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Hello faithful AP'ers, and welcome back to American Pyramid! You might be asking yourself, 'wait a minute, this isn't an interview. Thursday's are new interview day!' Yes, that's true, but due to requests from some of the clubs I've completed interviews with, I'm delaying their release a little bit. Not for bad reasons, to be clear, but in order for new news to come out and create a larger wave of momentum around the team.
Really quick, in case you missed it, I'm considering starting another blog, talking about all kinds of other sports in the US. Rugby, NBA, College Basketball and Football, Pro Wrestling, MLB, whatever I feel like, really. You can vote on whether that's a good idea or bad idea in my Twitter poll.
Now, today's article is based around an idea I had for a potential new amateur league structure while I was out on a walk. There's some ideas in here that might sound familiar, and some that might not, and I'm sure there are plenty of you thinking 'good grief, another article about how to do soccer leagues in America?' But I implore you to hear me out. This idea is the culmination of over two years of interviews with teams and leagues nationwide, not some click bait article. (I mean, it is, kind of, but I digress) Everything in here is designed to address issues encountered by teams in dealing with leagues, paying costs, needing help, and fan perception.
So without further ado, I present A Better Way. Check it out.
In order to give my proposed league a starting point, I'm going to use the members of American Soccer Clubs United as a starting point. (Full disclosure, I'm one of the Directors of ASCU, and this is NOT ASCU announcing plans to start it's own league) Currently there are roughly 65 ASCU Member Clubs nationwide. Lets say this proposed league starts with these 65 teams. Now, I know everyone says that expansion fees are of the Devil and mean your league is a franchise system, so my idea eliminate them in favor of clubs only paying yearly member dues. But we're going to do something unique with them.
This new league is going to be a non profit entity. Paying yearly member dues to this non profit league creates several different benefits for clubs.
Let's start with Point 1. Member Dues are paid yearly by all clubs, and will be cost effective. My idea has clubs paying $1,500 a year. For example, that's nearly $4,000 cheaper than the NPSL's yearly cost, and there's no $15,000 expansion fee either. Keep that money and invest it into the club.
Point 2. Member Dues and Member Rights. Like any non-profit, a board and committees are needed. Paying yearly dues allows you to vote on the Board of Directors, four directors who work with or operate member clubs in the four main US regions,plus the President, who help guide the leagues direction. And they would vote on the Grant Committee, eight directors from the eight total sub-regions within the leagues four main regions, who review grant applications from member clubs.Which leads us to...
Point 3. League Fund. Thanks to the member dues, the league will be able to have a monetary fund from which to offers its members grants to help with expenses and projects. Teams would have to fill out an application to be considered. This would include pictures, a questionnaire, and an 'essay' explaining what the funds are for. At the start, grant amounts would be limited, than scaled up as the money in the fund increases. The league would also work with it's members to help them secure other grants that may be available for them.
For example, if 65 teams started this league at $1,500 a piece, you have $97,500. The league president needs to get paid, so let's say he starts with a salary of $40,000, leaving $57,500 in the League Fund. Now, that fund increases in size every year. If no teams applied for grants in year one, you have $105,000 in the fund in year two. So to start, the league could issue 10 grants a year at a maximum of $2,500. Once the fund crosses $150,000, it's 15 grants at $3,500 a year. $200,000 leads to 20 grants at $4,000, $250,000 in the fund to 25 grants at $5,000 a year. And so on and so on.
One cool idea I had for the League Fund is recurring grants. That means once the fund crosses a certain threshold, say, $250,000, teams can apply for recurring grants. So if a team wants to buy property to develop into a home field, they could apply for a five year recurring grant. Now, the applicant would have to provide quarterly status updates on their project to make sure it's being completed.
If a project is running behind or hitting significant push back, the applicant can inform the league and freeze the grant, while remaining in good standing for when they reapply. If the league has to contact a team about the status of a grant, and gets a response within two weeks that the grant needs to be frozen, that applicant will be in moderate standing when they reapply. If the league contacts a team and does not get a response within two weeks, the grant will be frozen, and that member will be in bad standing when the time comes to reapply for the grant.
