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Loudoun County Officially Newest Member of NASL

2012 November 6
by Jay Long

Mark Simpson – photo by Jay Long.

A Q & A with David D’Onofrio, Entertainment Director of Communications and Mark Simpson, Director of Soccer Operations for VIP Sports & Entertainment, on the NASL’s newest club.

It is now official: As previously reported, Loudoun County, Virginia is the newest NASL franchise. The club will begin play in 2014.

On Monday evening the club conducted a press conference attended by the media and outgoing NASL Commissioner David Downs and  Director of Communications, Kartik Krishnaiyer. Downs and  representatives of Loudoun Professional Soccer and its partner, VIP Sports & Entertainment, introduced the joint venture to the local community.

After a very frustrating but typical rush hour commute of 1 hour and 40 minutes from my place of employment in Arlington, VA to the site of the 6:00 pm press conference in nearby Leesburg, VA, (approximately 40 miles), I unfortunately managed to miss the presentation.

Fortunately for the IMS faithful, David D’Onofrio, Entertainment Director of Communications for VIP Sports, and Mark Simpson, Director of Soccer Operations for the group, were both gracious enough to spend some time answering questions and discussing their shared vision for the North American Soccer League’s newest expansion club.

Simpson is a veteran of several US pro soccer leagues, including MLS and USL, having played and coached in both.

IMS: Gentlemen, with the project that you have just launched what areas are you trying to draw from geographically, considering that you are about 30 miles out from the District and that the commute can be a very difficult one?

Simpson: Well, I think that what you are looking at is just the counties in Northern Virginia, you might even pull from Montgomery County (Maryland), going across the ferry. I think just the demographics of it–there’s enough people to fuel us and we want to be able to reach out to those communities, as well.

So anywhere from Arlington down to Woodbridge, really if you look at what we’re spending going (to) downtown (Washington), from Centerville to the ballpark is a thirty minute ride–at tops.

So I think, not even Centerville, I’m talking Gainesville. So we want to be able to get out to those communities and therefore, show them that if we reach out to them that they should be able to reach us.

IMS: One question that our readers are really interested in: With so many USL PRO clubs within a couple hours ride, what made your organization opt for NASL, considering that there are higher costs to get into the league and higher operating costs?

Simpson: I think that’s a very fair question and I think that we want to be able to play at the highest level possible. We’re not going to pretend to be anybody that we’re not, (or) being first division, but we are going to be a solid second division team. So for me that holds a lot of weight in terms of the United States Soccer Federation, being an official division two club and getting that sanctioning from the USSF. That’s what attracted us mostly.

We can create our rivalries with the New York Cosmos and Carolina RailHawks; those (clubs) are four hours away and so I think for us, it just gives us a perfect complement in the Mid-Atlantic region to be able to compete with those two clubs and create those rivalries.

Yeah, I think that USL PRO has its niche, but I would like to think that we would play at a higher level and be able to represent division two adequately.

D’Onofrio: I think that it is a comparable quality to what we are trying to bring with the baseball team, as well at the ballpark. But really, it’s the quality of the NASL, the product, a second division team is what we are striving to bring Loudoun County and all of Northern Virginia.

IMS: With the outreach that you are doing, what would your hopes be for the number of season tickets, do you have a target for the number of season ticket packages for the first season or for overall attendance? Or is it too early for that?

D’Onofrio: You know, I think that it is still too early for that. Obviously, we’re going to do the right ratio of season tickets to day of events sales and walkups. So you know we don’t have a target. We certainly, in the first year we’re going to be very hopeful that we are going to get a near capacity, if not capacity crowd. I think that we can really, with the youth programs, the desire, the need and the want for soccer in Northern Virginia; I think that we’re going to keep that ballpark pretty full, all of the time.

IMS: Mr. Simpson, given your vast experience, with MLS, USL, with Project 40 and the Virginia Beach Mariners, what attracted you personally to this project?

Simpson: I like (the opportunity) to build something from the ground up and to create an atmosphere where you are elevating people. To take players and develop them, in a nurturing, mentoring, positive environment and be able to get them to the “next level” – whatever that “next level” might be.

Before this opportunity came about, I was looking at getting into college coaching and just growing people. Not everybody is going to play professional soccer but can we give them the tools, through our academy system, to put themselves through college, to maybe get them into the pros, get a contract into Europe and Mexico, make it up to MLS; my interest is growing people both on and off the field.

