Minnesota Aurora football team is a grassroots success

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Andrea Yoch dug into her bag after a recent Minnesota Aurora game against the St. Louis Lions. Hers is a Mary Poppins level bag, containing two sets of clothes, shoes, contact lenses, glasses, water, notes, pens, keys and everything she needs to get through the day. daytime.

“Once in a while I’ll sneak in a little gray duck for after the game,” she said, holding up a mini bottle of vodka.

Yoch, 55, is the president of the Aurora, a freshman pre-pro women’s soccer team. The majority of players are in college, trying to hone their skills over the summer. The team is revolutionary in that it is owned and operated by women and funded by a community of 3,080 fans who have invested a total of $1 million to help with initial running costs.

The team’s nine founders are all involved in all aspects of match day operations, ensuring players are fed, equipment is in place, ticket applications are processed and interviews with players and coach Nicole Lukic are organized. Occasionally, Yoch calls on her husband, Steve, and, when in town, her adult sons Ryan and Ben, to help with the games.

“My family has always been on top of it,” Yoch says. “We are essentially a voluntary organization and therefore to be successful we need a lot of hands.”

Yoch covers every square inch of TCO Stadium in Eagan, where the Auroras play, on game days. After that particular match, she checked her step counter: just under 14,000 for the day.

“I averaged between 13,000 and 16,000 steps in a game,” she says.

The Aurora’s first year was a resounding success, as the team went undefeated through the regular season and reached the playoffs. All of their revenue forecasts have been exceeded. Yoch sat down to discuss his career, his love of football and the enormity of the Aurora’s success. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Where do you come from? Have you always been a sports fan?

I grew up in Baltimore, a mile from Memorial Stadium. My parents are immigrants and my dad and I watched sports to make him feel more comfortable in a sports-crazed country. The Orioles were in the World Series in 1979 and won in 1983 and that locked me up for life. Sports fandom is the great equalizer in America. Everyone becomes your friend and you are unified with one goal in mind.

How did you end up in Minnesota?

I met my husband at Boston College. When I got a journalism degree and applied for jobs in the East Coast athletic departments, no one wanted a young woman. These days, I would be hired, but then, not so much. My husband [then boyfriend] is from here and was in law school at the University of Minnesota so I decided to apply for jobs in Minnesota.

Being part of the Aurora isn’t the first time you’ve been a trailblazer.

I was the first female sports editor for the student newspaper at Boston College. It was fun. I only had problems with one coach and I was able to travel for the first time with teams, I went to Ireland with the football team, I packed friends into my hotel room. hotel at the Big East tournament and met people like [columnist] Jackie MacMullan and some of my closest friends. I was also the first female sports editor for the Albert Lea Tribune, the job I got when I moved here.

Is football on TV at your house all day?

All the time. Not as much for me because I watch less. But yesterday on my day off I sat on the couch and Nashville was playing at 4 p.m. and my homie [former Minnesota United player] Jamie Watson calls these games. So I looked at this one. Then I watched Minnesota United at age 7. If it’s winter, you know the Wild is for me. I never miss a Vikings game. So it’s just a general sports focus. And my husband is a Premier League fanatic. So if the Premier League is on, he has the game.

It’s just you and your husband home now? Where are your two sons?

Yes, one is in Boston and the other is in New York, but it’s a constant string of text messages from my kids. They were here opening night which was awesome.

Who are your favorite footballers?

jessica mcdonald [USA]. Megan Rapinoe [USA]. [Minnesota United’s] Michael Boxall. [Tottenham’s] Son Heung-min. [Former Minnesota United player] Christian Ramirez.

What is the best sporting event you have attended?

It’s such a difficult question. I could list 20 events and not cover them all. Wednesday night’s quarter-final victory with 6,200 packed fans at TCO Stadium was incredible and emotional. Match 163 in 2009 [Twins vs. Tigers] for personal memories. My eldest son was 10 and really into the Twins and I pulled him out of school early.

Was this year everything you imagined?

I could not have imagined this. I have a very, very big and ambitious imagination and it exceeded that. We had planned 3,000 fans per game. We haven’t had less than 4,800 people in the building for any of our home games. We forecast $50,000 in merchandise sales. We are way above that. We had planned $80,000 in sponsorships. We are way above that. So we were so far from what we hoped for.

Why has interest increased more than expected?

I think over the last few years people have become aware that women’s sport is not being treated well. I attribute a lot of that to the brave women who filmed the NCAA Final Four locker room and really showed the disparities.

What we said was, “Yes, there are disparities. Here is an easy solution.’ And I think, especially right now, people want to do something very concrete. Buying tickets. To show up. Buy goods. Supporting us is concrete. And also, it’s fun. Especially in Minnesota. We needed something good, we needed something positive.

We had to be able to say to the country, “We have this”. We are still healing from the death and aftermath of George Floyd. And I think that’s been a really positive way for people to come together and feel good about being Minnesotan.

And also, we have deliberately priced our tickets to be affordable for families.

How can you maintain this with Aurora?

Staying in touch with our fan base is going to be huge in the off season and continuing to be in the community with them. Make sure we hear their feedback on what they want us to change. This is going to be very important because it has been a great experience and we don’t want them to feel disconnected from us over the next few months.

Why was it important for the club to issue a statement expressing their disappointment at the overturned Roe v Wade decision?

It was a very good example of how this project works. There are nine founders and although I’m the team president, it’s more because we needed someone to be the team president. We make big decisions together, so we spent about two hours writing the statement, waiting a bit to see what the other teams would do. And then when nothing came, it was clear, you just had to go.

Gotham City in the National Women’s Soccer League, we saw their statement first, but it’s really, really important to us that this team represents our fans, our players and equality for everyone. And so, we really felt that we had to stand up and say something.

You are an empty nest. You could have decided to go on a trip. You have decided to lead a football team.

So, [laughs] one of the great ironies of all of this is that when i first moved here in 1989 i spent about 10 years trying to convince steve to leave because i was like, why, why are we here ? Now he’s ready to go or at least spend the winter somewhere else, and I’m like, “Oh no, we have to stay.” Thirty-three years later, I’m Minnesota’s greatest cheerleader.

So yeah, we’re doing it in the wrong order but it’s so exciting. It’s so much fun and I’m not ready to end it yet and go lay on a beach. We still have a lot to do. As my friend Chris Hawkey says, may the adventure continue. And so we will continue to venture.

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