Now, on the topic of the League Fund, one of the league president's chief jobs is generate sponsor revenue to cover operations cost, league prize money, and to increase the size of the league fund. If the president can get, say, six sponsors at $5,000 a year in year one, that means the league fund would be at $87,500, which is awesome. The president can offer sponsors the same cost for a maximum of five years with no increases even as the league's 'value' increases with additional teams to help get sponsors on board early.
On the role of the president: It's simple, really. The president helps to ensure the league moves forward and has direction, with the aid of the board, for continued growth and stability. He'd also act as a salesman, securing sponsors, and help existing clubs with member services, and talk to potential clubs about the benefit of joining, and work with the grant committee to chose applications. Basically, he's going to do a little bit of everything at the start, including getting live streaming for the league with streaming sponsors.
The president is also only eligible for a raise every other year, an amount approved by the BOD sans the president, and it most be approved by a vote of all member clubs. Member clubs would be able to vote yes or no or abstain, but they must participate. This is the same mechanism by which future league staff would be added.
Finances: As a non-profit the league will be required to make it's finances public, ensuring members know of the health and well being of the league. All decisions involving finances are voted on by all due paying league members.
Regions: At the start, the league will divide the country into 4 regions following USASA boundaries. Those 4 regions will each be divided into sub regions (north or south, east or west, depending on population distribution) and will continue to be divided from there, each region hosting it's own league. This also means there are no protected territories.
Competition: This league would have promotion and relegation as soon as travel distances make that a fiscal responsible option. Clubs can sign a Letter of Intent to join, becoming provisional members, if there are no teams in their immediate vicinity, and can actually have their first year member dues reduced by $100 for every team they are able to recruit to the league. The same applies for all existing members. Get someone to join, reduce your dues by $100.
Conferences/Divisions would be capped in size at 20 teams, playing 38 games following the international calendar. There would be 8 weeks where teams would play 2 games, creating a flexible 22 week off season, so each conference can take a winter break as long as they need it to be. that's a total of 38 games in 30 weeks. If you're in Minnesota, you need a longer winter break than Florida. All conferences would begin and end season play at the same time. The league wide off season would be 12 weeks, giving teams up to 10 weeks for a winter break.
Hopefully, as the league grows in size and popularity, a national championship would be instituted, but at the start, keeping it simple is best. The champions of the top conferences in the 4 primary US Regions (North, South, East and West) would compete in a single elimination game at the home of the team with the better record to determine the regional champion. If you remember from the earlier description of regions, the 4 primary league regions are each divided into 2 sub-regions, creating 8 top level competitions in all, so that's 4 Championship games in all. The winner would then receive a prize (again, as the league fund grows the prize money goes up, subject to member vote) of $10,000.
Expansion: Any team would be allowed to submit an application, vetted by the BOD, or sign a Letter of Intent to join should they not be in a region with enough teams. The league would not allow a team to join and pay dues without a minimum of 4 to 6 clubs within 2 to 3 hours of each other in their region. Example: If Spokane decides to join, but there are no other clubs in Washington, they would sign an LOI, and can then recruit other teams to join with them, and each team signing an LOI would reduce Spokane's dues for that year by $100. This helps make clubs one of the leagues biggest advocates.
The league application would not just include things like team info, but would also require a fully fleshed out vision statement and road map for the clubs goals for the next five years to ensure sustainability. All incoming owners would be subject to a credit check to make sure the team is healthy financially, not just one and done.
In order to ensure that the league and it's teams maintain a professional look, part of the application review process will include review of the applicants logo. That's right. If the logo isn't any good, the league will provide the applicant with resources and contacts to secure a better logo for their team. Part of the league's mantra to it's teams will be 'if you don't take yourself seriously, why should fans?'
Side note: The league will not be afraid to help teams in farther flung locals, like Hawaii, Alaska and Montana start new conferences where there aren't currently any and provide them with resources to make sure they can grow, thrive, and be sustainable while being a part of a larger system. Every one deserves to have ready, easy access to resources to make sure their competition can be done right. This is where you see the league operating almost as a hybrid league/governing body that will oversee and steward the growth of the game everywhere.
I hope this gives you an idea of what this league could be. Obviously, I haven't thought of everything, but this is a start. What do you think is missing? What really needs fleshed out? Was anything forgotten that should be considered? Let me know in the comments, make your voice heard!
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