Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Operating a Division 4 Soccer Club (But Were Afraid to Ask)
A Recap of Stockade FC’s Inaugural Season in the NPSL (2016)
It’s been almost 5 months since I published my original post about the origin story and motivation behind starting Stockade FC, our Division 4 (NPSL) soccer team in the Hudson Valley (“So, Let’s Build A Professional Soccer Team From Scratch”). I published that piece on May 8th, just a few hours before we kicked off the first match in club history (and just a few days before our daughter was born!)
This is the follow-up post that I promised I’d write in that original manifesto. One of my goals in starting Stockade FC was to try to tell the story of starting a club from scratch while being as transparent as possible about what worked and what didn’t, lessons learned and the things we’d do differently, and what it took financially to get the club off the ground. If that first post had a “startup soccer” vibe, this post is meant to be more “open source soccer”.
My primary motivation behind sharing all this is pretty simple (and was laid out in my original post): I want to see the USA win a World Cup someday and I really believe that the best way for fans to get behind this goal is to go all-in on supporting lower-level soccer. My thesis, in short, is that for the USA to be successful in world soccer we need (a) more kids playing, (b) more clubs for them to play for, and (c) an open-system (yes, one that supports promotion/relegation) that can both encourage and reward the investors and entrepreneurs in the lower leagues who will help develop players and create the clubs they’ll play for. I believe that by telling the story of Stockade FC, I can play a small role in helping to make it easier for people to create clubs from scratch. And I believe that as more people across the country create clubs, the other pieces of the puzzle (more players, stronger teams, open leagues, etc.) will start to come together, faster.
This is going to be a long post with a lot of numbers. So before we dive in, there’s three points I want to get across upfront:
#1. We had one hell of an inaugural season (2016), exceeding all of our original expectations:
- We played 16 games over 10 weeks in the NPSL’s North Atlantic Conference
- We went 5–8–3 (W-L-D) during the regular season, finishing near the middle of the table (we did not qualify for the playoffs)
- We had an average attendance of 755 fans per game (which is great for the NPSL and easily the highest in our North Atlantic conference)
- Our #9 Michael Creswick was named “NPSL Player of the Week” (June 4, 2016)
- Our #19 Patrick Alvarez was nominated for the “NPSL Goal of the Year” award
- Two of our guys, #17 Jamal Lis-Simmons (captain) and #9 Michael Creswick were named as Honorable Mentions to the league’s All-NPSL team
- The Percussion Orchestra of Kingston (aka: “POOK”), the amazing drummers that provided a steady soundtrack for all 8 of our home games (and two away games!), were nominated for the league’s “Supporter of the Year” award
- At every home match we saw dozens of kids lining up to collect autographs from players on both sides after the game.
- We built a sizable social media presence (1900 Instagram followers, 1800 Twitter followers, 2300 “likes” on Facebook)
- The original “Let’s Build a Club from Scratch” manifesto received more than 33,000 views and 8000 “reads”
- We attracted a ton of national attention with our startup/community-driven focus, including this awesome mini-documentary from our friends at Kick. (Hey thanks, love this!)
#2. It’s amazing to think of how much we’ve accomplished in just one year. Here’s a look at our timeline from inception to our first match. Don’t read too much into the specific sequencing of events, but take note of how quickly some things came together (and try to imagine how much anxiety we felt as the season started creeping up on us):
Original idea: June 3, 2015 Month 1
NPSL Application submitted: August 15, 2015 Month 3
NPSL Application approved: Sept 18, 2015 Month 4
Interviewing coaches: October 2015 Month 5
Field committed: October 15, 2015
Insurance secured: November 2015 Month 6
Team announced: November 26, 2015
Fiscal Sponsorship/501c3: December 2015 Month 7
Online store goes live: February 3, 2016 Month 9
Coaches announced: February 24, 2016
First Tryout (1 of 5) February 27, 2016
Kit sponsors finalized: March 10, 2016 Month 10
Last Tryout (5 of 5) March 24, 2016
Schedule announced: March 29, 2016
Roster announced: April 5, 2016 Month 11
First pre-season friendly: April 6, 2016
Kits ordered: April 10, 2016
Kits unveiling party: May 4, 2016 Month 12
First match (away): May 8, 2016
My daughter born (!!): May 13, 2016
First home match: May 21, 2016
Last match of season: July 10, 2016 Month 14
Wrap party for volunteers: July 16, 2016
#3. After a full year of Stockade FC, I’m starting to get a feel for how the different business / revenue models of lower-level clubs can work. Since something (or someone) or has to pay for the club’s expenses, it tends to be a mix of one or more of the four elements below:
(a) Pay-to-Play. Some NPSL clubs exist as an extension of youth clubs/teams, and those youth teams may be be “pay-to-play” — e.g. the club’s U8 or U12 (“under 8 years old”) have players that pay a yearly fee to be a part of a team. Revenue from these youth teams can be set aside to fund the “first team” (the NPSL squad). The best youth players from these youth teams often have the opportunity to graduate out of the youth org and play for the first team. An NPSL first team is often a differentiator for youth organizations competing within a crowded market.
(b) Sponsorship / Tickets / Merchandise Revenue. Pretty straightforward, but a mix of sponsorships, ticket sales and merchandise (t-shirts, etc.) can help pay the bills.
(c) Top-Down Investment. Some NPSL clubs exist as reserve teams for NASL (Division 2) squads — e.g. the New York Cosmos in the NASL (D2) have the New York Cosmos B in the NPSL (D4). Winnings from the D2 squad (in terms of merchandise/sponsorships/tickets) may trickle down to help finance the D4 club.
(d) Crowdfunding / Fundraising. There are a number of clubs in the lower-leagues who got off the ground with crowdfunding campaigns (e.g. Kickstarter, GoFundMe) or through more traditional fundraisers. Some clubs are “supporter owned” (where the supporters buy and own a piece of the club in return for their financial investment) or simply “supporter financed” (where say, $200 buys you a scarf, ticket, perhaps your name in a game day program as a benefactor).
(e) Outside Investment. Some clubs may be financed by individuals or investors. Outside money can help these clubs exist with minimal or no support from youth-club revenue, first-team revenue, or any sponsorship/ticket/merchandise revenue.
Stockade FC, which started from scratch in the fall of 2015, is a mix of (b) Sponsorship / Tickets / Merchandise Revenue and (e) Outside Investment. We’re trying our best to get to break-even with Sponsorship, Ticket Sales and Merchandise but I’m personally picking up the rest of the expenses.
