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.

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Petition To Oust NPSL Commish Hitchcock (And Why I Won’t Sign)

If you follow the goings on of the NPSL like I do, you may have seen this petition at change.org circulating to replace Commissioner Hitchcock:

Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 10.06.01 AM

And while the petition raises a few important issues facing the NPSL, I thought I would take the time to work through the petition point by point – because, in my opinion, Commissioner Hitchcock and PMI have been good for the league and because I think its too early to determine the legacy they will leave after one season.

First and foremost, the petition is arranged by what “We do NOT stand for.” It would be helpful, I think, to note what such supporters DO stand for. PMI and NPSL is executing on a certain vision. It may not be the vision you or I would choose, but if we want to criticize it lets at least offer something in its place!

  • Multiple teams in a single market (too many teams in Michigan and more planned for 2015, 3 teams in San Diego). This point may be partially valid, though I think it oversimplifies things a bit. There are currently only 3 teams in Michigan, and of these only 2 can geographically be considered the same market – though Detroit is certainly a big enough metro to host more than one team, especially at the NPSL level. Further, I think club aims are important to note here. Some clubs, like Detroit City, exist solely as an NPSL club. Others, like Greater Binghamton FC exist as a senior mens side to an existing youth club structure. Both clubs saw great success last season attendance wise, based on very different models. There seems to be no reason that we couldn’t see two different model NPSL clubs in the same greater metro, especially if both have different aims. And in reality, if clubs want to be successful they need to market to a community and build themselves an identity in a community – like Detroit City has done. As for the San Diego clubs, this is a more valid point – but again, San Diego is a big soccer community and it seems very reasonable to have multiple clubs there catering to different communities in the greater metro. It also makes for some great local rivalries and reduces travel costs – two things which I believe are important in a successful club at the NPSL level.
  • The involvement of PMI in the NPSL. The NPSL, as member owned, realized they needed some hep forging a vision for their league. PMI brings a lot of soccer management expertise, and I believe is a great fit for helping the NPSL plot and execute a vision. Democratic organization and leadership is great, but can result in a lot of things getting dropped – especially when the member representatives are doing so on a part time and volunteer basis.
  • Allowing the commissioner to buy an expansion team. It should be noted that the ‘the commissioner’ is not the sole owner of this team. If anything, PMI’s operating a team gives them a greater reason to want the NPSL to be successful as they are now shareholders in the league. Additionally, it is hard be against a club that is obviously well organized and has solid financial backing.
  • Paying commissions and fees to PMI. PMI is a management and consulting firm. They don’t do this for free; collecting fees is what they do. And NPSL most definitely needs the help.
  • Unstable teams being allowed to remain in the league. This is a point that I am in full agreement with. Clubs like the Las Vegas Stallions do the league no good. They result in embarrassing forfeits and when they do play, often end up as cannon fodder. The standards should be stricter, and clubs who can’t maintain them should be put on probation.
  • Schedules being released months late. This is a faux issue. A schedule can’t be made if expansion clubs are still being announced. The real issue here is expansion.
  • A lack of response from the commissioner to emails from supporters and fans. This is a real issue, as supporters and fan concerns need to be heard. That said, as a member owned league probably the best conduit for voicing concerns is via the local club. Most CEO level individuals don’t have the time to personally deal with every request. This might happen in an ideal world, but our reality is at least a little less than ideal.
  • What we believe is reckless growth planned for 2015 and beyond. This may also be a legitimate point, and one that I have voiced on several occasions. As a corollary, while approximately 30 clubs are being added for the 2014 campaign, several clubs have folded and won’t be returning, and a couple others are undergoing significant rebrands and/or ownership changes. I like the increasing regionalization of the NPSL, but at some point I want to see more stable clubs and higher standards throughout. Still, I believe it is too early to kick PMI out. This is the first offseason they have been involved in, and while it seems unlikely that every club will make it through to the 2015 season intact, we can’t be sure. As with many new jobs it takes a solid year to really to get up to speed, and it is often well into the second or third year that things ‘fall into place.’ As an electrical estimator, it really did take about a full year at my current job to get a feel for the office, the business, and synthesize everything to start consistently winning competitive bids. That first year our sales stayed flat from the last year. But the following year we doubled our sales volume and the third year we doubled sales volume again. In years since we have kept up this increased volume but have focused on making that same volume more profitable. Sometimes the growth needs to happen first. What is unpalatable in this situation is the history high growth leagues in US soccer history. But I’ll suspend judgement on this count for at least another season.

I have been and in many ways am still critical of the NPSL and believe there is a lot of room for improvement. But I believe PMI and Hitchcock’s involvement is good for the league – if nothing else, they have certainly raised the profile of NPSL soccer. So sorry Mr. Jones, I’m not going to sign the petition.

