Month: September 2018

New on SocTakes: NPSL clubs have median survival rate of 2 years

The National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) is a well-known adult amateur soccer league, which will be one of two (the other being the United Premier Soccer League, or UPSL) “tier one” leagues in the upcoming USASA tier format. Therefore, understanding the health and longevity of the NPSL, prima facie, gives us a metric for the health of amateur soccer clubs at large.

As conversation continues about the possible launch of NPSL Pro – a league where current NPSL teams plan on playing a full-season with salaried players – Soc Takes was interested in examining the sustainability question for the league in it’s current state.

When Soc Takes wrote about the rapid turnover of ownership in professional Division 2 soccer, we were unable to include data from the NPSL. Via the help of very kind collaborators, Soc Takes was able to generate a document that maps the genesis and death of every NPSL soccer club in history.

And the numbers paint a disturbing picture.

History

A quick review of NPSL’s history: The league operated as the Men’s Professional Soccer League (MPSL) from 2003-05, after which it rebranded as the NPSL, and has operated as the NPSL ever since.

Colloquially referred to as a “Division 4” league, the NPSL is sanctioned annually by the United States Adult Soccer Association (USASA).

The league primarily plays in the summer with mostly college soccer players. As we learned via a series of posts from NPSL team Kingston Stockade FC’s owner Dennis Crowley and Minneapolis City SC owner Dan Hoedeman, teams in the league can operate via moderate expenditure.

However, as his posts show, even well-planned, responsibly run teams tend to operate in the red.

Given the incredible heterogeneity in the league in terms of ownership, it would be impossible to learn the finances of each team, or even a representative estimate of what a team may be losing each year. But, there is a more objective metric to judge club success — the longevity of clubs in the NPSL.

The data

In order to learn more, the collaborators of this article and I generated a document (see below) where we mapped out the temporal window of each NPSL club from genesis to mortality.

Two hundred and fourteen teams have played in the NPSL between 2003-18 with a varying degree of success and longevity (see above document and Figure 1 below). That’s a staggering number of teams. Teams that have been home to tens of thousands of adult amateur soccer players over the years. These players have provided a non-quantifiable number of memories and planted the seed for future generations of soccer players.

But, the teams themselves have a really short life span. According to our data, 81.3 percent of clubs in the NPSL operated for five years or less, and 65 percent of the 214 clubs operated for three years or less. The mean life span was 3.3 years, while the median lifespan of a club was two years.

Interestingly, certain states were home to many more clubs than others. The state of California has been home to 40 different NPSL teams (rebrands were only counted one time), which amounts to 18.7 percent of all NPSL clubs. Other states that were more prevalent were Texas with 15 teams, Florida with 13, and Michigan and New York with 11 each.

NPSL clubs

Figure 1 – Longevity of all NPSL clubs

What happened to these teams? We attempted to dig through the literature to find the reasons for the dissolution for each club. We learned that 26 teams joined other amateur leagues (with 13 joining the PDL and seven switching to the UPSL, with the remaining joining leagues such as The Premier League of America, Texas Premier Soccer League, etc).

For a majority of the clubs, however, we were unable to determine the reason for dissolution.

However, it is an open secret that financial difficulties are a component of these dissolutions. Even though costs are minimal, so is revenue. And, unlike D2 owners, who often have the dopamine-flooding-ego-reinforcing-boost of thousands of supporters turning up to each game, NPSL attendances tend to be significantly lower. In fact, an analysis by attendance guru and soccer historian Kenn Tomasch estimated that NPSL teams have an average attendance of 961 per game. And, based on what is certainly a rightward-skewing self-selection bias in the data he was sent, I would wager the actual average is lower.

As a comparison, USL attendance shill and author of the upcoming book “Eleventy Bazillion: The Indy XI Story,” Mike Pendleton, reports an average attendance of just under 5,000 fans

(Caveat:  arguably, in both cases, median attendance might be a better metric due to the skewing of data by high-attendance teams such as Detroit City and FC Cincinnati).

Therefore, owners have little to no incentive to remain in the game.

There are exceptions, of course. The oldest team in the NPSL is Sonoma County Sol (SC Sol), which has played continuously since 2004. Other clubs that reached the double-digit mark are the Minnesota Twin Stars, New York Athletic Club, Madison 56ers, Real San Jose, Erie Commodores FC and Chattanooga FC. There are 41 teams (19.2 percent) that have been active for more than five years.

