Fans come from the word “fanatics”, which sounds rather physical and scary. If you know someone who is acting fanatical, the police are usually called at some point. However, “fans” is a pleasant term without the sting.
And sports fans wish to congregate together with a common cause – to watch their favorite team and cheer them to victory. Other than at the stadium or arena itself, sports bars are very popular gathering holes in addition to the homes of friends and family with big screen TVs.
The act of watching “their team” defines just how deeply invested these folks are in what happens during each game. It is a powerful feeling shouting on their players to a successful conclusion, or the disappointment of any defeat.
With these large groups of devoted fans, often they will call themselves a moniker that best fits their loyalty and fandom. Army, Nation, Crew, 12th Man, Alliance, (insert name) Heads, Legion, and Brigade are just some of the most popular acronyms to describe rabid sports fan groups.
Sports can be an obsession. It can also be a distraction, and to some degree a release. It generates the ability to belong to something much bigger than yourself and what is going on in your small world. Clinging to a sports team can provide hope, happiness and a sense of passion and excitement despite the comedy and tragedy that go hand-in-hand.
The Cleveland Browns fan groups are called “Browns Backers Worldwide.” But this doesn’t stop at your neighborhood bar and grille with several TVs in the back while the game is on. Browns Backers are an entire network.
And among this network of organized Browns fan groups, are “chapters” which are currently running in large cities, small towns, villages, communities and burrows with magnificent beach views, state capitols, the entire State of Ohio, Europe, South America, Australia, and Canada are just some of the areas riddled across the globe.
And where is all this information housed? A place you are already quite familiar and have visited a zillion times in your lifetime: clevelandbrowns.com.
What is Browns Backers Worldwide?
Glad you asked.
First off, they are not financial resources for the Cleveland Browns. And no, they aren’t an alumni of former players; although former players can become a member and be involved in Browns Backers. And yes, they are all Browns fans.
Browns Backers are people - actual living, breathing people. And not just any people – Cleveland Browns loving people.
It all begins on the website of the Cleveland Browns’ franchise. A tab is available and once clicked, you are invited to this network of available chapters that are governed and organized by the Browns, and set up to assist the ability to enjoy the presence of other warm-bodied orange and brown clad individuals.
“There are 363 Browns Backers chapters across the world,” said Corey Kinder, Manager of Fan Experience and Special Events for the Browns. “That span is across 14 countries.”
The Browns organization have taken the time and effort to set up this vast network. It’s fairly easy to set up a chapter and even easier to see where existing chapters are located.
The benefits of establishing a chapter in any area are as follows: membership card with the chapter’s own number, discount privileges on the online store, a chapter-specific profile page complete with the chapter President’s name and contact info, plus chapter promotions and contests.
“A few work mates and I had started following the Browns as we identified with the team,” explained Mick McGovern, President and Founder of ‘Browns Fans Down Under’ in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia and watch games at Bangor Tavern. “Over time, we realized that more of our friends had decided to follow the Browns. So we decided to create an awareness for the Browns in Sydney. Since then, more and more people have joined our chapter and we have seen it grow to 120 members.”
Sometimes, chapters have sprang up out of necessity.
“I belonged to the Rochester, NY chapter when I lived up there for many years,” echoed Jim Graves, chapter President and Founder of the ‘Pensacola Browns Backers’ who meet at Calvert’s in the Heights Restaurant located in Pensacola, Florida. “After moving to Pensacola my wife Mary and I looked for Backers clubs in this area. We found one an hour away in Mobile, Alabama and for the first year would travel there to watch games. I happened to meet some other Browns fans in this area and decided to start my own club.”
And so, two chapters operating in the same manner halfway across the globe, unified to accomplish one thing: root on their beloved Cleveland Browns.
Believe it or not, but Europe is a breeding ground for the popularity of American Football. In a land where soccer is king, and fans really are fanatics, the area seems to enjoy the grandson sport of soccer.
Part of the reason is how the NFL has maneuvered itself into the mindset of different countries and has shown them firsthand a different sport in which they can support as well. Every year, several regular season games are played in England. The Jacksonville Jaguars play one home game annually in London and have a rabid following with the “Union Jax” fan club that tips over 50,000 members. For 16 years from 1991 to 2007, the NFL developed a feeder system called “NFL Europe” (among other names) that played home games in Germany, the Netherlands, Scotland, England and Spain.
