish' feel to the show, all helps. We also cover football elsewhere when it makes sense, i.e. there's a lot of interest in the EPL so we have a section on that, or if there's a major tournie going on we'll cover that. We try to appeal both to our core listener, but also do things that might catch the interest of a broader football fan or someone who's not really a fan yet but who's curious about the game. We also have community guests on like local journos or the folks who run the kids footie clubs so that their followers are exposed to the show too, and through it, to the Switchbacks.
I love the idea of having folk from within the club, not just the FO, talk about their roles and their passion. That really does open up the whole club to the supporters. How engaged are the local media, since you mentioned local journos?
Journos in the Springs tend to be hit and miss. One paper here - one journo, really - is pretty engaged, though he does have a tendency to copy/paste press releases! I actually write occasional blog type pieces on the Switchbacks for the other paper in town, which is about all the coverage they give the team! Here's an example of the sort of pieces I write, if you're interested:
Why do you think, do you think even, that US soccer "punditry" is so earnest, in comparison to its UK counterparts? I might be missing something, but the only US outlet that I have seen to find humor in the sport is Men In Blazers, which as we know, is two Brits.
I'm not sure why folks in the mainstream media Stateside are so earnest? I think it's perhaps as though they feel like they have to demonstrate their credibility, and goofing around doesn't do that. We English obviously don't have that same concern as we grew up with the game so, rightly or wrongly by individual to individual, the perception is that we have instant credibility. That said, Americans tend to treat even their home grown sports with a reverence that seems unnecessary. They probably could benefit from 'lightening up' just generally!
But if you listen to our show, or other USL team podcasts, there's humor there. We don't take ourselves overly serious, but we also don't want to come across as clowns. We have to keep in mind that we're trying to entertain AND inform. Many of our listeners are still developing their knowledge of the game, and our show feeds in to that, so 'serious' talk about formations or how a move developed to a goal, all of that sort of thing tends to be relatively dry.
As for TV, it's really hit and miss. One station is pretty engaged, the other 2 much less so. There's a radio program who also cover the team pretty well, although the bulk of their show is football in general, i.e. MLS, EPL, local college program football, etc. We are the only fan-driven show on offer, which I think (hope!) makes us a unique voice.
Glad it's not just me! There's def something in that need to appear credible I think. Which is a shame. But then I guess British fans of the NFL or MLB are kinda the same. Like you say, we all need to lighten up! My experience in the UK is that local media are crying out for fan participation. Match reports especially. Fans have the knowledge and the passion, and most importantly, the time. Local journalism is being hit hard, and there just isn't the opportunity to cover things as they may wish. Nice crow-barring of your own portfolio there, by the way.
You're welcome. I stopped short of pimping my other blog pieces or other podcast show, so thank heaven for small mercies!
So what does a match-day look like for you? Is there any sort of routine to it?
I usually get to the ground 30-45 mins before KO. The supporters group, the Trailheads, tailgate, which involves beer and BBQ. Sometimes I'll stop by the tailgate, but more often than not I'll head into the ground to connect with some of the other media folks. I review the line up (when it's available to us), socialize with the media, FO folks, fellow fans, then take up my spot in the media section and it's off to the races we go! Post game I head down to the field after most matches to grab an interview or two with the players. Pretty standard stuff. Maybe listen to the show, game day one v LA Galaxy 2, I think? That EP covers my entire game day experience, including interviews with fellow fans, staff, media, and players, as well as some in-game atmosphere. It's a pretty good EP, if I do say so myself!
We loved doing that show, although it was exhausting both to record and produce! Back Chat is my first foray in to recording anything! I think the studio shows last season were really decent, especially ones with the players on - loads of fun. Now I've started up another podcast that has been picked up by a local radio station, and by Hofstra University in New York, which I hope might lead to other Uni's picking it up in time. It's nothing to do with footie, it's sort of an amalgam of Have I Got News For You, Wait...Wait ...Don't Tell Me (which I think is recorded in Chi Town!), and Fighting Talk. It's a news-based, comedy panel quiz show. I'm REALLY enjoying recording it!
Plug it, man! This piece may be read by upwards of four people.
The other show, if people seriously have nothing better to do with an hour of their life every couple of weeks, is called the Whistle Stop Week. It's available on iTunes, Soundcloud, Mixcloud, and Stitcher.
I’ll certainly give it a listen. This whole thing is so much more fun when you are laughing at a miss-kick rather than decrying formations, isn't it? How's the set up at The Switchbacks? Pitch, stands, etc.
Pitch is poor! A combination of it not being a great field to begin with, and the mix of dodgy weather we get here 3-4 months of the year. Stands accommodate 5,000 (I think), media section is rudimentary. They've done some upgrades to the ground over the past couple of seasons, like adding screens for replays. I did coin the phrase 'Fortress Sandcreek' for the SB home gaff, and appear to be the only person interested in giving the players nicknames? What's wrong with Americans?!
Is it soccer-specific, or multi-use, and afflicted with those cursed gridiron lines?
Soccer specific. It just needs A LOT of TLC, and even then suffers from being badly cut up whenever it's being played on when there's rain or snow on it.
Soccer-specific is a real bonus. Do the club ask for help in such things? I know in the UK clubs are oddly reluctant to tap fan bases for particular skills sets: carpentry, painting, electrics, etc. We had huge success when we just asked! There might be someone with knowledge or contacts in such things.
The club 'own' the stadium, but the city owns the field/land. It's complicated! In short, the city are supposed to take care of the field, and they would say they do so. The players wouldn't agree.
Do you get many folk travelling with the away teams?
No, very few traveling fans. There are usually always some, but no more than a handful. Likewise, a few of our lot go to the occasional away game, but nothing en masse - except on those occasions when we play Colorado Rapids in the cup!!
