Stockade FC’s 2017 Season Recap — More Data Than You Could Ever Possibly Process From Our Soccer Club’s 2nd Season in the NPSL
“2017 North Atlantic White Conference Champions.”
It’s got a pretty nice ring to it, right?
That’s the headline for what was an amazing second season for Kingston Stockade FC, our NPSL club (4th Division, US Soccer Pyramid). For those who have been following our “open source” and “startup soccer” story of building a club from scratch, welcome back! This incredibly long post (our #5th blog post in this “open source soccer” series) is meant to provide as much data, insight and transparency into how we’ve built our 4th Division soccer club. For those new to our story, hello! … and a head’s up that 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 — Stockade FC in 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
(If anything, make sure you read Post #3 before you read this one as it covers a lot of the details from Season 2 that may get glossed over in this post — e.g. concessions, point of sale systems, etc.)
Okay, ready? For the rest of this post, here’s what I want to focus on:
- State of the Union in 🇺🇸 ⚽️
- Stockade 2017 Finances & Data (Attendance, Tickets, Merchandise, Streaming)
- What Are We Doing This For? — Annual Review of Stockade FC’s Goals & Ambitions
- Some Thoughts on NPSL in 2020 (and how to build a stronger D4)
State of the Union in 🇺🇸 ⚽️
These are some interesting times for soccer in the United States:
- The US Men’s National Team (USMNT) failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. It’s the first time the USMNT has failed to qualify in 30 years (since 1986).
- The NASL (2nd division) is currently appealing the decision that was made in a lawsuit filed against the USSF (United States Soccer Federation — the governing body of all things soccer in the USA) over collusion and anti-competitive practices with the MLS (1st division). The decision on the appeal will be made sometime in mid-December.
- A “Request for Arbitration” has been filed with the International Court of Sport over the USSF’s reluctance to follow FIFA’s own statutes (Article 9) which require a system of merit-based promotion and relegation in the USA. This request for arbitration was filed by our club (Stockade FC) and Miami FC in the NASL.
- There is another lawsuit over the lack of solidarity & training payments being made to youth organizations from the MLS clubs. My understanding is that this lawsuit has been dismissed by US courts, but is still active in FIFA’s Dispute Resolution Chamber.
- USSF President Sunil Gulati (the person at the top of the US Soccer Pyramid) is up for re-election in March 2018. He has run unopposed over the past 12 years (since 2006, four-year terms), and this year at least 7 other candidates jumped in to run against him. Sunil recently announced that he will NOT be running for re-election, meaning the spot is now up for grabs amongst these 7 candidates, some whom want to bring change to US soccer and some of whom want to maintain the status quo (specifically when it comes to the idea of “opening” the US Soccer Pyramid)
Meanwhile the league Stockade FC plays in, NPSL (Division 4, ~100 teams across the USA), continues to evolve and grow. Just above us, the USL made the jump from Division 3 to Division 2, and it’s unclear whether NASL (which was D2 for 2017) will appear in 2018 as a Division 2 or Division 3 league. A new startup D3 league (NISA) is making a run to come online in 2019. Riccardo Silva (of MP & Silva Sports Media Rights) bid more than $4 billion (USD) for 10 years worth of TV rights contingent upon the US Soccer Pyramid adopting a system of promotion and relegation (a deal that was immediately dismissed by MLS).
(As I heard someone say this weekend, “There is so much drama in the sport in America! Now imagine the drama was actually over *the game itself* and not *the business behind the game*”)
There’s a perfect storm of *something* brewing in US Soccer right now. And while it’s a bit early to predict what the world may look like a few years (or even months) from now, there’s no denying that change is coming. It’s just a question of whether it will come in this USSF Presidential election cycle or the next.
Soon after we started our club, we had the idea of putting it to use as a catalyst for change. We want to see the US Soccer Pyramid evolve from a “closed system” to an “open system” and we want to see greater transparency within. In short, our plan with Stockade FC was: (a) learn how to build a club by building one from scratch, (b) use that knowledge to bring transparency to the process of creating clubs in the hope of inspiring others to build clubs in their own communities, (c) help to better organize like-minded and ambitious owners of lower level clubs to give us a louder voice in the larger discussions about the US Soccer landscape, (d) use that “seat at the table” to advocate and push forward an agenda of equal access to growth and opportunity for all clubs at all levels, which (e) is ultimately accomplished by helping to create an open system anchored by strong and stable clubs within well-organized and accessible lower level leagues, such as the NPSL.
With that said, and before we get real deep into Stockade FC data, I’m happy to share that this past weekend I was elected to the NPSL’s Board of Directors at our league’s Annual Operating Meeting (AOM). I am now one of 12 Board Members (and one of 2 representatives of the Northeast Region) operating under a two-year term. The Board Seat gets me a little closer to the bigger-picture decision making and the longer-team strategic planning for our league. It is literally the“seat at the table” I was referring to above and I’m excited to get back to work helping to build from the bottom up.
Finances & Data
Okay with that out of the way, y’all ready to nerd out on some numbers?
For those who have been reading my posts, you know that one of my main goals has been to get our D4 club to break-even (and to be as transparent as possible about how we did it).
This is important to the club because a break-even club can operate forever. And this is important to me because I know that if we we can keep Stockade FC going for 10 years, we will have the opportunity to see the kids that we have inspired this season & last season trying out for our squad in a few years time. The idea of a Stockade FC squad full of kids who have been cheering on our club since they were 8, 10, or 12 years old is one of the things that motivates and inspires me the most about this entire project.
(It’s also worth noting that the step after “breakeven” is called “we have extra money to invest in things”. And that’s where this project really get interesting. With a $5k or $10k profit per season, what would we do? I’m sure I’ll write a whole post on this someday, but the wishlist right now looks like: (a) a Free-to-Play youth academy for kids, (b) spinning up a women’s team, (c) making the jump from amateur to pro players, (d) investing in our own training facilities, etc. Let’s take it one step at a time though :)
So, let’s look at some high level takeaways from season #2:
- We won our Conference Championship and hoisted that trophy high in the air. A huge shoutout to Head Coach David Lindholm for doing such an amazing job leading our squad (7 wins, 1 tie, 4 losses).
- We hit our goal of having 1000+ fans at a game (twice!)
- Our operating expenses were ~30% lower. (We reused our 2016 uniforms; we didn’t have to buy as much “infrastructure” for our second season)
- We hit our goal of providing “alternative concessions” at the stadium (beer tent, food truck), and we hit our goal of eliminating cases of bottled water from our game day operations.
- Our overall revenue was strong, but lower than last year.
- Merchandise sales were down (aka: we sold less merchandise in our 2nd year vs. our 1st year…. perhaps because we played one fewer match? Or didn’t change up our merchandise designs? More below…)
- Tickets and sponsorship revenue was up. (Thank you to our amazing title sponsors –– Trailways NY, Dragon Search, Radio Woodstock)
- We’re closer to breakeven for sure, but I don’t have the exact number… yet (see explanation below)
- The club continues to operate as a 501c3 (via “fiscal sponsorship” from Innovative Charitable Initiatives, Inc.)
Let’s take a look, but please keep in mind that these numbers are (a) still a work in progress and (b) only reflect from Jan 1, 2017 to Oct 4, 2017.