None of these models is better or worse than one another, they’re just different. And it’s important to understand the differences before we dive into Stockade FC’s specific financial story.
It’s also worth noting that there’s many ways to structure a club — LLC, C-Corp, 501c3, etc. Our club is set up as a 501c3 via a “fiscal sponsorship” under a company called Innovative Charitable Initiatives, Inc.
Kingston Stockade Football Club is operating as a non-profit via fiscal sponsorship under Innovative Charitable Initiatives, Inc., (ICI) a 501©3 tax exempt charitable organization. A copy of ICI’s latest annual report may be obtained upon request by writing to Innovative Charitable Initiatives, Inc., 272 Broadway, Albany, NY 12204 or from the New York State Attorney General’s Charities Bureau, 120 Broadway, 3rd Floor, New York, New York 10271.
In my original post, I alluded to the fact that we initially thought we could make the club work on a budget of $50,000 and that we thought we had a decent shot of getting close to break-even in our first season. Here’s the original quote from that post:
“Our budget for this year will run approximately $50,000. Yes, you could build a club for cheaper and, yes, you could spend five times as much, $50K should hopefully get us pretty close to break-even. Our revenue comes from a mix of sponsorships, merchandise and ticket sales. Think of it like a wedding. There’s four-to-six big ticket items that add up quickly: field rental, transportation, kits/gear, coaches/trainers, players, marketing.”
… well, in hindsight, this turned out to be off. Not “wrong”, just “off”. The “think of it like a wedding” analogy turned out to be a good one, except for that fact that some of our big ticket items ended up costing $15k instead of $10k, which added a lot of extra costs to our original projections.
So, let’s dive into the numbers. First look at them at a high-level and then we’ll spend some time breaking each number down.
Operating Expenses: $82,586.93 66% of total expenses
Merchandise Expenses: $43,086.80 34%
Total Expenses: $125,673.73 100%
Sponsorship Revenue: $10,600.00 11% of total revenue
Merchandise Revenue: $50,647.18 54%
Tickets Revenue: $32,425.20 35%
Total Revenue: $93,072.38 100%
Let’s start with the Operating Expenses — $82k is a ways off from the $50k I was shooting for, but we found that some things ended up being more expensive than we expected and there were many costs we didn’t initially plan for. I do believe that it’s possible to run an NPSL club on a $50k to $60k budget (and my plan is to get our operating costs down to ~$65k for the 2017 season). Let’s look at how these operating expenses break down (ranked from most expensive to least):
2016 Stockade FC Operating Expenses
Fields $16,250.00 20% (practices/friendlies/games)
Coaches/Trainers $15,620.00 19% (3 coaches/trainers/phys therapy)
Gear / Equipment $14,763.64 18% (kits, balls, warmups)
Travel & Hotel $10,615.00 13% (bus, hotel)
Marketing $9,388.29 11% (photog/stream/sideline/stickers)
Game Day Expenses $8,550.00 10% (ice, water, pizza, refs, etc)
Insurance/Fees $6,400.00 08% ($4k league fee, $2400 insurance)
Streaming $1,000.00 02% (hardware for streaming matches)
Player Roster $0 00% (amateur team in semi-pro league)
Mgmt / Staff $0 00% (all volunteers!)
Total Expenses $82,586.93 100.00%
Let’s talk about each of these for a second:
Fields — Fields turned out to be our biggest expenses (which I did not anticipate in our early planning). We needed fields for tryouts (x5 tryouts), friendly matches (x2 pre-season matches), practices (x33!) and game days (x8 home games). Figure about $300 for a field per night(with lights and staff) and this adds up quickly. I’d like to figure out how to cut this expense down significantly next year by finding a way to do a partnership / sponsorship with an organization that has access to a field. (If you have access to a field in the Hudson Valley are interested in being a sponsor, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org)
Staff — Minimal staff, but also adds up quickly. Head Coach, Assistant Coach, Goalkeeping Coach as well as ATCs (Athletic Trainers) for game days and Physical Trainers (for game days + 1 practice/week). Remember, even though our season was a short 10 weeks, we held tryouts and practices during the 2.5 months leading up to the season. Note: ATCs are required by the league to be available before, during, and after every match (for both home & away team and paid for by the home team). And while Physical Trainers are not required, by the time we were halfway through the season, our guys were so beat up from our schedule (sometimes 2 games a week!) it was the right thing to do. (Special thanks to Feldman Physical Therapy in Poughkeepsie, NY for giving us a great rate on Physical Training — it made a huge difference to the squad)
Gear — This is everything we needed for the team/coaches for the season. Practice balls (x36), game day balls (x12), kits and warm-ups and polos (x28 = ~$70/player for kits * 3 for home/away/training, ~$40 for warmups), colored bibs for tryouts (x64), water bottles, clipboards, keeper gloves, first aids kits, etc. We partnered with Inaria on the kits which were high-quality at a good price (sublimated jerseys w/ rubber patches). Our league (NPSL) has a partnership w/ Mitre who provided a great discount on practice and match-day balls. Special thanks to Upper90, a soccer shop in Manhattan, who cut us a deal on the pinnies we used for tryouts, and Inaria, our manufacturer for kits, warmups & polos, as they were great to work with. In case it’s helpful to others, we ordered 28 kits total (24 field kits, 4 keeper kits) which was plenty for our 18 man roster over the season:
# of Uniforms Ordered
Small 1 0
Medium 11 1
Large 10 2
XL 2 1
Total 24 4
Travel & Hotel — We had 8 games on the road this year, and within our North Atlantic Conference, we had to travel from Kingston, NY to Rhode Island (1x), Boston (x2), New York City (x3), New Hampshire (1x) and Maine (1x). Our title sponsor this year (front of jersey) was Trailways NY, the bus company based out of Hurley, NY that services New York state and the surrounding areas. Through this sponsorship, we were able to save a bunch on transportation costs (thank you, Trailways!) Also worth noting that our conference’s travel requirements are pretty modest (most of our opponents are a day trip away) compared to, say, the Midwest conference where teams are facing 12 hour bus trips and often paying for hotels (or flights). We purposely set up back-to-back games in NH and ME because they were the furthest away (5–6 hour drive) and took the squad on an overnight trip. We splurged on two nights in a hotel (so the players would be well rested for our Saturday match). The two night stay (and two meals) for 18 players + coaches cost $4500 (or about 40% of our overall travel budget). We really need to find a more cost efficient way to manage this scenario next season.