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.

Greater Binghamton FC

We got ourselves a stadium!

Last season, Greater Binghamton FC played their home matches at the Greater Binghamton Sports Complex – which everyone knows in the middle nowhere.  Admittedly, land is cheap up there the highway is very accessible so I can’t knock the location from an investment standpoint.  And since GBFC is majority owned by the owner of the Sports Complex, they get the facility for free.  

But if you attended any of the Greater Binghamton FC matches last year, then you probably were seriously wondering (as I did) what your $5 admission fee was going for.  The field, while being turf, is supposed to meet FIFA standards for an artificial pitch.  It is a nice field, and plays well but I question whether the FIFA blessing has been received.  The seating situation was nothing short of embarrassing.  I don’t think I played at a worse venue (in terms of seating) as a JV player in junior high.  At the beginning of the season I had high hopes and grand intentions of starting a ‘Bingham’s Army’ supporters section.  This was quickly squashed by an organization that was clearly lacking… everything but a travel bus and practice facilities.

So, I am happy to pass along the news that for the upcoming 2013 season Greater Binghamton FC will be constructing grandstands to seat approximately 1,500 people.  It may not be quite as exciting as Cass Tech Stadium in Detroit, but this is a great step for the organization and I hope it is indicative of many others to come.  Other things are happening at the club – but you’ll have to wait for the next post to find out.

Hey, if I shared everything now you would never have any cause to come read my blog again.

Power Ratings 7.3.12

Heading into a weekend that is likely to decide the shape of the final table in the NPSL Midwest Great Lakes conference, I thought it would be interesting to put together some power ratings and for the conference and make some general observations.  I mean, who doesn’t like stats?

So here they are:

Rank                           Rating

  1. Detroit City FC:     .722
  2. Erie Admirals:       .638
  3. AFC Cleveland:     .562
  4. Binghamton FC:    .404
  5. FC Buffalo:           .363

I calculated these power rankings using a variation of Pytharean Expectation theory, which finds a power rating as a function of a goals for/against ratio.  This means that these power ratings should not strictly be read as X team is better than Y team because X has a higher power rating. Power ratings can be misleading – it takes data from past results to provide a system of ranking those results to date.  That means with every future result the rankings potentially change.  Typically, power ratings can be augmented by a strength of schedule (SOS) rating.  SOS ratings provide a check for teams that seem to be performing well, but do so at the expense of weaker teams.  The SOS takes into account the quality of a result as well as the result itself.  I calculated SOS as well, but because of the small number of inter-conference games I didn’t find it to be valuable.  In fact, Greater Binghamton FC is the only team in the Midwest Great Lakes Conference that played out of conference NPSL matches (resulted in a 6-1 win and 2-2 draw in a home-and-away friendly series with the Pocono Snow of the Northeast Keystone Conference, the conference it is rumored that Binghamton will be joining for the 2013 season).

Not surprisingly, the power rankings match the current table exactly – mostly because Pythagorean Expectation is a function of past results.  Interestingly, because of the way the Pyth. works, it is also a fairly accurate predictor of future performance.  Thus we would expect it to mirror the table somewhat closely.  Where it gets more interesting is when we introduce win percentages to the equation, because win percentage shows if the team is over or under performing.  Think of it this way.  The power rating (and thus the Pyth. of a team) of the Erie Admirals is .638 but the teams current win rating is .700 thus the team is performing better than expected.  This means that while Detroit has a stronger power rating, Erie is perhaps the more consistent team.  That is, they may not have as many 3+ goal wins as Detroit but they also win more when it counts.  This could mean that when Erie plays Detroit they might be a slight favorite to win the match despite having a ‘weaker’ power rating – which is exactly the scenario that played out last weekend at Cass Tech Stadium in Detroit (Detroit lost 2-1).

So, who are you supporting this weekend?  Are you hoping FC Buffalo can come through with an upset to keep playoff hopes alive?  Are cheering for Erie to take a win and leap past Detroit into first place? Are you crossing your fingers the underdogs win so Detroit stays top of the table?

I’m hoping GBFC can replicate last weekends victory against Erie to secure our playoff bid!

Greater Binghamton FC Surge To 4-1 Defeat of FC Buffalo

Greater Binghamton FC finally broke open the floodgates to hand FC Buffalo a convincing 4-1 defeat.  With one game left on the schedule, the win couldn’t have come at a better time.  Binghamton trailed Buffalo by a point coming into the match, and now goes up on Buffalo by two helping to secure a playoff bid in the Midwest Great Lakes regional tournament.  Binghamton can secure the final playoff slot with a win next week against the Erie Admirals, who are coming off of an impressive 2-1 win over conference leader Detroit City FC.  Buffalo must defeat the inaugural Rust Belt Derby winner AFC Cleveland and see Binghamton lose to make the playoffs.

