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Rethinking Division-2 Pro Soccer in North America – Part 2

2010 July 14
by Brian Quarstad

This is the second of a 4-part article looking at the future of Division-2 soccer in North America. Click here for part-1.

Running teams like a small business instead of on their potential profit – Balancing the Budget

While USSF is looking at standards to make sure teams are run with fiscal responsibility, Rob Clark, owner of the Rochester Rhinos, feels there’s much more that can and must be done. Clark spoke to IMS while he was preparing for a home game. He wasn’t wooing potential corporate sponsors although you may find him doing that later in the evening. “Right now I’m stocking ice into the beer carts, then I’ll stock the beer carts,” said Clark. “I can’t speak for anyone else in the league but everyone on my payroll has to do a minimum of 2 jobs. We have a very small staff but I expect 200 percent work from them because that’s what it takes to survive. I think what differentiates me from many others in the world of soccer in North America is I run it like a business. I’m not a soccer guy. I’m trying to show people that it’s necessary to do so if you want a workable business model.”

Clark, a banker by trade, owns a community bank in upstate New York with his father . They started with one branch and have grown that to over 20. “That’s the way we’ve always done business,” stated Clark. “We find challenges, we turn them around and they have to become self sustaining. That’s what we’re on the verge of doing here with the Rhinos.”

Even though the Rochester Rhinos have been involved at the D2 level of soccer since 1996, Clark has only owned the team for 3 years. He bought the team in ’08 after the club had accumulated debts in excess of $15 million dollars. “Its been a tough learning experience for me the last few years but we successfully altered the bottom line by approx. 1.7 million dollars,” said Clark. “I lost approximately $2 million in ’08 and this year we are essentially at a balanced budget. I am very proud of that turnaround and proud of my staff for really buying into what we are building. It is my belief that the Rhinos brand is beginning to appreciate in value as a result of our turnaround.”

Clark says there are things teams can cut back on and others they cannot. “Our production value to fans like game day giveaways and the game day experience is better than ever,” states Clark. “We spend heavily on local advertising and in our production and save immensely where we can.”

The Rhinos owner says teams need to cut costs in areas that the customer doesn’t see and those cost saving measures cannot diminish the game day experience. “The fans need to walk into a professional environment and the event has to feel like an event.  If you operate like a high school team, then the public will treat you like a joke. I cannot stress the importance of spending in the right areas and finding ways to save in other areas. That’s what everyone needs to focus on right now, building your regional market.”

“I still don’t feel like we’ve got enough clubs that are running what you would consider a successful business,” says Eddie Rock, a FIFA licensed players’ agent at Libero Sports whose firm represents numerous athletes who play in this year’s USSF D2 Pro League.  Rock says that he fully understands that in order for players he represents to be successful the team owners need to be successful. He says with all the teams that have come and gone in the league it isn’t doing anyone any good. “I think we’ve too often been running them [D2 soccer teams] on potential and camps. We need to develop a system where there are five to ten thousand people going out every week to see a match. And there are sponsorships and possibly even TV money to bolster the front office, the back office and players salaries.”

While Clark says he agrees that too many teams are run on potential he has specific ideas on how to cut teams costs. However, he may not see eye to eye with Rock on all issues. He says one of the areas he thinks that owners need to look at is player payroll.

“The last 2 years I didn’t know enough about the soccer business so I went with the norm for the league which is pretty high payrolls,” said Clark. “When I first got here our payroll was through the roof. Last year it was still extremely high, probably the top 3 in the league. In the off-season I said, I’m just not going to do that anymore! We’re not going to lose a fortune. I’m going to find a seasoned general manager and a seasoned head coach and we want to play an exciting brand of soccer bringing in more youthful players that have a different dynamic. If you have a really strong coach and GM who can develop that talent then you have something long term. So far I think we are onto something and succeeding with our model.”

