BigShot Q&A: Midnight Riders President – Fran Harrington

Columnist Herb Scribner interviews the President of the Midnight Riders and chats Revs ownership, stadiums and MLS fan culture
by Herb Scribner   |   Friday, March 30, 2012

Fran Harrington - President of Midnight Riders (New England Revolution supporters group)

Fran Harrington is currently the President of the Midnight Riders, an independent supporters group of the New England Revolution. Harrington works exclusively with the Riders in building a social and charitable supporters group. Harrington also founded the Boston chapter for the American Outlaws.

What makes a group like the Midnight Riders different from general fan support?

FH: At Gillette stadium, people who are in the Fort [the stadium section where the supporters groups, Midnight Riders, the Rev Army, and the Rebellion, sit] are the only ones standing and singing for the whole game. The majority of our group resides in the Fort, but we also have members which sit in other sections, as well as members all over the country that join us for certain away games, and some members in different countries. It’s a very diverse group.

Do you feel all MLS clubs need a supporters group like the Riders?

FH: Yes. Every team should have its base of organized, die-hards like the Riders. It is necessary for the league to grow on the world stage.

How big is your membership? What has the growth been like since 1995?

FH: Our group tends to fluctuate somewhere between 400-500 members. There was a rough patch a number of years ago where membership had dropped off significantly after the initial boom, but the numbers have returned over the past few years and we are looking to continue to grow and hopefully have a very strong base for if/when the Revs move to the Boston area.

Do the Riders model themselves after any supporters groups overseas?

FH: Not specifically. As I mentioned, we have a very diverse membership, so we have fans of leagues all over the world. This definitely influences things, but there is not any specific model which we emulate.

In your opinion, is it feasible to stay at Gillette Stadium long-term?

FH: Long-term is probably too vague in the context for me to answer this question. Will the Revs survive 50 years in Gillette Stadium? Definitely not. Could the Revs stay for five to 10 years? If that was what Kraft wanted that is probably what he would get.

Would the Riders like to see the Revolution move either in or around Boston? If you could pick the absolute best place for a new Revs’ soccer specific stadium (SSS) to thrive, where would you put it? How many fans do you think would attend on average in that prime location?

FH: The Revs getting a stadium in Boston on public transportation is at the absolute top of every Midnight Riders' wish list. The exact location and the potential average attendance are for someone employed by the club to figure out. We just know it would be an absolute success.

With a stadium in Boston, what percentage would the Revs supporter groups increase by that first season? Would more ethnic fans like the Irish or Portuguese join?

FH: If the product was good and the atmosphere contagious then soccer fans of all backgrounds would join in. Boston is a city of great sports fans and the fans of soccer are no different.

Would you like to see John Henry and the Fenway Sports Group, owners of the Red Sox and Liverpool FC, buy a percentage of the Revolution one day? Would that help the club?

FH: The Revs need an ownership that is wholly invested and transparently committed to the game of soccer and to the club. The club also needs owners committed to getting the team in Boston where the potential for a great fan base is incredible. Does that potential owner own the Red Sox? Does he or she own the Patriots? I don't care.

What are some positives you see with the growing MLS?

FH: The league's image worldwide is growing which will only improve the on the field product. The better the players the more healthy the league will be.

What else does the MLS need to incorporate or do to make it grow even further?

FH: Stay the course. The past five years have been amazing for the league and it is pretty obvious to me that the equation they're using is mostly working.

Is the league doing a good job embracing supporters groups and fan culture? What more can it do to improve?

FH: The league is doing a much better job embracing supporters groups, but it would be nice to see a set of “best practices” being employed league-wide. Right now certain clubs are struggling to keep up with the rest of the league and when those club's fans see what is happening in more successful situations it can create unnecessary and unproductive friction.

Does a strong MLS supporters group and fan culture breed more general fans, or vice versa?

FH: No question. The better the atmosphere, the more fans will want to be at the match to be a part of it even if being a part of it to them is not sitting in the supporters' section.

From your vantage point, what MLS club embraces their supporters groups the best and why?

FH: Most of the newer clubs had the advantage of learning from the mistakes made by early MLS owners. Those new clubs have done a great job embracing supporters but you can really see that league-wide the importance of supporters and their culture is being brought to the forefront. Each team has very different situations so some clubs have had an easier time catching up than others.

Outside of Revs fans, what MLS club’s supporters groups do in-stadium tifo and support displays the best?

FH: There have been plenty of great tifo displays around the league. I love the “one-upsmanship” that you see in the Pacific Northwest. The Mario thing that Section 8 pulled off was also impressive.

What MLS club do fans really want to watch? Which Revolution games do you feel have been the most engaging and entertaining for fans?

FH: The season just started so I think the first home game of the season has to qualify. It was the first real chance the Revs got to get the ball down and play in the style that [new head coach] Jay Heaps wants. They acquitted themselves quite nicely.

If an MLS, NASL or USL Pro club ever came to Rhode Island or Connecticut, would that likely become a rival for the Revs? If so, would that grow soccer in New England? What cities not currently in the USA, but that could be one day with expansion, do you think would have great supporters?

FH: There are already several USL: PDL clubs in New England. There has not been a feeling of competition or rivalry between the Revs and any of these clubs. With the Revs in Foxboro there really is not a market for another team in Providence. Hartford would certainly enjoy an NASL or USL Pro team but I don't think that would seem like too much of a rival either.

In terms of other cities, it would be great to have another New York team in the city. More clubs within a short distance of Boston the better.

What MLS squad looks the strongest right now on the field?

FH: Seattle or Kansas City.

What’s your outlook for the Revs in the 2012 season?

FH: The Revs will at the very least be more watchable than they were in 2011. Heaps has done a great job building depth in the squad and the competition that will come from this is certain to breed some great competition for playing time. This will only benefit the team and the product on the field.


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SN managing editor and award-winning journalist, Herb has always been known as "The Soccer Guy" wherever he goes. He's a leftback in most outdoor and indoor leagues. He also writes for Deseret News National.