Stockade FC going into 2018/Season #3 – Thoughts on the US Open Cup, Goal Setting, and the “So now what?” of Lower Division Soccer

“On behalf of US Soccer, welcome to the 2018 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup…”

… says the email I received from US Soccer in late March. For those of you who have been following the story of Stockade FC — our “open source soccer” club in the Hudson Valley, NY — you probably have a good sense of how much this news meant to us. The US Open Cup (ahem, the biggest and most prestigious soccer tourney in the USA!) is what originally inspired us to create a soccer team from scratch. The idea of starting a club that could one day qualify to compete in The Cup was a “North Star” of ours before our club even had a name. And in my original manifesto about our club “Qualify for the US Open Cup by 2020” was right at the top of the list as a long-term, almost-out-of-reach goal for Stockade FC. And, hey, here we are!

More more info: https://www.facebook.com/events/954083041435058/

Our first US Open Cup match is tomorrow — Wednesday May 9, 2018 @ 8pm — out in Long Island. We’re up against the Long Island Rough Riders of the PDL (which is another “Division 4” league, though catering exclusively to college players). The US Open Cup is a knockout tourney, so with a win we move on (and onto a 2nd Round match at home in the Hudson Valley!) while a loss means we’re out. Safe to say this is the biggest match in our club’s short history, so if you’re anywhere even close to Long Island, come on out and support! For folks in the Hudson Valley, Trailways NY is running a bus for fans departing from uptown Kingston. For folks in NYC, the LIRR (Long Island Rail Road) will take you almost door to door from New York Penn Station to John Burns Park in Massapequa, NY (for $15!).

⚽️ Stockade FC @ Long Island Rough Riders
🏆 US OPEN CUP — Round 1
📅 Wed May 9 @ 8pm
🏟 John Burns Park– Massapequa, NY
🎟 FREE ADMISSION
📺 Livestream via US Soccer = Watch @ https://bit.ly/2HZWWml
🚌 Fan bus from Kingston = Book now @ http://stockadefc.com/bus
🚂 LIRR from NYC’s Penn Station = Buy tickets @ http://lirr42.mta.info/

This is a big deal for all of us — players and coaches, fans and volunteers — so we’d appreciate the support!

Postscriptum, May 10: This was one hell of a match, but alas we *did not* leave Long Island with a win. Final score: 6–3 (in extra time) and the Rough Riders advanced to Round 2 of the US Open Cup. A hard fought match and the squad made us all proud. We were tied going into extra-time though injuries and a 2nd yellow did us in. But, we will be back. For an amazing recap, see Crispin Kott’s Instagram post.

Tweet from our Head Coach, David @Lindholm

Before we move on, let me just pause for a second and reflect on one thing — we started a club, we set a big, audacious, long-term goal… and we hit it. Now, there’s 100 different things that had to come together to help us accomplish this — players, coaches, volunteers, fans… literally everyone who has touched the club in some way has played a part in helping us get here (and thank you!). But outside of the awesomeness and excitement of playing in the US Open Cup, I want to celebrate the simple “we set a goal and then we hit it” part. Because that’s important — important to us and important to anyone working on a project that is destined to go from “improbable” to “entirely possible”. Okay, moving on…

For folks who have been following our story, you know I’m trying to stick to the cadence of writing one of these blog posts every season — one during the pre-season (outlining what operational changes we’ve made from season to season) and one during the post-season (outlining and comparing our financial data, attendance metrics, merchandise sales, etc. from previous seasons). We’ve committed to this “open source soccer” approach because we feel it helps other folks in other communities get started operating their own clubs, and chasing their own goals and aspirations.

Throughout these posts, there’s been two core goals that we’ve been chasing:

#1. “Qualify for the US Open Cup by 2020”. 
Why? Qualifying for the Open Cup proves that you’re a team capable of competing against some of best in the country. When we were starting, we had people scoff at the idea of even fielding a competitive team in the Hudson Valley. “It’ll never work! Who’s gonna play? Who’s gonna watch?” We’ve accomplished a lot in a very short amount of time, but our biggest accomplishment may be that there’s no longer any doubt about who we are or what this team can do.