“I’m not suggesting the payrolls need to be some minute tiny number,” added Clark. “But I’m not an advocate of a player having one good year and then everyone is infighting for that player the following year who gets a 400% raise. There should be a cap on a players increase from year to year.”

“If you look at operating budgets and players salaries in leagues, TV money is usually what drives something from what we would call minor league to major league,” explains Rock. “Players are worth as much as a team can afford to pay them. A team is going to pay that player based on three of four revenue sources. Attendance is typically the number one factor. Two would be commercial sponsorships and the third is almost always TV money. Through all the major team sports in the US those are the three revenue generators. If you look at the leagues that have high salaries and the largest visibility, it’s all based on a national TV contracts. MLS finally has a very favorable contract with ESPN but there’s been nothing that shows there’s a large demand for a national TV contract for whatever the equivalent is to our 2nd Division soccer.”

The National Sports Center in a non-profit organization that run nearly 100 different businesses within the organization. Each one must break even or make a profit in the first year and the NSC Stars are no different according to Kris Bjerkness, general manager of the team. While running a pro soccer team may be very different then other ventures the NSC has delved into, they’ve taken a similar approach to player salaries as Clark when it comes to keeping player budgets low and looking for young exciting talent.

The NSC owns their own stadium that’s been paid off for years. They already had a staff in place and only had to hire a few more positions to run the team. Recently Bjerkness said that he believes his team could break even with paid attendances of around 2500 to 3500 per game. So far this season, the Stars are falling below that attendance number.

Clark states that his break-even number is most likely a bit higher than the Stars number. “There are so many contributors to that equation,” explains Clark. “Commercial sponsors are just as important. So are suite sales. If I had to establish a number, I would say approx 4 thousand per game paid, not including corporate packages or comps.”

Looking at the attendance numbers of Division-2 in the US, average attendance was 4,408 as of July 12 of this year. However, subtracting attendance numbers from Portland and Vancouver who will be moving to MLS next year sees that number drop to 3,880. Without Montreal, who will move to MLS in 2012, that number plummets to 2,934. Obviously numbers that wouldn’t allow many D-2 teams to financially break even on the year. If a team sold nothing but $12 dollar tickets at 2,934 fans per game and a 16-game home schedule that’s only $563,328 thousand dollars a year from ticket sales.

It’s said that average cost of travel for D-2 teams is approximately $190 thousand per year. Considering players salaries, stadium costs and staffing amongst many other expense, it’s clear why D2 teams must be extremely frugal if they are to survive let alone make a profit.

The NSC’s Bjerkness says the organization has been working hard to stand by a budget it made last winter. The Stars have applied many cost savings measure sometimes only bringing 15 players on a road trip to save money. The salaries of the Stars players are also believed to be one of the lowest in the league. Yet looking at the Stars and Rhinos record as of July 10th (midseason) Rochester was in 2nd place overall and Minnesota was tied for 4th place. [Minnesota did have a number of games in hand on some teams due to a very heavy early season schedule.] Teams with much higher payrolls like Carolina, Montreal and Puerto Rico are all below the Rhinos and the Stars at the midway point.

Rob Clark says he also has a few other simple money-saving ideas, some that he believes could save teams up to $200 thousand dollars a year. He states that teams could save not only independently but collectively as a league. One of his ideas is to follow an MLS model where there is a league center where everything filters through one office and back out. He believes teams could experience large savings by purchasing their workman’s comp for all players through that league office.

“We could save an enormous amount of money doing that,” said Clark. “Nearly 6 figures for each and every team. It just doesn’t make sense to me they way we are doing some things right now and I hope over the next several years we can look at those things and try to find a way to make it more productive.”

