One of the more unexpected developments last season was the birth (and fairly rapid growth) of the Arch City Army, coming onto the Columbus scene with a major social media blitz before making appearances at the R-Bar, and beginning to stake out their own "turf" in the upper bowl of Nationwide Arena.
Though there was a fair amount of confusion from fans who had concerns about the name, some of the timing, and the occasionally combative attitude of group members and supporters, the ACA established themselves as a fixture, and have been preparing this offseason to become an even greater part of the Nationwide experience - hoping to make Columbus a tougher building for opponents to play in.
Based on soccer (FOOTBALL!) style supporters groups (also known as Ultras), these groups are becoming more common in the NHL, with groups springing up in Colorado, Nashville, New Jersey, LA, and St. Louis, and some fans in other cities are asking if it's time for their team to follow suit.
After meeting with some ACA members at Cannonfest, I was able to do an email interview with some of the founders / leaders of the club, to talk about how they got started, where they are, and where they're going.
So, first off, let's talk about how the ACA got started...
The ACA really started on Facebook - one fan (Elliott) had an idea to create an Ultras style group for the Blue Jackets, and reached out to a few other friends (Brian, Andrew, Manny) who were also CBJ fans and thought we could fill that void. We sat down, had a few drinks, talked about ideas, and started figuring out how to put it out there.
At first we put it on facebook as "CBJ Ultras", but it didn't really click - after an early member suggested the Arch City name based on the city's history, and things began to take off. We got the name out there, people liked it (or at least were curious and wanted to know more) - and it sounds pretty cool!
In your first offseason, the ACA has been expanding in terms of both membership and the plans for your presence in the arena. Can you talk about what you have planned for the future?
We just want to grow, as a group, as naturally and organically as possible, and be there for the guys on the ice. With all the moves off the ice, there's been a lot of excitement and the offseason has been great for us, but we want to feel comfortable with how things take shape. As the attendance grows, we want our presence to grow, but it's about getting into the arena and cheering for the Jackets first and foremost.
We teamed up with the Jacket Backers for their Nashville trip, and we'd like to look at more efforts like that in the future, and getting involved in the community by volunteering with local charities or performing fundraising.
Since you mentioned the bus trip - there has been some talk about the ACA hitting the road more often. What are the plans there?
Road trips have been on our mind since we formed the group - a lot of our members are also Crew fans and have done road trips with groups like Crew Supporters Union, Hudson Street Hooligans, and La Turbina. It makes us want to share that experience with Jackets fans - there's something exciting about going to another city to support your team!
In addition to the Nashville trip we're looking at possibly taking trips to cities like Buffalo, Chicago, Detroit, Philly, Pittsburgh and St. Louis - either by renting a bus or arranging a car caravan. If we don't make all of them work out this year, we still will be making plans to hit them up in the future. We're tired of seeing them swarm our arena with their fans - it's time we paid a visit to return the favor!
How much work did you need to do to get the Blue Jackets front office on board when you started out? How has that relationship changed over the past year?
The front office has been on board from the start and been incredibly supportive of helping us grow and get our name out there. We started by calling our ticket rep, who was interested by the idea. Initially, we simply used the group sales office to buy tickets, but this offseason we were fortunate enough to meet with our ticket rep (Dan Forman), J.D. Kershaw, the team's VP of Marketing, and Bob Sivik, the VP of ticket sales to talk about who we are and what our goals were. We understood this is something new for the team, and wanted to make sure thy were comfortable with us and had a chance to figure things out, and how each could help the other, which has been a great boost for the club.
They're very clear that they want to help us and see us succeed, but that we should remain an organic, fan controlled organization, unlike some of the recent clubs created in St. Louis and New Jersey that are controlled by their respective clubs.
As part of that partnership you've gotten a deal on "ACA" season tickets in section 227. Do you hope to keep expanding or to link up with other fan groups to create a presence in the upper bowl like Crew Stadium's Nordecke or OSU's "Block O"?
Our goal is to inspire other fans to do something similar - when you get down to it we're all there for the same reason, so why not link up? We'd love to see the entire attack once end full of crazy fans just like us - and hwho knows? We might see that sooner rather than later. We think the "ACA" season tickets will help in that goal, and we really appreciate the CBJ front office for helping us put that together.
On that note, there was some friction with the CBJ fanbase when you guys first appeared. It seems like you've been adjusting and getting more fans on board for this season. What would you say when talking to people concerned about experiences last season, or who might be on the fence?
Obviously, we know that this type of group is not for everyone, and we are OK with that. As long as you are supporting the Blue Jackets you're great in our book! For those who have not had a chance to meet us, we'd ask that you please give us a fair chance - come spend some time with us during a game watching party or at Nationwide and make your decision that way. Non-members are always welcome to purchase tickets and come sit with us, and hey, you might find yourself joining the Army if you like what you see. We're Jackets fans through and through and we want to spread that to as many as possible. We're all friends, we all like to hang out, and we all like to have fun at the games cheering the team on.
From what I've seen, it feels like the ACA is a "younger" group - a lot of members seem to be in the early / mid 20s. Is that accurate? Are you guys intentionally looking for a bit of a younger crowd?
We've got fans in the 20s, fans in the 50s, and in between. We've had college age fans come in and bring their parents later, and both decided to join up! Young or old, we welcome you with open arms. Age has nothing to do with getting loud and cheering for the guys on the ice! We have a lot of members who don't sit in 227 - the "age" thing or figuring out a "home base" wasn't even on the radar until members started to let us know what sections they'd been calling home.
Can you take me through what you guys plan for an "average" game day?
It's pretty mundane - we start off making sure we've got our tickets in order for anyone who purchased them through the club, and that we've got gear ready for anyone wishing to join. From there, we usually congregate at R-Bar and enjoy a few beverages, talk hockey, and relax until about 15 minutes before the puck drops. We round everyone up and we march from the R-Bar into the arena, chanting all the way to our seats - this is something we started last season and a lot of people liked it ,so we'll keep it going this year. After that, we're just cheering on the guys to win!
Any hints on the cheers and chants you've got planned for this season? Anything new in the works for some of the additions like Carter and Wisniewski?
We've been working on a few and will also carry over some of the ones from last year. We're planning some team specific chants and some player specific ones - most come from the membership and that's how we like to figure them out. Give us an idea on game day, we'll get it going and see how it works! We don't have anything specific yet for Carter or Wiz, but we don't see that lasting very long...
Speaking of "The Wiz", I noticed he's reached out to you already about supporting the group - have you had a chance to meet with or talk to any other players? What kind of reactions did they have?
Having the Wiz reach out to us was amazing - we're glad to see players taking an interest in what we're doing, since we're here for them. We have presented many players with scarves that were sponsored for them by members of the ACA, and they've received them well. Each time they're usually surprised at first and then very appreciative.
Our thanks again to Brian Klein, Andrew Tolliver, Manny Zambrano, Elliott Stanek, and Matt Goshert for taking the time to answer our questions! The Arch City Army can be found on Facebook, Twitter, and their web page.