About this time each year I like to take a big-picture look DCFC as a whole and the direction in which it’s headed. This year is a little different because, rather than just general thoughts and speculation, I have some actual hard numbers on which to base my opinions.
I’m speaking of course about the recent news that the Keyworth investment campaign drew pledges from 527 individuals totalling $741,250. From everyone I’ve talked to, I believe it’s safe to say that this number exceeded most peoples’ greatest expectations. Personally, I was elated when the $400k minimum was met, but to come within a hair of the upper goal of $750k is an absolute triumph.
The overwhelming success of the campaign is not only a testament to the incredible supporter base that the club has built over the past four years, I think it’s also a sign of its growing clout as an organization. A little less than a year ago, following the 3-0 Open Cup drubbing at the hands of the Bucks, one of the main points of discussion was how City had the fans and passion, but Dan Duggan had the investors and money.
With last year’s signing of Metro Detroit Chevy Dealers as the club’s first ever title sponsor and now this year’s wildly successful stadium investment campaign, however, we have some strong data points that suggest that City now has some financial muscle to go along with its rabid support.
If you divide the investment total of $741,250 by the number of investors (527), the average individual pledge comes out to a little over $1406. According to Alex Wright, there were even several five-figure investments made. It’s a far cry from the patronage of an Illitch or Gilbert, but it’s definite proof that not all of City’s supporters are broke 20 and 30-somethings as is often portrayed.
Success on the business side of things inevitably leads to the subject of jumping to a professional league. Whereas the big question a couple years ago was “If?” it’s evolved into a matter of “When?” and “Where?” Using all the information available to me, I’m ready to stick my neck out and make a prediction:
I’ve long thought NASL would be the most logical next step for City, and I think it would take something significant to change that path. As I’ve mentioned before, the league seems to be the preference of a majority of supporters because it would provide us with the best balance of being on a bigger stage while allowing us to maintain our underdog, small-club ethos.
The USL is rapidly becoming a de facto MLS reserve league (if it isn’t already), and the issues with its parent organization are well-documented. Those issues aside, the amount of money needed to put a new team into MLS is staggering, and even if a sugar daddy/mama could be found, there remains the hurdle of new stadium construction (see: Beckham, Miami). Putting THOSE issues aside, one should look at this week’s debacle concerning the re-branding of Minnesota United as a cautionary tale of how the league dictates to its members. I can only speak for myself, but playing at the “top level” is in no way worth it if you have to sell your soul and identity to get there.
Getting back to the matter at hand, there are two big developments to watch for in the near future. The first is stadium expansion. This year’s renovations to Keyworth and next year’s presumed installation of a new playing surface are obviously first on the docket, but if attendance continues to rise at its current rate, ownership may choose to augment the stadium and bring it to its maximum size of 10,000. This would give the club a plausibly-sized home ground in the event of a move up – the current average NASL stadium capacity is a tad over 13,000.
Second is the shift to full semi-pro status via the playing of players. This would end City’s reliance on college talent and serve as a stepping stone on the path to full professionalization. This isn’t a requirement to joining a pro league, but I think it would be a wise move as it would help to attract and identify players that could form part of that first pro squad and ease the transition between the NPSL and a higher division.
There are also two major prerequisites that are beyond the club’s immediate control. One is the USSF stipulation that all Division II clubs have an owner who is worth at least $20 million and controls at least a 35% stake. Second, and this isn’t by any means a given, the league has to actually want you. The current focus of the NASL appears to be the establishment of a west coast presence, but with one of its marquee clubs – the aforementioned Minnesota United – set to depart for MLS in the near future, there will be a Midwest void to fill. Detroit would be a logical replacement, but logic and American soccer don’t always go hand in hand.
In any case, what matters most is continuing to do what we do – creating our unique home atmosphere, bringing it to away matches, representing and supporting City in every strange and creative way possible. The success of the Keyworth investment campaign is just the latest in a long line of accomplishments that are the results of hard work and dedication. We’ve built the club we want, and the only thing to do is to keep building.