#2. “Get the club to be financially break-even (and show others how to do it along the way).” 
Why? Because a break-even club can operate forever. And if our club can stick around for 5, or 10, or imagine even 20 years! — inspiring kids to play soccer (and to play for Stockade!), creating soccer fans where they didn’t exist, and helping to inspire clubs get off the ground in other parts of the USA — we believe that our club in Kingston can have a long-term, meaningful impact on all aspects on the sport not just here in the Hudson Valley, but throughout the entire country. BTW, we didn’t hit the break-even last year (see below), but we’re about as close as you can be.

One more thought: Goal setting is important. The simple act of setting a goal — saying it aloud, putting it in writing — forces you to make your priorities clear to yourself and your team. Our “Let’s qualify for the US Open Cup” goal made it clear to everyone who heard it or read it what kind of club we aspired to be. Our goal of “getting to financially break-even” has made it clear to everyone involved that running a sustainable, cost-conscious organization is a top priority that will always be a part of our club’s DNA. If everyone knows the goals, everyone can work together to help achieve them.

With that, let’s take one more look at 2017, and then let’s look ahead to 2018.

Quick reminder: This is the 6th blog post in our “Open-Source Soccer” series. You may get more mileage out of this post if you read the earlier posts too:
Post #1: Pre-season 2016 — So, Let’s Build A Professional Soccer Team From Scratch …
Post #2: Post-season 2016 — Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Operating a Division 4 Soccer Club (But Were Afraid to Ask)
Post #3: Pre-season 2017 — The “Open Source Soccer” Approach to Creating a Killer Second Season
Post #4: August 2017 — On Enabling Change in the US Soccer Pyramid — Bottom-Up and Top-Down
Post #5: Post-season 2017 — More Data Than You Could Ever Possibly Process From Our Soccer Club’s 2nd Season in the NPSL
Post #6: Pre-season 2018 — You’re reading it!

FINANCES

In my last blog post, I had shared all our “regular season” data, but I was missing our Q4 2017 online sales (and holiday sales have been a meaningful part of our revenue). With 2017 now behind us, here’s what the overall numbers looked like:

2017 Expenses vs. Revenue
Total Operating Expenses      $59,317.88
Total Merchandise Expenses $32,906.82
Total Expenses                $92,224.70
Total Revenue $87,214.35 ← we added ~$5k in merch
sales during Q4/holiday
Total Loss                    -$5,010.35
<for the complete breakdown, see the 2017 post-season recap>

… so we were about $5000 short of financially break-even this year. HOWEVER, these numbers do not take into consideration how much excess inventory t-shirts, hats, water bottles, etc) are left over from 2017 that we can now sell in 2018. Let’s take a look at those numbers:

Leftover Merchandise Inventory (end of 2017)
Wholesale value:      $5,808
Retail value: $14,198
Margin: 41% margin (which is a bit higher than 2016’s 35% margin)
Remaining Inventory: 691 items (55% t-shirts, 16% water bottles, 10% lanyards, etc.)

Through this lens, the “$5000 short of break-even” number doesn’t look so bad. Knowing that we’ll sell a good chunk of this leftover inventory during our 2018 season (and knowing that some of the leftover 2018 inventory will eventually turn into 2019 inventory), I’m confident saying that even though we’re not technically “financially break-even”, we are running a very “financially healthy” organization. (BTW, Stockade FC is structured as a 501c3, non-profit under fiscal sponsorship). Also worth noting that I’m using “break-even” as “break-even for the season”… as in we have not yet fully re-cooped the losses from our first season.

“We hit BOTH of our big goals… so, now what?”
(for the sake of this post, I’m counting “financially healthy” as hitting the break-even goal)

After two seasons of Stockade, I feel like I can make a pretty good guess at what our 2018 season will look like. We won’t be break-even, and we’ll probably be a little further away than we were this past year, but only because we splurged and bought new kits this year (which cost the club about $12k — for players and coaches, plus jerseys to sell at the merch table. Btw, see photos of kits below).

Outside the kits (our biggest nice-to-have expense of the season), our operating expenses and revenue should remain about the same. We played the same number of games in 2016 and 2017, although we played in front of bigger crowds in 2017 (thank you, playoffs!)

The most important variable is the number of games you play per season. As I alluded to in my 2017 post-season blog post, our business model is: “amateur team, short season, regional travel.” Our club can operate on around a $100k budget (65% operating expenses, 35% merchandise expenses) on ~900 fans/game with $6 average ticket price, $3.50 average merch spend per fan per game, and $0 of concession revenue. We found a business model that works for us and will let us keep operating the club as is year over year over year.

