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.