NPSL North Atlantic Conference Miles from Travel Time
Kingston from Kingston
Brooklyn Italians Ave X, Brooklyn 120 miles 2:22
Boston City FC Boston, MA 204 3:11
Greater Lowell FC Lowell, MA 201 3:11
NY Athletic Club Pelham, NY 96 1:45
New York Cosmos B Hempstead, NY 124 2:21
Rhode Island Reds Cranston, RI 204 3:16
Seacoast Mariners Scarborough, ME 300 4:39
Seacoast Phantoms Portsmouth, NH 254 4:00
Total for Season 1503 miles
Average per Game 215 miles
Marketing — This is a bit of a “catch all” category, but includes everything from Facebook ads ($70), to making sure we had a photographer at every match (~$100/match = $750), posters and flyers and stickers (approx $1500 over season, stickers were more expensive than we could afford at approx $0.50/sticker), and website hosting + online store + email newsletter fees.
The primary expense in this number was investing in sideline banners (3 feet tall x 9 feet long, high quality, padded signs with velcro ads). We splurged on these ($4000 for 10 banners) with the expectation that we’d be able to reuse for multiple seasons. This year we sold sideline sponsorships against them (e.g. our jersey sponsors each had a sideline banner) and we plan to do the same next year. To play it out, if we can sell 6 out of 10 banners next season for $1000 each, that would be a big chunk of cash that we didn’t have this year.
Social Media played a huge part in telling our club’s story. We were very active on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter (in that order). We found Facebook and Instagram to be most helpful in connecting with local fans and local businesses that wanted to cheer on the local team. We used Twitter more for telling a larger nationwide story of the club and our goals. We let players to “take-overs” of our Snapchat account, but it didn’t seem worth the effort at the time. We created Snapchat filters for home games and away games (great for trolling opponents!) and made a “Support Local Soccer” themed Snapchat filter for the MLS All Star game in San Jose (pic below). We posted match-day “flyers” for every game on Facebook and Instagram and consistently used Facebook’s tools to “promote” these to an audience. We were seeing upwards of 1000–2000 views per each ad and this only cost us about $70 throughout the season.
Also worth noting that Radio Woodstock was one of our sponsors (see “Sponsorship” section below for more detail) and they were able to help with on-air advertising over the course of the season (approx 10 radio spots/week). Staples Copy & Print also has a partnership with our league (NPSL) which gives all ~80 teams a healthy discount on printing, etc. This was great and we used it all throughout season
Game Day — Outside of renting fields ($300/game) and gear, it cost an additional ~$800/game in expenses to host on a match. In the NPSL the home team is responsible for (a) paying for the refs and their travel costs ($300 + travel = ~$400/game for 4 refs), (b) providing ice and water ($100/game), and providing food post-match for both teams (12 pizzas = $175-$200). Figure an additional $100 for game day programs and misc supplies (markers, tape, etc). Security was built into the cost of the fields.
Insurance / Admin / Fees — It helps to think of these as pre-season / upfront costs, but the NPSL charged $5000/team league fee for the 2016 season (to cover league operational expenses). Liability insurance for the club (covering players, travel, fans) costs us $2400 for the year. (Note: this is not health insurance for the players, this is liability insurance to protect the club). We did not provide health insurance to the players.
Streaming — We decided early on that we wanted to make an strong effort to stream as many as our games as possible — both home and away. I’m very proud of the fact that we were able to stream all 8 of our home matches (via the Stockade FC YouTube channel) and most of our away games (via Facebook Live streaming from an iPad w/ a Verizon MiFi) — something you don’t see very often in the NPSL. The $100o cost was for investing in hardware (Ubiquiti antennas, routers) to ensure the stadium had enough bandwidth to stream (we had a directional antenna running from uptown Kingston to the stadium — more of an “ask for forgiveness, not permission” type of project). Special thanks friends at Evolving Media Network (Dan! Kale!) in Kingston for all the hard work in setting up the infrastructure and getting all the audio & video needs squared away for every match.
Having the stream was a huge plus — it made the club seem more *real*, it gave fans who weren’t in Kingston access to the story (special shoutout to our UK Supporters Group!). We recruited friends to be on-air commentators… and they were amazing! (Have a listen — thanks Andrea, Will and Patch!).
Having the stream also opened up an opportunity for future sponsorship opportunities. Our local AT&T retailer in Kingston stepped in with a sponsorship for our last home game (note the AT&T “bug” in the screenshot below). For 2017, I’d love to make the “streaming sponsorship” an official part of our sponsorship offerings and the plan is that any revenue generated from it would cover additional investments in new cameras/multi-camera support, MiFis for away-games, and software for advanced chyrons/on-air graphics. (Interested? Contact email@example.com)
Post Scriptum (Feb 8, 2017): At the time of this post, I didn’t even think of looking up & sharing the streaming stats for our first season. Anyway, here’s the numbers looked (see below), broken down in terms of views per match. We used Periscope our first two away games (which doesn’t give you any stats — boo!), Facebook Live for the rest of our away games, and YouTube for all of our home games. Other relevant stats:
- We totaled 7,430 viewers (14 of 16 games, no stats for 2 games via Periscope), an average of 531 viewers/steam. Facebook Live outperformed YouTube, not surprising as we used FB for away matches and YouTube for home matches, but the quality of our away-game streams was admittedly pretty awful (iPad camera, no announcers, often field-level without a good vantage point). We will try to step up our away-game streaming next year for sure.
- We had at least 1 viewer in 44 of 50 states. Surprisingly, NY accounted for only 30% of our viewers, followed by CA (12%), MA (~8%), NJ (5%), and then IL, FL, CT, WA, NC, PA, TX (which all fell between 4% and 2%). All other states were less than 2%.
- We had viewers in 30 different countries (!!), though USA accounted for 88% of all views. The only other countries that had over 1% of views were Brazil (~3%) and Canada (1.7%)
Player Roster — $0, and this is very interesting. People refer to the NPSL as a “semi-pro league”. What that means is that the league is composed of a mixture of teams who pay their players (“Professional Teams”) and teams that do not (“Amateur Teams”). As our team was set up as a 501c3 (non-profit), we were not allowed to pay our players and so we were considered an Amateur Team playing in a Semi-Professional League. There’s not a great deal of transparency in the league about which teams are paying players and which are not (nor is there transparency about how much they may be getting paid). In addition to our 501c3 status (which requires that you are an amateur team with unpaid players), NCAA rules also state that college players can not play on the same team as professional players without putting their NCAA eligibility at risk. Therefore, we made it very clear to those who showed up at our tryouts that we would not be paying players this season. This was the right call to make seeing that our 18-man roster contained 3 active college players.