But Djorn Buchholz, CEO for the Austin Aztex and former GM for the Minnesota Thunder, underlines the complexity of the issues. He points out that while some ideas may look great for some teams, they may not work for all teams. For example, while Buchholz is not opposed to a centralized office and cheaper workers’ compensation, he explains that Texas does not require workman’s compensation. However the league does require that players are covered for injuries. So the Aztex self-insure themselves saving a considerable amount of money. The Aztex CEO explains that Austin’s cost for insurance is around $25 thousand a year. He says that when he was GM of the Minnesota Thunder their workman’s comp insurance was running in the area of $70 thousand a year. Clark’s centralized workman’s comp would most likely save most teams money but cost more for the Aztex then they currently pay.

Clark says he has other ideas as well. He believes teams could save by banding together and using their buying clout to get larger discounts on products used by all teams such as cups, promotional products or even promotional appearances. He says AAA Baseball is very good at banding together to buy down cost. He gives an example of a Sponge Bob day promotion. He explains how the league will book him at 10 different ball parks and by doing so they cut their costs in half.

Tomorrow Part-3– Adding teams, regionalizing divisions and reducing travel costs. Click here for Part-3

32 Responses
  1. ButlerBob permalink
    July 14, 2010

    Great series. I think this section on running it like a business is very important. I think this is one of the biggest reason’s why you see teams go away so quickly. Heck how many teams even have enough staff that sells tickets or sponsorship. But I disagree with the agent on his comment on camps. Without tv revenue, this is probably one of the biggest potetnail revenue streams other then tickets and sponsorships. But I think most of the teams really need to get better of selling the product they have.

  2. Bart permalink
    July 14, 2010

    As one who follows the Rhinos, one might ask why does Rob Clark not practice what he is preaching in this article. One might also ask why he is affiliated with NASL when this conference believes in the bigger payroll theory and the hypothesis that in spite of negative cash flows, the teams will increase in value over the years.

    I think this article is spot on on how D-2 soccer needs to have its business run, however. The Minnesota and Austin teams get it. Carolina, with it’s high payroll base and low attendance, does not. Of course, Montreal, Portland and Vancouver don’t have to get it because D-2 was merely a stepping stone to MLS.

    Great article Brian!

  3. July 14, 2010

    I wonder how sophisticated these teams are when it comes to social media promotion. Admittedly, I know little of what it takes to run a team, but it seems that when the major media refuses to give coverage, one must find ways around that with promotions over twitter, facebook ,et al, that are constantly in people’s face to remind them about the team.

  4. Kevin permalink
    July 14, 2010

    Great article BQ. Running a team’s finances properly is vital. In addition to lower league teams in the US having problems, teams all over the world are having problems as well. Barcalona is believed to have failed to pay their players in time for June. There are many English teams with troubles, including Portsmouth, Leeds United 7 years ago, Cadriff City, Southend United, and Accrington Stanley who came within 24 hours of being terminated by the HMRC. Two teams in England were terminated last season. I hope that all teams currently in division 2 soccer are able to survive the effects of the recession and the ongoing feud between the USL and the NASL.

  5. July 14, 2010

    The NSC Stars have one of the best social media teams in not only D2 but better than some MLS teams and there numbers are still low. It takes a combination of many things, especially promotions and marketing, correct methods and tickets sales etc… and to top it off, each teams regional market is different and the methods all need to be tweaked accordingly. It’s not an easy equation.

    Bart, I’m really trying to leave the USL v NASL equation out of the first three installments. I agree with KT’s comments from yesterday. I used Clark as an example because he seems to be on the right track of taking something that wasn’t working and is turning it around. However, the case is still out as it’s only been 3-years but you have to like what he’s done so far. I don’t disagree with the Carolina situation and that is briefly mentioned in the 4th installment.

  6. mbrose permalink
    July 14, 2010

    I think the social media question is an interesting one. The Thunder did a poor job of this and I always felt they were missing a cheap opportunity to connect with the fans. I feel the Stars are doing an excellent job utilizing social media, but as far as I can tell it has made absolutely no impact. Attendance seems to be worse than it has ever been. I guess it’s not enough.