It's such a shame that fans don't/can't travel. You and I both know how much fun away days can be! For those hardy souls who do make the trip, can you recommend any "must do's"? Y'know, bars, restaurants, culture etc?
Are you planning a trip to the Springs?!
Be careful what you wish for! I just like for folk to eulogize their hometown a bit. Non league is about community after all.
Colorado Springs is routinely ranked in the top few cities in America in which to live. It's a clean, beautiful, and friendly place to visit - and as such, is a heavily tourist location. In addition to some good restaurants and bars, the local brew scene is vibrant, with many of our home town beers picking national awards on a regular basis. Colorado is very much an outdoorsy state, with the mountains making the perfect backdrop to hiking, climbing, camping, hunting, fishing, snow sports, etc. I've traveled the states extensively and think there are few places better to live if you love an active lifestyle!
What does soccer in CS, and the US, look like in the next 5 - 10 years?
Urgh! I hate predicting things, other than the result of the next game! I'm the guy who in 2000 said that by 2010 the US men's team would contest a WC final! OK, here goes…
For me, this is actually two questions...what could football in the US in the future, and what will it actually look like? What it could look like is a clean, 4 tier league system > MLS > USL > NASL > PDSL. The arrows aren't to suggest hierarchical as it relates to team movement (pro/rel) necessarily (though many would argue, why not?), more player movement. Having a defined structure that presents a clear domestic path of personal development and promotion for a player would be great. Once that's in place, then development of each of those tiers, providing appropriate coaching supports, reasonable player salaries, corporate sponsorship and support, will help the game really take root and thrive in this country, which in turn should have a trickle up benefit on the international level.
What will happen? Who the hell knows?! The only historical precedents this country has when it comes to soccer (at least in the men's game) are bad ones - one failed, unsustainable league after the next.
Do you think MLS has escaped that curse? Certainly seems to have greater longevity than many of its predecessors. And where do the Switchbacks fit in to all of this?
The MLS seems fine, but what will sustain it over the longer term? And what is the MLS purpose in the longer term? Just to be a place for pros to play football in America? For foreign players past their prime, who don't fancy China, to collect a paycheck? Or can the MLS help bolster the US national team? I think it can, and should.
The Switchbacks are where they are, and will always be, unless they fold, get sold, or are rolled in to the Rapids structure. I'd suggest the likelihood of those outcomes are in the order I relayed them. They'll be good for this season, though, but who knows beyond that? I suppose it depends how their newly acquired D2 status impacts revenues.
That's no sort of life for a football fan, is it? So sad. This brings us on to the biggie... pro/rel. You can't move on Twitter without blowhards on both sides having their say, So why not add to the noise? What are your thoughts?
Honestly, I have absolutely no position on pro/rel! I think I might be the only fan I know who doesn't! I have more of an opinion on play-offs in as much as they are stupid! You play a 30-odd game season and the team top of the tree aren't champions? How does that work?! Mental.
It's the American way, my friend! I wasn't expecting your ambivalence, truthfully. But fair enough. Alright bud, I think we're getting done here. Just a couple of generic questions to wrap thing sup. I think I know the answer to this one, but anyway... do you follow any clubs outside of the US? And how did you come about doing that?
I have one team I support (outside of the Switchbacks), and several teams I sympathize with! Nottingham Forest are and always will be my team. I'm red till dead! I got to following Forest for a couple of reasons. First, because all my mates at school at the time followed Man Utd or Liverpool (that dates me!) and I wanted to be different! Also, watching Cloughie on TV was mesmerizing! I eventually ended up living in Nottingham and going to The City Ground regularly, so that was a dream come true. As for other teams, I also take an interest in Oxford City (my home town), Arsenal (my granddads team), Glasgow Rangers (it's a long story!), Roma, Real Madrid, and St. Etienne. I actually don't really have an MLS team but loosely affiliated myself with the Revolution, mainly because they had England in their name! I'm happy to see the Rapids up the road doing well, though. I think it's easier to get invested in other leagues and to follow them more closely if you have 'a horse in the race'.
Is there any sort of rivalry with the Rapids? Like Liverpool and Tranmere, I doubt they care. But do you?
Not really any rivalry between the Rapids and the SB's. Some fans try to manufacture some (myself included, on occasion), but our paths cross so infrequently that it's more an out of sight, out of mind relationship. The Rapids have actually loaned us quite a few players over the past couple of seasons (half a dozen or so, I think?), so the relationship at the FO level at least seems cordial.
So who do you class as the rivals?
Rivals geographically (and because their state’s MLS team and our state's MLS team have a rivalry) would be Real Monarchs (Real Salt Lake's 2nd team)...but more of an organic rivalry has developed with Oklahoma City Energy, which'll be stoked by their recent acquisition of one of our best players!
Poor old OKC. Seems everyone has a gripe with them. I've been speaking with some Roughnecks recently. Need to give them a right of reply!
As far as promoting the team is concerned, I'd say that the Switchbacks have always played entertaining football. The first season it was a goal glut, whereas last season more of a drought, but still the team made the play-off comfortably both years. The support is smaller than some markets, but passionate and genuine. In order for football to really take root in communities and become part of the national DNA, people have to let their curiosity get the better of them. So come check out a game, ask questions, sing, shout, cheer, and by the end of it you might realize that you really enjoyed it and will be back for me. And when you return, bring friends!
Mark, it's been an absolute joy. Thank you. Remember, if you are enjoying the weekly content coming out on AP you can Follow AP on Twitter, or Like AP on Facebook. And if you want make sure you never miss an interview, and want to read articles before everyone else, click here and sign up for the Newsletter. You'll be the first to know when articles are released and learn about other exciting content down the road.
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