A Response to MGoBlog

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As a longtime Michigan Football fan, I’ve been a reader of MGoBlog for over a decade. I’ve always enjoyed and appreciated the in-depth, intelligent, nuanced content produced by Brian Cook and his team. In my opinion it’s by far the best team-specific sports blog on the Internet, and was one of my main sources of inspiration when I started BIR three years ago. In many ways what I’ve been aiming for is to be the “MGoBlog” of Detroit City FC.

So I was taken aback when I read Brian’s utter contempt for City and its supporters in this recent post:

 Nothing is more annoying about DCFC than this. Detroit is a name frequently proposed for MLS expansion because it makes a ton of sense. It’s an excellent sports town and it’s smack dab in the middle of the Toronto-Chicago-Columbus triangle. But Detroit City is vehemently opposed:

…for this team and its passionate supporters, being included would have also presented another conundrum: DCFC’s identity is homegrown and supporters say it would disintegrate under MLS’ sanitized fan control policies.

For them, the only way to keep growing soccer in Detroit, the only way they saw the sport as having a real future here, was to keep it community and supporter-focused. The Detroit sports landscape, Wright said, was too treacherous for any team to turn their back on that model.

That is absurdly self-important and aloof. Many MLS environments are excellent and homegrown because the league was able to establish a détente with existing fans. The league has done a terrific job of crossing over from Family Fun to actually fun environments in Toronto, Seattle, and Portland.

The same can happen in Detroit, because the DCFC hardcore are not 1) particularly numerous and 2) the only soccer fans in the city. If DCFC wants to finish out of the playoff slots in the NPSL because MLS would frown on them saying “fuck” 300 times in a 90 minute match, that’s their prerogative. It should have no impact on MLS’s decision to come to Detroit or not. There’s no reason the two teams can’t coexist since they serve different markets. One will draw the interest of soccer fans; the other will draw the interest of people who like to act tough and watch colored smoke instead of soccer.

The argument that City supporters don’t care about soccer and only go to matches to get drunk and cosplay as European ultras is brought up by our detractors over and over, and each time it gets more tiresome. There may be some supporters for whom this is absolutely true, but for the core of NGS, the dress, smoke and tifo displays, etc. are simply expressions of our love for the club and the ways in which we choose to support it. We create the atmosphere in celebration of what happens on the field, not independent of it. If drawing attention to ourselves in turn makes more people aware of City, we’ve accomplished what we set out to do from the very beginning.

Continue reading “A Response to MGoBlog”

A Bohemian Footprint: Supporting American Soccer Nationwide

[This is one of my favorite articles about the state of soccer in modern America. I reference it frequently, but those links are now dead because the site on which it was originally published (XI Quarterly) no longer exists. I decided to salvage it from the depths of the internet and repost it here because (A) I want to continue citing and linking to it, and (B) I think it raises excellent points and develops those thoughts better than I could. Chief among them: The U.S. is too big for just one soccer league. For the game to truly take hold, its flourishing must be encouraged at all levels.]

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A Bohemian Footprint: Supporting American Soccer Nationwide

By Tom Dunmore

(Originally Published 3/12/13 by XI Quarterly)

The other day, Alexi Lalas threw out a tweet (“If you live in the U.S., can you call yourself a “soccer fan” even if you don’t support @MLS?“), ESPN’s Roger Bennett wrote-up a piece addressing the question, and the internet exploded.

Or something like that, anyway. Since then, a discussion has raged on whether there is an obligation for American soccer fans to support MLS’ growth as it attempts to become one of the top ten leagues in the world by 2022, in the words of Commissioner Don Garber.

Bennett summed up the viewpoints:

Both the deluge of responses and their emotional depth may be attributed to the fact that this debate occurred at a transitional time in modern supporter culture. Traditionally, fandom was all about rooting for the local team but this simple reality has been obliterated in football’s hyper-commercial modern era. As the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester United battle to become global brands, that sense of place has been consciously uprooted, something I glimpsed last year while meeting with Liverpool’s marketing strategists. They talked about plans to erase the stigma surrounding so-called “plastic fans” by enabling supporters in Jakarta to feel as close to the club as Liverpudlians, developing “subscriber content” in every language that could be paid for in any currency.

Just how widely Americans follow teams around the world via television is well-illustrated in the below infographic by Gilt Edge Soccer Marketing:

soccer-on-us-tv

These viewers are generating serious dollars as soccer becomes a valued television property on American television – the apogee of this is the World Cup, with FIFA’s package of broadcast rights sold for $1 billion to FOX and Telemundo for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups (in 1982, Univision paid $1 million for World Cup rights).