But, we don’t want to keep things the same year after year… we have ambitions as a club! We want to grow! We want to continue growing a competitive men’s team. We have aspirations of creating a competitive women’s team. And a youth academy! And building our own training field! The best way to create these things is by finding a way for our club to generate *additional* revenue which we can then invest back into these projects.

The only way to significantly grow revenue is to either (a) increase our attendance dramatically (e.g. average 1500 or 2000 fans/game — aka: 2x or more) or (b) increase the number of games played per season.

Let’s talk about attendance first — I honestly don’t know what our ceiling for attendance is or can be. I believe Dietz Stadium in Kingston can hold about 2000+ fans, though our all-time, single-game attendance record is ~1400. In a few years time I can see us *averaging* 1000 or 1500, though I’m not sure if our market (City of Kingston population: ~20,000; Ulster County population: 180,000) is big enough to pull an *average* of 2000 or 2500 fans/game. Or maybe it is? I really don’t have a good way to model out what our max attendance *could be*. (suggestions welcome, add them to the comments!) I do think a lot about the things we could be doing to try to get more people coming out to our matches — adding food trucks, moving the beer tent closer to the stadium, setting a Farmer’s Market up inside our gates (!!) are all ideas I’d love to pursue (providing I can navigate the exclusivity clause tied to the concession stand that is baked into the stadium rental agreement). Do adding these types of “amenities” to our game day experience help to push our average attendance up from < 1000 fans/game to 1500 or 2000 fans/game? I don’t have any good data points here either (but if you do, feel free to share with me!)

We could also increase the number of games we can play per season. If you break down the operating costs over the length of the season you’d see that there’s a bunch of “pre-season costs” (kits, pre-season training field, fields for tryouts etc.) and then a bunch of “ongoing operating costs” (1x/week game day field rental, 2x/week training field rental, away game travel costs, etc.). A bulk of these operating expenses are upfront (aka: you pay a lot of the bills before the first match even happens) and, while each game costs us about $1200 operationally (game day programs, printing tickets, refs + their travel fees, post-game pizza, etc), each game allows us to generate about $7000 in merchandise and ticket sales (60% and 40% respectively).

At roughly 7 home games per season we’re able to get to break-even. And if we played one fewer match or one additional match that could mean the difference between break-even or not. But, if we were to play 10 or 12 or 15 matches at home (instead of the 6 or 7 we play now), that would be a meaningful increase in revenue (remember: each match costs us ~$1000 to generate ~$7000).

Okay then, we figured it out! So how do we get some more games up in here?! Not so fast…. remember the NPSL is a short season league. We play May to August which is approximately 14 weeks total (10 weeks regular season + 4 weeks of conference + regional + national playoffs and finals). The NPSL season is designed to accommodate teams who want to rely on college players (such as Stockade — 49% of our 39-man roster are college players) which are available starting May 1 (per NCAA rules) and get called back by their college coaches in early August.

So if we wanted to play a longer season — one starting earlier than May, or extending late into August, or both — we’d need to find a crop of non-college players to fill in the gaps. This is doable, but it’s highly likely that a roster with college players is more competitive than a roster without (for example our 2016 squad was ~20% college kids and we lost half our games, while our 2017 squad was ~40% college kids and we won our Conference Championship).

This is by no means a knock on our non-college players or our previous coaching staff. The point is that for many college players, being a college athlete is their full time job. Meanwhile, if you are a non-college or post-college player, Stockade FC is likely your 2nd or 3rd job… and a job that doesn’t pay on top of that.

That is right, we do not pay our players. This is for three reasons: (#1) we are trying to keep the costs modest (#StartupSoccer, aka: we’re not interested in being a club that burns money), (#2) the club is set up as a 501c3 / non-profit which does not allow for non-amateur sports teams, (#3) and the big one, per NCAA rules, we can not have paid players *and* active college players on the same roster (or even sitting on the same bench) without jeopardizing our college players’ eligibility. We want to be as competitive a team as we can be in the 14 weeks we have to play, and therefore we have opted to be an amateur team consisting of a mix of college and non-college players.