IMS: A final question for you: given your contacts in MLS and USL, do you envision any possible, special relationship with DC United with this club? Or are you going to try keeping things very much separate, with DC United just being considered any other MLS club?

Simpson: I think first of all, we are going to have to do what is best for us. And yes, we want to be a perfect complement to DC United. But the fact of the matter is that they might have players that might not make our team.

So, I think that it has to make sense. I mean, I’ve had ongoing conversations with DC but you have to realize that Philly is two hours away, Red Bulls are three and a half hours away; Columbus is a very short plane trip. Can we help those clubs, as well?

Yeah, I’m going to use my relationships with DC United because I’ve played there and coached there in the past, but I also have relationships with other MLS clubs. So why not be able to help those clubs, as well?

It’s about growing players; it’s not just about helping DC United out. Yeah, I want to be a perfect complement to them and it makes the most sense geographically but I also want to help other players get to that next level as well.

28 Responses
  1. Fotbalist permalink
    November 6, 2012

    Thanks yankiboy.
    It’d be great if we could have a link to the presentations slides/power point whatever they have. Did you leave with a good feeling about the momentum?

  2. 2Cents permalink
    November 6, 2012

    The first question is the most valid. If fans in Virginia are anything like the whiny fans in MN who can’t drive 30 – 40 minutes to get to the NSC, then this franchise won’t last a year.

  3. Bart permalink
    November 6, 2012

    Mr. Simpson lives life through a very heavily colored rose glasses. If he thinks the dynamics are such that his fan base on this startup in the suburban countryside would care about the difference between D2 and D3 soccer, he is dreaming. He might even be sniffing some wacky weed.

    He wants to be a complement to DC United, but “the fact is that DC United might have players that would not make their brand new Loudon team?” A little arrogant there, now aren’t we?

  4. Fotbalist permalink
    November 6, 2012

    @ Bart –
    I think it’s silly to call Northern Virginia ‘suburban countryside’ and more importantly I don’t understand why you’d use such a demeaning tone about an area like that outside of DC.

    Secondly, while I agree with you that most fans don’t distinguish D2 & D3 soccer very clearly, they do understand the difference when they take even a cursory look at the two websites and the list of teams. Frankly, the NASL offers a table of teams from places like: Minnesota, San Antonio, New York, Atlanta, Tampa, etc.

    Lastly, like you I also felt a little hyper-confidence in the words of Mark Simpson when he said that that some of the DC United players might not cut it in the NASL. However, I think he was simply being realistic. The reality is that many of the reserve players of the MLS teams are young inexperienced players. Some the MLS reserve teams play in the NPSL and they didn’t exactly make waves there. So, while I wish he would’ve used a more humble approach, he’s probably right in his evaluation.

    Needless to say, that franchise is likely going to be a great success story. There are many pieces of the total puzzle that point to their potential for success.

  5. Bart permalink
    November 6, 2012

    @Fotbalist

    I am going to disagree with you on this one. Minor league baseball just outside of Dulles airport is one thing, minor league soccer is another.

    If you look at the USL Pro website you see a table of teams in Orlando, Rochester Charleston, Harrisburg and other places. USL Pro has more teams that own soccer specific stadiums than NASL has.

    Loudon is converting a minor league baseball stadium to make this work. Not the same.

    Dulles is largely a bedroom community, with folks that take long commutes to the job base. It is indeed a suburban countryside. Look at the Loudon website, they offer horse racing and dog racing in addition to baseball and soccer. Nothing wrong with calling it like it is.

  6. Armando Diaz permalink
    November 6, 2012

    Bart,

    I enjoy your wordplay and how you chose not to mention several pertinent facts about the aforementioned soccer specific stadiums. You are writing like a true attorney. Bravo.

    Are you implying Orlando City not only plays but owns a soccer specific stadium?

    And while it is off topic you’ll be able to kick sand into all of the eyes of the “NASL lovers” when MLS announces their partnership with USL. That’ll be for another day though…..

  7. Fotbalist permalink
    November 6, 2012

    @ Bart
    The population for Loudoun and 45 miles radius (not counting Maryland communities) is at 1 million people. That’s according to the US Census Bureau. If you want to call that type of population density ‘countryside’ I guess we are dealing with the subjectivity of semantics.

    Indeed that whole area is one huge bedroom community, but that only makes local entertainment more desirable. The fact that they advertise horse racing, dog racing, golf courses is only indicative of more than typical money spent for leisure and entertainment than the most communities across the US. Again, that’s a positive.

    You are right about the stadium situation, but many other teams have dealt with that issue. That component is a ‘wait and see’ topic.

