I posted last year’s SOTC in early January and planned on doing the same this year, but once the front office Q&A session (click to listen) was announced, I decided to hold off. Judging from the amount of information divulged, that turned out to be a good decision.
While any news is welcome news during the NPSL’s death march of an offseason, I was most interested in the big picture, long-term stuff: our future league situation and the search for a new stadium.
Co-owner Sean Mann confirmed last month’s report that DCFC ownership made a trip out to Indianapolis last summer and met with Indy Eleven president Peter Wilt. He also mentioned that meetings took place with officials from Minnesota United and Columbus Crew.
It’s clear that City has just about outgrown the NPSL and that its owners are very interested in moving up to a professional league. What remains is to find the best, most financially-feasible situation, one that will allow the club to continue growing while maintaining its community-based/grassroots/”No One Likes Us” status. In my opinion, the NASL is the league that best meets those requirements, and I think it’s the most likely destination whenever the club eventually makes its jump.
Without even going into the political and lobbying aspect of MLS expansion, the sheer amount of money needed to join the league makes this a non-starter. As for USL Pro, there are three strikes against it as a viable option:
- The ever-present, kinda/sorta/not officially confirmed report that Michigan Bucks owner Dan Duggan has first dibs on a USL Pro franchise in southeastern Michigan if he chooses to pursue it.
- The league’s partnership with MLS. One easy way to kill City’s thriving independent status that I mentioned earlier: make it a farm club for the Crew or the Fire or Toronto.
- Assuming for a moment that Duggan doesn’t have exclusive rights and that City would not be required to become affiliated with an MLS club, one last question remains: At this point, is USL Pro really enough of a step up from the NPSL? I don’t think it is. That may sound a little brash but the fact is Detroit outdrew more than half of the teams in USL Pro last season while playing at a lower level. Given a larger stadium, City’s attendance would surely surpass everyone except Sacramento within a year or two.
For a while, I’ve preferred the NASL as City’s hypothetical next step, and I’ve now become even more firmly entrenched in that position. I truly believe it would give the club plenty of room to further develop its fanbase and revenue streams while staying true to its roots and allowing die-hard supporters to maintain their freedom of expression, something that should not be taken for granted.
Other benefits would include annual automatic qualification for the US Open Cup, strong local competition from two of the country’s best-supported clubs – Minnesota United and Indy Eleven – and little restriction on building a roster (free agency, no salary cap, ability to sell players without the league taking a large portion of the profits as occurs in MLS). The last point is key, as the development and sale of just a few key prospects could help offset a number of expenses, among them player salaries, increased marketing, and stadium expansion/construction.
One potential roadblock: USSF standards require each NASL franchise to have at least one owner worth $20 million who controls at least a 35% stake in the club.
I was initially skeptical of Keyworth Stadium as a future home, but the more I consider it, the more I’m warming to the idea. Its size – around 8000, expandable to over 9000 – is comparable to the NASL’s average stadium size of 11,500, and it would provide ample room for crowds to grow, probably the club’s most pressing issue at this time. The reported $1 million it would take to renovate the stadium is much less than the cost of new stadium construction, and the turnaround time to make the facility ready is much shorter as well.
The location isn’t perfect – we’d be losing the backdrop of the city skyline – but it seems to be the best option out there at present. If Keyworth is selling out within a few years, the increased revenue and exposure will only make the construction of a new permanent home that much more possible.
Most notably, it’s been confirmed that all of City’s NPSL home games will be streamed this season. To paraphrase what was said at the Q&A: “More people watching equals greater reach. Greater reach equals more fans and more interest from potential sponsors.”
The club’s growing reputation extends to potential players as well, the prime example being the four former Quad City players who drove 14 hours from Iowa to try out for the team last week. Whether they make it or not, it shows that players from all over the Midwest want to come play in Detroit. If and when the jump to the pro level happens, I doubt there will be much difficulty in recruiting a team.
Last but not least, DCFC’s community involvement has continued unabated, from last fall’s DPS Showcase, to the club’s involvement in the launch of the Goal Detroit youth soccer league. At the very least, initiatives like these help to expose more and more young people to the game of soccer, creating potential fans and maybe even a homegrown player or two down the road. The location and level at which our hypothetical DCFC Academy graduate will play will very likely be determined sometime in the next few years. Judging by the club’s growth to this point, my money is on sooner rather than later.