News, The Angle

“A Look Inside the People’s Club”: Forecasting Year 4 for Minneapolis City SC by Dan Hoedeman

by on 28 December 2018

This is the first in a series of articles that take a look inside what it’s like to run Minneapolis City SC, a lower division club, from the perspective of Dan Hoedeman, a club founder. He is very involved in the day-to-day operations across the sporting and business side of the club. The plan is to have something new every other week or so, though the first lesson of life in the lower divisions is that intentions and schedules don’t mean a whole lot…

We have officially reached our fourth birthday as a club.

It is a meaningful milestone. Soc Takes did the math and the median National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) club has a survival rate of 2 years, and, while it seems clear that the quality of clubs has increased recently, beating a mark that 65% of other clubs couldn’t get past is something to celebrate.

Quick, someone make us a trophy.

The club is firmly in the 2019 pre-season and, as we go through the work of getting ready for another season, this series of articles will give a glimpse of what it’s like to run a lower division soccer club.

I’ve learned that the mandatory prerequisite for my leading an NPSL club is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in your head at the same time and not go crazy. Specifically, those two ideas are: 1. intense awareness of the risk of abject failure and 2. absolute confidence that the brilliance of the vision will bring emphatic success.

That duality of thought allows a fair assessment of what is going well (and what isn’t). And, right now, things are going very well for us:

* We are in a solid financial position with the ability to expand our spending.
* We opened The Club Shop at 2818 E 38th St in Minneapolis and now have a permanent, physical home for the club.
* We are coming off an historic undefeated league season.
* We are back in Minneapolis for home games at beloved Edor Nelson Field on the Augsburg College campus.

And yet, my concern moving into 2019 is momentum.

That’s because momentum is rented, not owned.

It’s easy enough to launch. Newness alone is an interest-driver. The typical trajectory of a club is to get big interest and attendance numbers early, and then fall off, sometimes abruptly, in the second and more seasons. It’s so common at every level as to be a sports cliche*. To maintain interest, let alone to continue to grow it, is another thing entirely.

While we have been able to avoid the cliche—we have increased our Membership base by 50% every year since we started—it is because we have recognized the risk and worked hard to re-create our momentum over and over.

And we have to do it in the face of fierce competition, despite technical difficulties, life demands on our volunteers, and the unique reality of our hometown. Summer goes fast here in the North. There are so many ways to spent summer time, from going to the lake, to other pro sports (like Minnesota United and their brand new stadium), to restaurants, bars, and even other competitive lower division soccer clubs, and they’re all fighting tooth and nail for attention from the same people. The degree of difficulty is high at this level and especially high in the Twin Cities.

Minneapolis City was founded on a set of beliefs about what a club should be.

The foundation included a commitment to giving local players the opportunity to play in a positive, high-performance environment on a national stage. We wanted to help local kids get to the next level—no matter the player’s financial position, ethnic or immigrant background. No matter anything except their ability to play at a high level and willingness to donate their time back to the community.

It included a commitment to supporters too. We wanted to create an un-corporate club ethos: give members a voice, make the game day experience human and affordable, and connect everyone together, players, staff, fans, etc. in an accessible way as a community asset, not as an investment vehicle.

Those are two of the things that make this club different.

To make them real, though, means that my focus has to be on the hard business metrics. Because it all costs money. A lot of money.

This season, we are planning on a $100,000 budget with a stretch goal of $125,000.**

In other words, we need to rent enough momentum—motivate enough people to do things with us—to generate at least $100,000 in revenue.

The club is reliant on our supporters.

That is the purposeful outcome of the supporter-focused model, so high fives all around.

But. And there is always a but.

The high percentage of revenue that comes from Tickets & Matchday and Merchandise illustrates it in a very visceral way for me, the one tasked with making sure we stay sustainable, just how precarious that reality can be. We simply have to keep new people coming into the club and keep our members engaged and motivated because that is how the club survives. We need our supporters, every single one. For City, every t-shirt sold is a real, meaningful, contribution to the bottom line. It’s what keeps the club alive.

That is also what differentiates us from corporate sports. For them, the real money comes from their TV contract and corporate sponsorships and hospitality. A given t-shirt sale isn’t even a spreadsheet rounding error. Regular fans at games are nice, but not all that critical. What drives pro teams as a business has become unconnected from the average fan.

And it shows.

It shows in their merch designs, it shows in the ticket prices, it shows in how they treat fans going to games, it even shows in stadium design with the rise of the box seat-focused, catered corporate sports experience. It’s not that corporate sports—the peak of polished, produced, entertainment spectacle—aren’t fun from time to time. They are.^

Minneapolis City isn’t that. Can’t compete with that. Doesn’t want to compete with that because we believe there are enough people who could fall in love with human-sized sports that we can build a super fun club that is by, for, and caters to the supporters. It’s a different way to think about sports, a more DIY approach, and while that approach won’t ever afford us a 10-figure stadium, we are in the middle of building something special, sustainable, and human.

So how are we going to create momentum going into the 2019 season?

The first answer is operational. And I am going to take the long way around to answer it.***

Story time! Because of external forces like friction and drag (rolling resistance and air resistance), it takes an increasingly enormous amount of horsepower for a car to continue to gain speed.

For example, it takes a mere 16 horsepower to go 55 miles per hour. But to from 155 to 165—a mere 10 miles per hour increase—it takes an additional 43 horsepower.

The same thing is true with organizations like ours. It took relatively little horsepower to get where we are—relative to the amount of horsepower it will take to get us to the next milestone, at least.

So the first thing on my mind for how we are going to create momentum going into the 2019 season is getting and applying that horsepower. And, to put the metaphor out of its misery, the horsepower is other talented volunteers that supplement what we have in Sarah Schreier, Matt vanBenschoten, Jon Bisswurm, Derric Johnson, Daniel Warner and others. Our end goal is a full-time employee (or two!), but right now we’re looking for people with the time, inclination and talent to dig in deep and drive the club forward.^^

We have already made some positive moves in that direction.

Adam Pribyl taking over the Athletics Director role gives us someone who can oversee all aspects of the playing side of things, from the coaches to the facilities. It’s a critical addition to the backbone of our successful development and playing side.

We are bringing on Kristian Killian, who will be focused on developing corporate partnerships. This is huge for us as this is the financial area we have dramatically underperformed on, mainly because we haven’t had the, ahem, horsepower for it. Now we do.

And I’m pleased to say that Jocelyn Jourdan has volunteered to help crank up our marketing efforts. Jocelyn, of course, led the marketing efforts of a certain team in town while they were in NASL and MLS and gives us a level of experience and ability, especially around paid media, that few clubs at our level have.

On top of that, we’re starting our search for the next class of interns.****

Momentum comes from a mix of creativity and hard work. The more brilliant, hard working people we have involved in the club, the more momentum we create.

Right now, it’s all about finding those people and getting them working within a context that allows them to make things happen.

Only 6 months until the season starts…

* Whether it’s the Minnesota Twins and their stadium boost or a club in the NPSL North that sees its attendance drop by hundreds in their second year, it’s a thing that happens. Unless you keep reinventing the momentum…

** A $125,000 budget would represent an approximately 30% increase over last year and is almost 3 times more than what we spent our inaugural season

^ I love pro sports in general and the Minnesota pro sports teams in particular. This isn’t an us vs them thing. It’s just a way to express two different visions for what sports can be without suggesting that one is right and the other wrong. Both versions of sports are fun, in my honest opinion.

*** It’s my article, I do what I want.

^^ If this is you, find us on social media and sent us a message.

**** Interested or know someone who is? Mosey on over here.

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