So this is the part of the conversation where the answer to “So, now what?” becomes, “Okay, let’s go all-in on a professional team with paid players under contract.” (Remember, the original manifesto was titled “So, let’s start a professional soccer team from scratch…”)

I’m not opposed to the idea of “going pro”, although I am opposed to doing it in a way that’s not-sustainable and not “break-even or better”. (Sidenote: My personal opinion is that US soccer does not need more clubs financed by wealthy individuals who are comfortable playing in leagues that lose money every year. The US needs more sustainable clubs capable of playing full seasons with paid players. The US Soccer Pyramid currently appears to lack an open league where creating & supporting independent and sustainable clubs with pro rosters playing a full-season is the primary goal of the league). If you know of clubs in the US that are “breakeven or better” with a pro roster within a full reason, please do let me know so I can start compiling a list.

Feedback received from folks since posting this:
> "I know for a fact that a first year salary at USL was $8K for the full season / 8 months in 2017:" (aka:  $1000/month)
> "To my knowledge, there are no clubs (and definitely not at USL level, including FC Cincinnati) that are breaking even"

So let’s review:

  • The only way to generate more revenue is to play more games.
  • The only way to play more games is the play a longer season.*
  • The only way to play a longer season is to play without college kids.
  • The only way to be competitive without college kids is to have paid players (aka: players who will treat the club like their job)**

* Yes, a club can also simply add one-off “friendly” matches to the front and back of their schedule, and many NPSL teams (including us) do this. But there’s a big difference between playing 10 regular season matches + 5 friendly matches (15 matches total) vs. playing a full 30-match season where every match counts.

** And yes, there are plenty of very competitive amateur teams playing 12–20 game seasons in the USASA, but I think these clubs work best in very dense metro areas where there’s a giant pool of talented, post-college players (NY, LA, etc). In smaller markets (like Kingston) with smaller player pools, trying to play a full 30-match / 10-month season is a challenge without the level of commitment you’d get from paid players.

So let’s look at what that math may look like.

Let’s say we were going to pay each player a standard rate of $1000/month. And let’s say we had 30 players on the roster for 10 months. Right of the bat, that’s a $300,000 roster… and that’s only on $1000/month! (aka: lower than minimum wage!)***

***BTW, minimum wage in NY State is $1552/month ($9.70/hour * 160 hours), though to be fair, most players probably wouldn’t be putting in 40 hours/week)

Move these numbers up or down, and you’ll see that carrying professional players gets real expensive real quick:

$5000/month * 30 man roster * 10 months = $1,500,000
$2000/month * 30 man roster * 10 months = $ 600,000
$1000/month * 30 man roster * 10 months = $ 300,000
$ 500/month * 30 man roster * 10 months = $ 150,000

Note that these numbers do not include Workers Compensation insurance (required in all states, and includes disability + family leave in NY State). For the sake of this blog post, I *tried* to get quotes for Professional Athletes + Workers Comp in NY State and I couldn’t even find someone to give me a quote. (I’ve heard it could be $5000/season or $5000/month depending on what state your team operates in.)

So let’s assume we’re going to go ahead with this plan, and we’re going to add a payroll of $300,000 on top of our existing Operating Budget of $100,000/year…. where would we get this extra $300,000 from?

I’ve done some work to model this out (very rough modeling, btw) and by modifying our existing business model from “amateur team, short season, regional travel” to “professional roster, full 30 game season, regional travel” — assuming we keep the same ratio of “merch sold per fan per game” and “average ticket price per game”, *and* we were able to add $1.50 concessions revenue per fan/game it looks like we’d need to have either:

(a) 30 game season (aka: 15 home games) @ average 2000 fans/game
(b) 24 games season (aka: 12 home games) @ average 2500 fans/game
(c) 20 game season (aka: 10 home games) @ average 3000 fans/game

This business model is by no means impossible, it’s just different.

Here’s my “amateur to pro team” model. It’s not perfect, but it’s a good start. Feel free to play with it here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1pfln00AlX-lIOS5v5SXRS6Jm5bBw5qvFPuuZSWX_ieM/edit?usp=sharing
  • (BTW, you can view with this model here– you’ll need to “File -> Make a Copy” before you can play with it or edit it though. If you find anything that seems totally wrong/broken, leave feedback, etc in the comments! https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1pfln00AlX-lIOS5v5SXRS6Jm5bBw5qvFPuuZSWX_ieM/edit?usp=sharing)
  • This model does not account for any gate splits w/ opponents or broadcast revenue / league sponsorship dollars. It also does not factor in the cost of Workers Comp (as I wasn’t able to even get a quote!)

