skip navigation

How Prideraiser accidentally became an agent for good in American soccer

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 06/06/24, 5:30PM EDT

Share

Launched as a challenge between friends in 2017, the fundraising event for LGBTQIA+ causes unites supporters across North America


Detroit City FC and the Northern Guard Supporters during the club's Pride Game last June against Orange County SC. | Photo courtesy Jon DeBoer / Detroit City FC

To be clear, Dean Simmer did not see the success of Prideraiser coming, nor was he planning for it.

“I always say, we s***posted this into existence by accident,” Simmer, a longtime member of Detroit City FC supporter group the Northern Guard, told USLChampionship.com recently. “There was no structure or strategy. There was no This is what we're building. It was just, we’re accepting this challenge as individuals, as friends, we’re going to go do something about it.”

What Simmer and his friend Galen Riley, a member of Chattanooga FC supporter group the Chattahooligans, did about it was to start Prideraiser, an annual Pride-focused fundraising effort and clarion call for allyship that has spread throughout supporters’ groups in North American soccer.

As members of well-known supporters’ groups, Simmer and Riley had struck up an online friendship through the rivalry shared between Detroit City and CFC, then both in the same league. As a wave of anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation swept through state legislatures during the year – research indicates more than 100 bills were filed across different states throughout the year – both felt moved to act in support of local organizations that provided support for the LGBTQIA+ community.

“It was one of those things that just felt very much like two friends challenging each other,” he said. “Galen said, ‘This is what I'm going to do. I’m going to make this representation in the section, be very bold and outspoken, and pledge some money to this local organization.’”

Simmer decided to double down on Riley’s pledge.

“I said, basically, ‘I see it, I’ll raise you one, I’ll do the same thing in Detroit. I think this is really important. We can be visible allies, we can make a statement about who we are as a group and who we are as people as individuals, that we’re people rooted in love and welcome and acceptance and that's where we want to be.’”


Prideraiser co-founder Dean Simmer speaks at a Detroit City FC game during the 2022 season. | Photo courtesy Jon DeBoer / Detroit City FC

The idea was simple – for each goal the club scored, a pledged donation of their choosing was made by each participant. Very quickly, Simmer and Riley’s conversation online drew the attention of mutuals and supporters from within their own clubs and from other supporter groups who wanted to know if they could do the same.

By the time that Pride Month came to an end, Simmer and Riley realized they needed a plan to fully realize the idea’s potential. Manually tracked spreadsheets to account for every club and fan that wanted to participate simply wasn’t feasible.

Enter Dan Ryan, a fellow Chattahooligan and friend of Riley, who for Simmer became the unsung hero of the project. Bringing a background in technology and website processing, Ryan’s know-how proved key in giving easy and seamless access for supporters to create accessible online campaigns.

“The schtick made sense,” said Simmer. “In the States, as kids, there was always the Bowlathon – you ask people to pledge for every pin you knocked down. Even in elementary school, we do these fundraisers, so the model was really easy to talk to people about. But when Dan helped turn it into technology, that was our, ‘Oh, shoot, OK. Now we actually can turn this into something that’s easy to get people on board with at scale.’

“[The key was] the seamlessness, making it easy for the supporters’ group to run it, and making it easy for the pledger to turn into a donor.”

There were plenty of supporters’ groups keen to jump on board. With June’s annual Pride Month falling in the middle of the height of outdoor soccer across the professional and pre-professional ranks, Prideraiser entered its second year not only with SGs from the professional leagues, but also those from clubs whose summer seasons put Pride directly in the busiest part of their club’s schedule.

Twenty-eight groups were on board for 2018, and that number has scaled up year-by-year to include supporters across the United States and now Canada. This year, there are almost 90 supporters’ groups involved – representing nearly 1,500 fans – with more than 30 of them associated with USL Championship, League One, League Two and W League.


Supporters groups such as New Mexico United's The Curse are among a large contingent across the USL that participate in Prideraiser each year to raise money for local LGBTQ+ organizations. | Photo courtesy Josh Lane / New Mexico United

The rivalries that play out on the field and in the stands between supporters’ groups of rival clubs – and even some within the same club – have helped push the fundraiser to even greater heights.

“We really got to grab these footholds right where the rivalries started,” said Simmer. “In Cincinnati, there’s a supporters group rivalry [between Die Innenstadt and The Pride] since FC Cincinnati runs multiple supporters’ groups, and they’re kind of challenging each other, which is a ton of fun. And you have the standard club rivalries where the supporters’ groups are rivaling each other. It’s been really fun to see.”

According to Simmer, if everything goes to plan this month, then Prideraiser could approach $1 million in raised funds for its eight-year history.

Not only is that somewhat astonishing for him – “If you explained that to June 2, 2017-year-old me, I would have laughed,” he said – but it highlights the power of the soccer community. For Simmer, that might be the part that’s brought, in his words, “overwhelming joy” for Prideraiser’s leaders.

“The relationship that has been built across supporters’ groups is super cool,” said Simmer. “I think just like with any movement for good, it has the ability to change minds and change lives. Some of the personal stories that have been shared with me over the years about how the significance of Prideraiser in their local context is really helping people feel welcome and has changed people’s minds and hearts about how to be more receptive and inclusive to others. It's all those little things, where we try to take a step back and say, it is truly an honor to get to do this with these folks.

“It reminds me over and over again of the power of doing good and inviting others to do good with you.”

***

It’s not too late to participate in this year’s Prideraiser. Join your club’s supporters’ group, create a new one, or grab some merchandise at www.prideraiser.org.

Follow the USL Championship

Most Recent News

Most Read News

Latest Videos