An Open Letter To Football Clubs

Dear Football Club Owners, Managers, and CEO’s:

I love what you’re trying to do. I love your mission statement about growing the game at a grassroots level, about developing local player talent, about providing a professionalized outlet for the game in your community, and I maybe even think its a little cute that you want to bring MLS to your town. And because I want you to succeed, here’s some free advice.

DESIGN MATTERS. And so does branding. A lot. It has been said that in this post-modern milieu design has become the arbiter of value and meaning. This may be overstating things a bit, but as FORBES has pointed out, we live in an ‘Era of Design’.  And in this era, as Adam Swann notes, “expecting great design is no longer the preserve of a picky design-obsessed urban elite—that aesthetically sensitive clique who‘d never dare leave the house without their Philippe Starck eyewear and turtleneck sweaters and buy only the right kind of Scandinavian furniture. Instead, there’s a new, mass expectation of good design”.

For clubs, this extends to such things as crests, logos, and websites. In essence, anything that represents the club or its ‘brand’ falls into this category. It’s worth spending money to work with a professional designer. Really. There are a lot of freelancers who do great work that would put together a crest for a few hundred dollars. And for a little more, you could have a color scheme and font customized for all of your publications. Its worth it. People notice good design, and laugh at bad design.

Unfortunately, what was good design in the 90’s may not be good design today. Your clubs should be constantly looking to stay relevant. To put it plainly, here are a few design principles to help you out:

  1. Cartoons are generally not good design unless you work for Nickelodeon or Disney. If you want to be seen as a pro club, look like a pro club.
  2. Star Wars was the peak of good design once upon a time. Taking branding cues from Star Wars is no longer good design.
  3. Branding your club with some arbitrary moniker is not good branding and will probably hinder your efforts towards good design. At one time nicknames like ‘Thunder’, ‘Force,’ and ‘Stars’ was probably considered GREAT branding technique. But times have changed. Monikers can be used well, but should generally identify the club with a larger more significant narrative. So monikers that reference a geographical situation, a significant local theme, or something similar can work.
  4. Simplicity is best. This is true of your logo/crest as well as your club name, jerseys, and just about everything.
  5. With very few exceptions: don’t use stars in your logo unless you’ve won a championship. Don’t put a soccer ball in your logo; if it’s not obvious you’re a soccer club then you’ve already failed.
  6. Do have a website, and really try to host it at a .com address. And no, yourclubfc.blogspot.com does not count. This site should have pertinent club information, a place to by tickets and merchandise, and should be updated with club news and scores regularly.
  7. Get a Facebook page and twitter. You want people to follow you and engage you, and social media is good way to accomplish this. Also, don’t forget to update once in a while. These tools do no good if they aren’t actually used.

This list is by no means exhaustive. It’s really just something to get you started. And if you want some examples of how to do it right, check out Chattanooga FC, Detroit City FCFC Tucson or Nashville FC.

Or check out Greater Binghamton Futbol Club Thunder FC, replete with stars, black and white soccer balls, and laser rays:

Greater Binghamton Futbol Club Thunder

I’ll still support you GBFC Thunder, but you sure have made it difficult to be proud to represent my club.

NPSL Draw & Preview for US Open Cup

The 100th edition of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup will feature 8 NPSL clubs: Georgia Revolution and FC Hasental will each feature in a play in match while FC Lehigh Valley United Sonic, Brooklyn Italians, Chattanooga FC, New York Red Bulls U23’s, Madison 56ers, and Sacramento Gold will enter in the 1st round. Here is the draw:

Georgia Revolution @ Colorado Rovers (USSSA): Georgia Revolution qualify for their second consecutive tournament and will be forced to travel to Colorado for a play in match to decide who will face the Real Colorado Foxes (PDL) in the first round. Last year the Revolution knocked off PDL club Mississippi Brilla 1-0 in the first round before falling to the Atlanta Silverback’s of the NASL 0-1 in a closely contested match. The Rovers have the distinction of being the first United States Specialty Sports Association club to enter the Open Cup after winning a 16 team play-in tournament.

FC Hasental @ Fresno Fire Future (US Club Soccer): FC Hasental feature in their first Open Cup after winning the NPSL West Region qualifying tournament this spring. Fresno Fire Future, according to TheCup.us are the US Club Soccer side of the better known PDL Fresno Fire. The winner of the play in match will travel to play Ventura County Fusion (PDL) who advanced to the third round last year after defeating NPSL’s Fullerton Rangers (now OC Pateadores) and USL Pro side LA Blues in the first and second rounds respectively before falling 1-0 to Chivas USA.

FC Lehigh Valley United Sonic @ Reading United AC (PDL): FC LVU Sonic enters the competition for a second consecutive time, only this year with the distinction of being the reigning NPSL champion. FC Sonic will hope to improve on last year’s first round loss to the Long Island Rough Riders of the PDL. Reading United are entering the competition for a 5th consecutive time. Last year they defeated NY Greek American Atlas before losing 2-1 to the Charleston Battery (USL Pro).

Icon FC (USASA) @ Brooklyn Italians: Two time Open Cup champions Brooklyn Italians will host first time entrants Icon FC of New Jersey. Last year Brooklyn defeated MPS Portland Phoenix (PDL) 3-2 in the first round before losing 0-3 to the Rochester Rhino’s (USL Pro) in the second round. Brooklyn is the only NPSL club to be hosting in the first round draw, a fact which seems suspicious in light of US Soccer’s announcement that all draws would be decided by coin toss. Statistically, this is highly unlikely. Assuming a fair coin and a total of 8 coin flips, the probability of occurrence for flipping 7 heads and 1 tails is as follows:

Probalility

In other words, at approximately 3.125% this occurrence is not very likely.