Soc Takes reached out to Sonoma County Sol for comment.

From the morgue

What about the longevity of dead clubs specifically?

The above analysis may yet be biased by a recency effect — the fact that a club born in 2016-18 will over-represent the one- and two-year longevity group and, therefore, left-skew the data. In order to eliminate that bias, we analyzed a subset of the data (Figure 2) – specifically defunct NPSL clubs.

Figure 2 – Longevity of defunct NPSL clubs

We found that our general trend seems to support our earlier data. Of the clubs that went extinct, 91.5 percent did so by year five of operation. In fact, 64.5 percent of the clubs died by year two. Of the defunct clubs, the mean survival time was 2.6 years, while the median was 2 years. Unsurprisingly, the mean survival time was lower in the subset of defunct clubs. The median remained unchanged.

The polytely of solutions needed for lower-league soccer success is something we have described before. The numbers we are seeing from the NPSL and professional Division 2 data highlight the need for novel solutions imminently.

——–x———-

It turns out, regardless of whether you are investing in an amateur or professional team, your ride is likely to be a short one. With the upcoming (and in some ways much-needed) NPSL-pro option, there is clearly an issue to be addressed here. That issue is – most NPSL clubs have shown an inability to survive at the amateur level. At this level, costs are low, and so is revenue.

NPSL-Pro will have to be (1) selective, (2) Ensure that revenue generated increases at a similar rate as the expected increase in expenditure. That is theoretically obvious to anyone reading this. But, clearly, based on the graveyard of American soccer clubs, not obvious in practice.

Soc Takes reached out to NPSL for comment on this story.

Caveat: This is a significant amount of data, sourced largely on Wikipedia entries and articles from journalists. If you come across any errors, please let us know.

Soc Takes would like to thank Aran Kinwan, Ciaran Jalavin, Michael Mascilak, Mark Murray, Jeff McCollum and Soc Takes staff writer John Lenard for contributing to the data collection portion of this article.

Follow Nipun on Twitter: NipunChopra7.

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New on SocTakes: Supporting Local Soccer: My return to Fort Worth

Fort Worth

FORT WORTH, Texas — In the aftermath of my first Supporting Local Soccer post on the Fort Worth Vaqueros, the team and the supporters’ group both reached out to me to have me back at another game on June 16. I gladly accepted.

Tonight, I’m making my second trip to Fort Worth this month. The Vaqueros have invited me back for another game, this time in NPSL action. The Vaqueros are set to take on Katy 1895 FC in a match that has serious implications for the Vaqueros’ playoff hopes.

I’m doing things properly this time, heading out much earlier than before to join the pregame party at Magnolia Motor Lounge. This bar/restaurant is located less than half a mile north of Farrington Field, just off University Drive in Fort Worth’s West 7th neighborhood. The neighborhood is Fort Worth’s fun spot, home to a number of interesting shops, bars, and restaurants. It’s actually my first time in this area in years, having last been here on a trip to the nearby Kimbell Art Museum. Most of Fort Worth’s cultural highlights can be found within a mile radius of West 7th.

I find a parking spot that’s roughly halfway between Magnolia and Farrington. As I walk to the pay station, a woman pulls up next to me, rolls down the window and asks if I’ve paid yet. I reply that I haven’t. She then hands me a paid parking slip good through the morning. Thanks! I promise her to pay it forward later on. West 7th is absolutely packed today. I’m not surprised. It’s a Saturday evening and the weather is gorgeous.

I walk to Magnolia, and I find a handful of people with Vaqueros or other local soccer gear on. I’m in the right place. I find it unusual that I’m not carded entering the bar by the doorman. This is a first. Most people assume I’m younger than I am, and I had my wallet ready expecting to show my ID. I’ve been told that the Panther City Hellfire have my ticket tonight. I order chips and salsa, which the waitress tells me is handmade, and wait for the Hellfire to arrive. It’s objectively not bad.