I am assuming that our squad will look similar next season — a mix of college players and post-college or non-college players — and I expect that we’ll continue as Amateur Team (with non-paid players) for at least the next few seasons. That said, it’s an interesting exercise to think about how much it *would* cost if we decided to pay players, so let’s take a look.
For the sake of simplicity, let’s say you paid 18 of the guys on the roster $100/week * 16 games. So you’re looking at $1800 x 16 games = close to $30,000 at $100/game. If you took that up to $250/week/player or $500/week/player, you’re talking about an approx $70,000 — $150,000 payroll for a relatively short, 16-week season. Said another way: this league can get expensive fast, especially in the more competitive conferences (e.g. North Atlantic Conf where we play against Cosmos B and Boston City FC). We’ll see how well we can continue to complete with unpaid players, but looking at this math raises a fundamental issues with lower level soccer in the USA: It’s expensive to compete at a high level, and with little to no financial reward for winning (aka: no promotion to upper leagues, and no access to the additional revenue that comes with being in these upper leagues), there’s little reason to invest in the players, the training and the facilities that are needed to win. I’ll talk more about this towards the end of the post.
Sidenote: A quick look at my firstname.lastname@example.org inbox shows more 100+ emails from players around the world (!!) who want to try out for our 2017 squad. A lot of these are pro players looking to a team (sorry, we can’t pay you), some of these are players who probably wouldn’t make the squad (keep trying!), but I bet some would be willing to come to the Hudson Valley for the summer to train and play (and work!) if we could find some way to get them to upstate NY and house them for the summer. This may be outside the scope of this post, but teaming up with a local housing provider (empty university dorms?) or travel sponsors (to help get players to Kingston) may be a wise move for us in the future.
Staff / Volunteers — $0, and this may be one of the most important pieces of the Stockade FC story. Our organization this year was almost entirely volunteer driven — we had a staff of more than 20 folks per game doing everything from ticket sales, to punching tickets at the gate, to running the merchandise table, to emceeing the games, to organizing live streams, to announcing the live streams, to designing tickets, to designing programs, to making flyers, to hanging flyers (our players were put to work too!), to lining up National Anthem singers, to coordinating halftime scrimmages for youth teams and participation from ballboys and ballgirls. To be honest, the level of commitment and enthusiasm provided by our volunteer organization may be one of the greatest things I’ve witnessed in my professional career, and Stockade FC would not have happened without them (so, thank you everyone!). Here’s a quick rundown of what our match-day staff looked like:
Operations Manager 1 person (managing volunteer staff)
Game Day Coordination 1 person (managing signs/halftime/food/refs)
Box Office 2 people minimum (2 cash registers)
Gate/Will Call 2 people minimum
Merch table 2 people minimum
Streaming Video 2 person minimum setup (1 audio, 1 video)
Announcers 1–2 people (much more interesting w/ 2 peeps!)
Stadium Emcee 1 (for announcements, goals)
Ballboys 6 per game (youth team players)
Player Personnel 1 (liaison between players + operations)
Note: I don’t want to underplay how *special* the vibe we had up in Kingston was. Yeah, I know this sounds corny, but it seemed like we had *everyone* in the community rallying behind us to make this work. We heard very few “No”s in our efforts to get the team off the ground, and instead kept hearing “Yes, how can I help?” over and over and over again. We were very open and transparent and inclusive in how we started, and we were very fortunate to connect with great people early on that helped us get the club off the ground. There’s no doubt that these two things are connected. My point: We were very lucky and your mileage may vary… but if you put the community first and optimize for the your supporters, good things will happen.
Quick special thanks to: Kale Kaposhilin, Dan & Nick Hoffay, Marjorie McCord, Dan Stone, Mike & Shana & Noah & Simon Circe, Chris & Landry Masters, Valerie & Bob Carelli, Theresa Hans, Andrea Hayman, Jordan Koschei, Emily McCord, Elijah Appelson, Luke Kunar, Cody Cavalari, Christopher Short, The Dutch Guard, POOK & Jim Fitzmorris & Micah Blumenthal, Shauna Keating, JP Hamilton, Ed, Roy, Terri, Mario, Will Kuhns, Andrea Kahn, Steve Patch, Tommy Keegan, Lisa Hantes, Kingston Mayor Steven Noble, Randy Kim, Mike Milberger, Greg Lalas, Chelsa & Baby V, my mom & dad (who punched tickets at every home match), friends and anyone else I may have missed that helped us to put all the pieces together this first season.
Costs that were NOT included: I intentionally excluded two items from the cost breakdown seen here. The first is the league’s “expansion team” fee of $12,500, a one-time upfront cost. I also excluded the fee we paid to the creative firm that designed the Stockade FC brand and identity. I decide to exclude these costs as they were “one-time” costs instead of “per-season, operational costs” (and I wanted this post to focus more on yearly operational costs).
So that’s a quick look at what things cost this season. My goal for next season is to get our operating expenses down to around $65k. This should be doable as there’s a lot to chip away at. Easy targets are (a) better per-day rates for practice fields, (b) avoiding an extra night stay for an overnight trip, and (c) potentially being more conservative/creative with paid coaching/training staff. There’s also some built-in cost savings in the fact that we already bought a lot of gear (balls, pinnies, warmups, sideline banners). FWIW, I plan on writing another one of these posts before and after our 2017 season, so expect the same type of transparency from us in the future.