Chattanooga FC @ Carolina Dynamo: Chattanooga FC return to the Cup after missing out on the 2012 addition. Chattanooga has seen great success at the NPSL level and has arguably the best (and certainly the largest) supporters of any amateur club in the country. Carolina Dynamo lost in the PDL championship to Forest City London 2-1 last year but also lost to the Agean Hawks 3-1 in last year’s Open Cup. This match-up has the potential to be one of the round’s most exciting.

New York Red Bulls U23’s @ Ocean City Nor’easters (PDL): The Red Bulls U23’s are in the tournament for the first time after a great NPSL performance last year. They will face an Ocean City club with past Open cup experience, though not since 2009. This will be another interesting match that will pit the NPSL against the PDL with implications being drawn on the quality of each league.

Madison 56ers @ Des Moines Menace (PDL): The 56ers will travel to Des Moines hoping for a different result than fellow Wisconsin NPSL club Milwaukee Bavarians achieved last year (a 3-1 loss). Both these teams boast long club histories, and neither are newcomers to the Open Cup competition. The Menace always put together a quality event, and the 56ers will not want to disappoint.

Sacramento Gold @ Portland Timbers U23’s (PDL): Sacramento enters the Cup for the first time as the other NPSL West Region tournament qualifier. They blitzed opponents by a combined margin of 10-1 and will hope that success carries over against a tough Portland team. Portland is famous for its supporter culture, and playing this match at JELD-WEN Field is sure to be a boost to the home side who will be anxious to do better than their 3-1 defeat last year at the hands of USASA’s PSA Elite.

With the exception of the Georgia Revolution v Colorado Rovers play-in match, the first round draw features some great regional cross league matches that can hopefully turn into budding regional rivalries. And despite the suspicious number of away venue draws for NPSL clubs, this years tournament is a great opportunity for the league to give a good account of itself and raise the stature of its quality in the eyes of the US soccer community. For more Open Cup information and a complete first round preview check out TheCup.us.

*Many of the statistics draw from TheCup.us and I would be remiss not to credit Josh Hakala (@joshhakala) in any piece about the US Open Cup.

NPSL Pre-Season Poll Results

The poll is closed and here are the results:

Chattanooga FC was the overwhelming favorite collecting 69% of all votes cast. As a perennial favorite to make the championship, they are an obvious choice.

The San Diego Flash were a distant second picking up 7%.

Myrtle Beach Mutiny finished at 4% outperforming defending NPSL champions FC Sonic as a write in. FC Sonic finished with 3% of the vote.

Other write in honorable mentions were: AFC Cleveland, Cape Coral Hurricanes, Detroit City FC, Georgia Revolution, Junior Lone Star FC, Madison 56ers, Rocket City United, San Diego Boca FC, and San Francisco Stompers FC.

Thanks to all who took the time to vote!

The Stadium Issue – Revisited

In my last post, I discussed the facility expansion plans for the Greater Binghamton Sports Complex which acts as the home field for Greater Binghamton FC.  This is an overall positive development for the club, but with that in mind I would like to discuss the issue of ‘venue’ as it pertains to GBFC and other local clubs around the country.  

I believe that a good venue in the right location can go along way to promoting fan attendance.  I think this is something that MLS (and other upper level clubs) have finally figured out and are starting to implement (see Portland Timbers, Seattle Sounders, San Antonio Scorpions).  I even see this working out at the NPSL level with clubs like Detroit City FC and Chattanooga FC.

This evidence, along with the obvious population concentrations in the Greater Binghamton area would suggest that an ideal venue for any team seeking to draw significant attendance should be located in or around downtown Binghamton or along the ‘Vestal Parkway’ corridor between downtown and Binghamton University.  Within this geographic area, there are at least 3 venues which would meet the NPSL stadia criterion – NYSEG Stadium downtown, the Bearcats Sports Complex at Binghamton University, and Alumni Stadium on the East Side of Binghamton.

NYSEG Stadium presents a great location in dowtown Binghamton and boasts a true ‘stadium’ atmosphere.  It is walking distance to a number of quality bars and restaurants and would provide a great game day march into the stadium.  The downsides are that stadium capacity would likely dwarf most NPSL crowds, rent is high, and the stadium was constructed primarily for baseball.

Alumni Stadium is the home field of the Binghamton High School Patriots and is part of the East Middle School campus.  While not downtown, Alumni Stadium provides easy highway access as well as walking access to a number of East Side pubs.  Rent at Alumni is very reasonable considering the facilities that are available, and is a nicer facility than many clubs could boast.  The biggest downside is the football lines.  But at this level, I think that can be accepted.  Another point of interest here is that United FC Binghamton of the WPSL played several matches of the 2012 campaign here AND offered free admission to all fans!  At the very least, I would like to see a pre-season friendly played here if for no other reason than to try it out.

Bearcats Sports Complex is perhaps the best overall fit for a fledgling club like GBFC.  The complex offers a brand new pitch, as well as intimate stadium seating for 2,500 with ample game day parking across the campus.  Again, I think this warrants at least a pre-season friendly to determine viability.  

As exciting as it is to have a ‘stadium’ at the GBFC complex on Airport Road, I don’t see the club drawing the same crowds as if they strategically located in the heart of the community.  Call me a idealist with romantic notions, the proof will be in the upcoming season.  Of course, venue alone won’t make or break a clubs draw at the gate – good marketing/PR, a professional product, and community/fan engagement will also make or break a clubs attendance.