Our team currently does not have access to concessions revenue (so I’m just hypothesising here) and there’s some extra costs associated with the costs of both (a) going to “100% regional travel via bus” to “50% overnight travel via bus” and (b) “full volunteer staff” to “mix of paid staff + volunteers” (which I roughly tried to account for). In short, if we want to play a full season with pro players, we’re going to need to find other teams who can play a full season with us, and preferably teams who are going to be close enough geographically that we can do mostly day trips (instead of mostly overnight trips). And if we want to operate for 10 months out of the year, our volunteer organization is most likely going to evolve to a mix of volunteers and paid staff. Ten months/year is a long time to work for free! :)

Looking specifically at Stockade FC, this model tells us that we can’t make the jump from “amateur team, short season, regional travel” to “professional roster, full 30 game season, regional travel” (and do it in a “break-even or better” way) until we start averaging about 2000 fans/game. Remember the talk of the importance of setting goals? With that in mind, our next two immediate goals are (a) break 1500 fans at a single game, as we (b) work our way up to averaging 2000+ fans/game.

Outside of the complexity of doing this with a single club, creating a “product” (I specifically did not use the term league) that supports clubs with a “professional roster, full 30 game season, regional travel” business model is harder than it seems. Attempts to kickstart this so far have all suffered from the chicken-and-egg problem (“I want in! But only if there are teams near me! But there’s no teams yet, so I can’t commit! I’m out!”).

This “professional roster, full 30 game season, regional travel” league isn’t a new idea. It keeps popping up over and over again, but that’s a good thing. To quote myself from my last blog post (sorry):

“The answer is that the NPSL needs to eventually offer two “products” — a “short season” product (May thru August) and a “long season” product (March thru November).”

In my opinion, the NPSL is the perfect league, of the perfect size, with the perfect geographic distribution, and the perfect DNA to make this happen. This is what I mean when I say the NPSL is one of the most valuable pieces of infrastructure in the US Soccer Pyramid. “Most valuable” in that we’re best positioned to make something like the “two products in one pyramid” system actually happen. And making this happen would unlock a new class of “upgrade opportunities” for all the clubs and owners who out there who have also hit the point of “so, now what?”

(read the whole tweet thread – and all the comments / banter –for the full experience)

One last thought (because I know this will come up in the comments/feedback) — when a club in our league hits the “So, now what?” point, that’s NOT the starting point for the pro/rel conversation. You can’t take a team that operates on a “amateur team, short season, regional travel” business model and then *promote* them to a “professional roster, full 30-game season, regional travel” business model just because they won the league. Teams have to willingly take the plunge from moving from one business model to the next. And once you have a critical mass of teams playing within either the “short season” and/or “full season” products, you can start to think about adding merit-based promotion *within those products* to better organize those teams. But the jump from “short season” to “full season” has to be just as much about business-model-merit as it is about sporting-merit (and the decision has to be entirely up the club’s management team) otherwise you’re not setting the club up for success (and you’re more than likely setting them up for financial failure).

STOCKADE IN 2018

Okay, moving on! Let’s talk about the nuts and bolts of our 2018 season. To be honest, we’re making a lot fewer tactical changes this year (compared to 2016 to 2017 where I feel like we changed 50% of our logistics). But let me walk you through some of the more meaningful changes that we’re planning on making as well as some of the things we intentionally kept the same.

SCHEDULE

We have our Open Cup match this Wednesday and our regular season kicks off this Saturday 6pm in Kingston vs. the Rhode Island Reds. If you haven’t been to Kingston to catch a match, I strongly recommend it.

As you can see, it’s going to a busy June — we have a home match every weekend of the month. This is by design as we want to see what happens when we work at building our audience with consistency (“a match every Saturday night”) and with momentum (“come back next week! And the week after!”). From the last two seasons, we’ve found the hardest thing is filling the stands during those first few matches (aka: building momentum) andso we optimized our schedule around the opportunity to do that.

In January, I showed up extra-prepared for the NPSL’s North Atlantic regional meeting (where all the teams in our region negotiate our home/away schedules). I knew all the dates and times of the World Cup matches and the big NYCFC and Red Bulls matchups so that we could avoid having to make our fans choose between Stockade home matches and other matches either in NYC or on TV. I was also able to score an away-match in Brooklyn (@ Brooklyn Italians on Sat June 23) and an away-game on the very northern tip of Manhattan (@ NY Cosmos on Sat July 7), both of which could and should feel like home games if we play our cards right.