Next let’s take a look at Revenue (and as part of covering “Merchandise Revenue” I’ll talk about the “Merchandise Expenses” as well)
Sponsors Revenue: $10,600.00 11%
Merchandise Revenue: $50,647.18 54%
Tickets Revenue: $32,425.20 35%
Concessions Revenue: $0 00%
Total Revenue: $93,072.38
Sponsors — Getting sponsors on board pre-season in the first year is very tricky, mostly because you’re trying to sell people on an idea that hasn’t had the chance to prove itself. When we were reaching out to sponsors, there were no photos of the team and no photos of a crowd cheering them on. There’s very little you can do except for paint a picture of how great you expect things to be. That said, we were very fortunate to find a group of incredible local sponsors who were able to support us with a mix of cash and barter. Our “title” sponsors for our 2016 season were:
- Trailways NY — local bus company (aka: the “exclusive transportation provider of Stockade FC”)
- Dragon Search — local search & technology company in Kingston, NY
- Radio Woodstock — local radio station (WDST 100.1 FM)
- Foursquare — NYC-based technology company (er, which I founded in 2009)
- Bread Alone — local bakery / sandwich shop (post-match food sponsor)
- AT&T of Kingston — our local AT&T retailer (streaming sponsor)
We started circulating a Sponsorship Deck in March 2016 (3 months before kickoff) with a menu of sponsorships options (see below). (And, special thanks to our friends at Chattanooga FC who shared one of their early sponsorship docs with us to help us get started — ours is loosely modeled off their early doc). In rough terms, we were asking the following:
2016 Sponsorship Prices
Front of jersey $10,000
Back of jersey $5,000
Sleeve of jersey $2,500
Sideline ads $1,000/each (for 8 home games)
We also offered the following, but no takers this season:
2016 Sponsorship Prices (unsold)
Logo on Tickets $1000/season
Swag Giveaway $250/game
¼ Page Ad $500/season
(x8 matches worth of Game Day programs)
To be honest, I wasn’t sure whether these prices were going to come off as expensive or cheap when we started pitching them (and of course, it’s nearly impossible to tell before we know the side of the crowd and level of interest). After seeing the success we had this season (crowd/awareness), I believe they’re on the low side and I’d like to increase the prices for next season, as well as to introduce some lower price sponsorship opportunities, such as game-day tents/activations and online/streaming sponsorship. (If you are interested in talking about 2017 sponsorship opportunities, please contact email@example.com)
Also worth noting that some prices were negotiated and some costs were bartered (aka: we didn’t collect $18,500 in cash). In some cases we traded discounts on transportation, radio advertising, and food for our players and opponents in exchange for sponsorship. While cash provides us with the most flexibility, the opportunities our sponsors gave us to keep expenses down was extremely helpful and I’m gracious of their support.
For startup teams looking for sponsorships here’s my advice — go back to my “think of it as a wedding” analogy, identify the Big Ticket Items that you know you’ll need help with to subsidize costs, and identify local sponsors who you can barter sponsorships with to help keep these costs down. This was not our explicit strategy when we started to seek out sponsors, but in hindsight, this is how our sponsorships came together and it worked out great for our club.
A quick note on the Foursquare sponsorship: We worked hard to keep a local, Hudson Valley focus with our title sponsors — and we nailed this with Trailways NY, Dragon Search, and Radio Woodstock all being featured on the jersey and throughout the stadium. To be honest, it probably would have been easier (and possible more lucrative) to get a bank, auto company, a national CPG brand, or even Foursquare (the tech company I work at) to pick up the title sponsorships… but it wouldn’t have felt right as it wouldn’t have felt as authentic. That said, after we locked up the three jersey sponsors, I decided to create a Training Kit Sponsorship (inspired by the Portland Timbers / Simple Bank training kit sponsorship from 2015) because, well, I really wanted to have kits with the Foursquare logo as a sponsor front and I wanted Foursquare to have the opportunity to be a part of what we were building. Also, as part of the Foursquare “Training Kit” sponsorship, we also included a map of “Great spots in Kingston, powered by Foursquare” in all of our game day programs.
Merchandise — Merchandise was our biggest source of revenue, coming in at over 50%. This was by design — we hired a creative branding firm and they helped us design a great brand identity and crest. We carefully selected high quality merchandise (soft tri-blend t-shirts with faded inks, high-quality embroidered on our hats, etc). As a result, we found that people really appreciated the high quality and attention to detail (“these t-shirts are so soft!”). Our league (NPSL) has a partnership w/ Global Scarves who helped us produce our knit hats and scarves.
Towards the middle of the season we were able to start using local printing houses (Antiology Design in Kingston for t-shirts and A Peaceful Stance in New Paltz for hats/hoodies). We ended up selling lots more merchandise than we expected (and we struggled to keep up with demand throughout the season). Our success with merchandise this season is directly related to the overall interest in the club, especially as everything (fans per game, awareness/press) exceeded all of our original expectations.
We found that 70% of our merchandise sales came during home games with the remaining 30% coming through our online store. On game day, we had a merchandise booth that was powered by two volunteers and a PayPal Here credit card swiper setup on an iPad. Our online shop was powered by Shopify and a inventory/fulfillment center in Pittsburgh. (Note: this 70/30 split reflects data from May -> August).
Our online store costs between $75–100/month to run ($30/month to Shopify and about $40–70/month in inventory costs). The inventory/fulfillment center we work with in Pittsburgh charges us on a per item/per month basis — in October 2016 we paid a monthly fee of around $40 for the ~300 t-shirts, ~20 hats, ~10 scarves we still had in stock (think: $0.10/month/shirt, $0.25/month/scarf, etc). In addition it costs about $0.25 for each new item we add to our inventory (e.g. when we restock jerseys and scarves) and the fulfillment center charges about $1.75 per order to take the item off the shelf and mail it out (this is the “handling” part of “shipping & handling”).
Of the 30% that came from online sales, I was surprised to see orders coming from all over the world:
# of online orders
Japan 1 (aka: “we’re huge in Japan!”)
… and very proud of the fact that sales were spread all over the USA as well. If anything, this is a signal that our startup-soccer story has resonated with fans of the sport around the country. It’s been a lot of fun seeing people tweet in photos from all over wearing (or seeing other fans wearing) Stockade FC gear.
Now, the tricky thing with merchandise is that you have to spend money to make money, which is where our Merchandise Expenses come in.
If you break it down, it looks like:
$50k revenue earned from merchandise sold
$14k worth of left over merchandise
(still available online & stacked in my dining room)
= $64k earned fro merchandise sales
-$40k spent to manufacture everything
= $24k profit on merchandise
37% average margin, which is okay, but not great
(I’d like to get this ~40–45%)
Of course, margins on some items are better than others. For example there’s a better margin on adult t-shirts vs kids t-shirts and adult jerseys vs kids jerseys (e.g. they cost the same to make, though we sell them at different prices). And we didn’t really start to hit great margins on t-shirts until we placed a giant order, which we didn’t do until about a third of the way through the season (we were surprised by support for the club and struggled to keep up with merchandise demand/inventory all season).
