St. Louis has, for as long as anyone can remember, been among the nation’s top sports destinations. And while the city’s teams — including baseball, football, hockey, soccer, basketball and corkball (a mini-baseball game that originated in St. Louis) — are known for their championships, many would argue it’s really the fans who make St. Louis sports stand out.
And those fans have had a lot to celebrate in the last few years, not the least of which is the St. Louis Blues Stanley Cup first-ever win in 2019.
Looking back, it seems it was a sign of things to come. St. Louis City SC celebrated its inaugural season in Major League Soccer, and won its first game in Texas during February. The club also made its home debut in March in a new downtown stadium built just for them, CityPark.
St. Louisans also realized that “Kaw is still the law,” and football was still a possibility in their city, when the St. Louis Battlehawks returned earlier this year to finish the season that had been interrupted three years ago.
In 2018, St. Louis became one of eight American cities chosen to join the newly reformed XFL. Then on March 12, 2020, the XFL announced the remainder of its 2020 season would be canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The same year, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Dany Garcia and Gerry Cardinale, purchased the XFL for $15 million.
The first part of 2023 has been quite a year for soccer and football fans who've been waiting to see their teams play. And for Corey Hollander, the St. Louis SC did not disappoint.
Corey describes the “Supporters’ Section” at CityPark, wherein staunch soccer fans are known to go all out in support of their favorite sport. “It’s a dedicated section to hard-core fans. Everyone is high-fiving. People are playing drums and singing. They’re wearing flags. It’s a real sense of community. These people live and breath soccer. That’s what is so cool about soccer, and you can really see it in St. Louis.”
For more than 100 years, St. Louis has been a soccer leader in the Midwest. The St. Louis Soccer League, created in 1907, was one of the first leagues in the nation.
Owned by the Taylor (Enterprise Holdings) and Kavanaugh (World Wide Technology) families, St. Louis City SC is led by Carolyn Kindle, making it the first majority female-owned club in MLS history and one of the few in professional sports globally.
St. Louis SC Chief Experience Officer Matt Sebek says the club has worked hard to maintain consistency and excellence in engaging fans online and in the stadium. Matt oversees the food, music and entertainment for the club. “It’s the entire fan journey from start to finish,” he adds. And since soccer is played in two 45-minute periods with a mere 15-minute halftime, planning is different than with other sports.
“Sports fans today, especially younger ones, are more fluid in how they engage with their experiences and with their favorite brands,” Matt says. “Soccer is full of energy and excitement. We have to think differently about our operations. We're driven to showcase all of the amazing things going on in the region.”
The club has enlisted 25 locally owned restaurants as well as local musicians to serve fans.
Corey says he can see the club’s efforts. “The best thing about it is the connection with the fans and the club. St. Louisans always say that we are a big city with a small-town feel. Those are the perfect ingredients for a recipe of strong support of sports.”
And by all accounts, St. Louis Battlehawks fans feel the same.
“The first time I walked into the stadium, the energy was contagious,” says Kim Hannegan, of St. Charles. “The enthusiasm of the crowd was amazing. St. Louis is all in as Battlehawks fans. Even before the game, the parking lots are full of people tailgating and pregaming. Everyone is having fun together. It’s nice to see so many people who barely know each other come together for another St. Louis sports team.”
Kim says she and her husband recently took their 5-year-old grandson to his first Battlehawks game. “He had a blast and was shouting STL, Third Down and Kaw Kaw in no time.”
Terry Lyon, of Foristell, says the way fans wholeheartedly embraced the Battlehawks speaks to the commitment of sports fans in St. Louis.
“The fans in this city have always been supportive of its NFL teams, even though past owners didn't have the same commitment to the city,” Terry says. “I think having professional games to attend during the NFL offseason is a great thing for football fans. The atmosphere at Battlehawks games is electric. Attendance's also been the highest in the XFL by far. Fans at the games and on social media are very much into supporting the Battlehawks. It shows St. Louis deserves to have another NFL team. It's also very cool that the XFL provides a path for players wanting to get back into the NFL and giving an opportunity for career backup players like A.J. McCarron to show that they deserve a shot at being a starter in the league.”
Battlehawks Quarterback A.J. McCarron has made quite an impression on fans locally and all over the country, and not just with his football skills. The former Alabama quarterback took a pay cut, from $4 million to $60,000, so his sons could watch him play in the XFL instead of sitting on a bench in the NFL.
“It’s been fun for sure,” A.J. says. “It's awesome to see my kids see me play. It’s been a pleasure to represent the city of St. Louis and Battlehawk Nation. It’s been a blessing, more than I could have imagined.”
“It’s nice to see people who barely know each other come together for another St. Louis sports team.” ~Kim Hannegan