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Fire Fri Mar 14 2014
Following the the growth of soccer in America can feel like speculating on the fortunes of Silicon Valley start-ups. Trying to divine what will catch on with the country at large can be maddening. The shifting desires of consumers aren't easily distilled into numbers and analytics, leaving concepts that seem a sure bet to wither, where odd ideas often flourish. Look no further than Pinterest and Twitter as examples of services that seemingly few were clamoring for before their debut, but their universal presence in daily life shows the genius-level foresight of their creators.
Recently Major League Soccer received perhaps the most heartening news of its young life, when ESPN published the results of a survey indicating that there were as many young fans following MLS as there were interested in Major League Baseball. This, if you're watching the growth of soccer in America, is quite a heartening signal that this start-up has legs. In time, this survey suggests, the league will grow into something with the kind of ubiquitous acceptance afforded other sports in America. MLS is something worth speculating on, it would seem.
All of this is good growth, but let's focus on the now. A question on the minds of regular followers of the league is, just how does one attract young adults to the prospect of following their local soccer team? The majority of the ways which present themselves are fairly standard though, mostly aping prior models of success shown by the bigger leagues in American sports by securing big-name sponsorships and using traditional media channels. These efforts are commendable but for the Fire, and other teams in the league, the method of communication needs to be more oblique.
Beer and sports have for quite some time been, and for the foreseeable future will continue to be, intractably linked. Anyone who has attended an event in the last, oh say hundred years can attest, the pre-, post-, and in-game ritual is ruled over by the consumption of beer. While the culture of sport is not shifting dramatically though, America's tastes have seen a dramatic shift towards import and craft brewed beer. Where once uniformity reigned in post-prohibition America, now local breweries have returned, seizing a substantial piece of the market. There is a bubble-type atmosphere surrounding them, similar to the proliferation of web and app developers in silicon valley. Chicago has seen close to 20 new breweries open in city limits in the last 5 years alone, with many more on the horizon.
And so we are come to the turn. You see, the pairing of craft beer and soccer makes perfect sense, as both serve to heighten the experience of the other. It is true that soccer and beer can be consumed in separate spheres, and neither ceases to be good without the other, but it is that magic which they create when brought together that makes them a noteworthy pair. For the neither can be consumed without being aware of the importance of the balance of subtlety and strength, of the artistry and precision which has gone into producing such a sublime product.
Major League Soccer, it should be noted, is a particular strain of the sport, consisting of equal parts finesse and blunt force. It is several steps removed from the fast and fluid precision of Europe's top leagues, but this is not a knock against the league, or the quality of play on display, merely an assessment of the particular characteristics found in MLS that can also be found in a good craft beer. Both are a labor of love that not everyone enjoys, at least initially, and which one must seek out to enjoy. Because of this, the audience is passionate from the get-go, and only by exploring more does that passion grow.
In short, the aim of this article is to implore a Chicago brewery to come forth and honor the Chicago Fire with a beer that is equally worthy of the brewery and the team. As Chicago has steadily become one of the major centers for excellent craft brewed beer in the United States, its love for soccer has also continually grown. The two are not entirely mutually exclusive as well. As both are cultures of passion, often are they consumed together, especially at Section 8-organized tailgates. In the past few years kegs have come from Lagunitas, Goose Island, Two Brothers, Half Acre, and many more.
If the Fire were to have a beer brewed with them in mind or simply named for them, it could serve as their entree into the hearts and minds of an audience who were either uninformed of, uninspired by, otherwise unendeared to the team. What better introduction than one which is entirely non-committal? Enjoy this beer, well, perhaps you would like to check out the team? And how more can a team, as well as a brewer, loudly declare that they have arrived? This would be mutually beneficial for the brewer by the same turn: as Chicago Fire fans are a faithful lot, any brewer willing to take up the task of crafting the beer would display such heart, thereby becoming the de facto brewer of choice for several thousand fans in one fell swoop. Anyone willing to recognize the team and sport you love is surely deserving of reciprocal generosity.
There is a precedent for this as well. The past few years have seen many well-regarded breweries across the country work with their local MLS clubs to brew special beers to support the team and fans alike. In Seattle, Redhook Brewery launched No Equal blonde ale to toast the Sounders. Washington, DC-based DC Brau released a limited edition brew that increased fan involvement by allowing them to vote on the name and design of the can. In Utah, a beer brewed by Epic Brewing Company in tribute to Real Salt Lake's goalkeeper Nick Rimando has gone on to become one of the better selling beers at the stadium even. But presently no team has better local brewery support than that of the Portland Timbers, who have seen not one, but two beers brewed by local powerhouse Widmer Brothers Brewery, which both serve to deepen the fan experience as well as glorify their new head coach.
Legitimizing the team and its fans can go a long way in helping the sport of soccer to make headway in Chicago, but that is hardly the only idea behind this project. It is about deepening the passion that one feels for the Fire and for whichever craft brewery would be daring enough to take up this proposition, true, but as well there is an opportunity to donate a portion of the proceeds to local charity organizations. These are things that Section 8 and the Fire Foundation do already, and the chance to continue these efforts would be perfect.
The question now becomes, how does this go from a dream to reality? Well, faithful reader, this is where you come in. Perhaps you are a beer aficionado, a Fire fan, or somewhere in between, but you could also be a part of Chicago's vibrant beer scene, in whatever capacity, and this appeals to you. I can't tell you what to do next, but this is the internet, and the team's contacts are not that hard to find. As most Fire fans know, it can be hard enough to see coverage of the team reliably in the Chicago media landscape, so it would be the ultimate coup to know that one could go to their corner bar, liquor store, or even the concessions stand at Toyota Park and find their team's beer for sale. It'd be even better to crack one open to celebrate a Fire win.
***Updated to reflect that I am now aware of the Three Floyds and Gigantic collaboration Axes of Evil, brewed as a tribute to the Timbers Army and Section 8. This is awesome, I am sad I missed it, and all thanks to these two breweries for their efforts. That said, my aim remains the same.***
What do you think would be the best type of beer or brewer you'd like to see make a Chicago Fire beer? Would it be Sean Johnson's The Milkman milk stout? Jeff Larentowicz's Ginger Ninja red ale? Let me know in the comments below!
This Sunday, March 16th, the Fire take on the Portland Timbers at 2:00pm. The official Section 8 watch party will be held at the Atlantic Bar & Grill and it will prove to be a pretty wild one as they willl be in the midst of celebrations for St. Patrick's Day.