** 2017 data limited to Jan 1, 2017 - Oct 4, 2017
OPERATING EXPENSES 2016 2017
Fields $16,250.00 $14,550.00 -10.5%
Coaches/Trainers $15,620.00 $12,342.00 -21.0%
Gear / Equipment $15,338.00 $10,997.86 -28.3%
Game Day Expenses $ 8,783.00 $ 7,343.00 -16.4%
Marketing $10,717.00 $ 6,486.92 -39.5%
League Fees / Insurance $ 7,610.00 $ 5,750.00 -24.4%
Streaming $ 1,000.00 $ 1,848.10 +84.8%
Travel & Hotel $10,615.00 $0 -100.0% (!!)
Player Roster $0 $0
Mgmt / Volunteers $0 $0
Player Development n/a $ 904.36
Player Offseason EDSL n/a $ 2,694.73
Youth Clinic n/a $ 1,272.00
Total Operating Expenses $85,933.00 $59,317.88 -31.0%
REVENUE 2016 2017
Tickets Revenue $32,425.20 $36,649.00 +13.0%
Sponsors Revenue $10,600.00 $12,500.00 +17.9%
Merchandise (pre 10/4) $50,647.18 $31,125.74 -38.5%
Merchandise (post 10/4) $ 5,155.12 n/a (yet)
Concessions Revenue $0 $ 325.00
Youth Clinic n/a $ 1,285.00
Cash Left Over from 2016 $500 n/a (yet)
Total Revenue $99,327.50 $81,884.74 -17.6%
MERCHANDISE EXPENSES 2016 2017
Antiology Tees (t-shirts) $12,573.68 $ 6,858.75
T-Source (training/caps) $ 4,563.95 $ 3,241.75
Global Scarves $ 1,239.50 $ 1,932.25
Inaria (jerseys) $11,571.59 $ 7,471.05
Klean Kanteen n/a $ 2,575.76
Petoskey (min balls) n/a $ 795.00
Iris Ltd (lanyards) n/a $ 1,124.37
Clockwise (t-shirts) $16,426.56 $ 4,795.95
Shopify Fees (as of 10/4) $ 722.16 $ 457.92
Shipping & Inventory $ 3,096.06 $ 3,654.02
Total Expenses $50,193.50 $32,906.82 -34.4%
Now, it’s too early to make the call on whether we broke even or not. Why? (#1) Holiday merch sales were huge last year (~20% of our total 2016 sales), they’ll be huge again this year, and I don’t want to make any “final calls” until we’re into January 2017. (#2) I’ve realized that in order to get a true “break even” number on our club, I need to be doing a *much* better job with our merchandise accounting. Specifically: how much did it cost to produce each individual item, how much of each of that specific item at that specific cost to product is now left over (“excess inventory”), and therefore, what is the asset value of this lot of excess inventory.
In hindsight, the system I used for our 2016 accounting was flawed — everything was calculated based on the assumption that we would sell *all* of our merchandise each season. That was a shortsighted assumption, which I’ll fix for 2018 (and hopefully 2017 too). But I won’t have those numbers until after the 2017 holiday season.
In a perfect world, I’d wait another month or so to publish this post (until post holiday and all numbers were final), but my wife and I are expecting Baby #2 in a few weeks (!!) and my Spidey-Sense tells me it’s probably best to get this post out now :)
But, I know you’re all hungry for the overall numbers, so here’s a work-in-progress preview. Remember these numbers are incomplete (and my “excess inventory” accounting method is borderline flawed), so use these numbers as a benchmark for your own club, and not as “OMG, look how much money Stockade FC is spending!” data point.
2017 FINANCIAL OVERVIEW
There’s two types of breakeven: (#1) Breakeven for 2017 Season and (#2) Breakeven for Lifetime of Club (aka: 2016 and 2017). For the sake of this post, I want to talk about (#1) “Breakeven for 2017”. When I do another post in Spring 2018, I’ll try to address (#2) “Breakeven for Lifetime of Club” with more detail.
In sum, we got much closer to breakeven this season. (If I could get a good count of our excess inventory – which we’ll be able to sell in 2018 – I’m almost certain we hit it).
** 2017 data limited to Jan 1, 2017 - Oct 4, 2017
Operating Expenses $85,933.00 $59,317.88 -30.97%
Merch Expenses $50,193.50 $32,906.82 -34.44%
Total Expenses $136,126.50 $92,224.70 -32.25%
Total Revenue $99,327.50 $81,884.74 -17.56%
Loss -$36,799.00 -$10,339.96
Extra Inventory (approx) $12,000.00 <not calculated yet>
Total Loss (minus inventory) $24,799.00 ???
OPERATING EXPENSES OVERVIEW
A few quick notes on some of the bigger changes to our Operating Expenses this year:
- Fields costs were down 10% due to one fewer home match, fewer tryouts, and fewer overall training sessions.
- Coaching/Trainer costs were down 20% mostly due to a better deal on ATCs (trainers). Thank you, Feldman Physical Therapy!
- Gear / Equipment costs were down almost 30% because we had bought *so much gear* for our first season — e.g. we already have 50 soccer balls, 200 cones, 100 pinnies, a dozen walkie talkies, and 25 Tupperware containers to haul everything around in, etc… plus, we re-used our jerseys from our 2016 season.
- Marketing costs were down for similar reasons — we made a big $4000 investment in foam/velcro sideline banners last season which we used again this season (and we’ll re-use for the next 10 seasons.)
- Game Day expenses were down 15% because we stopped buying bottled water for every match and instead started used refillable 10 gallon Gatorade jugs. A win for Mother Earth is a win for Stockade FC! (Btw, getting off plastic bottles, and the waste they produced, was an explicit goal of ours for this season.)
- Streaming costs were *up* because we had to invest more heavily in wi-fi infrastructure to enhance our network stability (leading to less choppy streaming video) and to enable the use of multiple cameras / camera angles. Thank you to our friends at Moonfarmer who helped with the specs and the install! (In case you wanted to nerd out over what wi-fi hardware we needed, here’s a list.)
- Travel costs were down as our primary sponsor Trailways NY was incredibly generous in comp’ing all of our team’s travel (bus) expenses. They were generous last year in giving us a great rate and they went above and beyond this season by helping cover all costs. Thank you, Trailways NY!
- Our hotel costs were ZERO because we designed our schedule so that we would not have an overnight trip. If you remember from last year, we did a 3 day / 2 night / 2 match trip through New Hampshire and Maine (aka: 2 nights in a hotel + 3 meals * 14 rooms). Dropping this trip from the schedule saved us a fortune. To say this another way: Our current business model (tickets/sponsors/merch) supports “day-trips by bus” and not “overnight trips and/or flights”.
- “Player Development” costs were new this year as we sent 2 players (Matel Anasta & Matt Koziol) to the NPSL Showcase in Los Angeles (think: All Star Game with D1/D2/D3 scouts). You can read more about this in the 2017 pre-season post.
- “Off Season League” costs were new this year as we put a squad together last fall to play in a local Hudson Valley league called EDSL. We scraped this plan for 2017 (it was just too much work). You can read more about this in the 2017 pre-season post.