The Hellfire arrive with their drums and flags ready, and take their seat outside on the patio. I grab my food and move outside to join them. I introduce myself to Nick Rainone and Jessi Foster. We start talking about the first piece I wrote, which segues into other soccer media. Nick mentions soccer podcasts, which leads to a discussion on the shows we listen to and enjoy. I mention “Front Porch Soccer” offhand, and immediately get a reaction of “I love that show!” from Nick. This is bad for my ego.

As we sit, eat and talk, I get to know a bit more about the group. It’s clear that everyone here is well-versed in lower-division soccer, and shows just how close the world of American soccer is. I mention that I’m planning to document my experiences for Soc Takes again, and I’m told to post the piece in their Facebook group once it’s finished.

At roughly 6:50, we finish eating and settle our various tabs, and begin making our way to the stadium. Someone mentions that they don’t have enough sticks for all of the drums tonight. I tell them to wait there, as I still have all of my FC Dallas gear in my car. A few minutes later, I have four pairs of good enough sticks ready for them.

The group makes its way to the corner of Morton Street and University Drive, and begins singing and drumming as they march to the stadium. I follow behind with my camera to get some pictures and video.

We walk to the end of the block and into the gates at Farrington Field. The Hellfire then take their normal position at the front of the stands, and start passing out chant sheets. Tonight, I elect to sit with them rather than wandering the stadium.

By 7:15, the stands have begun to fill. It’s already apparent that the crowd is significantly larger than last time. Easily over a thousand people here, probably not that far from two. I decide that tonight, I’m participating in the noise instead of just observing it. I gesture to a nearby drum and ask Nick, “May I?” I get a quick yes, and get to work doing what I’m most accustomed to doing at soccer games. That is, for about 10 minutes until I tear a blister on my right hand. Damn. I hand my drum back to Nick and switch to taking pictures.

Fort Worth is looking strong tonight. They’re hounding the Katy defense for much of the early minutes, when Jamie Lovegrove scores the opening goal. The Panther City Hellfire react by lighting off their blue and yellow smoke. From the restart, the Vaqueros keep the pressure on, and Kalle Masue scores a second in the 17th. More smoke ensues. Things continue in Fort Worth’s favor for the next 10 minutes. Then, while attempting to deal with a counterattack by Katy, goalkeeper Marko Jovanovic goes down in the box. This doesn’t look good. He ends up needing a cart to get off the field, and the Vaqueros have to sub in their much younger second ‘keeper Grant Makela.

Fort Worth

Fortunately for young Grant, his offense does well to keep the ball contained to the opposite end of the field for much of the half. And then, once again on a counter, Katy gets a chance in the 38th minute. It’s in, 2-1 Vaqueros now. From kickoff, Fort Worth seems bent on avenging their fallen keeper, and immediately press forward. It takes just two minutes for Masue to restore the two-goal advantage. At this point, the Hellfire have exhausted their supply of smoke, and begin singing a new song to describe their situation. “We’re all out of smoke, so we’re gonna bang on our drums all day!” The whistle blows to end the first half shortly thereafter.

At halftime, I wander over to the merch table again and find that the Hellfire are selling scarves! And they take methods of payment that aren’t strips of fabric! I quickly hand over a plastic rectangle and acquire a scarf for my collection. I also find that there’s a table set up just to sell drinks, with a selection of sodas and Jarritos beverages as well as bottled water. This table, too, accepts plastic, and I get myself a bottle of water. It’s hot, but not nearly as hot as my previous visit.

As I continue wandering the stadium, I meet Vaqueros general manager Tobias Lopez. He recognizes me, likely from the “obligatory” photo at the end of the previous piece, and thanks me for writing it. He also tells me that next season he’ll have a season ticket jersey for me so that I can come to games whenever. I do my best to express my gratitude. It means more than I can express that he read the piece and appreciated it to such a degree.

The second half begins with Katy on the attack and it takes the visitors just three minutes to score their second goal of the night. The lead is cut to one goal — for around thirty seconds. Fort Worth kicks off and rushes forward, and the first attempt at goal lands in the net. Cue the Hellfire’s song on their unfortunate lack of smoke once more.

The restart is taken, and once more it takes Fort Worth mere seconds to find yet another goal. It’s now 5-2, and this latest goal by Zachary Adler in the 50th minute seems to deflate the visitors. Their strategy shifts from pushing forward to dropping way, way back in an attempt to stop the bleeding. It works. Adler’s goal ends up being the final goal of the night for either side. This does little to dissuade the Hellfire, who continue their singing through to the final whistle.

