Marek Warszawski

Fresno FC is one of the hottest teams in soccer. So where are all the fans?

Fresno is home to a professional soccer team. Not only that, the city is home to one of the hottest teams in the USL Championship league.

You probably already knew the first part. The second, probably not.

This is the quandary facing Fresno FC. Last year, the Foxes came on the scene to great fanfare. Nearly 5,000 fans per game turned out at Chukchansi Park. But the product on the field wasn’t very good, finishing 12th in the 17-team Western Conference.

Year 2 has proven quite a contrast. Halfway through the regular season, Fresno FC sits in third place thanks to a five-game win streak that upped its record to 10-2-7 (wins-losses-draws).

Problem is, success on the pitch has not translated to success at the ticket window.

Average home attendance is 4,161, a decline of 710 fans per game from last year. And recent trends aren’t good: The Foxes’ last three home matches – all victories – have drawn 4,029, 3,452 and 3,674.

All of which raises a simple question: What gives?

“I think it’s just an awareness piece,” Fresno FC general manager Frank Yallop said. “I don’t think people have latched on to what they have here yet, and they’re missing out.

“It’s unbelievable soccer, and coming to the games is a fantastic experience. We just want more people to enjoy what we’re doing.”

EPZ FRESNO_FC 01.JPG
Fire Squad Fresno begins its march from Tioga-Sequoia Brewery before the start of Fresno Football Club’s game against Las Vegas Lights FC Saturday, March 17, 2018 in Fresno. Eric Paul Zamora ezamora@fresnobee.com

With regard to the attendance dip, Yallop said the numbers reported to the league don’t tell the whole story. While paid attendance remains “very similar” to last season, the Foxes made a conscious decision to give away fewer free tickets.

Which means rather than expect a freebie, soccer fans must reach into their wallets. How far? Two seats in the supporters section behind the goal for Saturday’s game cost $39 when purchased online. Two seats at midfield cost $55.

Fresno-area soccer fans have shown a willingness to pony up, as evidenced by the five-figure crowds for exhibition matches between Mexican top-division Liga MX teams. So perhaps one problem affecting the Foxes is many equate them to the amateur-level Fresno Fuego, who also played at The Chuk.

No disrespect to the Fuego, but those teams were composed mainly of college kids on summer break. Fresno FC players are professionals, some of whom have played in the MLS and internationally.

“I want people to know that they’re missing out,” Yallop said. “The USL is one level down from MLS. It’s really an unbelievable product we put out there.”

Everybody loves a winner, right? I’m convinced more people would fall head over heels for the Foxes if they got to know them. Time to make Fresno’s pro soccer team feel more at home.

If you go

What: Fresno FC vs. Las Vegas Lights FC

When: Saturday, Aug. 3 at 7:30 p.m.

Where: Chukchansi Park

Tickets: fresnofc.com or at the stadium box office

Notable: The Foxes are in the second half of the USL Championship season with seven home regular-season games left.

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Marek Warszawski writes opinion columns on news, politics, sports and quality of life issues for The Fresno Bee, where he has worked since 1998. He is a Bay Area native, a UC Davis graduate and lifelong Sierra frolicker. He welcomes discourse with readers but does not suffer fools nor trolls.
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