The first-ever game played in Europe was a preseason game in 1983 which had the Minnesota Vikings up against the St. Louis Cardinals at Wembley Stadium in London. The game was viewed as a novelty with players adorned in pads and helmets who appeared more like gladiators than athletes. But, it planted a seed. The “American Bowl” series was formulated shortly thereafter which saw games played in Japan, Canada, Mexico, China, Australia and Europe with preseason contests.
And there are quite a few Browns Backers chapters all across Europe.
“American Football is still a rare athletic interest in Germany although it is growing more and more popular. I remember times when you encountered by chance someone, let’s say at the supermarket, wearing an NFL team’s hat and you exchanged knowing looks,” uttered Sebastian Jaksik of the ‘German Browns Backers’ who watch games at Irish Pub Wob. “Starting from a Facebook group in 2018 we decided that the German Browns fans needed their own chapter as the community was growing bigger. So what makes our members join a watch party is the atmosphere of fellow Browns fans who understand your every feeling of ecstatic joy or hopeless frustration without questioning your loyalty to team.”
Here are the numbers for Browns Backers chapters in Europe: Germany: 4; England and Italy: 2 each; and with one chapter each: France, Ireland, Spain and Switzerland.
“Growing up in Massillon, Ohio, after the 2017 0-16 season, I decided I would respond in a positive way by starting the Galway Browns Backers,” stated Ed Davis, President and Founder of the ‘Galway Browns Backers’ in Galway, Ireland which have a meeting place at Garvey’s Hotel and Select Bar. “The Irish-based Browns’ fans living in Galway as well as further afield made an immediate contact and we began to make plans to watch the games together. I know of no other fan base in the world where they travel to a different country and bring all their game day jerseys and gear to join like-minded fans to watch the Browns game and have a few pints!”
But not everybody can watch a game together when a country is so spread out and only a single chapter is an option. That is where creativity has come into play.
“It is useful to connect with other Spanish-speaking Browns fans in my country and also around the world,” said Alvaro Ramos of the ‘Browns Backers of Spain’, located in Saragossa, Spain. “Our case is special because none of us live in the same city. So, we watch the games at home and use social media and chat groups to talk about what’s going on during games.”
The very idea that the Browns’ organization would set up this huge network to allow their loyal fans to interact with each other didn’t just happen overnight. Plus, the effort the club has made to not only organize this thing, but also there is quite a bit of maintenance to address to keep the idea rolling along without issues.
“Proposed chapters undergo a vetting process. We typically require chapters are located at least 10-miles apart from an existing chapter to avoid saturation of a market,” explained Kinder. “Some chapters have been grandfathered in since this rule became official in the early 2000’s. Chapters must meet at a public viewing location that has the ability to broadcast every Cleveland Browns game.”
Chapter presidents must appoint cabinet members including: vice president, secretary/treasurer and optional social media chair and event chair. The president and treasurer cannot be related for obvious reasons.
And where was the first chapter established? There currently isn’t an official record of the very first chapter, but the word is that Akron, Ohio formed a fan club called Browns Backers in 1979. And if there were fan clubs already in place, that would have been pre-1999 before the New Browns decided to take on this task towards the development of a unified fan network.
The largest chapter to date isn’t in Cleveland oddly enough; in fact, it isn’t even in the State of Ohio.
The top chapter is located 191 miles away from Cleveland in Chicago called the “Chi-Town Dawg Pound” with 467 members. It was established in 2013 and meets at the Old Crow Smokehouse in Wrigleyville. The “Big Apple Browns Backers” in New York City boast the second largest members (383) followed by the “Southern California Browns Backers” in Los Angeles, California (296) and then the “British Bulldawgs Browns Backers” in Leicester Square in London, England (244).
And finally, an Ohio chapter: the “Burnt River Browns Backers” in Mentor, Ohio ranks number five with 206 members. Organized in 2008, they meet at Hooley House Sports Pub and Grille. Despite coming in fifth place, the State of Ohio by far has the largest number of registered groups with a stunning 166 chapters.
Every year, Browns Backers Worldwide names a single group “Chapter-of-the-Year.” This year, the designation came home to Ohio with the “North Royalton Browns Backers” as voted on by the Browns Backers President’s Leadership Council. This North Royalton chapter was founded in 2018 and is busting out with 157 members who meet at Niko’s Bar and Gyros in North Royalton, Ohio.
“We had no idea at the time that the club would explode like it has. We’ve completely blown our expectations out of the water.” said North Royalton President Tim Rudnick.”There was a consistent group of people going to our viewing location every week to watch the Browns games. The owner of the venue had talked with me about his goals of being involved in the community and giving back so I suggested we organize a Browns Backers chapter and use it as a way to not only achieve that community involvement, but also to really build camaraderie among the group.”