I also finally have the foresight to reserve our stadium for *all* possible post-season dates (something we didn’t do before… we didn’t expect to make the playoffs!), which will prevent us from scrambling in case we have a great run this season. (btw, I recommend that all clubs do this with their stadium agreements)

TRYOUTS

This is the first year we’ve had the luxury of a “returning coach” (remember, we made a coaching change in between our first and second seasons). This meant that not only did we *not* have to spend time and energy on a coaching search, but Coach Lindholm came into the new year with a specific idea of the team he wanted for 2018 and the positions/roles we needed to fill in our depth chart.

This being our third season, we also have stronger relationship with some of the closer big-name collegiate programs (Marist, Siena, Albany) which enabled us to bring in more players and alum who are still playing at a high level. Overall, having consistency in our coaching team from 2017 to 2018 allowed the staff to look at our starting XI, discuss what pieces we were missing, and then design a scouting and tryout process that would help us find those missing pieces.

Another sounds-obvious change from 2017 to 2018 was including our 2017 players in the 2018 tryout process. In the past, we evaluated new prospects independently (e.g. tryouts that exclusively featured recruits). This year we mixed new recruits in with our players from 2017 which was much more efficient for evaluating talent quickly.

We announced our 2018 Roster in late April – for more info click here.

<COMING SOON – INSERT 2016 vs. 2017 vs 2018 TRYOUT STATS HERE>

2018 TRYOUTS STATS:
<coming soon!!!>
2017 TRYOUTS STATS
Total players seen: 215
Total players at closed tryouts: 83
Total players at open tryouts: 132
Total players from open tryouts who made callback: 10 (8%)
Total players from open tryouts who made initial roster: 0
Starting roster size: 33 players
Starting roster average age: 23.3 years
# College Players on starting roster: 13 (39%)
# Players Returning from 2016 Squad: 14 (42%)
# Players from Hudson Valley: 17 (51%)
2016 TRYOUTS STATS:
Total players seen: 130
Total players at closed tryouts: 47
Total players at open tryouts: 83
Total players from open tryouts who made initial roster: 10 (12%)
Starting roster size: 33 players
Starting roster average age: 25.8 years
# College Players on starting roster: 6 (18%)
# Players from Hudson Valley: 29 (88%)

SEASON TICKETS

No huge changes here — we printed 800 season tickets this year (matte finish + barcoding + slit punch for ~$650). So many people have asked me where we get our Season Tickets cards made, so let me throw a shoutout to ShortRunCards.com in here. Tell ’em Stockade FC sent you!

Overall, our season tickets numbers are up from last year (though it’s too early to give a final-final number for 2018). As for May 8, here’s how it looks:

SEASON TICKET SALES          2016  2017  2018 (as of May 8, 2018)
Adult:                        120   182    216
Youth (12 and under): n/a 62 64
Total Season Tickets Sold: 120 244 280
Tix Fans Bought to Donate:   n/a     4**   33
Additional Tix Donated by Us: 0 75 <coming soon>
                                       2016     2017     2018
Started selling season tix on: Mar 28 Dec 12 Dec 7
% season tix sold before first match: n/a 78% <coming soon>
% season tix sold before Xmas: n/a 54% <coming soon>

** See those “Tix Fans Bought to Donate” stats? Last year, my buddy Don Steele reached out and asked how he could purchase 4 tickets that Stockade could then give away to local charities. That idea inspired us to give away more than 80+ season tickets to local community organizations in 2017. This year we turned Don’s idea into a “Buy a ticket and donate it” product you could buy on our online store and we sold 33 of them! Thank you all for your generosity! Stockade FC is going to add another pile of passes on-top of those 33 and they will be donated to the following organizations: (final numbers coming soon).

SPONSORS / KITS

I mentioned this earlier in the post, but we splurged on new kits this season (treat yo’self after a Conference Championship, you know?)… and they are looking super hot. We worked with the amazing designer / friend of the club JP Hamilton out of LA, and the kits were produced by our friends at Inaria.