- “Youth Clinic” costs are new as well — and Stockade FC’s Dan Hoffay wrote an amazing post on our aspirations here and success we’ve seen with our first-ever Youth Clinic. I have this listed as an expense, but it’s worth noting that our inaugural youth clinic broke even financially (thank you to our sponsor, Ulster Saving Bank!)
- And it’s impossible to talk about Stockade FC without talking about our $0 “Staff” costs. Our entire club is run by volunteers — sometimes an army of 30+ people who show up on game days to help with everything from setup + take down + scoreboard + clock + merchandise + tickets + managing the crowd + leading the youth teams at halftime + emceeing the halftime show + singing the national anthem + announcing on the PA + doing color commentary on the live stream + 100 other tasks. Without you all none of this would come together in the way that it does, so thank you! #WeAreStockade
In short, revenue was down from last year, even though we sold more tickets (Ticket Revenue +13%) and we had better deals with our sponsors (Sponsor Revenue +17%). This is due to merchandise revenue being lower than last year (as of Oct 4, 2017) but remember, there’s still a HUGE holiday season coming up.
Without going into specific sponsorship arrangements (aka: some are barter, some are cash, some are a mix of both), I’ll share what we asked in 2016 vs. 2017 vs. 2018:
2016 2017 2018
Front of jersey $10,000 $12,000 $20,000
Back of jersey $5,000 $7,000 $10,000
Sleeve of jersey $2,500 $3,000 $5,000
Training jersey $5,000 $6,000 <see below>
Sideline ads $1,000/each $1,500/each $1,500/each
Activation tent n/a $2,000/game $1,000/game
Streaming $500/game $5,000/season <see below>
Streaming AND Training Jersey $10,000
As you can see, next year we’re going to try to combine the Streaming and Training Kit sponsorship to give some lucky sponsor more bang-for-their-buck. The jump in attendance and awareness (both local and national media) that we saw this past year has given us confidence in our 2018 sponsorship prices. (aka: we’re feeling pretty good about our 2018 season already :)
We have a few new sources of revenue to speak to about this year too:
- Concessions Revenue of $325! Not a ton of money, but hey, it’s a start. With some help from folks in the town, we were able to successfully navigate some zoning restrictions to allow for an alternative to the stadium’s limited concession stand — beer and food tents set up about 100 yards away from the stadium (our stadium is 50% owned by the School District, so no alcohol is allowed on premises). Special thanks to our friends at Keegan Ales who helped coordinate the tents (which ran at 4 of our 7 home matches, and the club took 10% of profits). It’s worth mentioning that even though “beer near the stadium” has been a hot button issue in town, we had ZERO incidents. No drama, no fights, no open container violations. I LOVE that fact that we made this happen and I look forward to making it bigger and better in 2018. (You can read more about this in the 2017 pre-season post)
- Our inaugural Youth Clinic was a success (and actually ran at a $13 profit!). We hosted 150 kids on a cold November morning, collected a $5 suggested donation, and had tremendous support from local sponsor Ulster Saving Bank. Again, check out the post Stockade’s Dan Hoffay wrote on how it all came together.
So that’s how it looks at a high level. Ready to dig a little deeper?
Bigger in every way from 2016 to 2017. Note that we only count “butts in seats” (aka: people who come thru the turnstile) and NOT “tickets sold” or “tickets distributed”. In my opinion, “butts in seats” is the ONLY number that counts in regards to attendance. Special thanks to my Dad, Chris Masters and his son Landry who hold down the fort when it comes to manning the gate, collecting tickets, and stamping hands.
2017 Stockade FC Attendance
@ Dietz Stadium in Kingston NY
vs. Hartford Sat May 6 @ 5:00 489 fans constant rain
vs. Rhode Island Sun May 21 @ 5:00 714 fans
vs. NYAC Sat June 3 @ 5:00 693 fans
vs. Boston Sat June 10 @ 5:00 992 fans
vs. Seacoast Sat July 1 @ 5:00 735 fans thunderstorms
vs. TSF Academy Mon July 3 @ 6:00 1129 fans
vs. Hartford (playoffs) Sat July 15 @ 6:00 1393 fans
** attendance data does not include pre-season friendlys
Not bad right? In fact, these numbers put us in 15th place in the NPSL overall for 2017 (… ahem, amongst the 45 or so of clubs (21%) who actually report their attendance… grumble grumble. And Kenn, thanks for doing the work to compile this data and please do continue to help in 2018!)
About a year ago, I remember talking to another owner of another club and he said something along the lines of “I know you had a great first season, but the second season is the hardest” — e.g. the novelty will wear off, the crowds will thin, etc. I remember being scared shitless by this piece of advice but our club experienced quite the opposite. Our overall attendance numbers were up (despite us having one fewer match on the schedule) and our biggest crowds were considerably larger than last year’s bigger crowds (and we hit our goal of 1000+ fans/game… twice!)
NUMBER MATCHES PLAYED 2016 2017
Home Matches — Regular Season 7 6
Home Matches — Playoffs 0 1
Home Matches — Total 7 8
Total Attendance 6,047 6,145 +2%
Average 755 878 +14%
Median 837 735 -14%
Biggest Crowd 936 1,393 +33% (!!!)
Smallest Crowd 509 489 -4%
** attendance data does not include pre-season friendlys
If anything, my only complaint was that *just as we started hitting our stride* the season was over (and so you’ll read some of my thoughts on the importance of a longer NPSL season below). In short, if your club is pulling fans and selling merchandise, each match gets you closer to breakeven. But when the season ends, so does a big chunk of your revenue generating opportunities. This is why a lot of clubs will try to fill their pre-season / off-season with friendly matches (which is a tricky thing to do if you’re using college players and they can only play for your club if it doesn’t conflict with the NCAA calendar).
Said another way, you’ll spend a lot of money early in the season (gear, swag, fields) and you start to make it back with every match you play. The more matches you play, the more revenue you take in. Simple, yes. But it’s important when trying to understand how the short season can be both a blessing and a curse.
One more thing on attendance – this was the season we started to see fans traveling to our away matches. I didn’t keep a solid count this year (though I will next year) but 20+ fans when we played in Westchester and 50+ fans when we played in Brooklyn and 75+ fans who showed up in Boston… all to be topped by some 275+ people (!!) who traveled to NJ to our Regional Finals match … just read the description on the photo below:
We kept our ticket prices the same this year vs. last year… and we’re keeping them the same for 2018 too. That includes Season Tickets, which were (and will be) priced the same even though we played one fewer match in 2017 and we don’t yet know how many matches we’ll be playing in 2018 (the number of matches we play in 2018 could vary depending on new expansion teams and/or conference realignment).
Adult Season Ticket $40
Youth Season Ticket $25
Adult Game Day Ticket $8
Youth Game Day Ticket $5 (or only $2 if kid if wearing *anything*
Our ticket prices were designed so a family of four can attend for $20 ($8 + $8 + $2 + $2 = $20)
This is one of the many things I’m *really, really* proud of. One of the reasons we were inspired to start a club is that we knew families in the Hudson Valley had to drive 2 hours (!!) to NYC or NJ to bring their kids to see a high-level soccer match and ticket prices often aren’t cheap. I really feel that lowering the barrier for a family to enjoy a live soccer match – both ticket cost and proximity – is a big factor in turning families into fans.