Charity in the name of the Browns
One thing that is most common among the Browns Backers chapters, is the amount of charitable events they become involved in. And all the while, these folks are doing kind acts in the name of the Cleveland Browns.
“Every year the Key West (Florida) Browns Backers hold a 50/50 raffle to benefit St. Mary Star or the Sea Mission, which is a food pantry/soup kitchen in town that provides meals to the homeless, the elderly, shut-ins, or anyone in the community during a time of need,” stated chapter President Greg Cieslik whose chapter meets at Turtle Kraals. ”I’m happy to say that we raised $2,000 during the 2019 season!”
“We raise money for charity every week through raffles for Browns merchandise and sales of club apparel,” chimed in Kevin Sabins of the ‘Pikes Peak Browns Backers’ whose chapter has watch parties at Old Chicago Pizza and Taproom in Colorado Springs, Colorado. “Our charitable causes include an annual Dawg Food Drive, the Cleveland Browns Foundation, a Toy & Bike Drive at Christmas and building beds for Sleep in Heavenly Peace.”
Some chapters decide to focus their contributions on critical issues.
As indicated by President Anthony Piotrowski of the “Navarre Beach Browns Backers” located in Navarre, Florida, they live in a hurricane zone and focus their efforts on disaster relief. The same has been worked on in Houston, Texas with the “Space City Dawg Pound.” Chapter President Cory Hammer said that their group collected food drive donations for a local food bank with Hurricane Harvey relief. Their viewing station is Stats Sports Bar and Grill. Sebastian Jaksik of the “German Browns Backers” mentioned his chapter has donated via several methods to the coronavirus fight plus a children’s hospice.
The “Southern California Browns Backers” was officially/unofficially formed in 1985 and has many charitable events they are involved in. According to chapter President Kevin Hoyt, his group participates in Amer-I-Can, Ronald McDonald House, Cleveland Browns Charities, Make-A-Wish and several local charities as well.
One of the largest charitable chapters just happens to be located in Cleveland.
“Browns Backers with a Twist” meets at The Twist Social Club on Clifton Boulevard with 142 members. Established in 2015, this group is devoted to watching Browns games within the LGBTQ+ community. Their efforts have donated time and money in the Cleveland area to the May Dugan Center, the LGBT Center of Greater Cleveland, Susan G. Komen Foundation, Cleveland Browns Foundation, Cleveland’s First District Shop with a Cop, donating strollers to Laura’s Home, providing Thanksgiving meals to those in need, can food drives, coat drives and toy drives for needy children.
“Every year, the Browns Backers With a Twist has four fundraisers and have expanded our volunteering opportunities within the Cleveland community,” stated chapter President Jake Amstel. “As we are all well aware, the Browns have not put out a good product in the last few decades, so making the game day experience as fun as possible brings out people from sitting at home and turning the game off before the fourth quarter. I’m sure everyone, not just the BBWT, can look for any excuse to not use their Sundays by doing yard work.”
Amstel is looking forward to newly installed head coach Kevin Stefanski.
“I am hopeful that Coach Stefanski will bring organization to the team. I would like to see them stick to a game plan throughout the entire game and not lose composure during adversity,” he quipped. “The Browns have the talent to compete with anyone in their division.”
In 2019 alone, Browns Backer chapters donated $19,000 to the Cleveland Browns Foundation, which benefited the “Get 2 School, Stay in the Game!” program that was launched in August of that year.
How in the world would a Cleveland Browns fan club operate in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania? But yet, here is the “Pittsburgh Browns Backers” chapter. It was established in 2001 and meets at Mario’s Oakland Saloon established in 1982. That Mario must have thick skin and no windows to bust out. In fact, why would a business even think this was a good idea? Anyone?
That anyone is Cleveland Heights native Paul Carson. As a kid, he sold programs at the old Municipal Stadium in order to get into Browns’ games for free. Now a physician and living in Pittsburgh, he ran across an article in the local paper about a possible Browns fan gathering hole. That might have been before Cleveland became Baltimore, but no more.
His answer? Start his own chapter. In Pittsburgh. Home of the Steelers?
“It wasn’t easy early on watching Doug Pederson and Spergon Wynn, but we still grew every year. We started with four people, and now we have 100 on big game days,” explained Carson. “Without a doubt. I routinely turn down tickets for the Browns-Steelers game every year in Pittsburgh because it’s just more fun to hang out with our club mates.”