This season we’ll be wearing orange at home and black for away matches — the orange being a nod to Kingston’s rich Dutch history. The subtle “lines” pattern you see on each jersey is an actual topographical map of Kingston (!!) stretching from Hurley to the Roundout (the map wraps around the back side of the jersey too). The bottom tip of the Stockade crest points to the exact position of where our home field, Dietz Stadium, appears on the topographical map.

Yes, I know you want to buy them ASAP (!!). Fans at our home matches get first dibs (more reason for you to come visit Kingston!) and we’ll be putting the rest online mid-summer.

Our three sponsors appear on the jersey —Trailways NY on the front, Lyft on the back (brand new for 2018!), and Radio Woodstock on the sleeve. After last year’s huge season + huge crowds + huge exposure, we were able to push the sponsorship prices up a bit which should help cover some of the costs of the new kits. And to all our sponsors, we would not be able to do what we’re doing without your continued support, so thank you for all you do!.

We are flirting w/ the idea of buying a heat press (!!) to we can start to do some customizations of jerseys and training tops that people buy (though a quality press is around $1500 so we haven’t pulled the trigger yet). I’d love to offer kids all sorts of iron-on patches from local business, local merchants, flags from different countries, etc. and let them do some *crazy* kit customization (inspired by a Nike Soccer event I attended in Portland last year — thanks for the idea Nike!), but I haven’t figured out all the logistics yet… especially who’s gonna run this heat press without burning themselves or the kids or lighting the merch table on fire :) Tune into our post-season recap to see how this worked out. (and if you have iron-on patches that you’d like to donate … flags, logos, numbers, letters, whatever… find me online!)

MERCHANDISE

We added a few new merch items this year — drawstring hats, “unstructured hats” (aka: Dad Hats), and I may try to do a more cost-effective round of hoodies again. Our pricing remains the same from last year, and we’re using the same local Kingston / Hudson Valley vendors (even though the margins are a little lower). One big difference this year is that we have *so much data* from the last two seasons, that when ordering t-shirts and hats and jerseys for this season we traded all of the previous year’s guesswork for data + math. (read the thread if interested!)

Click to read the whole tweet thread for the full effect.

I am curious as to whether we’ll hit a ceiling in our merch sales this year by not switching up our t-shirt designs or colors… but to be honest, I don’t really want to offer 10 different t-shirt variations of our classic black and white crest. I’d rather keep things consistent, clean and simple than try to maximize revenue at the expense of the club’s identity.

Last year, we also saw great success with our “International Edition” tees — where the Stockade FC crest was printed in Arabic. All proceeds from these “International Edition” tees went to funding a Free-to-Play Youth Clinic ($5 suggested donation) which we held last November in Kingston and was attended by more than 150 kids (!!)

We’re going to continue this program this year and 2018’s “International Edition” tees are in RUSSIAN. Again, all proceeds from these sales will go to our Youth Clinic efforts in 2018 and 2019. And, by the way, this year’s choice to use Russian is tied to the location of the World Cup, not the country’s current political climate (I swear!). You can buy these online now.

ps: No collusion!

All proceeds from our “International Edition” tees go to fund our free-to-play Youth Camp efforts. You can purchase online at: http://stockadefc.com/store

SQUARE / ACCOUNTING

We’ll be using Square again as our payment and inventory system for 2018 (Disclaimer: I’m an investor / shareholder in Square). Switching to Square in 2017 made a huge difference in our accounting, our ability to predict what we’d need for 2018, and the amount of time and effort it takes to write these blog posts. If you run a club or similar organization and are still using paper or spreadsheets to track merch or tickets sales (as we used to do), do yourself a favor and switch over to Square or something similar.

This year, we are going to have both our ticket booth and our merch table using the proper Square Stand (the $199 iPad holder that spins the iPad around and takes credit card swipes). We’ve also added the “chip readers” at both our Square stations, which ironically slow down the line down a little bit (chip readers are slow). A third Square Register running on an old iPad Mini will also be used for cash-only ticket sales.

Pro Tip: If you do end up using Square, make sure to use as many “tags” as possible (e.g. “tshirt” and “mens” as separate tags). It’ll help a ton when you start doing any analysis on sales data..

MARKETING

We admittedly don’t have a very sophisticated marketing organization — it mostly revolves around hanging flyers in store windows, leaving business-card-sized schedules in coffee shops, and the occasional Facebook Promoted post.