Season Tickets Sold 2016 2017
Adult 120 182 +52%
Youth (12 and under) n/a 62
Total Season Tickets 120 244 +103%
Started selling season tix on: Mar 28th Dec 12th
% season tix sold before first match n/a 78%
% season tix sold before Xmas n/a 54%
Also obvious, but the earlier you can sell your tickets the better. In 2016, we waited until we had our full schedule (late March) before we sold any season tickets to fans. In 2017, we started selling season tickets before we had the schedule (Dec 12) because our fans wanted to give them as holiday gifts, For 2018, we went even earlier and we had them on sale online the day after Thanksgiving (Nov 27). Oh, btw, Stockade FC Season Tickets make for great stocking stuffers! Click here to buy one! #SupportLocalSoccer
The breakdown of “game day ticket vs. season ticket” looks almost the same as it did last year. Digital tickets (Eventbrite) numbers are lower this year, but I don’t have a theory why.
Ticket Breakdown 2016 2017
Individual tickets (sold day-of at gate) 80% 80%
Season tickets (sold at gate & online) 12% 16%
Individual tix (sold online via Eventbrite) 8% 4%
Ticket Breakdown (season tix & game day tickets)
It’s worth noting that less than 10% of attendance for any given is from comp tickets. This year we gave comp tickets to (a) press, (b) players family (4 tix max), (c) ballboys and ballgirls, (d) Radio Woodstock contest winners, (e) First Responder & Military Appreciation Nights. (Sidenote: This number does not include the 75+ Youth Season Tickets we donated to local youth orgs in Kingston – eg. Boys & Girls Club, YMCA, etc – an idea born when a Stockade fan decided to buy tickets specifically so he could donate them to local orgs. You can read more about this in the pre-season post. Thanks again Don!)
In addition to our “First Responder” and “Military Appreciation” nights, we also made a point to offer local communities the option to do a 50/50 raffle (aka: 50% to charity, 50% to raffle winner). We did 3 of these (MKO Foundation, CCE, KHS Marching Band — tap links to donate!) via kids carrying a bucket through the crowd collecting money and handing out tickets. Each raised a few hundred bucks for their respective cause. It’s a great way to give back to the community (as well as a great way to get non-soccer folks to come check out a match!)
As a closing note, I’d love to have some data on (a) number of unique fans that attended a match, (b) age ranges, (c) gender breakdown, and (d) which cities/towns people are coming from, but I don’t have any way of collecting this type of data right now. Last year we sent out a “fan survey”, but we had ~180 people respond so still that’s a small sample size (compared to our 6000+ total attendance numbers).
Similar to last year, merchandise continues to be a big revenue driver for our club. Without a club that people cared about — and without a crest that people wanted to proudly wear on their hearts and heads — we wouldn’t be able to do what we’re doing. We sell merch online (24 hours a day, 7 days a week, all year long) and at a merchandise table at Stockade FC events (game days, tryouts, friendly matches). Despite our online shop being open 365 days vs. the 14 “Stockade FC event” days we had, we sell a HUGE majority of our merchandise in person to fans:
Merchandise Sales by Channel
Online Store (Shopify) $5,730.74 18% (as of 10/4/2017)
Game Day Merch Table (Square) $25,395.00 80%
Retail stores in Kingston $360.00 2%
“Retail stores in Kingston” is new this year as we’ve met local shop owners in uptown Kingston who want to carry our swag in their storefronts (Thank you, Hamilton & Adams and Bop to Tottom!) I’d like to do more of this in 2018 (thought it can be tricky to track and keep everything in stock).
And here’s a look at what’s selling at our merchandise table during these 14 events (March thru July). Yes, there’s *a lot* of data here, but the point of sharing this all is to give other clubs a reference point to work from. (e.g. “if our club can pull crowds of ~1000 people, across 8 matches, what’s the ballpark number of hats/etc. we can expect to move?”).
In short, these are the numbers I wish I had in advance of our first season, so I hope and assume others will find them helpful too:
GAME DAY MERCH TABLE SALES (excluding tickets)
Men’s Tee 218 18%
Sticker 126 10%
Mini Ball 124 10%
Trucker Hat 122 10%
Women’s Tee 92 8%
Youth Tee 91 7%
Wool Cap 68 6%
Training Top 62 5%
International Tee — Arabic 59 5%
Pins 50 4%
Jersey — Away/Black 45 4%
Scarf 33 3%
Water Bottle 30 2%
Jersey — Home/White 22 2%
Laynard 22 2%
International Tee — Japanese 18 1%
Winter Hat 17 1%
Hoodie 15 1%
Kids Hat 3 0%
Total 1217 100%
That’s a lot of merch! And as you may have noticed, we had many more “items” to sell this year than last year (e.g. water bottles, lanyards, mini-balls). No surprise here, but if you make new items, people will buy them.
Personally, I was most interested in *what didn’t sell*. For example, we didn’t update our t-shirt designs or our scarf designs, and we re-used the same jerseys for both our 2016 and 2017 seasons… is that one of the main reasons our merch revenue was lower? Does not updating merchandise design affect sales? (Spoiler alert: Yes)
As you can see from the numbers below, this surely affected t-shirt sales (men’s, women’s and youth). Jersey sales were consistent, but then again we lowered the prices of the jerseys so that probably helped. Hat sales were up, but we were also better at keeping them in stock. The crazy jump in stickers is because we started selling them for $1 (vs. just giving them away). My gut is that new t-shirt designs will move more merchandise (this sounds so incredible obvious), so most likely we’ll try that next year.
Items Sold by Year 2016 2017
T-shirt 71% 49% -22%
Hats (Caps) 15% 24% +9%
Stickers 2% 15% +13%
Jerseys 8% 8% 0%
Scarves 4% 4% 0%
* Limited to items that were sold in both seasons
The numbers above were just a subset of the items we had for sale in 2017 (I only compared this year’s numbers to items we sold last year). If you’re interested in the total merchandise breakdown for 2017, here you go:
Items Sold by Year 2017
Hats (Caps) 16%
Mini Balls 10%
Training Tops 5%
Water Bottles 2%
Winter Hats 1%
And here’s a deeper dive into just the t-shirt numbers. I don’t have any thesis or big thoughts here, just figured I’d share:
T-Shirts Sold by Type 2016 2017
Mens 47% 54% +7%
Womens 25% 23% -2%
Youth 28% 23% -5%
Total 100% 100%
If you’re just getting started with your club, you’ll prob find our “breakdown of sizes sold” helpful too (see: Post #2)
One last thing, we did offer two new t-shirt designs this year — the standard Stockade FC logo tee in an “International Edition” (with the text in either Japanese and Arabic). We sold these at a slight markup with the understanding that all proceeds would go to financing our future Youth Org efforts. Due to the sales of these shirts (both online and at game day) we now have a fund with $2300 reserved for our next Youth Clinic (or multi-day Youth Camp!) We’ll be doing a new “International Edition” tee in the spring… probably in Russian (!!) for the World Cup.
"International Edition" T-shirt Sales
Sold Online Sold Game Day Total
Arabic 13 59 72
Japanese 27 18 45
For more of the backstory, just peep the description from our online store (hint, hint… buy one!)
