As Butch Cassidy once said to the Sundance Kid…”Who are those guys?”….why is the Spot starting off his last blog story with that line? Because that’s what most Stocktonians and valley residents say when you just happen to mention the California Cougars. Usually when you mention “cougars” these days your thinking of this, but for the past 5 years, the Cougars (either as California or as Stockton) have been Stockton’s very own Professional Indoor Soccer Team…giving their fans the highs of being the 2008-09 PASL-Pro Champions and this past year’s playoff run…to the low’s of the initial Troy Dayak years (The Spot went to a few of those games back then…and yes, it was brutal). But through it all the Cougars have kept a small, yet extremely dedicated fan base that have stuck with them through thick and thin. As the Cougars head into the off season, with the difficulties of last year behind them (very, VERY late ownership change, which allowed for only 5 games to be played at the Stockton Arena, and caused games to be played in both Turlock and Sacramento, staff let go in mid-season…you get the drift) a new model of what they hope will be success, both on the field and at the gate, has been drawn up that puts the ultimate success or failure of the Cougars directly in the hands of their fans.
It was this new model that led the Spot to attend the very first meeting of the Cougars Booster Club this past Saturday at Stockton’s Cancun Restaurant (gotta love their chile Verde!). The old model of how sports teams usually operate is out. The TV and radio ads, the billboards, the newspaper spots…out. What’s in you might ask… Social networking…Facebook, Twitter and the like. More personal, more fan interactive…and definitely less expensive. Under the new model it will be up to the Cougar’s booster club, in conjunction with team ownership, to run the social networking sites, to get the season tickets sold….get fans to the games….sell those sponsorships, get the word out about the team. The advantages? Well those that sign up to get all of the above done are your most ardent supporters; you know they’ll give it their 110% and then some. The disadvantages? They clearly aren’t professionals at this either…most have no experience in running the operational aspects of a pro sports team. But then again, we’ve left running the State of California to professionals and look where that’s gotten us…maybe having people with more zeal, more personally invested in the product, isn’t such a bad idea. According to Chairman of the California Cougars Booster Club Jack Jones, “Our goal is to make this the most successful Cougars season ever. We believe that a solid booster club to help generate excitement for the team will help make this goal a reality. We need excited fans, season ticket holders and local businesses to get involved to help us reach this goal”.
What’s the Spot’s take on all this? Well, the Spot is a fan of the indoor soccer…and the Cougars final game vs. the San Diego Sockers last year showed that at least for one game the Social Networking model worked (1700+ in attendance, their highest attendance of the season) but for the duration of a whole season…that is where the great experiment comes in. The Cougars new business model does have a few things going for it…the fact that all 9 games (8 regular season and 1 exhibition) this year will be played at the Stockton Arena (dates estimated to be finalized by mid-summer), a very, very decided core group of boosters who have shown their dedication in the past season to doing whatever is necessary to making the Cougars successful and the fact that they are starting the process of promoting the upcoming season not weeks before the season begins (early November) but a good 6 months before the start of said season, giving ample time to get the word out that yes, the Cougars are still alive and kicking, and last, but not least, the fact that yes, this team now belongs not to some corporate owner, or someone who treats sports teams like their own personal little toy, but to you, the fans. This year it’s very clear for the Cougars, without the investment, the feeling of ownership from their fans, the Cougars will go the way too many other former sports franchises in the Valley (see Lightning, Stockton, and Falcons, Fresno) and into the dustbin of history.
Ultimately, the success of the California Cougars and the new “Social Networking Model” of running a sports franchise depends on the fans who live in Stockton and the surrounding communities. Residents of towns such as Lodi, Manteca, Tracy and Modesto. The success of the Cougars are in your hands. Do you want to keep what has turned out in the last few years to be a particularly successful team on the field, around? Do we want to point to the Cougars as not only fun, affordable family entertainment, but as a source of civic and area pride? The fact that OUR team, because under the new model that’s what it is now, is able to go to the San Diego’s, Denver and Cincinnati’s and win, not just for them, but for us. If so, it’s time to put your money where your mouth is Valley fans. The Spot’s in, are you?