Though an active supporters’ culture for the Charleston Battery predates its move to Blackbaud Stadium in 1999, The Regiment has served as the club’s official supporter’s group since it arrived on Daniel Island. Current Regiment President Mikey Buytas, who is now entering his fourth season at the helm (and 12th year in the group), sat down for a phone interview about this year’s plans.
Membership in the group is small (typically between 45 and 50 dues-paying members) relative to paid attendance (between 3,800 and 3,900), but those figures can be a bit misleading. Many families that are active in the Regiment have only one membership, and the Regiment doesn’t require membership to participate in most of its events.
That said, recruiting new members is a group priority (full disclosure: I’m a first-time member in 2013) most years, and this season is no exception. But Buytas has more on his mind than boosting the recruitment rolls this time of year…
EXPECTATIONS FOR 2013
After the Battery signed standout trialist Jose Cuevas in 2012, Buytas set his expectations high for last season. It ended with an underdog run through the playoffs and a USL PRO championship.
This year, his expectations are even higher.
“Expectations are always high, in the league, but also I think … most people want a really deep U.S. Open Cup run. It’s a really nice feather in your cap to knock off a couple of MLS teams along the way.
“The expectation are pretty high this year. I think the guys have looked really good. Bringing back a much larger number than we’ve normally had, and a lot of those players are key players. With Nicki Paterson and Colin Falvey coming back, and Cuevas being re-signed, those guys have been playing together for a while so they understand each other and that team chemistry can take some time to build. Bringing in a few of these new guys…. I have to say I’m pretty excited, and optimistically cautious, I guess would be the term.
“I’m expecting playoffs, and I don’t think anybody in the club would be expecting anything less, either. And a deep U.S. Cup run. I would love to get back to the finals.”
BREAKING DOWN THE SCHEDULE
“When we’re doing our planning for the season, we do most of our tailgates on Saturdays, so I was happy that there were more Saturdays, because it’s not as stressful trying to get people there after work. Saturdays are a lot easier to plan bigger things, because you know you’re going to get more people.
“I’m always excited to see Wilmington, but I was kinda disappointed that Orlando was on a weekday, versus a weekend, because I know they’ve been wanting to travel back here. Overall, I think I’m excited by the schedule. We get 14 homes games, which is more than last year.”
Buytas expects big home crowds for the home opener (April 20, Antigua), the Wilmington match (May 11), the game against Richmond (August 3) and any match that’s got fireworks scheduled for afterward. The more people and energy in the stands, the better the chances for fan displays (tifo). The Regiment is in the process of acquiring a new display, but Buytas is keeping it under wraps for now.
“We’re in the process of having it ready for the home opener. If everything goes well, it will be something that we’ll be looking at using throughout the season, and hopefully future seasons. And there’s been a couple of new flags created this off-season, so hopefully we’ll have more of the same as far as the championship game last year, with the drums and the support we had, and then on top of that more visual displays with the flags. ”
What about away games?
“My first look is always at the teams that are closest to us. If I can finagle a way to go there personally. Second, I look at if it’s on a Saturday or something like that, we could make it feasible to organize bus trips, which we’ve done over the last several years. But looking at it this year, the Charlotte game being midweek and the Wilmington game being on a Friday, it’s not as desireable as I would hope. But we’re still looking at options, whether it’s carpools or just meeting up there in Charlotte or Wilmington. So the good thing is that the Wilmington game is far enough away (August 2) that there might be time to organize… an official Regiment-planned thing.
“And also several of us have been talking about possibly doing the Florida leg, which would take us to Orlando on a Thursday (July 11) and then play the new team out of Tampa, VSI Tampa SC, on Saturday (July 13). ”
Other possibilities this season include a Regiment presence at the season opener on the road at Richmond (April 13), and there’s been some interest in making the trip to Pittsburgh (June 15) to see the Battery’s first match at the Riverhounds’ new soccer-specific stadium downtown. Interest in a road trip to Houston declined when the Dynamo announced plans to play their reserve matches on a satellite field rather than the main pitch at BBVA Compass Park.
CHANGES TO THE U.S. OPEN CUP & THE BATTERY SCHEDULE
The Battery will play their first U.S. Open Cup match on May 21, making it a tricky turnaround for the team. The tournament match follows a two-game road trip with a short turnaround (the second league match is on a Sunday, giving the squad one fewer recovery day before the Open Cup). Plus, a coin flip will determine whether the Battery will play their first tournament match at home or as a third consecutive road game. And unlike last season, there’s no option to “buy” the match as a home date.
Buytas said he is neither happy nor unhappy with the way the Cup schedule shook out.
“If we get lucky and we pull an amateur team, which is by no means a done deal… then that is an easier route. But it is at the early stage. It’s not like we’re going to be playing an MLS team. But it’s always been tough with that U.S. Open Cup schedule. It seems like the U.S. Soccer Federation… it’s kind of an afterthought. I’d like to see U.S. Soccer say ‘Here’s our schedule,’ before everyone else starts doing their schedules, so teams can take it into consideration… when they’re building the season schedule.”