  8. Fotbalist permalink
    November 6, 2012

    @ Bart
    As to the listing of teams, my point was that in the NASL practically every team is in a major metropolitan area: Atlanta, Carolina, Fort Lauderdale (Miami), Minnesota (Twin Cities), New York, Ottawa, San Antonio, Tampa. Edmonton and PR are a little smaller but still major metro areas with prominence. The USL Pro has: Charlotte, LA, Orlando, Pittsburgh, Phoenix, Rochester, but on the other hand they have: Antigua, Charleston, Dayton, Harrisburg, Richmond, Wilmington. That makes a difference how the league is viewed.

  9. John permalink
    November 6, 2012

    truth is i preferred if NASL had a team in the Hampton Roads area instead of Loundon
    Loundon was so out of the blue
    Maybe Loundon can be what Wilmington is to USL Pro

  10. Taly permalink
    November 7, 2012

    I cringed when D’Onofrio mentioned that youth programs will help out the attendance to near capacity. Ugh. I wish that D’Onofrio knew the difference between MLS 1.0 and MLS 2.0.

  11. November 7, 2012

    God, John, you know NOTHING about the differences in demographics between Loudoun and Wilmington, do you? (Not surprising.)

    Also, they’re not “converting a minor league baseball stadium,” per se. The stadium doesn’t currently exist to be converted. They’re constructing a stadium and I hope that they’ll take the opportunity to do their best to make the two purposes work rather than just shoehorning soccer into a stadium built only for baseball (cough cough Al Lang cough cough).

  12. November 7, 2012

    Let me clarify my comments. I wasn’t being arrogant nor was it my intent in mentioning that some MLS players may not be good enough to play on our team. Integrating the right players is important and those players have to fit into our system. If they don’t come with the right attitude you lose credibility within your own team because they are looked at as “not being good enough”. Why just limit ourselves to the bottom of DCU’s roster. There are many other players from other teams that will need developing. We just want to give them an opportunity to do so. About the demographics, Loudoun is starving for entertainment. Loudoun Soccer alone has over 8,000 registered kids playing. We are working on establishing working relationships with local soccer communities to give back and have them a part of our family. The surrounding counties are a short drive away. Tyson’s Corner-25 minutes, Gainesville-25 minutes, Centreville, 15 minutes, Reston-10 minutes. And lastly, no it is not a soccer specific stadium. But a stadium built for entertainment. Baseball, soccer, concerts, and other events. Given that dynamic, the entire project (One Loudoun) will be pretty cool for providing a nice place for family entertainment in this area.

  13. Bart permalink
    November 7, 2012

    @Mark

    Respectfully, you were indeed quoted as saying that some DC United MLS players may not be good enough to play for your brand new and untested D2 team. And since D1 is MLS, which is in theory supposed to have the highest calibre of player, D2, by definition would have players that are slightly less calibre than MLS. I would argue that the statement is arrogant, and condescending as well.

    Clearly, with the mixed use entertainment stadium that is the center of all the attraction, the use of a soccer team creates added revenue for extra venue use that should reduce the overall “down time” of the venue. This gets back to the concept that one administration group can assume the responsibilities of all the venue attractions, from dog and horse shows, to baseball and soccer events.

    The one benefit your area does have is an incredible number of higher median income families, which can afford the attraction, if they are interested in attending. However, the concept of raising awareness from the local youth soccer organizations to increase fan base has not been overly successful for any pro soccer team on a long term basis.

  14. Jim (aka MLSinSTL) permalink
    November 7, 2012

    Mark, thanks for clarifying your comments from the interview. I don’t think they were arrogant or even out of line. Over the years there have been several examples where MLS bench players did not break into the starting 11 in Division 2 soccer, whether it was in the NASL or USL-1.

    One example was in Tampa a few years ago, they got a young keeper on loan from FC Dallas (Josh Lambo) and he could not compete with the keepers they had on the roster. He’s now a kicker at Texas A&M.

  15. Strikers Return permalink
    November 7, 2012

    @Mark – Just ignore Bart. He gets extra obnoxious when it’s been too long since the last time his wife beat him. LOL I think we all get the vision behind 1 Loudon Place. It certainly seems to be a good fit for the communities in that area and their median income. I think what some of the soccer purests around here get a little wrankled about, is the idea of pro soccer not being THE center of the stadium design. The belief widely held in this day and age is that in order to maximize the potential of a team’s financial gains, they need to own and operate their very own SSS. For the most part I think this holds true. But each market is unique, and a few have found a way to make something else work. I certainly hope that is the case in Northern Virginia.