NBC is shelling out $250 million to broadcast the English Premier League on television over three years starting in the 2013-14 season, while in contrast, it’s paying a reported $10 million annually to feature Major League Soccer games through 2014.

Or as Don Garber bluntly put it recently: “Respect for Major League Soccer is greater abroad than it is among the soccer community in the United States.”

I’m not going to address here what Major League Soccer can do to grow its appeal and get to the kind of ratings that’ll earn it the television deals leading it to raise the budgets needed to attract the kind of talent that’ll ensure “Eurosnobs” in New York City will eat their words and start watching one of their two local MLS teams packed with the world’s top talent they’ll have to choose from by 2022 (that’s if everything goes to plan for Don Garber, of course).

Consider the question of how that can be achieved by MLS – a chicken-and-egg conundrum if ever there was one – the Macro level for this debate (I’m also only addressing men’s pro soccer here, and I’ll also concede that things get messy talking about the future of “American soccer” when MLS spans Canada as well – apologies to friends north of the border).

What I want to talk about today is the Micro level. This question is also prompted by Bennett’s article, where he quotes broadcaster Phil Schoen, who asks: “MLS only has 19 teams. Is that sufficient to carry a nation? You have to ask, does it give people in Detroit enough of a reason to care?”

The answer, currently, is no. And even if MLS expands, it’ll likely top out somewhere between 22 and 30 teams over the next decade or two. That’s still not going to give people in Tulsa or Jacksonville a local reason to care about the top American soccer league. What they need is something else.

Numbering A Soccer Nation

The United States and Canada comprise a land mass that is vaster than any other league tries to cover (if you’re wondering, the combined land mass of the US and Canada is 2,530,031 sq km bigger than Russia’s). Population-wise, it’s only third behind China and India as, well, hardly anyone (relatively) lives in Canada – but still, there are 348,396,819 people in the United States and Canada, and there are 19 Major League Soccer teams.

That’s one team per 18,336,675 inhabitants.

The population of London, meanwhile, is 8,174,100. There are six Premier League clubs in London, which is one team for every 1,362,350 inhabitants.

Of course, there are more than six professional clubs in London: if we count all the teams down to League Two, the lowest fully professional tier in English soccer (its fourth tier), we find another eight teams, reducing our per-inhabitant number to one pro club per 583,864 people.

If the US and Canada had one MLS team per 583,864 people, there would be 597 teams in Major League Soccer (balance schedule THAT!).

It seems quite unlikely MLS will ever expand to 597 teams, even by 3022. Even though soccer is growing rapidly in the US and Canada – it’s the number two sport for Americans in the critical coming 12-24 age bracket (according to Luker Trends), and the exploding Hispanic population is of course soccer-friendly – it will always have to compete with the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL for pro sports eyeballs and dollars in a way that teams in London don’t, beyond the smaller minorities avid about cricket, rugby and lawn bowls.

So let’s say we sheer that number down to 1/5 to accommodate soccer as lower-tier among the Big Five sports come 2022, perhaps on the level of the NHL, which soccer isn’t too far behind even now by some measures. That would mean there would be 119 MLS teams, or one for every 2,927,704 Americans. By contrast, across England as a whole, there’s one team in its fully professional leagues for every 576,228 inhabitants.

Where is this going? Good question, as all these numbers are a bit of a silly way to get to my point: American pro soccer needs more than MLS to achieve the footprint required to cover a nation (or two) this large, even if soccer only becomes one fifth as popular in the US and Canada as it is in England (to talk in extraordinarily rough terms).

What it needs is something not mentioned in Roger Bennett’s piece on supporting American soccer: viable, lasting pro teams in large cities that are not part of MLS, and may never be.

Currently, the next level below MLS is the second incarnation of the North American Soccer League (NASL), which has eight teams in the 2013 season (with 12 expected for 2014), and the third level is USL Pro, with 13 teams this year.

The question to address is: how can these leagues thrive in terms of growing both their average attendances and footprints nationwide, and what could thriving realistically look like over the next decade?

The World’s Game, American Teams

Currently, the US and Canada have 40 pro soccer teams in the men’s game in MLS, NASL and USL Pro, or one for every 8,709,920 inhabitants. I think there will be an aggressive phase of expansion including but also below MLS that will give us perhaps double the number of pro teams that we have now within a decade – with attendances notably higher in the top, second and third tiers than we have at present. We need more local professional soccer to tap into a soccer fanbase following the global game worldwide, but it’s above and beyond what MLS will ever want to do in terms of expansion to turn them from armchair followers to active supporters.

