I love the game of baseball.
I remember tuning my little 10″ television in my bedroom to WGN and TBS growing up and, of course, watching the Cubs and Braves religiously.
The Braves were perennial winners when I was a kid, taking 14 NL East Titles in a row throughout the 1990’s and early 2000’s. They were on television nearly every day of the season.
The Cubs weren’t quite winners in the 90’s as you probably know by now, having experienced a historically long World Series drought that finally ended last fall.
But those friendly confines were oh so inviting and they too were on television in Birmingham nearly every day of the season.
I’m also a Birmingham Barons fan… not because of my youthful experience with the team. But more so due to the recent move the franchise made to downtown Birmingham.
I am a fan of the game of baseball, and more specifically the Braves, Cubs, and Barons for several reasons – but what it really comes down to is accessibility.
Accessibility comes in many forms. For the Braves and Cubs, it was a constant presence on television.
For the Barons, accessibility is having a prime location that is close to the city center.
Accessibility to a sports franchise creates a following, a fandom.
Accessibility of Soccer
The game of soccer is becoming more and more accessible to the people of the Birmingham metropolitan area.
The 2017 Major League Soccer season will kick off this coming weekend with nationally televised games on FoxSports 1, ESPN, and UniMas. Accessible.
Atlanta has a MLS franchise that will be playing top-flight games within 3 hours of the Magic City. Most of their games will not be nationally-televised. But the franchise struck a deal last week with Fox to ensure all of their games are broadcast on FoxSports South, including in the city of Birmingham. Accessible.
The Premier League, the Bundisliga, and La Liga all have American media contracts for nationally broadcast league games. Accessible.
There is no doubt that as the game of soccer becomes more accessible to the people of Birmingham, the game’s popularity will grow.
This popularity growth that is in our midst puts the Birmingham Hammers in prime position to take advantage.
But the Hammers must first solve their own accessibility puzzle.
Sicard Hollow Athletic Complex has been a great home for the Hammers. But it’s no mystery that the SHAC is not located in the prime position to draw massive crowds.
The Birmingham Hammers must continue striving to play in Birmingham’s city center, or at least closer to downtown, opening up ease of access for people all over the city.
Diversity of Market:
Birmingham is an ever-growing community of diverse cultures.
For example, the Hispanic community grew from 1.8% of the total Birmingham population in 2000 to 4.4% of the total population by 2012. There are roughly 55k – 65k Hispanics living in the Birmingham metro area today.
According to an ESPN poll from 2015, nearly 1 out of 4 Hispanics living in the United States identify soccer as their primary sport of choice. Yet how many in the Birmingham Hispanic community know about the Hammers?
The Birmingham Hammers must continue striving to open access to all of our diverse communities in the Magic City.
Local media is sports obsessed. Go to al.com on any given day and you will notice that the majority of their front page stories are related to sports in one way or another.
But rarely are those articles about soccer, or more specifically the Birmingham Hammers.
The Birmingham Hammers must continue striving to open up access to local media.
The Problem Solvers
The Hammers have a smart leadership team. They created a soccer organization out of thin air and have grown enough to where 750-1,000 Birminghamians regularly attend their matches.
They have even more followers on social media, being one of the most popular social media teams in the NPSL.
This article is not an indictment on the decisions the Hammers have made to-date. On the contrary, I am extremely impressed with what they have accomplished in such a short period of time.
The Hammers front office has CREATED the market that will ultimately allow professional soccer to thrive in Birmingham.
No, the point of this article is to highlight the challenges that the Hammers front-office faces every day.
The question that they should be asking themselves is how do we make the Birmimgham Hammers more accessible to our entire community?
The Hammers will need to continue striving to bust down the accessibility wall in order to move the franchise to the next step in their evolution.
Can they do it? Can we do it? Time will tell that story.
If you are interested in becoming a Guest Blogger on the Birmingham Backline, click this link and learn about the opportunity to share your thoughts on local soccer with a growing readership in the Magic City.