Soccer is the biggest sport in the world, and one of our long term goals with the academy is to use the sport as a mechanism to expose kids to global geography, global economics, and global politics. We made a small batch of Japanese t-shirts in 2016 after someone in Japan bought a Stockade tee from our online store (“we’re huge in Japan!”). We chose Arabic for 2017 based the current political climate and the fact that Kingston, NY is a city that embodies that spirit of “wherever you’re from, you’re welcome here”.
Next, let’s look at some overall numbers. I didn’t have great tools at my disposal last year — we used PayPal’s iPad “point of sale” system and we only used it for credit card transactions — which also makes it hard for me to re-pull the numbers for 2016. This year we switched to Square’s point of sale and used it to track *everything* — cash and credit, merch and tickets — and it has made managing our game day transactions (and writing these blog posts) 1000x easier. (Disclaimer: I am an investor / shareholder in Square)
Going forward, these are some of the metrics I’ll be using to track the evolution of our merchandise sales year over year:
Total game day merch sold <TK TK> $21,808.00
Total game day # items sold n/a 1065
Total game day merch transactions n/a 703
Avg items sold/game n/a 133
Avg transactions per game n/a 88
Avg items per sale n/a 1.51
Average size per sale $28 $31
(aka: “basket size”)
% fans who buy merc per game: 10% 11%
Merch revenue per fan per match: $3 $3.55
ADVICE: If you’re going to use Square (a) track everything (merch + tickets) (b) use it for everything (cash + credit), (c) make sure everything is organized and categorized in Square before your first sale (men’s vs. women’s, tees vs. hoodies, trucker hats vs. wool caps, etc). Trust me.
Individual game records 2016 2017
HOME — Total merch sales n/a $5,702 vs. Hartford (Playoffs)
HOME — Total items sold n/a 281
HOME — Total transactions n/a 193
AWAY — Total merch sales n/a $772 @ Clarkstown (Playoffs)
AWAY — Total items sold n/a 28
AWAY — Total transactions n/a 18
The take-away here from these last few data points? If you want to move merchandise, make the playoffs! I know our fans will support our club win or lose and rain or shine, but it’s hard to look at these numbers and say those two extra playoff matches weren’t a huge help to us this year in our quest to get breakeven.
Also worth noting that this season was the first season we sold merch at away games (see the chart above). Last year, I had a wee newborn baby (she literally went to her first Stockade game when she was 8 days old, btw) so I wasn’t able to travel to any of our away games. This season, I was able to make a few of the away games with my Tupperware swag box and iPad cash register in tow. I’d set these up in the back of my SUV (using my Verizon MiFi for internet) and sell swag before and after each match from the parking lot of the away fields. We didn’t make a fortune, but there’s something awesome about seeing up a merch table at an away game, especially when the home team doesn’t have a merch table of their own.
Streaming continues to be an important part of the Stockade FC story — we know our story is being followed by people outside the Hudson Valley (and outside the USA!) and so streamed matches that are *enjoyable to watch* are a core part of our story. And this year, our rockstar team of tech-savvy volunteers has raised the bar for what it means to stream a 4th Division soccer game. Last year’s goals were about “consistency” — ”we gotta stream every match”. This year’s goals were around “professionalism” — let’s work in on-air graphics, color commentary and multiple cameras. The team officially outdid themselves when we had live video streaming from a drone during our Conference Championship match (for serious!)
Click the “play” button on the video just below and tell me this doesn’t look like a professional broadcast. Wow! Amazing job, everyone!
Sidenote: Drones are cool, but be respectful. The refs can’t have them flying over the field. Don’t fly them too close to the fans or the players. Give the refs a heads up if you’re using one. Give the police/security a heads up if you’re using one. Give the fans a heads up (over the PA system) if you’re using one. Follow these three rules and you’ll save yourself a lot of headaches.
Special thanks to our friends at Moonfarmer in Kingston — Kale and Dan (streaming) and Shauna (on-air graphics design) as well as Derek White and Chris Rahm (video editing) and CT Ware (drone!) for all the amazing work you do for the club!
This year, we were able to stream 13 of 14 matches – both home and away – and only a broken tripod in Rhode Island prevented us from hitting 100%. This season was the also first time we encountered an opponent who wanted to stream from their own home field — kudos to Boston City out of Medford, MA. In addition, for our Regional Playoff match (vs Clarkstown) we packed up all the gear we’d usually use at Dietz Stadium in Kingston and brought it down to New Jersey, enabling a full streaming setup (multiple cameras, on-air graphics, live commentary) running from their press box.
ADVICE: If you plan to stream using a MiFi (Mobile Access Point), know that it takes about ~2 gig of bandwidth to stream a 90 minute match from an iPad to Facebook (with audio/commentary). If you have 8 away games, you’ll prob need a ~15 gigs over 3 months.
To get a sample of what a full game stream looks like, watch (and listen) to our Conference Championship playoff match vs. Hartford. Multiple cameras, live drone footage, on-air graphics and play-by-play commentary.
During our first season (2016) we tried out a few different platforms — Periscope, Facebook, YouTube. This year we went “all-in” on Facebook, expecting the Newsfeed algorithm and those “Stockade FC is now live!” notifications to drive more exposure and thus more viewers. And if you look at these numbers, it looked like it worked in a HUGE way… right?
2016 (YouTube) 2017 (Facebook)
Number of matches streamed 14 12
Number of home matches 7 7
Number of away matches 7 5 (no BOS, no RI)
Total views 7,430 42,900 +577%
Avg views / match 531 3575 +673%
Home / Away view ratio 53%/47% 66%/34%
Total Minutes Viewed: n/a 98,087 (1,635 hours)
Total Views: n/a 46,440
… but remember, all “views” are not the same. On YouTube, a “view” is estimated to require 30 seconds of *intentional* play (aka: you clicked the play button). On Facebook, a “view” supposedly is any video played for more than 3 seconds, including auto-play views in the NewsFeed.
Anyway, make what you want with this data. It’s worth noting that we have not yet made a decision about what we’ll be doing for our 2018 season (YouTube vs. Facebook). When we have a better strategy here I’ll be sure to share with you all.
Sidenote #1: The one clear advantage we did see this season with Facebook is huge engagement during the livestreams — specifically fans leaving comments to talking with each other, talking smack to each other, and asking questions to our play-by-play announcers (who were reading and responding to comments as they came in). It was a really amazing thing to see and, to be honest, can make watching an livestream of an amateur game much more entertaining.
Sidenote #2: As an alternative to sending around “watch the match on Facebook” links, we tried creating our own “watch the match on Stockade FC” webpage – embedding FB’s video on our own website and then importing Twitter content tagged w/ #WeAreStockade alongside it. And while it was great to drive people to our own website instead of the Facebook website, we were not able to embed the FB comments that went along w/ the livestream (comment embed is not available via the Facebook API) so the experience felt sub-par to what you’d get on Facebook (even though it looked 100x cooler). We eventually (and reluctantly) went back to just hyping the “watch the match on Facebook” links.
My dream would be to have an “NPSL Game Day experience” (think: NFL Red Zone) where fans could tune into all games at once, exposing casual fans to the the richness of the NPSL (100 teams around the USA!)