There is certainly room for pro soccer to grow.

As of 2011, there were over 100 metropolitan areas in the United States and Canada with populations exceeding 500,000, which we might say is a decent ballpark figure to consider being able to support a team with an average attendance at least on par with a League Two team in England, the lowest fully professional level – which in the 2011-12 season was 4,434. Many of these areas of half a million people could potentially support third tier pro teams in the US with crowds in the 3,000-6,000 region, just above semi-pro level.

There are over 70 metropolitan areas in the US and Canada with populations over 750,000 and 50 areas with over one million inhabitants each. These would be the target cities for second tier teams with English League One levels of support – the average attendance in 2012-13 there was 8,754. Most those teams were supported by catchment areas around 100,000, so we’re trying to do the same thing on this side of the Atlantic with ten times the population.

MLS, as the top tier, draws from the upper end of those metropolitan areas with two million or more inhabitants. It already has teams in eight of the top ten metropolitan areas of the US and Canada, missing only Atlanta and Miami at present. Both of those are very strong candidates to join MLS within the next decade. These conurbations have the potential to provide both the numbers of fans MLS teams need (15,000-25,000 average attendances) but more importantly for commercial reasons, the sponsor and regional television appeal necessary for MLS to some day compete with the best leagues in the world in financial revenue. They also often have large Hispanic populations, the most lucrative market for soccer on television in North America, a demographic MLS badly needs to increase its appeal to.

There are 33 metropolitan areas in the US and Canada with populations over two million each. These are where MLS will expand to  by 2022, cities that can generate the commercial cash to fund Messi’s arrival in Miami in 2017. MLS will choose areas that are prospering, which means we’ll see more teams arrive in the South rather than the Midwest. That will also help balance out the league’s geographical footprint (it’s also of course possible a handful of megalopolises can feasibly support both an MLS team and a lower tier team distanced away appropriately). But that footprint still leaves large numbers of significant cities without pro soccer: the second and third tiers need to expand into the rest of the country.

A Bohemian Footprint

Even if MLS expands to 25 or 30 teams, that still leaves around 80 metropolitan areas with populations over 500,000 for pro soccer teams outside MLS to potentially be established in, and every passing year brings each more fans of the global game, as we’ve seen by the growth of the sport at all levels in the 2000s.

Importantly, a growing number of these fans are in the 18-35 age demographic that can allow a pro soccer team to thrive by generating passionate support not seen in other “minor league” sports while also providing an appealing fanbase to sponsors (this is the demographic that spends money like it’s not retiring tomorrow). Those adult fans who grew up playing soccer and now follow the pro game worldwide are key not just for the raw numbers, but for the supporter groups that form from them and can give the game an organic, thrilling atmosphere all ages of fans find uniquely appealing to soccer among US pro sports.

It is in some of these cities where MLS is absent that pro soccer teams can draw 5,000-10,000 fans a game and be sustainable in building outposts of local fandom across the nation. They will watch the game in new soccer specific stadiums like the NASL San Antonio Scorpions’ 8,000 capacity Toyota Field or USL Pro’s Pittsburgh Riverhounds 3,500 capacity Highmark Stadium, both opening this year. Like the recent flowering of MLS’ soccer-specific-stadia, new appropriately sized facilities means lower level pro soccer won’t be second best in wrongly sized or confusingly marked venues.

There is a fair amount of anecdotal evidence that now MLS has established itself as a permanent presence and one that demands a local market of millions and financial backing in the hundreds of millions, that smaller pro teams elsewhere can tap into the appetite soccer fans – yes, those people who watch the Premier League and encourage NBC to stake $250 million to broadcast soccer games at 9 am on a Saturday – have to support a local team in person even if it’s not in MLS (and even without promotion/relegation…which I’m not getting into here, sorry.)

A key for expanding the footprint of soccer lies not only with MLS both expanding and growing its appeal on television (the Macro level) and in up to a dozen new large cities, but on lower leagues finding the investors, identities and lasting community presences in two dozen cities that are big enough to support a pro team themselves.

Some of these teams may one day aspire to join MLS: cities that are currently in the lower leagues but have markets of MLS size might well do so, such as Orlando (USL Pro) and San Antonio (NASL), both in the top 30 metropolitan populations, and both with strong shows of support for their pro teams recently (they led their leagues with, respectively, 6,606 and 9,176 average attendances in 2012).

Other cities that are in the top 30 are unlikely to head to MLS anytime soon. Detroit, for example, isn’t a city on the make, despite its metropolitan area still numbering in the millions. Yet to go back to Phil Schoen’s question, Detroit can care about American soccer, even if it doesn’t have MLS.