One of the trickiest things we had to deal with off the field was figuring out exactly how much to buy of what. We did an okay job at this (and I’m hopeful that we’ll sell everything that’s still in stock by the end of the year), but not a great job (aka: my dining room has boxes of t-shirts and jerseys). I’m sharing all of this data below in an attempt to make it easier for other teams who (a) want to invest big in merchandise as a revenue driver, (b) have a general idea or estimate of what their attendance may look like, and (c) who want to invest early in the season to maximum their margins. We’ll be using this data to guide our decisions for next year, so I’m hoping it helps you too.
Here’s a look at how we did on our game-day sales over the course of pre-season and regular season. (Note: these are game-day numbers and exclude our online sales. They also only reflect credit card payments and not cash)
• Numbers reflect credit card sales only (and not cash)
• 8 home games include, but as part of pre-season, we sold merchandise at 3 pre-season events (2 open-to-the-public tryouts and a “meet the team” meetup) and at a friendly match vs. Kew Forest on 4/9.
• Merchandise sales correlates with crowd (not surprisingly) but sales were relatively consistent throughout season
• Lower numbers for Boston City on 6/5 (due to thunderstorm) and Seacoast Phantoms 6/25 (due to high school graduation)
• $0 in credit card transactions on 6/18 vs. Cosmos B because PayPal Here app wasn’t working (This was a bummer as it was one of our biggest crowds -- I hope to switch to Square next season)
• It was amazing seeing such high numbers for our last home game — biggest crowds, 2nd biggest day in terms of merch revenue.
Important General Findings (across 8 home games)
These four stats below are *exactly* the numbers I wish I had when I was trying to model our 2016 budget and expectations last winter. The “attendance” number is the most elusive as it’s so hard to predict before you ever put a team on the field. When we did our modeling for 2016, we ran scenarios imagining 100, 250, 500, 800 fans/game in an effort to understand possible best case and worst case scenarios. As for the other three data points (% of fans who make a purchase, average revenue per fan, average basket size per sale), we just take a stab in the dark at these when we did our initially modeling. I believe you can use these numbers are constants (regardless of audience size & location) and I hope that by sharing these numbers it’ll help whatever modeling you’re doing pre-season. Having some data to work from of is a lot better than having no data to work from:
Average attendance: 755 fans/game
% fans who buy merch/game: 10%
Avg merch revenue per fan per match: $3
Average size of each sale $28
Breakdown of Items Sold
% total sales % revenue price
T-shirt 71% 65% $20-$25
Hats 15% 14% $20–25
Jerseys 8% 18% $60–70
Stickers 2% 0.4% $1
Scarves 5% 3% $20
Totals 100% 100%
T-shirts Sold by Gender
T-shirts by Size
Overall By Type
Mens S 11% 24% of all Men’s shirts
Mens M 15% 31%
Mens L 11% 23%
Mens XL 5% 11%
Mens XXL 5% 11%
Total 47% 100%
Womens S 6% 24% of all Women’s shirts
Womens M 11% 43%
Womens L 6% 25%
Womens XL 2% 8%
Total 25% 100%
Youth 2 1% 5% of all Youth shirts
Youth 4 1% 5%
Youth 6 3% 10%
Youth 8 5% 18%
Youth 10 10% 35%
Youth 12 8% 28%
Total 28% 100%
Note #1: It may seem easier to just order all men’s shirts, but look closely at these numbers — don’t snooze on ordering women & youth sizes!
Note #2: We splurged to get higher quality/softer shirts (American Apparel tri-blend). They’ll cost you more and your margins will be lower, but if the shirts are of high quality people will be more likely to wear them & buy them. No one wants a stiff Hanes Beefy shirt.
Breakdown of Jersey Sales
Home (white) 48%
Away (black) 41%
Training (grey) 12% *Training kit had the Foursquare logo
Goals for 2017 Season: If next season we have anywhere near the success we had this season in terms of merchandise sales, we’ll do great. Kids grow so I’m hoping they’ll upgrade to a new t-shirt size and I’m sure we’ll launch a few new t-shirt designs. Because we were late in placing our jersey order, we didn’t have jerseys for sale until our fourth home game, so we’ll have to make sure to have plenty for sale online ahead of the season. Our prices seems fair and we received positive feedback on how we priced items.
Tickets — We had an absolutely incredible season in terms of attendance. Before our season kicked off, I imagined we’d see 200–250 people per game so it was a HUGE surprise when we saw more than 800 folks at *each* of our first two home games (a Saturday / Sunday double header no less!). Overall, we averaged ~755 fans per game — an average which is weighed down by a match we played vs. Boston City in the pouring rain and a match scheduled right after the local high school graduation (which overlapped w/ graduation parties and cookouts).
Attendance numbers in the NPSL are hard to come by, but we easily had the largest home crowds in our North Atlantic conference (most away games had < 20 fans, and only our away matches at Brooklyn and Boston City had 50–100). This blog post by Kenn Tomasch attempts to track some of the NPSL attendance numbers (read the comment thread) but is rather incomplete. I’d love to see individual clubs (if not the league) be more transparent about these numbers.
That said, here’s what our attendance numbers looked for our 2016 season:
2016 Stockade FC Attendance
@ Dietz Stadium in Kingston NY
vs. RI Reds Sat May 21 @ 2:00 PM 830 fans
vs. Greater Lowell Sun May 22 @ 4:00 PM 851 fans
vs. NY Athletic Club Sun May 29 @ 2:00 PM 843 fans
vs. Boston City Sun Jun 5 @ 5:00 PM 428 fans (pouring rain)
vs. Cosmos B Sat Jun 18 @ 2:00 PM 870 fans
vs. Seacoast P Sat Jun 25 @ 2:00 PM 509 fans (HS graduation)
vs. Bklyn Italians Sun Jun 26 @ 5:00 PM 780 fans
vs. Seacoast M Sun Jul 3 @ 4:00 PM 936 fans
Our ticket sales broke down as follows:
Individual tickets (sold day-of at gate) 80% of tix sold
Season tickets (sold at gate & online) 12%
Individual tix (sold online via Eventbrite) 8%
Some of this success may be attributed to the way we priced our tickets:
$40 season tickets 10% of tix collected at gate
$8 for adults 60%
$5 for kids 12-and-under 7%
$2 for kids wearing anything 23%
The “$2 when wearing anything soccer related” pricing worked really well for us — we had kids show up wearing Stockade tees, Premier League kits, youth soccer kits (sometimes you’d see a whole youth team sitting together, everyone dressed in their travel league kits), and some kids wearing soccer themed shirts (e.g. Snoopy kicking a soccer ball).
