Minnesota Aurora: A New Guiding Light in Women's Soccer
Updated: Aug 2, 2022
Minnesota Aurora FC lost the inaugural USL W Championship at home to South Georgia Tormenta FC 2-1 in extra time on July 23. This was their only loss of the entire season. The Aurora sold out the championship game at TCO Stadium (capacity 6,200 people) in less than 24 hours. For context, the only NWSL team to amass a larger average audience than that during the 2022 Challenge Cup was the Portland Thorns. How did this amateur team manage to become so successful so quickly? And what can other teams across the world learn from the Aurora?
Okay, People, Now Let’s Get in Formation
The Minnesota Aurora is a fundamentally unique club compared to its counterparts. Instead of having a small group of owners like most American sports teams do, the Aurora opened up its ownership to the public. For at least $100 per share, anyone could become a part owner of the new team. 3,080 people answered the call, raising over $1 million.
The name Aurora was chosen from the owners' suggestions. The accompanying crest was done by an all-female team of local designers. The coaching staff is exclusively composed of women. Even before the Aurora kicked off, they made a resolute statement to value female leadership and ground themselves in the community.
This community-first approach paid enormous dividends. They sold out of season tickets, which proved that there was not only an interest in women’s soccer in Minnesota, but a demand for it. In addition to the strong interest in the community, the season ticket prices were purposely kept affordable: for six home games, one season ticket was only $11 for general admission or $40 for reserved seating. As stated in the club’s season ticket announcement, “[f]rom the beginning, we set out to create a club that is fiscally responsible, but also affordable for the community.”
One cannot overuse the word “community” when describing the Aurora and its players. In fact, community is literally the basis of their mission statement: “We are a soccer team for community and by community.”
12 Aurora players are either from Minnesota originally or live there now. This speaks to the community focus too; players want to represent their community well because it’s not just the crest on their shirts. It’s their parents, their friends, their teachers, even their favorite baristas.
The players not from Minnesota are housed by the team free of charge. Registration fees are also paid by the Aurora, which breaks down another financial barrier young players may face when starting their careers. These accommodations are not typical for the USL W or other pre-professional women’s leagues. Aurora leaders were adamant in creating a community, and the only way to build a winning community was to knock down any barrier to entry.
Goalkeeper Sarah Fuller summed it up best in a quote from her signing press release: “I’m excited to be a part of a club that was built by the community. To see so many people come together and support a women’s soccer club is magical and speaks to the growth of women’s sports today.”
Seeing the Light
The Aurora’s massive success provides a plethora of lessons for the women’s game, specifically in its ownership and ticketing approaches. Given the NWSL’s public ownership battles are still in recent memory, the Aurora’s community-driven ownership approach provides an alternative path to funding in the US. Thousands are able to make their voices heard instead of hearing proclamations on the club’s future from a somewhat mysterious group of investors.
Public ownership also creates accountability in a way that other clubs could only dream of. It’s difficult to sweep mistreatment or mismanagement under the rug when over 3,000 people are watching. While this ownership model is hard to scale for major-league clubs, it’s certainly not impossible. If anything, the Aurora are proof that the idea is worth exploring.
Furthermore, the accessibility of games both on broadcast and in person is paramount to the Aurora’s massive turnouts every home game. Locally, the games are broadcast on a free livestream through a local CBS affiliate. For those watching from anywhere else, the games are also free to watch through another platform. Speaking to the in-person turnout, keeping ticket prices low means more people can go to games. This in return means a greater spectator base than many other (pricier) sports.
It’s a known maxim that putting more eyeballs on a team generates more revenue. Hiding games on obscure platforms and behind paywalls is a surefire way to deter people from becoming invested. Communities are only born when people can share a common interest. It’s easy to root for a team that’s free and easy to watch online and inexpensive to watch in person. Obviously not every team has the luxury of choosing how to distribute their games, but they should focus on making games as accessible as possible. The payoff will certainly be worth the effort.
While the loss was a dour end to their undefeated first season, the future is bright for the Aurora. If they continue to make games as accessible as they have, it’s quite possible that they’ll grow their fanbase even more throughout Minnesota and beyond. Continuing to make playing for them accessible too ensures top talent will want to play for the Aurora. As long as the Aurora front office stays true to their community, they can’t go wrong.