Detroit has an amateur NPSL team – fourth tier – that started up last season, one that has gone to considerable lengths to tie itself to the city’s soccer community and civic identity. By doing so, it has generated a passionate fanbase that shows people do care about local soccer in Detroit. As MLive wrote last year about the success of Detroit City FC’s inaugural season:

The fans of “Le Rouge,” Detroit City’s nickname, start the game off with a march to the stadium, flags unfurled, scarves held high, drums banging and singing in full voice, and this doesn’t stop when they get to the stadium. In fact, it never stops throughout the game. There are no box seats, no waiters bringing food to the privileged few. That’s not what the supporters of DCFC are about.

There may not be an investor group willing to spend $100 million+ to expand to MLS and build a 20,000 capacity stadium in Detroit and frankly, MLS might not want to be in Detroit at this point. But could an investor group put in $10 million, build a 10,000 capacity stadium and break even in the NASL by tapping into that kind of passion? If smart choices were made, yes.

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Photo courtesy Jon DeBoer/Detroit City FC

I am seeing this same momentum first-hand in another Midwestern city that may or may not be right for MLS: Indianapolis. Long off the radar of American soccer (it didn’t have an NASL team the first time around, and has only rarely been mentioned in MLS expansion circles), Indianapolis is the 35th biggest metropolitan area in the United States: still comprising almost two million people, but what would be the second smallest MLS market by metropolitan population.

Yet in seven weeks since Indy Pro Soccer announced it would join the NASL in 2014, a staff of one – Peter Wilt – has taken what is now closing in on 3,000 season ticket deposits for a team with no name, no crest, no players and not even a sales hotline number.

I’ve been assisting Peter with the team’s marketing efforts, and the ease with which the Indy team without an identity has tapped into the demand for pro soccer has been almost absurd. Of course, that ease has also depended on real effort connecting to Indiana’s diverse soccer bases, from the young generation of EPL followers to the large youth soccer community and to ethnic groups (“market to millennials, sell to everyone” are Peter’s words). Peter and the owner, Ersal Ozdemir, have put in a ton of work on the ground in Indy to ensure the team is embedded in the city’s growing soccer culture, building on the word of mouth generated by a supporters group that existed before Indy Pro Soccer, the Brickyard Battalion.

Indy Pro Soccer is successfully appealing to those people who watch soccer on TV in the growing numbers illustrated by the chart above, and who are at the heart of the debate kicked off by Alexi Lalas. Below is a graph of the teams Indy Pro Soccer fans listed as currently supporting in a question that was part of the club’s Name the Team survey:

worldsgame

As you can see, most of those signing up to support pro soccer in Indy are the type who pack Indy’s Chatham Tap for Premier League or other Euro league games,  or who have been travelling the three hours either east or west to watch MLS in Chicago or Columbus.

Those fans will support American soccer if an attractive local option is presented, in smaller numbers than if it was MLS, but – at least by the evidence of Indianapolis, a not particularly outlandish place – enough to make a pro soccer team a viable business proposition.

A Sustainable Second Tier

Can this be replicated in other places? There are over 30 metropolitan areas in the US and Canada with over 1,000,000 inhabitants without an MLS team to support. Many of these could embrace pro soccer at a level approaching that seen this year in Indianapolis and last year in San Antonio (who averaged over 9,000 fans in their first season), potentially attracting an average attendance of 5,000-10,000. With strong sponsorship sales as often the only pro soccer team in their city, staffs in the 10-20 range, grassroots and cost-effective digital marketing efforts and ongoing reasonable player budgets, that type of attendance can help a club break even in a two or three years for an investor.

Could ten of those cities support a second-tier team by 2022, creating a solid 20 team nationwide league with greater popularity that would help double pro soccer’s footprint today?

I think so. Population size alone isn’t the only indicator of likely success, of course, but it’s a starting point. A savvy investor would do a lot more groundwork on any given city than the simplistic schema presented here, looking deeper at demographic details like population ages and incomes, transit, stadia options, the youth soccer base and the level of local competition from other sports – Indianapolis, for example, has a (successful and popular) minor league baseball team, rather than MLB, as a summer competitor, though it does of course have serious support for auto racing as well.