We received a lot of positive feedback about the ticket pricing — specifically, that ticket prices were low enough to bring the entire family (and that at $2 admission for kids, parents didn’t mind buying their kid a t-shirt too). Interestingly, we wrestled with these prices during the pre-season (“should it be $10 or $8?”, “Is $2 too cheap?”) but at the end of the day, I think we nailed it.
Season tickets were priced at $40 for all 8 home games (aka: $5/game) and we lowered the price by $5 after every match. Surprisingly, we didn’t sell too many after halfway mark of the season, even though we kept reducing prices for season tickets after every match.
We splurged on the season tickets — creating thick, credit-card style passes — in the hopes that fans would be excited to carry them in their wallets and that local merchants would be interested in accepting them as a “discount card”. We were mildly successful here — a handful for businesses in Kingston ran “show your game day ticket and get a free beer” promotions (thanks, Keegan Ales!) and I’m hoing we see more of this for next season. Again, it’s all about awareness in your first season, and once you start to get some awareness and momentum, I think a lot of these things start to get easier.
We made a decision early in the season to not give away tickets for free (under the thesis that “free tickets” carries the vibe of “the product isn’t great”). That said, we did a handful of radio giveaways and charitable donations and we comped tickets for the families of players and the kids who participated in our small-sided halftime matches (maybe 30 kids/match). We also experimented with group rates for youth organizations (a group larger than 10 people priced at $7/adult and $2/kids) though we didn’t have didn’t have many takers (presumably due to lack of awareness — I bet this is a much bigger driver for us next season.)
Also, if you look at the per-game attendance breakdown above, you can see how we we tried to schedule most of our home games for the early afternoon (2pm). We did this in an effort to coincide with the local farmer’s market as we had a vision of people visiting the farmers market (which ends at 1pm) and then walking to a 2pm match. In hindsight, this was a bad idea since the stadium and turf were *so hot* in the mid-afternoon (and there was little to no shade for fans at the stadium). We will not make this mistake next year and we’ll try to schedule games for later in the day (5pm or 7pm).
Plan for 2017 Season: Keep the ticket pricing similar, though offer Season Ticket sales starting in late 2016 (hopefully before Thanksgiving and definitely before Christmas). We plan to offer two types of Season Tickets next year — one for adults and one for kids (with a reduced price tag). Be more proactive in encouraging group ticket sales as soon as our season is announced. Tweak schedule so that home games are in the late afternoon to give fans/players a break from the sun.
Concessions — $0 for concessions this season. While there is a concession booth at our stadium, it’s operation has been sub-contracted out to a third party under a pre-existing contract. This contract does not support a revenue share (so we can’t get paid a cut even if we bring a huge a crowd) and also has an exclusivity clause which prevented from inviting food trucks to matches. I am hopeful that we may be able to tweak these clauses in the future.
Beer is also not allowed to be sold at our stadium (the stadium is part-owned by the local high school). In the future I’d like to find a way to sell beer from local brewery (Keegan Ales in Kingston) at our matches — even if it’s just pre-game and halftime — but this will take some research and time and effort to get there.
Goals for 2017 Season: Focus on trying to modify the exclusivity clause which would allow us to invite food trucks to our home games next season. The idea is that food trucks could bring in additional revenue, potentially $500-$1000 per game if we can rent spaces to food trucks: ($200/spot * 3–4 trucks) * 8 games = ~$5000/season.
Okay, so now that we’ve walked through both expenses and revenue, let’s look at the whole picture:
Total Expenses: $125,673.73 (which includes merchandise expenses)
Total Revenue: $93,072.38
-$14,000.00 (value of leftover inventory*)
Total cost: $111,673.73
Total Revenue: -$93,072.38
Total 2016 loss: -$18,601.35 (aka: 16.66% of total budget)
* I’m assuming I’ll sell all excess inventory by Jan 2017. Help us out and buy something! :)
And while it seems rough to end the season with a $20k loss, look at all we accomplished in just over a year. We started a club from scratch, invested in everything to get it off the ground, and came within ~17% of breaking even our first season.
This sets us up nicely for next year, with a handful of investments made this season that will carry over to our second season (2017). These investments, combined with the knowledge and experience we picked up this year, should translate into us getting *very close* to break even next year while continuing to grow our fan base and drive further investment in the club.
Post Scriptum: After just 18 hours of this post being live, I’ve already had other clubs reach out to me to say that their expenses are roughly in-line with ours, although they also generate revenue from concessions/parking/beer/youth org fees (sometimes up to 30% of revenue!), allowing them to operate closer to break-even or even at a profit. This is very encouraging/inspiring to me in a “we figured out 80% of it in year 1… now onto year 2!” type of way.
With a short 3-month season comes a long 9-month offseason. This gives us some time to unwind from the season (which is why this blog post is so late, sorry!) followed by plenty of time to plan for next season.
In order to keep the team playing together, we have a subset of our 2016 squad (plus some new folks) playing in a local “Westchester/Hudson Valley” league called the EDSL. The cost for this league is about $1000. I picked up the tab for league fees and player registration, though players are providing their own gear and transportation. There’s no Trailways Bus, no sponsored jerseys, no crowds, no game day programs in this league… which works great for us during the off-season. We designed the offseason to be casual and the players are coaching themselves and sporadically organizing training sessions as they see fit. (Special thanks to Legea of Westchester for providing our squad with kits for our offseason efforts!). If you’re interested in trying out for our offseason squad (which may have an upgrade path to our NPSL first team), ping: firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m also starting to put together a timeline for “what has to get done for 2017” — which is essentially 85% of the same tasks that were required to get 2016 off the ground. We’ll need sponsors, transportation, practice fields and jerseys. And while many of these relationships already exist (and hopefully are renewed!), we still need to revisit all the pieces for our second season. (By the way, I now understand why teams try to to sign 3-year or 5-year agreements with sponsors and vendors as it saves a lot of time and energy.)
