Minnesota Aurora open season in fine form with 5-0 victory over Rochester
Fans arriving as gates opened for Minnesota Aurora's season-opening soccer game Wednesday received supporters scarves, a team poster and a welcomed surprise.
Sarah Fuller, a former goalkeeper turned sponsor relations staff member, handed out posters to fans filing into TCO Stadium in Eagan, leaving smiles in her wake. She accommodated hugs, pictures and selfies.
A fan walked toward her seat and told Fuller, "I'm glad you're here,"
The sentiment is mutual. Fuller's job went from clearing shots to selling sponsorships, the latter made much easier with the Aurora's performance in its inaugural 2022 season. The team finished 13-1-1 and sold out six of nine home matches in the 6,000-seat venue next to the Minnesota Vikings practice facility.
Fuller's role in securing on-field success looks different this season. A total of 17 players carried over from last season's pre-professional team, which plays in the USL W League. But not Fuller, also known for being the first woman to score in a Power Five college football game when she kicked an extra point for Vanderbilt.
Minnesota raced to a four-goal lead in the first half Wednesday and dispatched Rochester FC 5-0 in front an announced crowd of 5,187 fans. Forward Catherine Rapp scored her team's first and third goals. But Fuller played no part. She made her stadium rounds wearing a blue team shirt instead of her No. 32 playing jersey. She held a clipboard rather than oversized goalkeeper gloves.
"I ran into a few of my former teammates before the game and it was a little bittersweet," Fuller said. "I miss it a little bit. But it's a different sort of performance I have now. I want to make sure that the fans are having a good time."
Rising at 5 a.m. Wednesday and catching a flight from her Nashville home, Fuller arrived in the Twin Cities with familiar feelings from her playing days.
"I was telling my parents how I was so nervous," Fuller said. "I was like, 'I want everything to go well.' It is a humbling experience. I will tell you that I had no idea what goes into a season, let alone a game."
She has enjoyed putting to use the master's degree in sports entertainment management she earned in December, striving to get more dollars behind Aurora's brand.
The Aurora surpassed all their financial projections last season, with revenue from merchandise, sponsorships and ticket sales running as much as five times higher than anticipated. The enthusiasm didn't diminish in the offseason.
Team president and co-founder Andrea Yoch said earlier this week the club has sold all available sponsorships, doubling last year's numbers.
Fuller focused Wednesday on sponsorship activations, checking in with the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company's free s'mores booth to TruStone Financial Federal Credit Union, which gave away orange seat cushions, to Nautical Bowls.
Lining up Nautical Bowls owed to Fuller's playing days.
"I fell in love with Nautical Bowls and I was like, 'The players need this as a snack,'" Fuller said. "So we got them."
When Fuller comes calling, she said potential sponsors, "that are familiar with Aurora, they know my name, which I think is pretty cool. And I will say it helps the sell a little bit. Just pitching Aurora as a former player, speaking about my experiences, it makes it that much like more genuine.
"Sharing all the things that I love about this club — it's so easy to sell," Fuller said, "I could not imagine if I had to sell Tupperware or something."