  7. Soccer Boy permalink
    July 14, 2010

    I have been very disappointed with youth soccer clubs not getting their players into the stands. (My kids club can’t even promote it on their WWW site–what’s wrong with this picture?) In speaking with a number of “parent coaches” they just don’t get it in terms of player development and “forcing” their kids to see a higher level of soccer. Watching 15 minutes of a match is better than nothing. It is even more frusterating when you are dealing with the “Eurosnob parent coach (or board memeber)” who think that unless a majority of the players/coaches speak with an English accent then the product must be junk. What a crock!

    I will conceed that the Stars are not the best team out there, nor is their competition. However, the beauty of it is that you also have an opportunity to see the breakdown, analyze it, and learn from the mistake of the player. (Oh, did I mention that there is terrible playing going on in the EPL, etc. Kudos also go out to the English, French and Italians for demonstrating fine technique and soccer tactis during the recent Wrold Cup. Now that was quality soccer–NOT!)

    All things considered, this is a big missed opportunity for youth coaches, players and board members alike. The Stars have been playing some good soccer as of late that is fast-paced and I also see a higher level of soccer. My recommendation is take in a few matches and see what you think–don’t rely on what someone else is telling you about the Stars.

    PS: Great info on workers’ compensation rates in MN. Something needs to be done about that, but this is not the forum to address the topic.

  8. July 14, 2010

    I think it is just one more interesting piece to the puzzle. I would quickly assume that social media is a great way to keep your fans engaged which would hopefully bring them back to more games. But in this case you have to have the fans before you can engage them.

  9. James permalink
    July 14, 2010

    Soccer Boy, for too long I think these D2 teams have depended on youth leagues providing attendance. I think it is a bit much to expect a family already involved in youth soccer and spending hours and hours and tons of money monthly to buy season tickets or on the chance of an off weekend to spend over $100 to bring their family out to the game. In a way the structure of youth soccer in the US has hurt the professional game. I think the successful of professional soccer in the US is dependent on how well these teams can reach out to other demographics. Look at Seattle. Doesn’t look like they are filling up the stands with 36,000 family members.

  10. Soccer Boy permalink
    July 14, 2010

    James, I agree with your point to some extent. However, look at other sports like baseball and hockey. There are tons of families at those games at Target Field or the Xcel Engergy Center. Yet the “average” soccer family thinks that their son or daughter is somehow going to get better by having their kid stand in lines, or listen to some pointless lecture at a soccer practice run by a “parent coach” who does not know crap about the game (or know how to be an effective coach). They fail to get their kids to go watch a game (where you can actually see the entire field), and then they scratch their heads when they get kicked around. I guess at least some effort who be a good start–or at least going to a match or two would help.

    I think the EPL has made their events more family friendly, and they actually have kids over there that know something about the game that goes beyond knowing the ball is round and the match is 90 minutes long.

  11. Max permalink
    July 14, 2010

    I completely agree with James. I am a brand new soccer fan who has only started following the game since last year, and I feel that people like me should be marketed to as much as the youth soccer crowd, for the reasons that James outlined. The first Stars game during the USA Cup was not particularly well attended. Also, I would love to see marketing aimed at non-suburban communities, where soccer is much more popular. 2,000-2,500 fans a game is a very realistic goal.

  12. Kevin permalink
    July 14, 2010

    I agree with James. Division 2 teams need to market themselves to the 20-30 age group instead of families. In the beginning of MLS, the league’s teams targeted families with advertising. As a result, attendence was low. MLS expansion teams like Toronto FC and the Seattle Sounders tried to market themselves to the 20-30 age group and as a result, they have higher attendance than most other MLS teams.

  13. Super Rookie permalink
    July 14, 2010

    I like this series of articles.

    We all know my love of the Stars and the NSC, but they failed in one important category this year. They hired the wrong guy to sell their tickets. Hopefully, the MLS ticket sales camp will trigger some interest and allow the team to take a full run at next season.

    There is no, no, no reason this team can’t average 3,000 paid a game.