LOOKING TOWARDS 2017
Our goals for next-season (2017) are fairly straightforward:
- Assemble another strong squad. Beat our 5–8–2 record from last season. Get closer to our goal of qualifying for the US Open Cup by 2020.
- Shoot to break 1000 fans/game early in the season. Hope to average over 1000 fans/game by the end of the season
- Get as close to break-even as possible by being more disciplined with costs and introducing new revenue streams (concessions, streaming)
- Improve the overall quality of the experience for both fans at the stadium and those following the streams from afar (food trucks, multi-camera streaming, late-afternoon games)
- Make deeper connections with youth organizations as a pipeline for player development (and a way to raise awareness of the club)
- Continue to grow the volunteer-powered vibe of the club and move towards a more “volunteer-driven front office” model. Speaking of which, if you’re interested in getting involved email us at email@example.com (bonus points if you’re a Hudson Valley local!)
First of all, congrats for reading this far! My hope for this post is that it can show others who may be inspired/motivated to start a club that (a) starting from scratch is not impossible and (b) there are businesses to be built here and the club you create isn’t destined to lose money forever. My hope is that greater transparency behind our numbers and the process we went through in starting Stockade FC will make similar efforts by others more approachable and accessible.
But before I wrap up this post, I want to talk about the idea of “investing in lower level soccer” again. Our club is ~$20k in the hole after our first season and I’m okay with that. I’m okay with it because I feel that (a) we’re making a long-term investment in bringing a community-driven organization to the Hudson Valley and (b) we’re making a long-term investment in lower-level soccer in the United States. As stated in my original manifesto, I believe that supporting lower level soccer is one of the key pieces to making the US more successful on the world stage. I believe that every small club plays a role in making the system stronger and I believe that another 50–100 teams doing the same would produce noticeable benefits over time. I believe that our club can get to break-even in the next 2–3 seasons and I believe we can eventually draw thousands of fans (we have our sights set on hitting 1000–1500 for the 2017 season and 2000+ in 2018). After seeing the squad we assembled this season, I believe we’re capable of being competitive in the NPSL and capable of qualifying for the US Open Cup. In a few years time, I feel as if the club we’re building would be on the right path to promotion… if such a mechanism existed in the US.
Now, I don’t want to turn this post into a promotion/relegation piece, but the current US Soccer pyramid (with its lack of merit-based promotion) is not effective at encouraging investment in lower-level soccer.
In order to encourage investment in lower-level clubs — across the country, and on the massive scale — the entrepreneurs and investors behind the clubs need a “pot of gold” to chase. This “pot of gold” could take the form of sponsorship revenue or broadcast/streaming revenue that’s split between the teams who earned their way into the league. The “pot of gold” could take the form of increased merchandise and ticket revenue seen from playing in a higher-profile league against higher-profile opponents. The “pot of gold” could take the form of financial assistance from the league itself for the purpose of helping to cover the additional travel expenses or necessary investments in stadium infrastructure (etc.) required to compete on a larger stage. The point is, if leagues are structured so that “pots of gold” are waiting for teams upon promotion, then you can be sure that there will be no shortage of clubs investing heavily in *whatever it takes* (player salaries, youth development, facilities) to find that path to promotion.
And please don’t misunderstand — I’m not saying that the primary reason to create a club is to a score a massive return on investment. With Stockade FC, my expectation is that we grind our way to profitability and stability within the next few seasons. We’ll do it because we love the game, we love the team we’ve created, and we want to continue to build something amazing in our Hudson Valley backyards. Once we get to profitability, we can start to invest — in a youth program, in better facilities, in housing or paychecks for players. Our club is sure to see improvements over time, but with no “pot of gold” to chase, there’s no incentive to aggressively invest (aka: you saw how much a payroll costs, right?). And with little incentive to invest, the incentive becomes simply to exist.
This is why the US needs an “open-pyramid” style of promotion and relegation — one that both encourages and rewards the type of bottom-up investment that the game needs. (When I say “open pyramid” I mean a system in which any team, of any shape or size, from any market has a path to earn their way into the top leagues — a pyramid that’s not limited to MLS1 and MLS2 swapping teams at the end of every season.)
Currently, no one has figured out how to make pro/rel work in the USA with the current set of unlinked pieces (MLS, NASL, USL, NPSL, PDL, USASA). This is not because it’s impossible, but rather because it’s complicated. The differences in both quality of play and quality of facilities/stadiums in each level of the existing pyramid is noticeable. The differences in costs between an amateur playing regionally and a professional team playing nationally can be staggering or even crippling. Many leagues don’t even play on overlapping calendars. But these problems can be solved with strong leadership from individual teams and cooperation between ownership groups in different leagues.
If we want an open-system I believe the best way to build it is to, well, get to work building it. That’s one of the reasons we started a club. That’s the reason we wrote about it. That’s why we’re trying to share as much as we can about we learned this season. If we can make it easier for the next 5, 10, 100, 500 clubs who want to start from scratch, and if those clubs help to strengthen the bottom of the pyramid, and if a stronger bottom then becomes a viable partner for upper leagues, well then, we’re starting to make some progress.
Last thing — the absurdity of the “Stockade FC can change the world by disclosing how many t-shirts and season tickets we sold!” vibe isn’t lost on me. But remember, the point of this post (and the posts that’ll surely follow) is to create a guide or framework that others can use to create their own stable & sustainable local soccer clubs across the United States.
This post is about making it easier for communities to (a) create clubs from scratch, (b) figure out how those clubs can reach the point of break-even, (c) generate profits from the club by optimizing what’s working, and (d) showing how profits can be re-invested back into the club to benefit the team, the local community, and the sport in general. My original blog post hinted at “(a)”. This blog post hints at “(b)”. Next season we’ll hopefully be talking about “(c)” and a few years from now we’ll be talking about “(d)”. The more effective we can be at building a stronger base at the bottom of the pyramid, the easier and more successful we can be at affecting change up through the top.
Thanks again for reading and hope to see you at a Stockade FC match next season!
For more info see http://stockadefc.com or contact firstname.lastname@example.org
If you’re interested in 2017 sponsorship, ping: email@example.com
If you’re interested in tryouts (Spring 2017), ping: firstname.lastname@example.org
@StockadeFC on Twitter
@StockadeFC on Instagram
Other recommended reading:
- Similar post from Minneapolis City SC’s (PLA) chairman Dan Hoedman
- “Money and Soccer: A Soccernomics Guide” — Stefan Szymanski (Amazon)