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Image courtesy Indy Pro Soccer

There are many cities like Indianapolis and San Antonio that a second tier team could be sustainable in, without necessarily being a fit for MLS, while smaller crowds in smaller cities could also work sustainably at the third tier. Oddly enough, that’s perversely shown by the stubborn survival of the stepchild of American pro soccer in places MLS has yet to land. Milwaukee and Baltimore have since the 1980s both been supporting professional soccer teams: just ones that happen to be playing indoors. The fact is the appeal of indoor is waning fast: if the debate now is about getting the Manchester United fan to support MLS, getting him to support MISL is far-further-fetched (I say that sadly, as a former staffer in the MISL and a fan of the fast-paced game on its own terms).

EPL or La Liga fans in Milwaukee or Syracuse or Wichita who grew up playing soccer are likely waiting for an outdoor professional soccer team to emerge that they see as a serious proposition to support. You won’t get all of them. But you can get enough of them if you give them a chance to build on their own organic passion for the game.

Those fans want a team to support without a silly name and logo, playing roughly the same game they have played and see on television every weekend, a club connected to their community that they are proud to wave a scarf and bang a drum and build a tifo display for. By doing that, their collective presence – often coalescing in supporters groups – helps make it an exciting proposition for kids and families to fill the rest of the stands.

There are thousands of these soccer fans in American and Canadian cities and some of them – like the Brickyard Battalion did in Indianapolis or the Crocketteers did in San Antonio – got off their couches and helped bring pro soccer to their cities without waiting for MLS to wave a magic wand. In Baltimore, they’re already embracing the pretty damn cool PDL Bohemians, just as Detroit’s fans are embracing their NPSL team. If amateur soccer can generate that interest, pro soccer would drive it to another level – if each league, under the oversight of US Soccer, remains focused on being stable and sustainable, tapping carefully into the right places to grow the game over the next decade.

Regardless of the details of any given place, what’s important to note here is that local passion doesn’t have to develop only in support of MLS, which will likely never grow a reach large enough to cover two nations with over 100 cities boasting populations exceeding 500,000 each. It is in a couple of dozen of those cities outside the largest MLS-centered metropolises that the footprint of American soccer can perhaps double at the Micro level in the next decade, and how we get people in Detroit or Milwaukee or Indianapolis to “care about American soccer.”

You can follow Tom Dunmore on Twitter @tomdunmore.

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How to Build a Soccer Club – Part Two

Link to Part One

Chapter II: Marketing

Here’s a quick test: when I say “NASL, USL Pro, and NPSL,” which teams come to mind? For me, and I suspect for most who follow American soccer, it’s those with the greatest levels of support. Orlando, Sacramento, Indy, Minnesota, Detroit, Chattanooga, San Antonio, to name a few. What do all of those clubs have in common? Sizeable, dedicated supporters’ groups.

Attracting Fans

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Supporter-Friendly > Family-Friendly

A big mistake that a lot of new clubs seem to make is marketing themselves strictly to families with soccer-playing kids. There is nothing wrong with free admission for children of a certain age or group discounts/special accommodations for local youth teams, but if you truly want to succeed as a club, you must focus on building a base of diehards. It’s fine to try and bring in the “soccer moms,” but they should not be your primary focus.

With the recent explosion in the amount of televised soccer in the U.S., every corner of the country has access to the sights and sounds of the big leagues from around the world. No matter what state or city you are in, there are likely many people (typically in the 18-45 demographic, but some older and younger as well) who love the atmosphere of the European matches they see on TV and want to experience it firsthand in their own backyards. Your job is to give them their outlet.

Supporters and Atmosphere

Supporters are the ones who will snatch up season tickets each year as soon as they become available. They are the ones who will travel hundreds or thousands of miles to watch your team play. They are the ones who advertise the club the most, through word-of-mouth, social media, and simply by wearing your colors around town. They are the ones who will stand with you through thick and through thin.

That being said, you MUST NOT attempt to create a supporters’ group or derby yourself. Everything must spring up organically with no involvement from the front office. What you need to do is create an environment in which your SG will thrive. In the same way that palm trees and brightly-colored poisonous frogs can only live in a tropical environment, your SG can only exist and grow when it is allowed to stand and sing for 90 minutes, set off smokebombs, and display tifos and banners.

Here we see some supporters’ groups in their natural habitats:

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You should give your SG a basic set of rules and boundaries, including but not limited to: no physical violence, no racist, sexist, or homophobic language, no open flames, etc., and allow them to police themselves until they show that they are unable or unwilling to do so. Be aware that they will use salty language and insult the opposing team and its fans. This will turn a few people off, but as long as your overall attendance numbers stay steady and continue to rise, you shouldn’t consider it a serious problem.

To sum up, many people don’t go to soccer games just to see the play on the field, they also go for the incredible experience provided by a vibrant atmosphere.