    However, to get there they need to have people constantly selling the product all over the city. They can’t do this by sending out emails and making phone calls. They need to put the shoes to the pavement.

    FWIW, over 2500 people were at Brit’s for the World Cup final. Not saying all 2500 of them are going to go to a Stars game, but if they could get 100 of them to show up over the course of the season that would help. The fans are out there, the team just needs the right people to connect with them. The past ticket guy didn’t connect.

    Sad, but true.

    That being said, the Stars are playing good right now!

  14. Bart permalink
    July 14, 2010

    My comment was not intended to bring up a USL versus NASL debate, because in the broader picture, you are dead on with what need to happen with D-2.

    Using Rob Clark as an example, however, is not a good example, as no matter what picture he is trying to present, there are several Rochester businesses, including one newspaper that one of your favorite writers is employed by, that are owed monies from the Rhinos, and the Rhinos have ignored any collections attempt to settle up. These are debts Clark made and not assumed, so by any measure, his model may talk the talk, but it does not walk the walk. In three years the fan base has gone down, and so have overall sponsorships.

    Austin and Portland, on the otherhand, are quite business oriented clubs that are doing D-2 correctly, even though Austin is still lower in fans than desired, they understand the model.

    This is a small business and needs to be run as such.

  15. PollyAnna permalink
    July 14, 2010

    Ok, I kind of disagree with a lot that is being said here. The Thunder spent 2-3 years in St. Paul and I’m pretty sure they did not get attendance of 2000 to 3000. Again, I believe the best years that the Thunder had in attendance is in the 2001-2003, the hay days of Lagos brothers, Magee and Gramez all local players. I don’t buy the argument that our local talent isn’t good enough. I wonder sometimes if there isn’t a bit of “no one as good as we were” going on.

    Note on the Stars roster, the players from different countries have not attended college. But all players from the US have gone to college. Makes you wonder how many quality soccer players are out there that are not quality students. There is the big hole in US soccer. It is a big hole that the PDL and D2 soccer can and should fill.

    If you want the youth coaches to bring or push their kids to a Stars game we need to give them a reason. I remember the coaches pointing out the local boys telling players “you work hard enough you could be playing down there”. We were a family with season tickets and ran our kids around playing soccer as well. We tailgated in the parking lot had players come out before the games a visit with the kids. We drove to Milwaukee to see a play off game and even went to San Diego to see a game. Our kids went to the camps and thought those guys were the bomb. If that is happening now, I haven’t seen it. There are opportunities out there that are inexpensive that are being missed IMHO. Again you don’t need to recreate the wheel it has already been created they just need to make them their own.

    As far as marketing the team to the 20-30 age group, I would ask why does it have to be either or? It would seem to me that both can be in the stadium without much of a problem. Back in the day a lot of the guys in the stands were those guys, a lot of them were prior team mates, competitors and friends. The players met after the game at a bar in Fridley with the fans after the games a network more. Instead of a bar in Fridley perhaps they should have a 20-30 section were fans can hang out after a game and meet up with players and and coaches in a social setting.

  16. July 14, 2010

    I have had this discussion with Amos, Manny, Tony Sanneh amongst many others who were here back in the mid 90′s to early ’00′s. They will all tell you that the level of this league had gone up considerably during that time. We have had players who were local in the last number of years and they were usually the bench players on the team excluding Jeremiah Bass and of course now Joe Warren. Sorry for anyone I just offended.

    The Stars (and the Thunder previously) hold combines every year. If someone is good enough PollyAnna they would be on the team. Both organizations totally got that a good local player will draw more than a good player who is not from the area. You are going to have to trust me on this one as this has been debated over and over and over for years.

    When the Stars did their Stake Holders Meeting one of the questions on the questionnaire was would you prefer local players or would you like the best players we can get for the team. The answer with an overwhelming majority was the best players you can get for the team. I in no way mean to be disrespectful here but his is no longer 1995.