OTHER EVENTS THIS SEASON
The Regiment typically organizes a well-attended “post-season” player appreciation picnic, but since the team scatters quickly after its final postseason appearance, the event is usually scheduled between the end of the regular season and the start of the playoffs, typically in mid-August.
Buytas said the Regiment will be encouraging the club to open the Three Lions Pub for Battery away-game viewing parties this season. The club’s hesitancy has typically been related to concerns that the event might not draw enough attendance to cover the cost of staffing the kitchen and bar. So clearly, routinely producing enough fan support to make this idea financially feasible would be a big step toward making something away-day viewing parties a regular part of Battery fan culture.
Additionally, with the World Cup Qualifiers and the Gold Cup coming up, the Regiment plans to organize US National Team viewing parties at Madra Rua, either in North Charleston or Summerville.
SUPPORTERS CULTURE IN CHARLESTON
While supporters groups and stadium demonstrations are part of world football culture, there’s no single model for developing and organizing them. Some clubs feature multiple groups that function as independent peers, while others favor an umbrella group that might have subgroups that express individual identities. If Charleston’s supporter’s culture grows, which would be the better model?
“It’s what’s best for the situation. If that umbrella group is trying to be controlling to a degree where it stifles smaller groups, I don’t think that a healthy situation. Then again, if you have all these independent groups, that never actually grow to the size where they can be seen on their own, it can be an issue as well. So I think both have their merits.
“For me, the most important thing is, whether it’s a supporters group or a fan, or whoever, as long as they’re supporting the home team, that to me is the mark of success. I would love to have something like Portland, or even DC or other groups have in Charleston, but I’m also pretty proud of the fact that Charleston has been able to keep an average attendance of around 3,800 each year, which says there’s a pretty solid, core group of fans here, whether they’re as vocal as other places or not.
“I think it will come over time. You know, we’re in Charleston, everybody’s kinda a little bit more laid back, a little more casual. Things seem to kinda come around here a couple years after everybody else.
“For me personally, the Regiment is an official supporters group, and I kinda see E-10 as that sort of umbrella area, where if people want to come over and hang out, hey that’s great. They’re more than welcome to join us. And what the Regiment does, if they want to organize something on their own, and it’s just four guys behind the goal, hey. That’s great too.”
One of the issues for Battery supporters is that the “supporters section” in E-10 came into being years after many of the team’s most loyal fans became attached to sitting in particular spots. As a result, many of the supporters who populate E-10 are transitory, stopping by to hang out for a while during the game, but often returning to their regular seats. For Buytas, the hope is that once people figure out how informal and welcoming E-10 can be, they’ll feel more comfortable stopping by and joining in.
“E-10 was sort of an after-the fact kind of thing… and it has kinda ebbed and flowed over the years as far as vocal support, number support. But as far as this season goes, we really hope to step it up with the chants, step it up with the drums, step it up with the tifo. We really want to give the players that 12th man. We really want Blackbaud to be somewhere other players come into and … remember it because it was really a tough stadium to play in.
“So it’s a work in progress, but it’s also really kind of an organic thing. E-10 is … really the place where everybody kinda meets. It’s not a organization in and of itself. You’ve got a couple of guys who will come by and spend one half with E-10 and then another half somewhere else. Or they’ll spend a few minutes hanging out in E-10. But for the most part it is very fluid.”
GROWING THE REGIMENT
In a sense, the Regiment represents the tip of the fan-base iceberg. With about 1,800 season ticket holders most seasons, most loyal Battery fans aren’t actually Regiment members — though many participate in Regiment events or follow the group on Facebook. But the big thing for those who’ve followed the Regiment from a distance to understand is that the group welcomes people who just want to stop by — with no pressure to join or take an active role.
“(Our goals this year) are pretty much the same. Our goal is to support the Battery. If we can do that with more people, that’s even better. The more people that help us, join us, we can have a much larger say and much larger impact as a group than as individuals. But we’d like to see more songs, more chants, more atmosphere, more tifo, more members, more people getting behind the team and coming out and getting to know the team. But as far as numbers, I don’t really want to quantify it as such. I think the actions in E-10 and around the stadium and our tailgates (are what count).”
What about attracting younger fans?
“It’s one of the things our board has been talking about. We’re a bit older, but we like to get those young fans. I’d love to get some more guys from the College of Charleston area, even high school kids come out, because quite frankly, they’re a lot more uninhibited. Those are the kinds of vocal and loud fans that we want. Reaching out to those demographics is something we’ve been wanting to do for a while.
“Obviously, it’s slowly coming around. Social media is making it easier. There’s obviously things like your blog and website and other things like that, and just generally word of mouth.
“If everybody who said they wanted a huge supporters group showed up, we’d have 50, 60 people singing in unison every game. But it takes a while to make it happen, and it takes a while to get everybody to know who you are.”