"Find out what is important to you as a fan and support that, regardless of division or league."
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Hello again and welcome back to AP! I'm really glad that I can share this interview with you today. When I started American Pyramid over two years ago, one of my goals, if it took off, was to interview some of the non league 'big boys,' like Chattanooga, Detroit City, and Tulsa. While, here's looking at you Detroit City! Everybody has stepped up, now it's your turn.
Anyway, after a couple of false starts, I was able to connect with Matt Boullt, the clubs GM, and get an interview done! He covers some really interesting things, but isn't able to give a ton of detail on them yet concerning the search for a new, permanent home for the club and it's interest in NISA. There's some good stuff in here, and I hope you enjoy it. Check it out.
Tell readers a little about yourself. Who you are, where you're from, and what your role is with Tulsa Athletic.
My name is Matt Boullt and I am the General Manager for Tulsa Athletic of the NPSL. I have been playing the game since I was four years old and played for the University of Tulsa from 2009 to 2012, graduating in 2013. I've worked for the Austin Aztex, Indy Eleven, and started my current role in 2016.
What's the 'origin story' behind the creation of Tulsa Athletic?
Originally called the Athletics, owners Sonny Dalesandro and Dr. Tommy Kern started the team in late 2012 and played the first season in 2013. At the time, there was no higher level of soccer offered in the city and we were very successful - drawing around 3600 fans per game. We were one of the few lower league teams in the country that played in a soccer-specific stadium, which was a former baseball stadium that Tommy and Sonny renovated to meet US Open Cup-standard field dimensions. On the field we were also very entertaining - for the first three years we were the highest scoring team in the country - including MLS, NASL, USL, or PDL teams.
This past season, Athletic had to leave their home. How did you go about finding a new one, and how hard was it to have to leave your old home?
We were fortunate enough to play at a soccer specific stadium for four years, so leaving it was pretty tough. We turned an abandoned Tulsa landmark into a destination again and it was our home.
What's worse is the deal that kicked us out, and gutted the entire place, eventually fell through and the stadium is sitting empty and unusable again. It was a tough blow but we were able to move to a temporary spot last season at a local high school football/soccer stadium. We had an average experience, but we learned we needed our own place. We are in some advanced talks currently and should be able to announce some exciting plans in the next few weeks or so.
Photo Credit: Brett Rojo
With the arrival of USL in town in the form of the Tulsa Roughnecks, have you noticed any changes in support for the team, or in the soccer scene in Tulsa at large?
I was not at the club for the 2015 season, the first year the Roughnecks played, as I was in Austin working for the Aztex of the USL. So my first year with the A's, as GM, was 2016 and our numbers for our league matches were pretty comparable to theirs. We had an average attendance of about 2,000, and a season high of around 4,600 when we had our "Goodbye Match." I would contribute the biggest change I've seen to leaving our stadium.
Any chance Athletic returns to their old home?
Unfortunately, our old home is uninhabitable so we will not be returning there. That being said, we are getting closer to a site where we can lay down roots for long term success.
Your conference has been getting a lot tougher each year, with strong teams like Wichita and Little Rock. What is the level of play like in your conference, and who would you say are Athletic's biggest rival?
The level of play increases every year and it is very competitive. FC Wichita and ourselves have created a great rivalry, trading off conference championships over the past few years.
As the GM, what does a typical day for you look like? What kind of things are you doing, problems your solving, duties you're fulfilling? Basically, what's an average day of work for you?
Well being in the lower division soccer world means every day is absolutely different. This late in the off season we are really aiming at locking down our venue for next year, and hopefully laying down roots for the next five. I am also beginning the process of recruiting spring and summer interns as well as finalizing merchandise and gear decisions.
Where do you hope to see Tulsa Athletic five years from now, especially now that it looks like you'll have a long term home?
Well we are hoping to get our long term home secured soon. We have a great vision and every conversation with the city, or other interested parties, have been exceptionally positive. I personally hope the clubs moves up the ranks to pro soccer in the next five years.
Photo Credit: Brett Rojo
That's good to hear! Have you really worked at cultivating a good relationship with the city of Tulsa, or are they just super supportive of soccer?
The owners have worked hard to get this done and all the feedback has been very positive.
I'm not sure you can say much on this, but earlier this year on Twitter, Sonny made it clear he was in attendance at a meeting of teams and owners interested in NISA. Would NISA be a league of interest to Tulsa Athletic?
We are always interested in advancing the club as far as possible. A long term site deal would definitely expand our capabilities and make opportunities like NISA more plausible. I, personally, love everything NISA represents and hope it is successful.
Photo Credit: Brett Rojo
Let's wrap this up with some short questions. What's your favorite league and or team to watch for fun?
Well I have mostly stepped away from watching soccer - I used to be a big Fulham fan back when McBride and Dempsey were there. Now I mainly watch teams with guys I played with - Justin Chavez at the Rowdies, Tony Rocha at Orlando City, and Kekuta Manneh at Columbus, for example.
Favorite soccer players, one past, one present.
My favorite player of all time is Brian McBride and right now I'm a fan of Bobby Wood. The dude just works so hard.
Do you have any books or podcasts, soccer related or otherwise, that you would recommend to people reading this?
Yes, the Always Sonny in Soccerdelphia podcast is pretty great.
If you could meet one person from soccer history, who would it be?
If I could meet one person I'd like to meet Sepp Blatter and find out just how corrupt the FIFA rabbit hole is.
Where can people find out more about you and the team online?
Our website www.tulsaathletic.com or social media: Twitter & Facebook - @ttownsoccer.
What would you say to someone asking you why they should get out there and support their local amateur team, like Tulsa Athletic?
Find out what is important to you as a fan and support that, regardless of division or league. Local amateur teams, especially ones with big aspirations like ours, only want to impact the community in a positive way. If you want an affordable, community-based team that puts on a festival atmosphere and is about more than just putting butts in seats than take a look at us.
If you care about shiny stadiums, high ticket prices, and the label of "professional" - no matter how generous the term - then there are options outside of teams like us. At the end of the day, the entire US Soccer pyramid needs rebuilding and it needs to start from the bottom up and teams in leagues like the NPSL are ready to do what is best for soccer, starting at the local level.
Matt, thanks again for taking the time to do this interview, I really appreciate it. Remember, if you are enjoying the content I'm putting out, please consider supporting us on Patreon by Clicking Here. Or you can click here to Follow me on Twitter, or here to Like the page on Facebook. Make sure to spread the word by sharing these interviews, telling friends about the blog, those kind of things. I can't accomplish my goal of maximum exposure for all levels of the American Soccer Pyramid without YOU. Until next time, Stay Loyal, Support Local.