When the Philadelphia Union take the field at Subaru Park, Union fan Corey Furlan will take his place in a booth at Subaru Park for one of the strangest DJ sets of all time. Beginning with the August 25 match against the rival New York Red Bulls, Furlan comes off his couch at home to control nearly every aspect of the crowd noise piped into the game’s broadcast.
IN THESE UNPRECEDENTED TIMES (drink.), crowd noise has been a regular topic in the sports world. Most of the noise has only come through on broadcasts, but teams in MLS like Portland and Atlanta United have even gone the extra step of piping in noise in-stadium for a more realistic feel to games. That noise has largely been the low hum of a static crowd mixed in with a couple of recycled chants. The Union wanted to escape the silence differently.
The Union try to do a lot differently. The club started in 2010 thanks to a community push led by a supporters’ group called the Sons of Ben to bring a team to Philadelphia. That leaves a lot of debt for the club to pay off to its fans.
“We use words that may sound cheesy to you, but they're, ‘By the community, of the community and for the community,’” Doug Vosik, the Union’s Chief Marketing Officer, said. “This club may not exist if the Son's of Ben weren't lobbying for two hard years to get a team in Philly. So knowing that you were born by fans, you always have to consider the fan and your process.”
Furlan is one of those fans involved from the beginning. He helped the Sons of Ben create the club and now leads a supporters' group called the Keystone Ultras in addition to performing capo duty on game days. He’s been leading Union chants since the team’s first year in 2010. But never like this. No one has ever done it like this.
A member of the Union video staff has gone back and pulled audio from present-day all the way back to that first season. Furlan will essentially have every Union chant to ever exist at his disposal. To an extent, anyway. They’ll have a failsafe to make sure things don't get a little too, well, Philadelphia.
“Carl Mandell, who controls broadcast and video production said, ‘I’m gonna set you up in a booth. I'm going to give you a host of different kind of like switches, buttons, however, you want to do it and you can decide what and when to play the sound.’” Furlan said. “‘But listen I just want to let you know. If you get ridiculous, I've got a fail-safe guy behind the scenes that will turn it down.’ I was like, 'Oh, so I can't push the boo button for 90 minutes?’”
Furlan said he isn’t nervous, although he does admit he’s a little out of his element when it comes to audio and video. Fortunately, he’s very much in his element leading chants and making noise. There’s a reason the club came to him. The self-described “loud guy” will get to be at his extroverted best tonight. He’ll just be connecting with others in a different way.
“A capo has to read the game and know when to trigger certain moments to bring the crowd with us during the match,” Voskil said. “So for him, he's done it a thousand times over. The only difference is now he's got to look at a screen and decide which button to push.”
The fans have been involved from the beginning with the Union. Furlan remembers sitting in focus groups to provide input on the team crest as far back as 2008. But even though this is a moment designed by, of and for the fans, it has some personal meaning for Furlan too. He gets to be in Subaru Park for a game.
“Not having that normalcy in my life has been tough. And like now to have something like this, to be a part of it brings back another layer of that piece of the pie that has been missing for a while,” he said. “I really am honored and feel appreciated to be involved with the whole thing.”
Now he just has to keep the booing to a minimum.