    When MLS started up 15 years ago everyone thought that with all the kids playing soccer in would be the soccer moms and dads that fill up the stadium. Guess what? They were wrong. I agree, market to both but #1 has to be the target market of 21-40 year old mainly males. This took MLS 10 years to figure out but they have now identified the people that will actually come to games on a regular basis, fill up the stadiums, but concessions, identify with and be passionate about the team and purchase team apparel.

    BTW, if you want attendance numbers for the Thunder go here to an article I published last fall.

    http://www.insidemnsoccer.com/2009/09/28/minnesota-thunder-attendance-–-by-the-numbers/

  17. Kenneth permalink
    July 14, 2010

    If you want a teamn to be the poster child of what not to do it’s the Puerto Rico Islanders.
    1. Have a completly part time staff
    2. Do almost no marketing.
    3.Advertise comunity activities where the club is involved the day of the event.
    4.Resign a unpopular coach
    5.Let that unpopular coach have complete control over all the player contract and on the field activities.
    6. Do nothing as attandance goes down and bad result continue to pill up.
    7. Tell the fans to shut up, when they chant against the coach.

  18. July 14, 2010

    Bart, as we have discussed months ago, please be careful making accusations without backing things up. I really didn’t have time for this today but since you made the accusation I could have:

    A) Deleted it from the post or
    B) Do some fact checking.
    I chose B – THIS TIME.

    According to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, Clark did owe some money at one point earlier this season but that has been paid up weeks ago.

    As to attendance:

    Attendance is down by 350 per game this year which may be attributed to 2 games where there was inclimate weather. The first was a game against AC St Louis (15 degree windchill and snow) and the 2nd was this last Friday against Austin where there was heavy rain all day and flash flood watches.

    Bart, can we please wait until the end of the season to make a claim like this?

    As to corporate sponsorships:

    According to the Rhinos their sponsorship revenue has actually increased from last year by 22%. Most of that is due to suite income. If memory serves me correctly I believe it was Clark that made sure those suites got built and completed. How many other stadiums in D2 have suites Bart?

    I was told that traditional sponsorships were a bit flat as they have been everywhere this year. Overall I’d say they are doing pretty well. As stated previously, it’s only 3 years but I would think Bart that you, like the rest of us would love for everyone to be successful in their soccer dealings whether they be USL, NASL or WTFC (Who-the-F-Cares) League. As long as they find a successful pattern and make it work in their region and soccer continues to grow in upstate New York and around the US and Canada.

    And your very welcome for me spending the last hour plus fact checking and dealing with this.

    Next time however….

  19. CoconutMonkey permalink
    July 14, 2010

    Wow, never heard that before. Hard to imagine a team owner stocking beer!

    Lots of good info here, BQ. I’ve always wondered how much a team spends of travel, or how much money a team can pull with reasonable attendance. It really gives you an idea just how thin their margins really are.

    Looking forward to the next installment!

  20. Bart permalink
    July 14, 2010

    Brian, I can substantiate my facts. I can share them on this board or provide them to you offline, your choice. The points you make can be spinned in many manners, and while I certainly provide the factual counter to what has been submitted to you in a more “positive” light, the point I was making was not to slam the D-2 team, it was to illustrate merely that the Rhinos are not the best model to write the story on.

    Suite income is indeed helping them this year (look at the weather), but you have to look at cost of construction of the suites, and whether that income indeed offsets the amortization of those costs. You will quickly get a different picture. As you stated regular sponsorships are flat.

    I apologize, I should have presented a more complete picture to you prior to posting anything.

    At the end of the day, it is important to have all the D-2 teams be successful, and I truly wish the Rhinos well. They are an icon in this league and it would be tragic if anything occurred that would not allow them to continue.