Btw, apply the same “views vs. view” skepticism when you look at the following chart below. Figured I’d share so you could see (a) how many fans Hartford City FC drove to our stream (their first ever match was played in Kingston at Dietz Stadium) and (b) the ramp up in interest from viewers online, especially during our last two playoff matches (Match #13 was the Conference Championship match against Hartford, btw –– Hartford really does bring the streaming audience!)
And here’s a match by match look at our streaming efforts this season:
2017 Stockade FC Streaming Stats
(all matches streamed on Facebook)
total mins total views
vs. Newtown Friendly April 22, 2017 4,687 3,540
vs. Hartford May 6, 2017 11,600 7,500
@ NYAC May 20, 2017 3,400 1,400
vs. Rhode Island May 21, 2017 5,700 2,500
@ Hartford May 27, 2017 5,400 2,700
vs. NYAC June 3, 2017 3,300 1,800
@ RI — no video, tripod June 4 , 2017 0 0
vs. Boston June 10, 2017 6,200 2,500
@ Brooklyn June 17, 2017 5,700 2,500
@ Seacoast June 24, 2017 3,700 2,500
vs. Seacoast July 1, 2017 5,900 3,300
vs. TSF Academy July 3, 2017 7,900 3,400
@ Boston (they streamed) July 8, 2017 n/a n/a
Playoffs — vs. Hartford July 15, 2017 20,900 7,300
Playoffs — @ Clarkstown July 22, 2017 13,700 5,500
Total Minutes Viewed: 98,087 (1,635 hours)
Total Views (more than 3 secs): 46,440
“What Are We Doing This For?” — Annual Review of Stockade FC’s Goals & Ambitions
In my original Stockade FC manifesto (the one I published on the eve of our club’s first-ever match), I outlined a number of specific goals for our club and some of the reasons and motivations we started the club in the first place. I want to take a few minutes to review those original goals now that we’re two years in. In future blog posts, these are the goals I’ll continue to use to measure our success. My plan is to use these goals to come up w/ specific metrics that we’ll aim to hit & exceed in our 2018 season.
The original goals:
- Build something great in the community. We started our club because we thought it was crazy that people in the Hudson Valley had to drive two hours to catch a professional match.
- Bring visibility & opportunity for the area’s best talent. We started our club to give the best players in the Hudson Valley a platform to both play and be seen on a national stage. Related, we want to qualify for the US Open Cup by 2020.
- Get more kids playing soccer. We started our club in the hopes of encouraging youth players to stick with the sport and then aspire to play for our club someday.
- Help to create more clubs. We started our club so we could learn how to do it with the intent of showing others how they can do the same.
- Get a seat at the table. We started our club to have a voice in organizing the lower levels in an effort to promote an open system across all levels.
- Do something to make USA soccer better, faster. We started our club because we ultimately want to make soccer in the United States better, faster. (My original back-of-a napkin goal was: “What can we as fans do to better the US Mens National Team’s odds of winning a World Cup in our lifetime”)
Okay ready, let’s go through each one and try to gauge how our club is doing two years in:
1. Build something great in the community. We started our club because we thought it was crazy that people in the Hudson Valley had to drive two hours to catch a professional match.
Long story short, we made something that people love and we gave the community something to rally around. You can’t walk through Kingston without seeing people wearing *something* with a Stockade FC crest on it and the pride that comes with seeing this never gets old. This year, in conjunction with some of other interesting projects happening in Kingston (e.g. The O+ Music Festival and the Smorgasburg Upstate food fair) we participated in the Mayor’s Office efforts to secure a $10M Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant from New York State. Long story short… Kingston won one of the grants! While the city is still working on a plan for the best way to use the funds (and I’m honored to have been named to the mayor’s Local Planning Committee), it look as if at least some of the funds will be used to upgrade Dietz Stadium in Kingston (aka: Stockade FC’s home field) in an effort to enhance the game-day experience for both players and fans…. not to mention all the other sports teams, organizations and local residents that make use of Dietz Stadium’s field, track, and facilities.
The takeaway here? On some level, we’ve done much much more than “create a soccer team” — we’ve built something that folks in Kingston have started to rally around and are proud of, and we’ve helped to leverage some of that momentum and excitement and energy into a mechanism that could transform parts of Kingston’s actual urban infrastructure (through this $10M grant). We’re just a tiny, tiny, tiny part of the grant… but, hey, we’re a part of it!
2. Bring visibility & opportunity for the area’s best talent. We started our club to give the best players in the Hudson Valley a platform to both play and be seen on a national stage. Quality for the US Open Cup by 2020.
Last season, Stockade FC midfielder Dylan Williams got picked up by Australian 2nd division club Launceston City FC. This year, goalkeeper David Giddings got picked up by Swedish 3rd division team Värnamo Södra. Two players from our 2016 squad (Matel Anasta & Matt Koziol) were invited to play in last year’s NPSL Showcase (aka: NPSL All-Star Game w/ scouts) and we’ve expecting 1 or 2 players from our 2017 team will be invited to play in next year’s Showcase.
Our 2017 Stockade squad had the chance to play in front of 6000+ fans at Dietz Stadium and in front of the almost 50,000 viewers on Facebook who tuned in to watch our livestream’d matches. Those are meaningful numbers. And Dylan and David are amazing examples of what can happen to talented players. To all those skilled players who want to play and want to be seen, come up to Kingston for the summer and we’ll give you a crowd, a live stream, and scouts and coaches to play in front of: email@example.com
As of this post (Dec 5, 2017), we have not yet qualified for the US Open Cup (Trivia: one more post-season win in 2017 and we would have qualified automatically!) However, a handful of folks who closely track and follow US Open Cup qualification are confident Stockade FC will be awarded one of the remaining qualification spots based off our overall 2017 performance. We shall see… and that’s all I’ll say for now because I don’t want to jinx anything.
3. Get more kids playing soccer. We started our club in the hopes of encouraging youth players to stick with the sport and then aspire to play for our club someday.
I’m a big believer in the “you can’t be what you can’t see” school of thought — e.g. the impossible seems much more achievable when you have the chance to see / meet / talk to other folks who have accomplished it. I believe this applies to everything — including sports (“Hey, I want to be just like that player when I grow up!” ) and tech startups (“Hey, if these guys can run a startup, I can do it too!” And btw, this is how I got into tech startups— specifically after getting to meet & work with the co-founders of Vindigo. See it to be it!)
I want kids in the Hudson Valley to experience a form of this with our club. I want us to turn “I like going to Stockade soccer games” into “I want to play for Stockade FC someday” and then turn that into “If I practice enough, I can be as good as the Stockade FC players and play at Dietz Stadium too.” We are in a great position to do this — we sold nearly 2000 youth tickets at our matches this season (~30% of total tickets sold). A few weeks ago, we held a $5 Youth Clinic (“suggested donation”), coached by our own Stockade FC players, and close to 150 kids showed up. The primary goals of our Youth Clinic was “find the best & most accessible way to get a critical mass of kids kicking a ball around with the stars of Stockade FC” — and we absolutely nailed this goal.
