On Saturday evening at the first home game of the Houston Dynamo since the sale of the team became known, a steady rain shower did not dampen the optimism of the fans about the new ownership of the organization.
The Dynamo, sister club Houston Dash and BBVA Stadium are sold to a group led by New York real estate developer Ted Segal. The sale has not yet been officially announced by Dynamo FC or MLS / NWSL. The coach and players therefore stated that they had no expectations of the importance of the change of ownership.
“I really wish I could comment on that, but I really don’t know what it means at this point,” said Dynamo coach Tab Ramos on Saturday.
“We didn’t have an address for it,” said Dynamo defender Tim Parker. “I think we’re kind of sticking to what we’re going to do on the field. And I think what happens outside of the field is out of our control. So we’ll just keep doing what we can in the field. “
However, fans hope the move will lead to success in the field and greater community engagement.
“I think there is a sense of hope,” said Tony Sigwarth, season ticket holder. “That would be the biggest thing I would say about the new owner if I just tried to create a lot more excitement. These games are exciting and it will be part of getting more people to watch it. I think the whole experience, fans and property get a lot better. I don’t think it can get much worse to be honest. “
Since 2015 Dynamo and Dash have belonged to a group led by Gabriel Brener, including Oscar De La Hoya, Jake Silverstein, Ben Guill and James Harden. The group is expected to retain a minority stake in the franchise in the future, but interest has waned under their leadership.
Dynamo supporter Dominique Anderson, who said he started playing games in 2012, described fan sentiment towards the Brener group as “largely indifferent”.
“It’s been a little bit every now and then and I have a feeling (the change of ownership) might make a change,” said Anderson.
Top of the to-do list: get people back in the stands.
The BBVA stadium with a capacity of 22,039 has rarely been filled in recent years. Since the 2015 regular season attracted an average of 20,658 fans per game (eighth in MLS), the average attendance at Dynamo has steadily declined year on year.
In 2019, the last season with no capacity restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the average attendance at Dynamo (15,674) was close to the bottom of the MLS, with 20 teams out of 24 at the time.
To some extent, the dwindling crowds are directly linked to poor results in the field. The Dynamo were once perennial playoff competitors and collected two MLS Cup titles and two runner-ups by 2012, but declined under Brener’s possession. The club failed to qualify for the playoffs in four of the last five seasons. In 2020, the first season under Ramos, the Dynamo ended at the end of the Western Conference.
“Everyone doesn’t want to spend money on a lost team,” said Wes Henderson, a member of the Texian Army support group. “I will always root for my team. Give everyone else that fair weather fanatic a reason to come here to spend the money and then you’ll reap the benefits later. “
The Dynamo’s lack of enthusiasm is particularly evident when compared to the hype surrounding recent MLS expansion sites Atlanta United, LAFC and Austin FC, which sold out season ticket membership six months before MLS 2021 kicked off.
“It can get a little frustrating,” said Jeff Moreno, a member of the Texas Army. “But you know you have to give them your hat somehow. They invest the money and effort to actually create that excitement. We do not have that. Houston sports teams can somehow be forgotten at times. So this club has to try to fight that to say, “Hey, we’re the dynamo. Look at us. We deserve attention. ‘”
Spending is a sore point for Dynamo fans. Based on figures from the MLS Players Association published in April, Dynamo ranked 24th out of 27 teams in terms of total wages with $ 9.5 million.
While MLS clubs are allowed to have up to three specific players (whose salaries exceed the team’s cap), Dynamo have only one striker Darwin Quintero, who has fallen off the bench in just three games this season.
“We have a great core group of players, but we don’t have the next level of players that you see in Austin, LA or New York,” said Henderson. “There is no reason in a city that is full of millions of people, this is a melting pot of people, that you cannot include some of the best players in the world.”
It’s a way of signing big-name players. Others, like Anderson, believe the Dynamo should also fill the roster with young talent to support the team for years to come.
“To be honest, I think we can give priority to our youngsters and that way we can save all the money you would spend on bigger players,” he said. “A few years ago we brought Vicente Sanchez with us from Uruguay. This year we won the Lamar Hunt Cup. And I feel like he didn’t play that many games, but he made a huge impact on the field because of his experience. Some older, seasoned players at the end of their careers and some younger players will be really good in my opinion. “
The Dash game at BBVA Stadium with a reduced capacity of 7,000 fans – and they, too, saw the spectator numbers decrease as they battled for competitiveness in their short time in the NWSL. In the first two years of their existence they took second place in terms of average attendance and peaked in 2015 with 6,413 fans per game. In 2019 they finished eighth out of nine teams with 3,615 per game.
Continuing sales with large rosters, including four head coaches in six seasons, made it difficult for the Dash to establish an organizational identity until recently. After failing to qualify for the playoffs in the first six seasons, Dash won the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup, a fanless tournament that was played exclusively at the Rio Tinto Stadium in Utah.
Because of this, Dash fans believe the club deserves more respect across the league and would like the new owner to continue investing financial resources in the NWSL side.
“They are already making progress in terms of talent and are really trying to move the Dash forward as a leading team in the NWSL, so this continues to be really valued,” said supporter Jo Jaynes. “I’m super excited about the future of the Dash. I’m new to Houston and haven’t lived anywhere that has a women’s soccer team. And so well pumped for the championship last year and onwards. “
Part of that commitment is to make sure the Dash receives the same resources as the Dynamo, added fan Stephanie Sherman, who is disappointed with the range of Dash merchandise available both in the team store at BBVA Stadium and online was.
“We get that you renamed, (but) it’s not that hard to get more merch out there,” she said. “They didn’t even have a sticker that we could buy to put on things. … There’s not nearly as much merch as the men’s team, and that’s really frustrating. “
The entire organization was “refreshed” after the 2020 season, which included a new name, Houston Dynamo FC, as well as new crests for both clubs and a slogan “Hold It Down”. Jaynes and Sherman praised the rebranding. However, some fans believe the change was unnecessary and that these funds should be used elsewhere.
“I hope the new owner will go back to the old logo as we didn’t need the change. We lost a bit of identity right there, ”said Moreno.
“I’ll say this, our front office has done a great job with fan engagement and everything,” said Henderson. “The rebranding is what it is. I am okay with that one way or another, but we didn’t need that. We have to have this new property and revitalize this city because in Houston there are so many bad things in sports between what happened to the Astros, what is currently happening to the Texans and the Rockets who are having the season, the they had. I love everything in Houston, but if you’re bringing out a product that people are going to love, there’s no reason this stadium shouldn’t be full of every game every day. “
Although fans surveyed for this story said they primarily want Segal to prioritize the product on the ground for Dynamo and Dash, some suggested improvements to the fan experience. Anderson mentioned that the stadium’s smoking ban had kept some fans out, and Moreno advocated a larger, safer standing area.
Sigwarth said he wanted Segal to be particularly involved and connected to the public.
“I think visibility and transparency are something else I’m looking for,” he said. “I don’t think we have heard from the (previous) owners very often. If this owner accepts that and wants to stand in front of the fans, that’s good for the fan base. “
While the impact of Segal’s influence on the organization remains to be seen, Houston’s loyal football community remains unwavering in its support for the players on the field.
When striker Maxi Urruti hit the bull’s eye on Saturday for Dynamo’s second goal that night, the 2-1 win over Vancouver Whitecaps, Hustle Town fans burst into singing behind the north gate.
“Dale, Dynamo!” they cried and the air was full of moisture and hope.