Photo courtesy of Albuquerque Sol FC
Many of the best unique sports traditions stem from the simplest of beginnings, this is certainly the case for Albuquerque Sol FC and their annual scarf release party.
After founding the club in November of 2013 ahead of a 2014 PDL regular season debut, Sol FC owner and president Ron Patel was looking for a way to bind his team to the Albuquerque community and soccer culture at large and stumbled upon what would become a magical event for the city.
“I call it accidental success,” Patel told USLPDL.com. “The way that it started was after we had started the team and purchased the franchise in November of 2013, our first season was 2014, we said alright, we’ve spent money on the team and we’ve got to start making some money. So I said to Larry [Espinoza], who’s my partner-in-crime, we need a scarf. He said to me, dude, are you crazy? We’re going to be playing our games in the summer in Albuquerque, it’s going to be 100 degrees. I said trust me, it’s a soccer thing.”
“So we ordered a bunch of scarves from Ruffneck, the minimum bulk order, and back then it was quite expensive to do that,” Patel continued. “We paid top dollar for them and we didn’t charge enough for them. We did a preorder where we ended up making five bucks per scarf. At that point we hadn’t even played a game, we had just been going to networking events and we created a Facebook page saying there was going to be a soccer team. So we made this presale and needed to sell 46 to break even, and we pre-sold 42. So we’re thinking, wow, this is awesome! The box comes in from overseas, we’re taking the scarves out of the box and thinking how cool they look. I’m literally putting the first one into the box to ship and I look at Larry and say, dude, we forgot to charge for shipping! So we run down to the post office and we ask them how much it’ll cost to ship this and they tell us it’ll be seven dollars, we’re going to lose money! So we’re thinking about what to do and we decide to have a scarf release party! Instead of shipping the scarf to them, they can come pick it up and we’ll save that money. So that’s how it started, and it’s become a tradition every year when we have the new scarf come out each year, we hold a release party.”
That annual release party began as a small gathering of dedicated supporters and has grown into a full-on must-see event for Albuquerque and its soccer community. For Patel, the growth has been both astounding and inspiring, showing the desire for the sport in the city and proving what a dedicated team devoted to its community can do. The results are hard to dispute.
“Each time we do our scarf release event, we do it at a bar,” Patel said. “Last year was our first year doing it at this brewery that has now become a sponsor of ours. We usually get up to do announcements and do raffles and last year there were only 30 or 40 people there for us, while most of the bar didn’t really care. This year, we got up to do announcements and the whole bar was silent. We realized that everybody was there for us except a few tables, and even they ended up buying scarves. It has really taken a life of its own. It was very humbling to see the fruits of our labor after working so hard to promote the team.”
The turnout is only part of what makes the scarf release tradition such a success in Patel’s eyes, with the primary benefit of the event being the unifying of the local Albuquerque community. Without a professional team in the region, Sol FC are the go-to men’s team for soccer fans in the region, particularly those with roots in Albuquerque’s three elite youth clubs.
“The reasoning behind this year’s scarf was that our mission statement internally has always been to unite and elevate New Mexico, but we realized we’d never done that messaging externally,” Patel said. “We weren’t doing a good job of telling people what our mission was.”
“Like any market, we have all the politics of youth soccer, and we’re in a really fragmented marketplace,” he continued. “There’s no pro team here, there’s no academy and there’s two or three elite youth clubs that all compete with each other. But Thursday night, they were all there, all wearing the same scarf and hanging together and talking about how to come together as a community. We’ve never been able to do that before and it was another really cool side effect of it. Our goal of uniting and elevating New Mexico is working.”
For Sol FC, the emergence of this unique, special tradition has bolstered the team’s standing within its local community. Patel and his team have tapped into the desire in a market that wants a team to support, and have found a way to bring them all together under the Sol FC banner. It’s the mark of a truly special club to be able to make that happen, one that is emerging as the primary soccer force in the region.
“For us, without a pro team here, a lot of people think we’re the pro team,” Patel said. “We don’t look at ourselves as amateur, we look at ourselves as a professional organization.”