To add to this, a few weeks ago I was reading one of the local Kingston newspapers and saw a quote from the Kingston High School soccer coach (Dan Franklin) on the number of kids showing up for JV and Varsity soccer tryouts since Stockade FC came to town:
I was floored by this. So, I reached out to Coach Franklin to clarify and he wrote me back with:
“There has certainly been an increase [in the number of kids trying out for JV & Varsity soccer] since Stockade FC started playing. I have noticed an increase in the time athletes practice on their own. They go to Dietz on Sunday mornings, after work, after school, and till 10 o’clock at night under the lights. It looks like Stockade’s gravity is pulling them to practice more. Practicing more makes all our coaching lives better.”
I know I mentioned this before, but all this talk about finances and “breaking even” is really about getting the club to the point where it can operate forever.
If we can keep Stockade FC going for 10 years, we’ll see the kids that we are inspiring today trying out to make our squad in a few years time. The idea of a Stockade FC squad full of kids who watched our team from the stands when they were 8, 10, 12 years old is one of the things that motivates and inspires me the most about this project.
Worth noting: We don’t expect “I want to play for Stockade FC someday” to be limited to a men’s team. We are actively thinking about how we can also field a women’s team in the near future (before Summer 2021 – I’m using my daughter’s 5th birthday as a timeline.)
4. Help to create more clubs. We started our club so we could learn how to do it with the intent of showing others how they can do the same.
That’s what these blog posts are for. One of the very first things I did in our club’s earliest days was type “how to start a soccer team from scratch” into Google. There were zero results then… and now there’s a least a handful (including ours) which is a big step forward for other like-minded folks.
Speaking of which, one of my most rewarding moments in the short history of Stockade FC happened at the 2016 NPSL AOM (owner’s meeting) in Orlando. While there, we met the team behind Asheville City SC, a brand new expansion team in 2017, who told me that they were at there — at the owner’s meeting! In our league! On the cusp of their first season! — because they had read our blog posts and followed along. That’s inspiring (especially knowing that they were drawing crowds averaging of 2000+ during their first season! Nice work, Asheville City SC!)
I had a similar thing happen at last weekend’s 2017 AOM (in New Orleans) where a handful of new expansion teams told me they were partly inspired by some of the writing we’ve done about Stockade and the hows and whys behind our club. This makes me very happy.
Because of these blog posts and my relative accessibility (@dens on Twitter, btw), I’ve probably talked to, on average, at least one “soccer entrepreneur” every other week over the past year. This isn’t a huge deal — sometimes they’re emails, sometimes they’re 20 minute phone calls I take during my walk to work — but, still, they’re conversations with someone who wants to start a club, someone who has read these posts, and someone that maybe has a few more questions about how to get started or make it work. Many times I never hear from these folks again — maybe they started their club maybe they didn’t — but in following the same spirit of “you gotta see it to be it” mentioned above, I feel that if can help to make the process of starting and operating a club *just a little* more approachable and *just a little* more accessible to folks, then we’re doing good work to push the sport forward.
Bigger picture, I’d really like to change the stigma of lower level sports team ownership from “fun side project” or “rich person’s hobby” to “it’s no different than running another other local business”. After seeing what Stockade FC means to the folks in Kingston — how it brings people together, how it gives the community a central rallying point, how it inspires kids to want to play soccer — I can’t imagine how another 100 or 500 similar teams built in similar communities would not make the world just a tiny bit better. I think a big part of inspiring people to Get Started Building is simply showing folks that operating a club can actually be a real “break-even or better” business, something that’s not much different than owning the local car wash or a muffin shop.
5. Get a seat at the table. We started our club to have a voice in organizing the lower levels in an effort to promote an open system across all levels.
This section may be a little polarizing, but my personal opinion is that the USSF is plagued by poor leadership, lacks a solid strategic plan for how grow soccer across all levels in the USA, and does not prioritize transparency in any way for fans of the game.
I do think a lot about how I can help to change this. And I think the best way I can help is by putting my skills as an entrepreneur (combined with my own selfish desire to see the USMNT win a World Cup before I die) to work to help build a stronger D4 that can find a way to link up our country’s D3 and D2 and D1 leagues. This “linking of leagues” is a complicated issue for 100 different reasons — stadium standards, broadcast deals, longer seasons, pro players, travel expenses — but I feel like I’m learning more every year (in part through writing more every year) and it’s clear that the general “mood in the room”, even just in the last two years, has changed from “pro/rel is impossible and will never happen” to “let’s get organized and make this happen”. That is a huge step forward.
So, what does a “seat at the table” look like? The fact that you’re reading this (and that you may have even read the other posts too!) means that our club has started to earn it’s way there. Being a part of the NPSL’s Board of Directors and getting to participate in Board Meetings (aka: operational decisions, strategic planning, mission/vision setting) is a literal manifestation of this goal. Our club’s involvement in the CAS Filing, alongside Miami FC, in challenging FIFA to clarify why the USSF does not support promotion/relegation is another example. Each of these things is about enabling this *next* goal faster…
6. We started our club because we ultimately want to make soccer in the United States better, faster. (aka: What can we, as random fans, do to help the US Mens National Team better it’s chances of winning a World Cup in our lifetimes).
Before Stockade FC, my buddies and I would sit around in bars and complain about the things we thought were broken about the US Soccer system. Now I feel like I’m actually doing something about it — even if that *something* is simply operating a small town D4 club, doing our best to inspire more kids to play, and helping aspiring-owners to follow in our footsteps.
Said another way, the simple difference between “sitting around and bitching” and “actually doing something” is getting involved in supporting local soccer. If you can’t start a team from scratch, don’t sweat it… just find your closest lower-level team, reach out and find a way to get involved.
Maybe this is a weird weird analogy, but this isn’t wildly different from politics. If you want to see change / if you want to make a difference, you have to get involved. This often means getting involved in a local political campaign — knocking on doors, making phone calls for a candidate, etc. If you want to make a difference in US Soccer, you have to get involved. The easiest way to get involved is by supporting local soccer — find the closest lower-level club, offer to volunteer, help organize, help sell tickets, help sell merchandise, help with streaming, whatever they need.
Stockade FC can’t be the *only* club that wouldn’t be where it is today without the support of volunteers. So if strengthening the lower-level leagues is something you feel strongly about, you now know what to do.
(oh, and if you want to volunteer with Stockade FC, reach out to: firstname.lastname@example.org!)
NPSL in 2020 — Building a Stronger D4.
When we decided to start a club, one of the first things we did was to go “shopping” for a league. There were a handful of lower-level leagues to evaluate in 2015 (and there’s even more now). Ultimately there were two main reasons we decided to join the NPSL:
#1. The teams that inspired us – Detroit City and Chattanooga – were NPSL teams. We wanted to be in the same league with the cool kids.
#2. The costs were low. (aka: The expansion fee costs were low. The operating costs were low.)
<DISCLAIMER: These are my own personal opinions, and not the opinions of the league. I am speaking here as a club owner, not as Board Member>
In my opinion, the NPSL is one of the most valuable pieces of infrastructure in the US Soccer Pyramid because of this “the costs are low” feature. Low costs allow ownership groups to test a market and evaluate the size of the audience, the size of the opportunity, and the quality of the talent pool. Low costs mean ownership groups can try and fail, and then re-tune and try again if needed. Low costs means struggling teams can play 2–3 seasons before calling it quits, and successful teams can play 2–3 seasons while they save up to build for whatever is next. Low costs means the league is accessible; the idea of owning a team is accessible; the idea of being a soccer entrepreneur is accessible; the idea of building something amazing for your community is accessible. The accessibility of the league is what makes it so important to the US Soccer pyramid.