  16. Dave permalink
    November 7, 2012

    @ Mark “About the demographics, Loudoun is starving for entertainment.”

    Yeah, but are they starving for minor league soccer played in a minor league baseball stadium? I don’t see the demand nor the fans driving out there. As many others have pointed out, assuming local youth teams, and their families, will be converted into paying customers and fans for your team usually proves to be a folly.

    I think you just chose your words poorly with the DC United thing. It did come off slightly delusional and arrogant. But your clarified statements makes more sense about fitting into a system and not wanting to tie yourself to DCU when there are other MLS teams. But remember, Pablo Campos was stuck on the bottom of RSL’s roster and one coach called him the worst finisher he ever has seen. Two years later he is the best player in the NASL. So there is a big gulf in talent between the NASL and MLS. MLS bottom feeders could be superstars in the NASL. Welcome to MLS 2.0 going on 3.0 by about 2014.

    @Fotbalist – There is a double edged sword being in major metropolitan areas when you are a minor league. Those cities and their media ignore you. It is almost impossible to become part of that area’s sporting landscape since they are major league(and major college) cities. Unless you can sell the dream of D1 MLS which Orlando has and San Antonio is now doing. And if MLS passes your market by, well hello Rochester. Oh, and I hesitant to call New York a NASL market. It is really the suburbs of Long Island. The Cosmos will likely not find any coverage in NY playing out in Hosftra. The Red Bulls barely get coverage and they are MLS with well known stars.

    Compare that to Richmond, Wilmington and Charleston. Smaller markets, but their teams are well supported and covered/embraced by their media. They are perfect minor league soccer markets that can succeed without the MLS dream.

  17. Stephen permalink
    November 7, 2012

    Actually what Mark said is highly accurate. Let’s take the 2012 U.S. Open Cup for example. I believe it was Alexi Lalas that said “those MLS teams that took the Cup seriously (by playing mostly starters) won, and those that didn’t (played mostly bench players) lost.” Personally, I think NASL and USL-Pro both have better teams than nearly all MLS Reserve League teams. And even if you are sitting on an MLS bench, you are still an MLS player. So what Mark says is 100% accurate. There are a large number of DC United bench players (and by extension, any MLS club) that would not be able to make his Virginia roster, let alone any NASL or USL-Pro roster.

  18. Fotbalist permalink
    November 7, 2012

    @ Mark,
    I greatly appreciate that you’ve taken the time to contribute here, particularly to clarify your position. I accept that clarification, as well as the rationale. Thank You.

    @ Dave,
    I completely agree about the ‘double edge sword’ effect of major metropolitan areas with respect to D2 or D3 soccer. However, the fan experience is enhanced (at least psychologically). All your other points are truly valid, and I fully agree with you.

    @ Bart,
    You seem angry! Don’t be angry! The fact that Mark cared enough to respond is an IMMENSELY POSITIVE indication as to the new clubs culture of communication with the fans and supporters. (Although most of us don’t live in the No Virginia market we’re supporters as well.) I’m confident their diligence in interaction and communication will be that much more enhanced with the local fan base.

  19. Bart permalink
    November 7, 2012

    @fotbalist

    How can one not be angry? All of your taxes are going up in 2013, and we are approaching a fiscal cliff that will cause huge cuts to entitlements at the same time. This will cause a major recession, and force fans to stay at home, watching the live streams for free. This is not a way to run a soccer business.

    You can thank the kind folks in DC for all of this, so Loudon is tainted by all this political mess.

  20. Fotbalist permalink
    November 7, 2012

    @ Bart,
    Now I’m starting to like you. LOL

  21. November 7, 2012

    @Bart (and any anyone else who wants to go down the political road):

    I’m going to respectfully ask that we keep this a politics-free discussion.

    You know how much I value your participation here and your insights but I don’t feel that it is appropriate to inject politics in regards to this subject.

    If we were discussing some sort of proposed bonding facet or some proposed use of public funds for this project or if there were a proposed or implemented tax that Loudon County was proposing in reference to this project, I wouldn’t object to your veering the conversation in a political direction because it would strike me as appropriate for the conversation.

    This thread is specifically about NASL Virginia, not the future of the nation nor is it about the commonwealth of Virginia; It’s about a Northern Virginia market that has attracted investors who are starting a soccer (and baseball) club.