  21. July 14, 2010

    I’m not really sure I’d want the league (whatever it ends up being) to base it’s business model on that of Rochester. From what I read in the article it seems their model is to cut player costs (thus reducing the quality of play on the field) while spending that money on all of the gimmicks to make the game day an “event”. As a supporter I know where I’d rather the money go, and that’s not to cheesy gimmicks like cheerleaders and free t-shirts. Let the fans be entertained with the soccer, hell they just might find that they like it.

  22. Harrison permalink
    July 14, 2010

    It’s so much fun when fanboys trot out the “only spend money on players and nothing else” argument, even though it’s been shown time and again that winning isn’t the only part of the equation when it comes to competing for the entertainment dollar. There’s a reason most fans don’t run teams – they’d do stupid stuff like overspend for players.

    I’m not sure Clark is saying cut player spending to the bone, only that there’s a responsible way to put together a roster, and you don’t have to go spending outside your means when we’ve all seen examples of teams that are at least competitive and draw and teams that are good that can’t. You don’t want to run a PDL team out there in the 2nd division and get hammered because you have 21 year old local guys because that’s no good. But you don’t have to spend a million on players like Edmonton and compete against yourself.

    But fans are crappy business people.

  23. July 15, 2010

    Hey Brian, this series is an interesting read. I look forward to parts 3 & 4.

    There seems to be varying ownership models and standards of the soccer entertainment/development delivery package. Do you feel it is possible to standardize a professional model in a minor league system that could realize profits on an annual basis for all rather than for a few well run/financed teams?

  24. July 15, 2010

    I find it interesting (and troubling) that the most common way that small clubs the world over make money — the developing and selling of young players — was not mentioned as being part of a strong business model.

    If the rumours I’ve heard (that the USSF is not happy with MLS’ development model right now and is looking to D2 as a possible place to find the next generation of U.S. player) are true, it would benefit clubs like Rochester to change their thinking in that way.

    You can make $25,000 with a good gate in D2. You can sell a good player for $1,000,000…

  25. July 15, 2010

    In any crowd at a match, you’re going to have a number of different agendas for attending – some purely for the competition, some for the spectacle, some who want nothing more than a win, some to drink and be social, some for a night out…any number of reasons you can name. And they’re all valid. None is more “pure” or “right” than the others, regardless of how any of the individuals involved feel about it. We need them all. And as long as there are limited resources, some of those resources are going to be expended in areas that people with different agendas are going to disagree on. But it’s up to the people who are actually in charge of the money to try and make the best decisions based on “information on the ground,” in military parlance.

    And, Randy, I’d say it would be really difficult to “standardize” a model that would realize profits for all – there’s virtually no industry I can think of where what works in one market works exactly the same way in another. Profits have been elusive for nearly everybody who has tried to do this. At some point, maybe we need to think that it’s not necessarily the approach, but the product in many cases.

    And if you did have a “one-size fits all” model, you’d start to hear people complain about how it restricts the expression of individuality and is more like the MLS model (which I’ve heard from so many USL/NASL fans is so boring and socialist and devoid of charm. Well, the one thing you can say is that they don’t have a 75% failure rate at the MLS level.

  26. July 15, 2010

    Duane, you’re not going to sell a D2 player to MLS for $1,000,000. Overseas, maybe, but let’s be honest – how many players get sold from America to anywhere else? A handful? And it’s not like D2 teams have these great scouting systems that enable them to uncover the next Santiago Munez or somebody.

    Selling players WOULD be a viable business model if you could practice it here as they practice it around the world at the lower levels. But MLS gets the bulk of the “sellable” players to begin with, and I can’t think of a D2 player you could conceivably sell to an MLS team today.

  27. July 15, 2010

    Totally agree KT. I think in the future this could be a possibility that someone in a D2 finds a player from some other country and develops and sells them, or perhaps finds some youth in a club system and develops him. But right now as KT said, D2 doesn’t have the time or money to to go out and do that much scouting and it’s MLS that would normally be the first one to pick them up. While I think this is a strong possibility in the future “IF” D2 is able to grow and thrive. But right now it would be rare at best.