Their chapter typically does an annual road trip either to Cleveland or in the opposite direction.
“We road trip just about annually to Cleveland or a warm weather game,” added Carson. “The Browns Backers Worldwide has recognized us as a chapter that can annually get tickets to the Browns-Steelers game in Cleveland after a letter and plea from our club to all the chapter Presidents. We are sort of grandfathered in. We hold our own tailgate with the help of people I know in Cleveland to tailgate. It’s one of the most fun times we have every year.”
And what would it take for native Pixburgers to let off the gas about his Browns devotion?
“As everyone knows, nobody expected this Pandemic, so why can’t the Browns win the Super Bowl?” he suggested. “I mean we have COVID-19 and Murder Hornets, so why not? The Browns need to run the ball and protect Baker (Mayfield) and they will be just fine.”
The Browns Backers Worldwide is probably the largest undertaking from a franchise standpoint as an effort to unite and organize its fan clubs into one centralized location. To see where existing chapters are located and find one near you, or to start your own chapter, click here:
Once you click the above link, join the site first. This is extremely user-friendly and whomever designed it should be given a bonus for its accessibility. There is a state or country chapter search, and within each chapter displays all of the information you will need including where each chapter meets on game days.
“It’s a truly wonderful experience to gather with other fans and triumph over victory and share the heartbreak of defeat. The best thing about Browns Backers is that WE ARE EVERYWHERE!,” said Shannon Brown, President of the “Mobile Bay Browns Backers” who watch Cleveland games at Heroes Sports Bar & Grille in Mobile, Alabama. “Any time I’m out of town on a Sunday during football season, I look up the local chapter. Every group I’ve ever visited has been so welcoming, and I always have a great time. I want to send a special shout out to the Tampa Bay and New Orleans Browns Backers clubs. They are great clubs filled with fans that know how to party. Come see us if you’re in town. We’re a small group, but we’re full of passion and high fives!”
Which is part of the beauty of this Browns Backers Worldwide network which exists as a non-profit entity set-up exclusively as a vehicle to support and promote the Cleveland Browns. Members of one chapter have the opportunity to travel and do a meet and greet with members of another group that is located in the city in which the Browns are playing.
Which could have endless possibilities. As an example, Cleveland plays at Jacksonville on November 29 this season. There are 47 chapters located in the State of Florida alone with four Browns Backers chapters located in the Jacksonville metro area.
This allows other chapters, such as “Browns Backers of South Tampa”, “Browns Backers of Greenville (SC),” “Savannah (GA) Browns Backers”, “Central Alabama Browns Backers” out of Birmingham, Alabama, “Orlando Browns Backers,” and other regionally located chapters to do a road trip, then work out a tailgate party with one of the local chapters.
So, an area that is devoid of an NFL team can have a good time with the locals and see the Browns when they are playing close by. But it goes beyond that.
“Every August, Browns Backers presidents are invited to Berea (Ohio) for an annual gathering dubbed ‘Browns Backers Presidents’ Weekend’, Kinder said. “This two-day event allows Presidents to share membership growth, fundraising and community involvement ideas with each other in an open forum setting.”
Linder, who managed the Browns Backers from 2011-2014 and is again thrust into the fold, stated that the President’s weekend are opportunities for the Presidents to gather autographs from players (typically the signed items are then raffled off by the chapter to raise funds for a charity or their chapter events), shop the exclusive Locker Room Sale, raffles, dinner and alumni meet and greets.
So, it’s a big deal for those who have chosen to take on the responsibility of forming their own chapter, maintaining and making contacts, finding fellow fans, organizing events and charitable options, plus keep their chapter afloat with something they – and the franchise – can be proud of.
Looking at other NFL clubs’ websites, the Dallas Cowboys offer levels of fan devotion, but no chapters or support. The Denver Broncos have a kid’s club to join. The Seattle Seahawks have “The 12s” but still no club. The Cincinnati Bengals have a women’s and kid’s club to join, but little else.
And so, this is pretty much continuous among NFL clubs. Except in Cleveland.
There is one chapter that holds the distinction for being the farthest distance from FirstEnergy Stadium, home of the Browns. “The Royal Perth Browns Backers of Western Australia” located in Perth, Australia was formed in 2003 and is 11,258 miles away.
And yet, their 33 chapter members don’t miss a single snap.
Are you a member of a chapter of the Browns Backers Worldwide?
This poll is closed
No, but I soon will be once I figure out the closest one
Yes, and am also joining that chapter in Pittsburgh just for the hell of it