    A discussion on economics and politics relating to this particular market is valid. Broader, political and/or socio-economic discussions are more appropriate for forums intended for said discussions and not this thread. There is no shortage of forums for those types of discussions.

    I am respectfully asking All of you who have honored us with your participation to NOT inject politics into this thread unless it is the politics of sport or specific, regional politics that are anticipated to potentially play a roll in this specific project.

    My sincerest thanks to ALL of you for your cooperation and participation.

    Jay Long
    (Yankiboy)

  22. thomas permalink
    November 7, 2012

    …the difference between arrogance and confidence is having the facts on your side.

  23. Fotbalist permalink
    November 7, 2012

    @Yankiboy,
    My reply really had no political intent, but I can see how even a joking response could encourage unrelated political discussion. I willingly and happily respect your request.

  24. Jspech permalink
    November 7, 2012

    Thank you Yankiboy/Jay Long

  25. Bart permalink
    November 7, 2012

    @yankiboy

    My sarcastic post had nothing to do with politics, it had to do with economic realities of a new NASL start up in a DC suburb. The facts are that this new stadium needs a fan base, and the recession that has occurred since 2008 has hurt the professional soccer business. No matter whether you are a donkey or elephant, a continual loss of disposable income at the fan base hurts Loudon’s chances of success. It does not matter what income bracket the fan is in, nor the political affilation.

    Much talk has been made historically on the various NASL team’s (and USL Pro’s teams) chances of success. Location, demographic income base and ease of traffic to the venue are all matters of discussion.

    As a retired member of the bar, I can assure you that governmental politics and soccer do not generally mix. However, those elements, as they come into play, affect minor league soccer in terms of revenue, and future projections.

    Let’s not read into my post anymore than what it was. I am sure you can understand and I appreciate your kind consideration of this.

  26. November 7, 2012

    ^Thank you very much, for the clarification.

    Moving on…

  27. thomas permalink
    November 8, 2012

    This assertion needs to be challenged: “the recession that has occurred since 2008 has hurt the professional soccer business”

    1. USA is not in technical recession, merely exhibiting weak growth rates at below trend levels (2% annualised growth during October).
    2. MLS average attendance has risen in each year since the given date
    3. average attendance for lower league teams has grown on a like-for-like basis
    4. more pro and semi-pro teams operate at every level of the NAmerican soccer system than at any time in history
    5. the professional soccer economy in USA and Canada reports annual revenue growth around 20-25%, equivalent to similar ‘new’ leagues (Japan, Korea, China, UAE, Australia, Brazil)
    6. Established soccer leagues worldwide report annual revenue growth around 10-15% (excluding currency variations), even including countries which are in technical recession.

    Some major global pro soccer teams have and are suffering from excessive debt burdens, but that is down to bad financial management similar to the causes of the global economic crisis – ie. NOT a product of recession.

    Soccer is remarkably recession-resistant, which is down to it’s model as a secure investment offering consistently high capital growth, if not massive profits.

    According to Forbes, MLS team valuations are rising at “a compound annual rate of 15% over the past 16 years, easily beating the 7% annualized total return for the S&P 500.” The comparable figure for NFL teams is 2-3% (albeit from a higher base) over the same period.
    http://www.forbes.com/sites/mikeozanian/2012/07/11/sale-of-d-c-united-to-billionaires-son-values-mls-team-at-record-50-million/

    That’s not hurting, that’s investing 101 – get in while you still can!

    OK, disposable incomes may be rising at below-inflation levels, but soccer is an increasingly high quality entertainment product and retains great value ($12 a ticket for the stars!), and has a clean and healthy image with great community and educational factors.

    Loudon has a stadium project as the anchor for an economic development plan (huge retail space, around 2,000 housing units etc), but it needs a popular tenant to make this a viable means to attract investment. Soccer participation is very high and growing in the locality. It makes perfect sense… if the numbers add up (ie calculated on 2,500 ave attendance or 50% ticket sellout, not 100%).

    Bart, please stop applying outdated assumptions for irrelevant financial models to an unrelated business sector. It is purely ideological, lacking in evidence and entirely partial. Sarcasm or not (and sarcasm doesn’t transmit in type), it makes you sound like a bileous stone-age lunatic.

    Look at where the talent flows to. Talent follows money.

  28. Bart permalink
    November 8, 2012

    @thomas,

    Nice try, but you have not cited any sources whatsoever, and we are not talking global soccer, we are discussing D2 soccer in the US.

    It spouts real purty, but it ain’t got no taste.

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