When Sean Dane arrived at the Sporting Park loading docks Tuesday night and saw dozens of people painting a 50-by-20-foot banner for Saturday’s MLS Cup, he couldn’t help but smile.
The Sporting Kansas City supporters’ group known as the Cauldron has come a long way since Dane first encountered it in 2001. He and his roommate at the time, Jeff Szajnuk, started going to Wizards games regularly that season, sitting at the 50-yard line at Arrowhead Stadium among a group of 50 or so young, boisterous fans. At the team’s next game, Dane and Szajnuk decided to join the club, then called the Mystics.
In the years since, Dane’s passion for the franchise has grown, and so has his involvement with the Cauldron — which he now leads.
“That story isn’t unique,” he said. “That’s how half the people here got involved: Some person brings them to a game and says, ‘Come with me — you’re going to have fun.’ Then they have fun and they bring a person.
“Even at an organization that now has 2,000 members and 10,000 followers on Twitter and all of this communication, the heart of it is still that one person bringing another person and conveying the passion that we have found for this team.”
The Cauldron is actually a compilation of several smaller supporters’ groups that are similarly passionate about Sporting KC. Cauldron members pay $20 to join and buy tickets through the group to sit together on the northeast side of the stadium, where they engage in loud cheers and chants during games.
The Cauldron also organizes events outside of Sporting’s games: painting signs proclaiming their support, playing pick-up soccer games and gathering for watch parties. Through membership fees and ticket sales, the Cauldron is largely self-sufficient in creating enough money to cover supplies and tailgate parties.
In turn, Sporting KC helps the Cauldron by allowing them to use the stadium’s loading docks and hang out in the Members Club after games. The team also provides tickets for away matches to members.
“Not every team in the league has the same communication level with their supporters as we do,” said Sporting Park general manager Chris Wyche. “But I think it really helps us have a great support group and a group that is very much independent of us.
“I don’t think any supporter group ever wants to be told what to do, but what they are doing from the team perspective turns out to be organic and that develops.”
This unique relationship between the Cauldron and Sporting KC’s front office has taken many years to build, but Dane said the real boost came when OnGoal, LLC bought the team in 2006. At the time, Dane was a member of the Heart of America Soccer Foundation, which helped in finding and developing OnGoal.
“It took an ownership group and front office staff that understood what the supporters’ culture could bring to the stadium and our ability to deliver it,” Dane said. “Once we showed them, ‘Here is what’s possible — just support us in it,” they were on board.”
Part of the group’s success comes from the wide variety of people involved. For instance, a group of graphic designers volunteered their time to help plan the banner that was being painted Tuesday night, and a few connections at the Kansas City Reparatory Theatre helped procure a projector to shine the design onto a sheet, where they could trace it.
From there, various Cauldron members showed up to help paint ... in fact, enough supporters showed up and worked hard enough that they were able to finish the project two nights ahead of schedule.
Said Zach Cobb, the Cauldron’s director of social media, “Every walk of life is in the Cauldron right now, so when we can take peoples’ talents that they offer as a volunteer and organize them, the results are just incredible.”
Dane said the environment of fun and acceptance that originally drew him to the group has kept him there ever since.
“It’s a place where you’re only judged by whether you like the game or not and whether you like the city or not, and nothing else is relevant,” Dane said. “It’s a chance through the Cauldron membership to empower the fans to put their fingerprint on the game and show the rest of the world what we knew when the Heart of America Soccer Foundation was formed, and when there were 50 people standing there in the corner of Arrowhead: that this city gets behind its teams and this city has a place in its heart for the sport of soccer.
“All we needed was a place to highlight that.”