After a rough start to the season mostly due to a rotating lineup on the field, Binghamton has begun playing more consistently and seems to be peaking just in time to make a late playoff run.  With a win over AFC Cleveland and Buffalo and a draw against Detroit City it is clear that they can match any other team in the conference on any given night.  Should Binghamton down Erie next week they will be poised to make an upset run at the conference title.

Binghamton vs. Cleveland Recap

Greater Binghamton FC recorded the first win in franchise history tonight by shutting out conference leaders A.F.C. Cleveland 2-0.  The game started out very even with both teams alternating bouts of possession.  There were a couple of shots both ways, but nothing that really tested either keeper.  Then, about midway through the first half Binghamton’s Chris Riley found himself with space, took the shot, and buried it from 25 yards out.  It was much of the same thing through the first part of the second half, though Cleveland started to dominate the possession later in the half.  Binghamton seemed to be tiring, and were settling for long balls instead of playing possesion through the midfield as they had done earlier.  Coach Dimitriou seemed to take note, and made several personnel changes obviously hoping to preserve the win.  The fresh legs were just what was needed and 5 minutes later Binghamton scored the insurance goal after a dazzling series of passes deep in Cleveland’s penalty box.  It was a hard fought match and a well earned result.

With the win Binghamton moves up one slot in the table to tie FC Buffalo with 5 points.  The two teams face each other tomorrow in a battle over the final playoff spot.

In other conference news, Detroit City shut out FC Buffalo 3-0 to overtake Cleveland at the top of the Great Lakes table.

The Rust Belt Derby and Supporter Culture

The Rust Belt Derby was a regional derby created by the supporters clubs of Detroit City (The Northern Guard), FC Buffalo (The Situation Room), and A.F.C. Cleveland (6th City Syndicate).  It is a great competition that fosters a real supporter culture and engages the communities these teams are located in.  

Initially, I was going to post about how I thought that the Erie Admirals and Greater Binghamton FC ought to be considered for this trophy; however, after reading an excellent article by Daniel Casey on footy culture in America (see link below) I have come to a different conclusion.

You see, Casey is right.  The talking heads of Major League Soccer have attempted to create certain faux rivalries as a way to engage fans and drive consumption of a product, MLS.  But because these rivalries have no deeper roots, they are essentially meaningless.  Casey points to the Brimstone Cup as an example; the only reason Dallas and Chicago vie for the ‘Brimstone Cup’ is because of the flame related nature of these two teams names (Chicago Fire and Dallas Burn = although Dallas has since dropped the Burn moniker in favor of the simpler FC Dallas title, a fact which makes the persistence of this competition all the more ridiculous).

So, why should Greater Binghamton and Erie be allowed to participate in the Rust Belt Derby?  Some might argue they ought to automatically qualify because of their status as rust belt cities.  However, I believe that this status must be earned.  It wasn’t the NPSL or the teams executives who cooked up the Derby as a cheap publicity stunt.  It was the fans, the ardent supporters of Detroit, Cleveland, and Buffalo that collaborated to give these games meaning.

In that light, Erie and Binghamton have a long way to go, though I hope for my part that we we will soon see the Parlor City Supporters clamoring for the Upstate Cup with Buffalo.  In the meantime, check out the supporters websites of the 6th City Syndicate, The Norther Guard, and The Situation Room – they are great examples of top notch American supporters clubs on a grass roots level.

June and July are packed full of American soccer action, and I have more topics to write about than I have lunch breaks to write them on.  Some quick thoughts, and potential future posts:

  • The U.S. Open Cup – There is a LOT of material here.  See my last [re-blogged] post for a quick round 4 wrap-up.  I will be looking at different aspects of the 2012 Open Cup over the next couple of weeks.
  • The ‘Rust Belt Derby’ – Right now this has been categorized as a derby between Detroit City, FC Buffalo, and A.F.C. Cleveland of the NPSL.  This a great regional derby, but I believe that there are a couple of other teams that deserve to be considered for inclusion, namely the Erie Admirals and Greater Binghamton.  More on Rust Belt soccer late.
  • Greater Binghamton Futbol Club – Ex Pittsburgh Riverhounds player and GBFC El Capitano Chris Riley is reported to be returning to the starting line up.  Will this help spark a sputtering offense and solidify a soft defense?
  • Beer.  Because beer and soccer were meant to be enjoyed together.
  • Supporters Clubs – Thinking about launching the Parlor City Supporters Club soon for GBFC.
  • GBFC moniker – Not sure how I feel about ‘The Red’ especially since Detroit is ‘La Rouge’ (The Red in French).