We did set a goal for ourselves to try to get 1500 fans at a single match this year (our previous record is just shy of 1400 fans at last year’s Conference Championship match). I’m not sure if this is possible during a regular season match, but that’s our next attendance milestone for sure. (And to be fair, I wasn’t sure how long it would take us to hit 1000 fans/game, but we’ve hit that milestone twice so far, during the last two matches of 2017)

Two other noteworthy changes this year:

  • Greater outreach to the Spanish speaking community in Kingston — we’re still working on this, and we’re open to ideas besides just hanging flyers in midtown Kingston, but we do have two of our Spanish-speaking team members (Coach Lindholm and Juan Gatti) scheduled to appear regularly on the “La Voz en Radio Kingston” radio show.
  • Increased Facebook spend — last year I would throw $10 at promoting match day posts and advanced ticket sales on Facebook. This year, I’m going to try to bump this up to $30/match and see what happens, at least for the first few matches. The goal is to try to build a larger audience at our earlier matches and to then leverage that momentum to generate larger crowds for mid-season games. I’ll report back.

STREAMING

After trying YouTube in season one, then switching to Facebook in season two, we’re going to switch back to YouTube for season three. YouTube TV seems to have taken the lead in the easiest way for people to understand “hey you can watch a Stockade FC match on TV” and we’re optimizing for trying to make the matches accessible to fans in Kingston (and in Kingston’s local bars, some which have Rokus sticks that support YouTube TV). (I also felt like Facebook’s viewing numbers — specifically FB Newsfeed views / auto-plays were too infalted to be a reliable metric worth tracking over time)

New this year, we’re also going to try to solicit donations to the club via Venmo (https://venmo.com/stockadefc) during streamed matches (“Hey, like what you’re seeing? Throw the club $5 by Venmo’ing @StockadeFC!”). Will it work? Will it generated anything meaningful? I don’t know, but it worked from some college kids trying to source beer money, so many it’ll work for us too. (Thanks for the inspiration, @SamC2270!)

Yes, true story: https://www.fastcompany.com/3063640/how-one-college-student-got-3000-strangers-to-venmo-him-beer-money

STADIUM UPDATE

No major changes on the stadium side of things to report… YET. We’re still on a season-to-season field rental plan with the stadium (though rumor has it our price increased this year? Stay tuned).

The big thing coming up is that the City of Kingston is prepping a vote that will let the community decide whether Dietz Stadium should (a) remain under shared 50/50 ownership by both the city and the school district or (b) whether ownership of the stadium should be transferred exclusively to the city (and away from the school district). Everyone involved in Stockade FC is in favor of the latter as it’ll unlock the NY state funds that can then be used for stadium improvements (new locker rooms, new press box, etc). You can read more here. If you’re in Kingston, please do vote in favor of this of the stadium transfer on May 15!

In full disclosure, I’m in favor of more progressive ownership of the stadium as I think it’ll unlock additional revenue opportunities for our club — additional ticket revenue and concessions revenue. For the club to grow in size and status, we’ll need additional revenue sources at our home matches and this vote on May 15 is one of the keys to us successfully heading down that path.

FOR MY OWN SANITY

This will seem silly, but one big upgrade this season was moving Stockade World HQ out of the dining room of our house and into our garage (70 yards away). My workflow for the last 2 seasons has been “pack up everything in the dining room, carry it out to the car, drive it to the game, drive it back, drag it into dining room, unpack, repeat”.

With this season, I’m going to be able to back my car into the garage, unpack, re-pack (roll t-shirts, charge radios, etc), all without having to carry *anything* in out of the house.

This probably seems like a small and obvious change, but oh man, it’s gonna be great. Related: NYSE:TUP :)

Welcome to Stockade FC World Headquarters!

AND THE MOST REWARDING PART OF IT ALL

Last year I ended my post with the photo of the squad hoisting me up after we won our Conference Championship. Easily one of my favorite photos of the club, easily one of my favorite moments of our Stockade FC journey so far.

This year, I’ll leave you with this photo. Our daughter is now 2yo and we took her to a Stockade FC pre-season friendly last weekend. Seeing even the tiniest bit of the match thru her eyes was beyond amazing :)

And that’s it for our pre-season write-up! Ping me w/ an Q’s (@dens on Twitter), we hope to see you at one of our matches (at home or on the road!), and if you like what we’re doing, buy some swag to help support the club!

#WeAreStockade