…atmosphere is one of the crucial ingredients of the football experience. These huge ends [supporter sections] are as vital to the clubs as their players, not only because their inhabitants are vocal in their support, not just because they provide clubs with large sums of money, but because without them nobody else would bother coming.

– Nick Hornby, Fever Pitch

The richer an environment you create, the more fans you will attract.

Web Presence

It would be unwise to spend too much of your money advertising on old media (TV/radio/newspaper); social media is free, popular, and its reach is growing by the day.

At the bare minimum, your club should have an official Facebook page, Twitter feed, and probably a YouTube account to upload your highlights and interviews. Whoever you put in charge of these accounts, make sure they keep posts professional – it would be poor form to have an exchange with a kid who thinks you “totally suck ass” appear in an official club feed. It would also be a good idea if the person in charge of your accounts had a good grasp on spelling and grammar and posted on a regular basis. The following is a screenshot of FC Sparta Michigan’s official Twitter feed:

twitter1

They then created a second account, the result of which was this:

twitter2

That’s a total of six tweets in five months, with none for the entire summer in which actual games were taking place. In case you were wondering, this club lasted for one year.

When it comes to your website, you don’t need to rewrite the rules of web design, but it should be well-done and – here’s that word again – professional.

Here’s a good example:

http://www.chattanoogafc.com/
chattanoogafc.com

And here’s what not to do:

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The difference between model organizations and one-and-dones should be very clear by now.

Chapter III: Other Ideas

Now that we’ve gone over how to lay your club’s foundation, it’s up to you to build the house. You’ll have to do the legwork on these, but here are a few ideas to keep in mind.

Stadium

Unless you have a boatload of cash and political connections in your area, building a new stadium right off the bat is likely out of the question. Your options will probably be limited, but you should consider:

(1) Location – Find a venue that doesn’t conflict with your club’s name. If you call yourself Detroit City FC, you definitely can’t play your games outside of the City of Detroit. If you do, it won’t look good and will cost you credibility.

(2) Size – Try to find a place that gives you room to grow, but isn’t too big. Capacity should probably be at least 1000 and no more than 5000.

(3) Playing Surface – Natural grass is more expensive to maintain than field turf, but it typically plays better and looks much nicer.

(4) Atmosphere – If possible, try to find a stadium without a track around the field. It separates your supporters from the action and can lessen their impact on the game.

Coaches

Don’t try to find the next Mourinho, you’re looking for someone who can work well with college-age players for a few months in the summer and run a simple, straightforward system (typically 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1) due to limited practice time.

Keep in mind that NCAA rules do not allow players to work with their coaches during the offseason. For example, since Detroit City’s current head coach is a Michigan State assistant, current MSU players cannot play for DCFC.

Players

Open tryouts are obviously essential for a team that is just starting out. Something that Detroit City has done that’s been very well received has been to give season tickets to all its tryout attendees.

On top of that, do your best to establish relationships with local college coaches and programs. If players have a good experience playing for you, word of mouth will spread to their teammates and can help build a pipeline to bring talent to your team on a consistent basis.

Chapter IV: Recap

We’ve covered a lot of ground, but I think you’ve got a pretty good feel for the initial tasks that go into building your club. To review:

(1) Professionalism – This is key in all areas. The way you present your club to the world determines how it will be perceived. If it feels minor-league and second-rate, you won’t be taken seriously. If you show that you have legitimate ambitions, people will rally around you.

(2) Name and Crest – They should be simple, unique, and represent something special about your city/state. NO cheesy nicknames, NO cartoon soccer balls.

(3) Focus your marketing towards potential supporters. They will form a strong attendance base and will attract more people with the atmosphere they create and through word-of-mouth.

(4) Connect to your fans through social media. One amazing picture or video can find its way all across the internet and introduce your club to people who never would have heard about it otherwise.

Closing Message

We’ve come to the end, and now you must take the lessons you’ve learned and run with them. I have the utmost confidence that the club you found will NOT fold after a single season, and that its crest, jerseys, and supporters will be met with nods of approval from across the American soccer community. I’ve done what I can; the rest is up to you.

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end

How to Build a Soccer Club – Part One

bocy4

Each year, a bevy of new clubs spring up in the lower divisions of American soccer. A few of them are successful and endure, but most of them survive for just a year or two (or less) before folding. In most instances, these clubs fail to attract a significant following and are therefore unable to sustain themselves due to weak revenue streams. From what I’ve observed, these “one-and-dones” tend to drop the ball in two specific areas: branding and marketing.