After the game, I wind up talking with Marc Foster of the Panther City Hellfire and his son Teddy. Teddy is an unusually tech-savvy young teen, and we end up talking about my day job in corporate IT as well as gaming PCs. Marc, as it turns out, is ridiculously well connected in the local sports world as well as with American soccer as a whole. He used to work for the Brahmas hockey team back in the day and he’s even familiar with my other employers at the WPSL. We continue talking about soccer, which somehow deviates to discussing northern Michigan. His wife is from the same town as my dad, a tiny place along Lake Huron with a population of just 2,695. There’s a very good chance that my grandmother was her teacher in elementary school. Small world indeed.

I wrap up my conversation as it’s getting late and it’s a 45-minute drive home. As I’m walking back to my car, I find a car full of other youths looking for a parking space in the same lot where I parked. I grab the fully paid parking slip I received earlier and, after a brief conversation, pass it along once more. The drive home is fortunately uneventful, and when I arrive, I take a half hour to transfer my notes and pictures to my server. It’s been a fun and exhausting night.

Obligatory

I hope you enjoyed this addendum installment of Supporting Local Soccer. Be sure to check out my other pieces on the Keene FC experience, Little Rock Rangers experience and original trip to Fort Worth.

If you have a unique soccer experience you’d like to share, please let me know! My direct messages on Twitter are always open, and I’m more than happy to make a trip out to support local soccer.

If you, somehow, need more of my nonsense in your daily life, please follow me on Twitter and Instagram, where I’m @JohnMLTX. And as always, thanks for reading.

Support Soc Takes on Patreon for access to exclusive content and supporter benefits. Click here to become a patron today.

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New on SocTakes: USL playoff race in Week 26

 

USL playoff race

Toronto FC II is on the brink of being eliminated from playoff contention. Photo credit: Robbie Mehling/ Soc Takes

The USL season has passed the 75 percent point and we’re into the final weeks of the season. That means the playoff race is heating up!

And yet, because of the sheer madness that is the USL, no team has been eliminated from the playoffs yet, and only one team has secured a spot.

First up, FC Cincinnati is the only team at this point to have secured a spot in the postseason. Cincy is sitting on 60 points in 27 games (a ludicrous 2.22 PPG!), which means that only seven teams can pass them. While it’s a safe bet to expect Cincinnati to finish top of not just the Eastern Conference but the league as a whole, its seeding is still very much undecided.

As for the rest of the league, no one can clinch this week. Yeah, Cincinnati is that good.


And now onto the elimination scenarios for Week 26, beginning in the Western Conference.

Tulsa Roughnecks FC currently sits at the bottom of the West and is the closest team to elimination in the conference. There are four different scenarios that will see Tulsa eliminated by the end of the week:

  1. Tulsa loses/draws against Sounders 2 on Wednesday; San Antonio wins/draws against Phoenix on Saturday
  2. Tulsa loses/draws against Sounders 2; Saint Louis wins against Reno on Saturday
  3. Reno wins against Saint Louis; San Antonio wins against Phoenix
  4. Tulsa loses/draws against Sounders 2; Tulsa loses/draws against Timbers 2 on Sunday

Tulsa essentially needs to win out the season and hope for a lot of dropped points to even have a shot at making the playoffs.

In the East, there’s one team facing elimination this weekend, Toronto FC II. TFC II is also at the bottom of its conference with 12 points from 25 games. There are three scenarios for TFC II’s elimination:

  1. TFC II loses/draws against Ottawa on Wednesday
  2. Nashville SC wins against North Carolina on Saturday
  3. TFC II draws against Ottawa; Nashville draws against North Carolina

That’s all for this week in the USL playoff race. Stay tuned for the next report which should be out next Monday and will continue until the final seeding is determined. In the USL, that can mean literally the last day of the season!

As always, thanks for reading and thanks for supporting Soc Takes. Apologies for the delay in the Q3 progress report. Lots of life suddenly happened, and rather than a 75 percent report, it’ll be closer to 80 percent-ish. It’s coming soon!

Follow John on Twitter: @JohnMLTX.

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