In December Minneapolis City SC attended the NPSL Annual Owner’s Meeting.
While the league staff do a fantastic job of making the meeting an event, in truth it’s about the unglamorous business of running a club-owned league. We talk about insurance, player registration, schedule and timelines. Each region and conference breaks out to define playoffs structure and such. It is not a time for drama and fiery speeches or anything like that.*
One of the big topics was expansion.
Since this was a business meeting, the discussion was centered on the nuts and bolts of it: the process for reviewing new club applications, expectations and mandatories of teams, and that sort of thing. Running a soccer league is about systems and process management and paperwork. It’s important, but also the exact opposite of what it feels like to sit in the stands and watch Minneapolis City play.
Still, the topic of expansion opens a sort of Pandora’s Box of tangental points best summed up with the question: Why the NPSL?
After all, the league has an expansion fee! The expansion process is long and detailed. League fees are more expensive than state, regional, or upstart national leagues like the UPSL.
There is a faction among club owners and Twitter influencers who are adamantly against expansion fees. I believe that gatekeeping a league is important because it’s important to me as a club owner to have stable, competent clubs in my league. It’s critical. Expansion fees aren’t the only way or even the best way to gate keep, but if you don’t believe that any gatekeeping is necessary than you’re not thinking seriously about soccer as a business.
The truth is that the NPSL is the right fit because it is made up mainly of clubs like ours.
We want our players to play in the highest-profile, highest-level NCAA-compliant league possible so that we are the place every top Minnesota-based player wants to play, whether to elevate their career or simply because good players want to play with good players.
There is an argument that the Premier Development League, now named USL Something Or Another, I could Google the new name but I can’t really be bothered, offers a higher level of play than the NPSL but the difference, if any, is as small as the PDL expansion fee is large.
The United Premier Soccer League (UPSL) in our area simply isn’t a meaningful competitive level.**
The NPSL, however, is a high-profile and extremely competitive league, nationally and here in the North. Whether we are facing the NCAA D1 and NAIA talent that Med City FC and Duluth FC bring in from around the country, the talent conveyor belt that is TwinStars, or the underground and former professional ballers from VSLT, every game in the NPSL North is a battle, sometimes literally.
The NPSL is the perfect match for our club and our players.
Because we are striving for sustainability and longevity as a club, we are working hard to ensure that we have a strong business.
As we look at costs, we primarily look at league fees and travel costs because those are potentially huge line items. The NPSL sits between the PDL, which is expensive, and the UPSL, which, with five teams within 2.5 hours of us, would be the cheapest. But costs don’t tell the whole story.
On the revenue side, we are reliant in a lot of ways on the clubs in our league. We need them to be competitive. We need them to be organized, look professional, and serious. If we are going to charge people to watch our games we know that the games have to deliver value, and we need our opponents to help us do that.
That’s table stakes. It levels up when we play clubs that people want to see games against. The NPSL North delivers two metro derbies, always our biggest draws, and two games against out-state clubs in Duluth and Rochester that have their own fan followings. That helps our business in a meaningful way and there is nothing like a few away fans to supercharge the atmosphere.***
Speaking of away fans, the NPSL North delivers both a WCHL-like feel to the league and the opportunity for our supporters to enjoy away days without dropping money on flights or having to ask for days off of work. It’s a huge benefit because the best stories always seem to come from watching Minneapolis City play away, like that time we took 50+ fans to Milwaukee and [redacted].
You can rely on PDL teams to deliver professionalism on the field, but if we were in that league our closest games would be Des Moines and Green Bay and, while not terrible distances, they just don’t foster the same sense of rivalry that we have in the NPSL. And we would also have to go to Winnipeg.
The UPSL, again, falls well short of the required standard. Besides organizational professionalism being an open question, none of the UPSL clubs in our area have any sort of fan support and the concentration of teams in the Twin Cities (playing in empty stadiums) give it a very men’s league feel.
The NPSL is the right league for us because it has the most clubs that are like us. It has clubs that are striving to be excellent on the field and off, working hard to up the level of play and create a meaningful fan experience—and pulling it off.
On top of that, it has proven to be an incubator and supporter of awesome, authentic, well-supported independent clubs that are changing the face of soccer in America. Not just the Detroit City and Chattanooga’s of the world, but Tulsa Athletic, Kingston Stockade, Little Rock Rangers, Asheville City, and so many others that draw four-figure crowds, make human connections to their supporters, and have turned the NPSL into a thriving and fascinating league.
I know that I’m biased, but given the number, difference, geographical reach, and professionalism of the clubs, the NPSL—which is both local and basically continental—is the most interesting soccer league in the world.
While there is nothing I have to share about the NPSL North, the league is going to continue to expand. It is going to continue to expand by looking for like-minded clubs who are trying to build something on the field and off.
But, since I was there mainly for the paperwork part of things, your best bet for a deeper dive is Kyle Eliason’s discussion with Sonny Dalesandro and Dina Case.
*However, since the meeting was in Minneapolis it was a time to introduce our visitors to delights like the Jucy Lucy, Summit beer, and meat raffles—a cultural export that arrived in Detroit via the City Clubhouse on Boxing Day. You’re welcome, Detroiters.
**That’s not shade, it’s that with the regional re-org the teams we would play against include FC Minneapolis, who win fewer games than the Washington Generals, Granite City FC, who lost to our U23s, Vlora City FC, who are a decent MASL Division 1 side, Dakota Youngstars, who aren’t quite as good as Sioux Falls Thunder, SC Saints, who were last seen in MASL Division 4, and Rochester FC, who look like they could challenge Vlora City, at least on paper.
***I’m not even talking about it in an aggro, hooligan way. For example, the famous Nigel’s Mom was so friendly and upbeat that she helped make the Sioux Falls game memorable all on her own.
You can read the first in the series here.