As Major League Soccer held its All-Star game in Kansas City this week, ColoradoRapids.com took the opportunity to catch up with Rapids President Tim Hinchey. The Q&A below features his updates and opinions on many things at the club, including the first team’s performance, off-field business, television ratings, and more.
With the win over the Galaxy, the Rapids are nine points ahead of where they were at this point last season. What do you think has been the difference?
The commitment of the group as a whole has improved, from players to coaches to staff, and I notice a different air about the group both at training and on the road. Everyone is pulling in the same direction, and I’m really happy for Oscar and the staff because in matches you can see the guys playing for him. It’s a huge step forward.
How do you think the team can continue to grow and improve?
I think consistency is a place we can keep making strides, particularly at home – getting that fortress mentality that we keep talking about where we come out and dominate, use the altitude, and get after those guys. Also, it’s our job to continue to add quality to the group, both through developing players and finding new talent to add to the mix.
Lots of rumors have talked about potential signings – a pair of forwards among them – joining the Rapids before the transfer window closes. What is the status of any new signings?
With the transfer window open, we’re always looking for ways to strengthen the team. The only player I can comment about at the moment is Vicente Sánchez, who is here in Denver and, we hope, close to signing with the team. He’s a great player, an experienced pro, and could be an exciting addition. As for any other potential targets, those deals are always complicated and while we’re working hard on a couple different fronts, you never know exactly how it will play out.
Moving away from the first team, the stadium has seen some changes this season. What’s different at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park?
We’re proud of some of the new options that fans now have here. Budweiser, our new domestic beer partner, has turned the Cantina into Eighteen76, a bar that looks great, has better amenities, a scarf wall, and offers an authentic experience. It’s a great extension of what the supporters do at the tailgate and can include the rest of our fans and season ticket holders to be part of that experience. Also there’s the Corner 7-Eleven, which has about 900 seats in the southeast section of Dick’s Sporting Goods Park for the cheapest ticket in the stadium. It’s a great partnership that gives us a presence in over 300 7-Eleven stores, and allows people to purchase a 15-dollar face value match day ticket, and we look forward to making that an even bigger presence in the final games of this year and into next.
We also have a couple new spaces that focus on premium products, giving options to passionate fans who want extra content that they can’t get anywhere else. There’s the Western Union Chairman’s Club, an invitation-only space where we can invite some special guests, as well as decision-makers from around town. Western Union has been a great, new partner for that space. New this year is the Summit Club Powered by 2lemetry, and their CEO Kyle Roche is doing some unique things that are getting national recognition, using exclusive technology that shows people the game in a new way. We already have 75 people with season tickets in that space with more joining as the word gets out about it.
Are there other companies that have come on board this season as Rapids sponsors that are making a difference in the team’s business?
In addition to Western Union, Budweiser, 2lemetry and 7-Eleven, we have founding-level partners like Dick’s Sporting Goods, HealthONE, Westerra Credit Union, Coca-Cola and Adidas that are hugely important. Then there are new companies like Arby’s, who give our fans something special when we win at home, and renewals like Marco’s Pizza that help us with our broadcasts. For companies like these to partner with the Rapids is a great endorsement of our product.
Are any of these companies – or others – involved in conversations for a shirt sponsorship?
As I’ve always said, this starts and ends with me, and I need to deliver this. There are lots of things helping us: the way the team is playing, the relevancy of the club, attendance and season tickets rising, our television ratings going up by 300%. We’ve had more than 20 presentations over the last 24 months, and unfortunately sometimes these things don’t go your way even if you make a great effort. We’re in a second meeting this week with one company, and one of our current sponsors is still considering the opportunity. But we have more people on the job helping me, both internal and external resources, and it’s one of our main priorities.
A big offseason move in the front office was getting Richard Fleming as the Director of Broadcasting for the club. Have you seen improvements in the Rapids’ broadcasts on Altitude since he arrived?
Richard and Marcelo Balboa have formed a fantastic partnership, and that is due in large part to Richard’s credibility and experience as a commentator and a journalist – he tells the Rapids story fantastically well. We still need to improve our ratings, but we’ve added an average of four thousand households per telecast this year, and a higher percentage in the 18-35 age range. Altitude has also added Rapids Report on Thursdays, which gives us a weekly magazine show to start talking more about soccer in general. We’re making nice strides in our broadcast content, and Richard deserves a lot of credit for that.
Where do Season Tickets and overall attendance stack up so far this year?
That’s great as well. Back in 2010, we had just over 1,900 season ticket holders, and we’re near 4,500 this year. Again, not where we want to be, but a great improvement. As for average attendance, we’re about where we were last year, but were competing with some difficult weather early in the season and hope to make up for it at the end of the year.
Many of those season ticket holders are in Centennial 38. How has their consolidation gone from your perspective, and how is the club working with them this year?
A ton of credit goes to Centennial 38. They merged three groups that will always have distinctive roots, stepped up and owned 1,000 season tickets, and we are grateful for their support. People see a vibe that is really positive, and I think we’ve had the best relationship we’ve ever had. We look forward to listening and doing more to help them grow, because the fantastic environment that C38 brings to the table is what makes our sport unique. This was a great first year and I look forward to big things out of C38.
Before the season you mentioned that the supporters cared deeply about the Subaru Rocky Mountain Cup. Where does that sit on the priority list, especially heading into the final match this weekend?
Everyone – Oscar, the players, Paul, myself, everyone in our office – knows the importance of the Subaru Rocky Mountain Cup. We have ambitions to be consistently competing for the Supporters Shield, MLS Cup, the U.S. Open Cup, but this is first on the list. We look at it as a major competition, and so we’ve put ourselves in a great position this year to earn it at home. We’ll be ready and we’re looking forward to it.
The Rapids Academy has had some successes this past year, including the U-16’s finishing third in the Development Academy. How do you rate this part of the Rapids?
I think this is the area where we excel the most. It started with Jeff Plush, Brian Crookham and Paul Bravo in 2009, making a vision and investing in the Academy and youth development. We see the fruits of that labor in players like Shane O’Neill, Dillon Serna and Davy Armstrong. What Shane has done as a 19-year-old is unbelievable. You’ve also got the Colorado Rapids Youth Soccer Club, led by Jon Goldin-Dubois, which has 4,000 kids wearing Rapids burgundy. We’ve got Rapids Alliance clubs in the Downtown Las Vegas Soccer Club, the Carolina Rapids, and interest from other youth clubs in New Mexico, Wyoming and Nebraska. People are taking notice and want to be part of what we’re building, and that’s an incredible testament to what that group is doing.
The Rapids Women just finished their second season at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. How do you analyze their integration into the club after two years?
We’re really pleased to have them on board. They have great fans, sometimes getting 900 fans out to games on Field 20 at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. Amy Snider, the Managing Director of the Rapids Women, has done a great job bringing the right people in, and they had a solid year. We want to help them grow, which relates back to the Academy – we are looking to grow the game at all levels. We have recreational players, elite players, Academy players, a women’s team, a first team, a Special Olympics team. We think that’s what’s special about the Rapids and we’re really excited about it moving forward.
What else is going on in the organization, whether this year or into the future?
Between the Rapids and Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, there’s always lots going on. Dave Matthews Band is coming up, Phish is back again, and the Men’s Lacrosse World Championships will be here next year. But we’re really proud of the relationship we’ve built with U.S. Soccer. Having a qualifier here was a major accomplishment, and the fan support was outstanding. We want to keep pushing to bring the U.S. National Teams here. We also enjoyed the experience in Albuquerque and know that playing top-level teams is great competition for the club. We’ve got lots of projects to keep working on this year and into the future.