That may sound a little vague and you’re probably wondering exactly what I mean. Not to worry, for I will cover these and other topics in…

HOW TO BUILD A SOCCER CLUB: A Handy Dandy Guide for Prospective NPSL Owners

Introduction

This guide is primarily geared towards those looking to start clubs at the 4th division level, but I think many of the ideas are equally applicable to USL Pro, NASL, and MLS.

I will be referencing Detroit City FC quite a bit since it’s obviously the club I’m most familiar with, and it just so happens to be one of the most successful franchises in the lower leagues.

These ideas are open-source, but once you apply them and go on to found the next great American soccer success story, I hope you will remember me and throw a few dollars my way (HINT: click the Donate link at the top of the page).

Disclaimer #1: I have zero business and marketing/advertising experience. Everything below is based solely on my observations, opinions, and what I deem to be common sense.

Disclaimer #2: This guide is by no means definitive. Starting a club and paying the expansion fee obviously requires an initial investment. I can’t tell you how or where to get that money, you gotta figure that one out for yourself. Same goes for finding sponsors, researching your league’s regulations and membership requirements, et cetera, et cetera.

Chapter I: Branding

The branding of your club, specifically its name and crest, is crucial, and will determine your initial success. For me personally, if the owners of Detroit City FC had named their club Detroit Motor or something along those lines, I would have dismissed them as just another run-of-the-mill minor-league operation and immediately forgotten about them. The name, crest, and scarf are what made me purchase season tickets and got me in the door, and the atmosphere and professionalism with which the club was run made me into a supporter. The bottom line is this: if you run your club like a double-A baseball team, people will treat it as such. If you run it like a first-class organization with real aspirations, people will treat it as such.

Name

Your name is your identity, and it (along with your crest) will be the most important decision you will make about your new club. Some guidelines:

(1) Simplicity is a virtue. It’s tough to go wrong with “_____ United,” “_____ City,” or just plain old “_____ FC.” If you’d like to be a bit more creative, try to incorporate a geographic or historic aspect of your city or state in the name of your club. Some examples: Seattle Sounders (reference to Puget Sound), Sacramento Republic (reference to the State Flag of California and the city’s status as state capital), Bethlehem Steel F.C. (reference to the Pennsylvania steel industry).

(2) Avoid cheesy/meaningless nicknames. This is highly subjective, but here’s a general rule of thumb I came up with: If your club either sounds like it could be on Matador, or it could be a minor league baseball team, you need a new name. Some examples: Richmond Kickers, Fort Lauderdale Strikers, Las Vegas Mobsters, San Francisco Stompers, Hollywood United Hitmen. No, I did not make any of those up.

(3) Other do’s and don’ts:

– Stay away from “Real _____” unless you are located in an area which happens to be ruled by a monarch.

– Use “football” instead of “futbol.” Most people can figure out which sport “FC” refers to; they don’t need you to point it out for them

– On that note, I would go with “FC” over “SC.” This is the cause of endless debate, and some may disagree, but I think “FC” flows off the tongue more easily, plus you can avoid the wrath of the insufferable subset of Brits who want to outlaw the word “soccer,” in spite of the fact that their forebears invented the term and used it for nearly two decades before “football” became widely used.

– Finally, don’t call your club “_____ City” if your “city” is actually a town or municipality of a few thousand people. Maybe take a cue from the English lower divisions and name your club: “_____ Town.”

Bonus Tip: Once you choose a name, stick with it. Nothing plays into the hands of rival supporters more than changing the name of your club before you’ve even played a game (especially when you do it multiple times). If you need to rebrand after only a month or two, you messed up somewhere along the line.

Crest

I will start by saying this: DO NOT PUT A CARTOON SOCCER BALL IN YOUR CREST. The cartoon soccer ball is the epitome of minor-league, second-rate chintzyness. If you feel the need to put a soccer ball somewhere, go with an old-school style and make sure it’s a minor feature rather than the primary focus of attention.

FC_Barcelona_(crest).svg1024px-Chelsea_FC.svg

 

 

 

 

 

Also, stars should only be put above the crest to signify a championship of some sort. Case in point:

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I’m a fan of the USMNT and USWNT, but that crest is just brutal. You’d think a three-time World Cup champion would be able to come up with something a little classier.

Get it, because three stars… Okay, moving on.

In my opinion, the best route is to go with a recognizable local feature or landmark. You could also opt for something more basic, featuring only your name and colors, and possibly your year of founding. Whichever way you choose, professionalism is the key (are you starting to see a trend?). Paying a little money to a graphic designer to help you out would likely be a sound investment.

