Sticker Shock: Lower League Sticker Culture
Stickers are a big part of supporter culture in Europe. You see them all over the place in pictures of areas surrounding stadiums, plastered all over railings and signs. They often show allegiance to a certain Supporters Group, but they also show the love for a club. Now, that same craze has made its way stateside starting with lower league teams across the nation.
Teams all over the country have their own stickers out there, but there are a few that stick out in my mind. PDX FC, Providence City FC, Detroit City FC, and Snohomish County FC all do a great job with the stickers they produce. They all have multiple, high-quality designs that are recognizable by soccer fans across the United States.
Across Europe, stickers and patches are often traded amongst the many supporters groups for clubs. While that is the case with some supporters groups in the US, such as Detroit City FC’s Northern Guard, many times it is the club themselves producing the stickers. While it is not the same culture as over in Europe, it is still a really cool phenomenon in the US. It isn’t done as much as a way for supporters groups to mingle, but more so as a way to promote the club’s brand and it is very effective. Stickers are an affordable way to promote your team and get the crest out there. As Snohomish County FC’s general manager, David Falk, points out, “They are something tangible that reaches out beyond the computer screen,” which is important for lower league teams trying to generate interest in the United States. Providence City FC’s general manager sees it in a similar way, saying, “Stickers are definitely not a direct source of income but an indirect [source], spreading our brand and cool logo which then people are able to gain awareness of our custom jerseys which many people order from all over the globe helping us spread the good word.” They are able to grow the brand of their club, which in turn will grow their club. Josh Duder of PDX FC said, “We knew we wanted to get the new design into people's hands but when you're on a tight budget, you have to find affordable ways to do that,” showing that the vast majority of clubs that sell stickers aren’t looking to necessarily make money off of them, but are rather looking to expand their reach as a club and get more people “in the know” about who they are.
The Northern Guard is slightly different however. Dion Degennaro, the head of communications for the widely known supporters group, states, “We see it as an opportunity to make money and as a tool for promotion,” and goes on to say, “we spend a, frankly, shocking amount of money on smoke bombs and tifos…We have created a way to self sustain our style of support.” Like the clubs, they aren’t really turning a profit on the stickers either, but they are utilizing it as a way to help generate money for the Northern Guard’s antics.
As far as the production of stickers, there are some teams around the nation that look for local vendors to produce their stickers for them. However, most of the clubs I spoke to mentioned StickerMule as their primary provider of stickers. Just a quick look through their site will show you why so many clubs use the site so much. Stickers are priced very affordably and there are many different styles to choose from. I reached out to StickerMule, who walked me through the process of an order. It was surprisingly quick and easy and within a couple of hours my proofs had been emailed to me. When they arrived the next week, I got the chance to see how high-quality the stickers were first-hand. They feel good. They look great. They’re extremely affordable. What else could you ask for?
You may be asking where all of these great designs come from. Well, most of these teams have designers on hand. The Northern Guard have a few people who make designs for tiffs, t-shirts, scarves, and stickers. Josh Duder did the initial designs for PDX FC before a Portland based company called CalyX took those ideas and turned them into the crest that we know today. Other stickers have also been designed by a local cartoonist named Ben McCamish. Alonso Villasenor is the sticker designer for Providence City FC, as well as a player on the team. For Snohomish County, design goes into the hands of Mark Patrick Lavis. These guys show the heart and soul of lower league soccer in each and every one of their stickers.
Overall, stickers have become a big part of lower league soccer. They’re often given out with jerseys and give teams a way to grow their brand. The stickers are making their clubs’ crests even more recognizable within the soccer community. They’re something that let’s a fan show off their love for their local team. The popularity of stickers in the US is not even close to being at the level it is in Europe with some of those huge supporters groups, but it is beginning to grow into a more and more recognizable part of the lower leagues of America.