    By the way Duane, I’m sorry my article troubled you. :)

  28. July 15, 2010

    Your article doesn’t trouble me. The lack of foresight in American D2 soccer does.

    I understand the problems. I don’t believe you can make D2 soccer a profitable enterprise unless it starts to move more into a club/development system. MLS is niche. D2 is for the really weird (no offence, of course. I was watching the Whitecaps game to 12:30 a.m. last night…).

    That article struck me as thinking small. Look at what the ‘Caps did with their academy. Edmonton is already talking about developing the same thing. They all talk about how selling players will be a big part of their business model. In fact, that’s the biggest buzz idea in Canadian soccer now. Hell, I talk to CSL (D3) owners who tell me that’s their long-term strategy.

    Why can’t somewhere like Charleston or Minneapolis do that? Especially if the York Region Shooters can…

  29. July 15, 2010

    As I said, I think it may be in the cards in the future, but there is going to be a lot of money spent on academy players for a long, long time before that starts paying off. But in regard to development, I’m not in disagreement with you as you will read tomorrow.

  30. Wayne C. permalink
    July 15, 2010

    Another great article Brian! Here is my 2 cents.

    At first, I was a little alarmed by Clark’s comment about reducing payroll. The first thought that popped into my mind was the analogy of opening a good restaurant and then skimping on the chef in order to cut costs. It seems to defeat the purpose of opening a restaurant in the first place. But I understand the idea of getting payroll stabilized at a reasonable level.

    Regarding talk of attendance and marketing, I was wondering if anything can be learned from a couple of situations. I’m still amazed that Seattle, averaged about 3000 – 3500 when they were in USL 1 and jumped to 30,000 when they moved up to MLS. The same with Toronto. I understand that more marketing resources are available in MLS budgets. But is that all there is? I believe that Minnesota has the potential to attract a lot more fans, based on the numbers that the old Minnesota Kicks / Strikers used to attract. Not to pick on NSC Stars, but is the marketing so poor, is the team so unappealing that they struggle to attract 2000 fans at the gate? Or if you compare 2 teams in USSF Div II, what can Crystal Palace Baltimore learn from Portland so that CPB could be a more successful franchise?

  31. July 15, 2010

    Vancouver has done wonderful things, no question. But Edmonton is just talk for now. They’re not in a position where Charleston or anybody else can take lessons from them.

    And, at the end of the day, you’re still dealing with distinct ownership groups with different philosophies. It seems to be no different than when I was in USL back in 1997-2000 when everybody thought THEY knew the secret and nobody would admit that they maybe were doing things wrong. They just thought it might take a little bit longer, or they’d just fold before they figured it out. And you couldn’t get Team A to model itself after Team B, even if Team B was successful. Sometimes Team B is successful for reasons that don’t apply to Team A. Baltimore’s set of circumstances are different from Portland’s – as a market, as a soccer community, as a venue, as an ownership group, everything. To think that Baltimore could just do everything the way Portland does it and be successful may be simplistic.

    There are certain things EVERY club should do. But there are certain things that make sense in one market but don’t make sense in another. And overspending on players and travel are two quick ways to see your business go up in smoke. Because despite what some people say, you’re not going to get a huge return on spending lots of money for players. That doesn’t mean you get a bunch of local guys out of an amateur league, but it also doesn’t mean you go crazy thinking that Player A is going to bring in a ton more fans.

  32. Thruball permalink
    July 17, 2010

    Excellent discussion. Once again interrupted by some whiny Rhino “fan” who has to slam the organization. There are 2 or 3 of these who flood Devo’s blog and the Rhino’s boards with their conspiracy theories. It makes them feel good about themselves….

    “I love my team…. but I’m positive it’s going to fail”.

    Rhinos fans know who theses two or three people are…. it’s just embarrassing to see them spewing their B.S. on a less local forum…

    All said…. I’m looking forward to another fun night in the stadium… (and hoping that the thunderstorms stay away).

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