And to clarify: The costs are low because the season is short (3 month regular season + 1 month playoffs). The costs are low because many teams use amateur / un-paid players (usually active college players on summer break). The costs are low because with ~100 teams, geographic density is high, meaning travel costs can be minimized.
This is what makes the NPSL great, and in my opinion, the NPSL should *not* try to grow out of serving this market of first time soccer entrepreneurs / ownership groups. If anything, the league should *embrace* the NPSL’s reputation as “the home for the entrepreneurs and innovators in American soccer” and commit to keeping the fees low and the operating costs low. (I borrowed that quote above from Sean Mann @ Detroit City FC, btw)
However, the things that make the NPSL great are what other people sometimes mock the league for: “You play a super short season!” or “You don’t even pay the players!”
My belief is that, in addition to serving the “first time owners” crowd (aka: Fisher-Price “My First Soccer Team”), the NPSL really needs be a stepping stone for those teams that have the ambition of playing at a higher level. There’s plenty of these teams in the NPSL — teams that are playing in front of thousands of fans, clubs that are regularly sending the best players up and out to better teams in higher leagues, teams that are coordinating friendly matches year round to keep momentum going and maximize revenue.
The question is: How do you continue to make the NPSL super accessible to startup soccer clubs, while at the same time, offering those clubs that have achieved initial success a way to “move up” (to a longer-season, to paid players, etc).
I know the term “move up” is automatically associated with promotion & relegation, but the answer here isn’t pro/rel. Putting aside the fact that promotion/relegation isn’t even an option in the USA, I honestly don’t think it’s possible to promote a D4 team playing a 12-game season to a D3 league playing a 30-game season.
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). Both products would be part of the same league, but treated as separate tiers. The league needs to enable ownership groups to freely move their teams between these two tiers, and each tier needs to have enough teams to keep the geographic density high, and therefore keep travel costs low. (I’m not the first to propose something like this — the “longer season” topic has been floating around the NPSL for a while now.) A team moving from “short season” to “long season” should be as seamless as a team shifting from one conference to another in a crowded region (aka: it should not require expansion fees, or any other evaluation of market size, stadium size, or the ownership group’s net worth. Note: More expensive yearly league dues, which coincide with the operating & staff costs of the longer season, would be required.)
The problem is there may only be a handful of NPSL teams that can make the jump to a longer season:
- Teams that rely on college players would lose their best players (as NCAA players can not play for another team during the NCAA calendar – which ends in May and starts up again in August). For some teams, losing their college players would make those teams less competitive. (For reference, our 2017 Stockade squad was ~40% college players.)
- Without college players, these clubs would need to find other players that can play 30 matches / 30 weeks (not to mention players with the flexibility to train 2–3x a week). Given the time commitment and level of competitiveness, these players would probably need to be professional / paid players. Paid players also require Workers Compensation insurance, which is a considerable added expense to these clubs. In addition, NCAA rules state that college players can not be on the same roster as “professional” players, so once a team has even one paid player, they can’t have any college players (or if a team has even one college star, they can not have any pro/paid players on the roster). Sidenote: The NCAA’s role in limiting player development is a problem and a topic for another blog post.
- With fewer teams playing a longer season, you’d have much less geographic density, meaning fewer teams nearby, meaning longer travel distances, and thus higher travel costs (hotels, and perhaps even airfare).
- With a longer season (think: 6–8 home games vs. 15–16 home games), volunteer-run clubs may reach the limit of what they can ask or expect from their volunteers (and these clubs may ultimately have to switch to a paid-staff model.)
- With a longer season, many clubs who share a stadium / field with a local high school or college would run into scheduling conflicts in late spring and all through fall.
- On top of that if, say, 10–20 teams did make the jump to a longer season, that’s 10–20 fewer teams playing the original “short season” version of the NPSL. And fewer teams means less geography density, and therefore greater travel expenses for those teams in the “short season” tier.
So, as you can see, moving to a longer season isn’t a just a matter of reserving your stadium for a few extra weeks. It’s a totally different business model and it changes the “low cost” feature that makes the league such a great home for so many teams. This, in short, is why the gap between D4 and D3 is so large. And this gap, IMHO, represents both the biggest problem – as well as the biggest opportunity – in all of US soccer at the moment.
Sidenote: I aspire to someday have Stockade FC play in longer season and with pro players. We won’t be able to do this in 2018 and it’ll take *a lot* of work to get us there in 2019 or even 2020. But it is certainly a goal of ours.
Length of Season by League
MLS Season (USA) Mar thru Dec 34 matches
NASL Season (USA) Feb thru Nob 32 (Spring + Fall)
USL Season (USA) Mar thru Nov 34 matches)
NPSL Season (USA) May thru Aug 12-16 matches
PDL Season (USA) May thru Aug 14 matches
UPSL Season (USA) Mar thru Dec 24 (Spring + Fall)
Maryland Major Soccer League Sept thru Nov 12 matches
* home of Christos FC
NYC’s Cosmopolitan League Sept thru June 18 matches
* home of Lansdowne Bhoys FC
EPL Season (ENG) Aug thru May 38 matches
La Liga (ESP) Aug thru May 38 matches
Bundesliga (GER) Aug thru May 38 matches
Liga MX (MEX) Jan thru Nov 34 (Spring + Fall)
Brasileirão (BRA) May thru Dec 38 matches
US Open Cup (USA) May thru Sept
Champions League (EU) Sept thru May
So what is the answer? In my opinion, it’s simple: the league needs more teams. We need more startup teams who want to try to build a sustainable club in their home market. We need more teams with 2–3 seasons of experience who feel they can make the jump to playing a longer season. We need teams who are barely making the short season work, but who have aspirations to play a longer season. We need teams that are comfortable trying a longer season, but dropping back to a short season if it doesn’t work out. We need teams who already play a longer season elsewhere (in other regional leagues, outside the NPSL) wanting to step into this giant national league that all of here in the NPSL are helping to build together.
There’s nothing easy about this “more teams” idea. It means growing the league. It means growing the staff. It means keeping more people happy, both owners and staff. It means telling a bigger story about the aspirations for the league. Figuring out how to go from “writing about this” to “actually doing it” is the hard part… but it’s also the fun part. Think of it like one big puzzle – one that all the stakeholders in our league need to work together to try to solve over the next few years.
It’s solving these puzzles that inspired us to start our club. And solving these puzzles that got me fired up to run for the NPSL’s Board. These are the puzzles that I want to help the league solve – because solving these puzzles helps to grow and unite the US Soccer Pyramid. When I talk about a “seat at the table” and my excitement over joining the NPSL’s Board, it’s about having access to the opportunity to help solve these types of problems.
Anyway, all I’ve got for 2017… and I really need to hit “Publish” on this post before that second baby comes. So, I’ll leave you this, my favorite photo of 2017 (baby photos excluded). Thx for reading, ping me w/ any Qs.
ps: Support our club! Buy some merch! #SupportLocalSoccer