Examples of what to do:

DCFCThe Detroit City FC crest incorporates The Spirit of Detroit, an iconic downtown statue.

Minnesota United’s crest features a loon, the state bird of Minnesota, and has drawn near-universal approval from the American soccer community.

From Wikipedia:

The name “Eleven” references the eleven men who will take to the field representing Indiana and also pays homage to Indiana’s 11th Regiment Indiana Infantry in the American Civil War, while the navy colored checkered background is a nod to both Indianapolis’ auto-racing culture and the Brickyard Battalion supporters group which is often credited to bringing pro soccer back in Indianapolis. Lady Victory from the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ monument is the focal point of the crest. The color scheme is the same as that of the civic flag of Indianapolis.

Examples of what NOT to do:

Cartoon soccer ball smashing glass or something. Three different fonts. Amateurish look and feel

Cartoon soccer ball. Soooo many stars. That’s a lot of championships for a team that was founded in 2012.

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Tulsa’s official colors are green and yellow, yet their crest is a hot pink mess that looks like the logo for a medieval-themed strip club.

eauclaire

Yes that is a real thing. And while we’re at it, let’s take a look at where Eau Claire finished this past season:

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And here are a few more duds, to make sure you get the idea.

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If your crest looks like clipart, throw it away and start over.

Colors

You have a good deal of freedom in this area. It would be smart to avoid the same color scheme of other local teams, regardless of the sport, to help you establish your own identity. Also, I would keep away from the colors of a local team’s rival. For example, it would be dumb to start a club in Columbus, Ohio and choose the colors maize and blue.

When in doubt, remember anything goes with white or black.

Uniforms

“Dress for the job you want, not for the job you have,” while cliché, definitely applies here. Just as a professional look is essential when designing a crest, it’s equally important when outfitting your players. Jerseys that look like t-shirts with iron-on numbers are unacceptable. Uniforms that look more appropriate for a high school team are unacceptable. Get something that wouldn’t look out of place in a professional league.

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npsl_detroitcityhome

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Coming tomorrow: In Part Two, I will discuss supporters vs. soccer moms, give you a crash course in social media, and more!

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Human Pastime

To mark the unveiling of BIR 2.0, I wanted to write something about soccer. Not a team, not a player, not a memorable moment, just soccer – the game itself. I’ve been trying to figure out how it’s become such a part of my life, especially when I paid it exactly zero attention between the ages of 7 and 19. I thought that maybe I was only able to appreciate its subtlety and nuance once I got older, but that’s a load of garbage since I had other serious interests that required a decent attention span before then, not to mention that millions of children around the world seem to enjoy the game just fine in spite of their youth.

Then I thought that my shrinking interest in other sports could be the key. My first love was college football, but it’s gotten harder and harder to stay invested when each year brings a pile of new scandals, more realignment tearing apart geographically-coherent conferences and century-old rivalries, and increasingly exasperated arguments from the NCAA trying to reassure the public of its “non-profit” status.

Maybe the growth of soccer in America and its expanded media coverage simply made it more mathematically probable that I would be exposed to it and fall in line with the billions around the world who are already under its spell. In the end, I don’t have a good answer, but it doesn’t really matter. Like making a new friend or falling in love, it just sorta happened, and the results are far more meaningful than the causes.

——

What I can explain is WHY I love the game, and what makes it so special. I love the constant motion and the players’ dependence on their own creativity and ideas rather than having plays sent in by coaches from the sidelines. I love when said creativity results in a moment that you’ve never seen before and will never see again.

I love watching the multitude of different playing styles – the speedster, the destroyer, the artist, the cold-blooded finisher, the stopper, the Swiss Army knife, the brick wall, the magician.

I love the songs of the supporters and their visual displays.

 

When it comes to playing, I love how you must constantly process what you should be doing while trying to anticipate the actions of the other 21 people on the field. I also love that anyone can play and make a contribution to the team, whether they’re tall or short, lean or chubby, even if they only have ONE FREAKING LEG.

——

In the end, I suppose what I like most is taking part in what may be the closest thing there is to a human pastime. Religion and nationalism can also boast billions of followers, but for me, soccer links us in a special way. Whether I’m in the stands, chasing a ball across the field, or just plopped on the couch in front of the TV, my perceptions and emotions are similar to those that are experienced by people all over the world, often simultaneously.

Soccer alone will not end poverty or bring about world peace. It is, after all, simply a game. What it can do, in fact what it has already done, is create common ground between people from all walks of life in all different locations. In today’s world, perhaps nothing could be more valuable.

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