XI Questions With… Dayton Dynamo
Ohio is the seventh most populous state in the USA, but unlike the six states ahead of it, there is no huge metropolitan area concentrating much of the state’s population. Ohio’s population is spread out among midsize and small cities. Columbus is home to MLS’s Columbus Crew. FC Cincinnati smashed all USL attendance records and outdrew the Crew despite playing at a lower level. Cleveland has no pro soccer team, although its NPSL club AFC Cleveland won the 2016 NPSL championship. Dayton is the state’s fourth largest metro area behind those three.
Situated about an hour west of Columbus and an hour north of Cincinnati, Dayton is a significant metropolitan area itself. With 800,000 people in the region, Dayton meets USSF’s Division 2 standards in terms of market size. Dayton once boasted a Division 3 soccer club of its own, the Dayton Dutch Lions, who played in USL Pro from 2011-2014 until self-relegating to PDL for 2015.
The Dayton Dynamo moved to the city for the 2016 NPSL season. Before 2016, the club was known as the Cincinnati Saints. The Dynamo are named for an indoor soccer team that played in the city from 1988-95 and drew solid average attendances between 2700 and 4000. In an interesting twist of fate, the original Dynamo moved to Cincinnati where they became known as the Cincinnati Silverbacks (no, this was not related to Harambe, who only moved to Cincinnati in 2014).
The relatively tepid response to the Dayton Dutch Lions’ stint in USL Pro, where average attendance failed to break 1,000 in any season, might cause concern for Dayton as a soccer market. However, one could also attribute their struggles to being located outside of the city, or to the club’s identity being shaped by a partnership with FC Twente of the Dutch Eredivisie rather than a local connection.
David Satterwhite, CEO and President of the Dayton Dynamo, believes there is room to grow a Dayton soccer club back to the support levels seen by the original Dynamo and beyond. With a move into a Roger Glass Stadium in downtown Dayton for the 2017 NPSL season, the Dynamo look to tap into the potential of the Dayton soccer market and participate in the renaissance of the beautiful game in Ohio. Midfield Press was able to speak with Satterwhite to discuss the club’s past, present and future.
1. How and why was the club founded?
The Dayton Dynamo Football Club was founded in a unique way from other startup clubs. I started the Cincinnati Saints back in 2009. We played 2 seasons in the NPSL, prior to moving the team to Dayton. We moved to Dayton for several reasons but two main reasons was the venue being built & the city leaders were really looking to rebuild Dayton after several decades of declining population growth with the downsizing of industrial businesses which once was the lifeblood of the city.
2. What venue does the team currently play in?
We currently play at Roger Glass Stadium which was just finished in August 2016. The Stadium is located downtown Dayton, Ohio on Chaminade Julienne High School campus. Although we have not played a game there yet, (we played at Welcome Stadium for 2016 season) we have a lot of cool things we are able to do at Roger Glass that we have never been able to do even in Cincinnati. We have two fields that we will be operating during matchdays. On the practice field we will be hosting prematch festivities from Bands, Mini soccer games, Soccer tennis & free prematch clinics. We will also be able to serve beer at matches for the first time in club history. All of this and being downtown just minutes from the Oregon District which is the main entertainment district in Dayton, makes for a great fan experience.
3. What does attendance look like a typical match? What was your best attended match and the circumstances around it (including the attendance #s)?
Attendance was ok last year. We ran into a lot of Sunday afternoon games in the spring which was brutal trying to access the local youth soccer market. We had a lot of young professionals come check us out last year as we provided a shuttle from Dayton Beer Company to & from the matches. All in all we averaged around 300+ a game with our high being the home opener of 700+.
4. What does the supporter culture for the team look like?
The supporter culture I think can really strive here in Dayton. We had a young man by the name of Tyler West that was ambitious enough to try and start a supporter group in 3 months. I would say he was successful as they ranged from 10-20 people per match. We are hoping that they will be able to double that with us being able to serve beer (a must for young professionals) & a full year to get the word out.
5. FC Cincinnati is not far from you. They smashed all previous attendance records in USL this past year. The Dayton Dutch Lions once represented your city at that level. Do you think the success of FC Cincinnati would translate into more attention today for a USL or NASL team in Dayton?
This is a great question. I believe Dayton can support a pro football club. The question is at what level? The market already had a bunch of Columbus Crew fans. The emergence of FC Cincinnati has further split the market in some have become FC Cincy fans & others have stayed Crew fans. We really have to put a great fan experience together for soccer fans in Dayton to choose us over going to Cincy or Columbus for matches. I don’t think the city of Dayton has ever really had a good fan experience for a soccer match. We are hoping we can do that and drive attendance up for the 2017 season.
6. What is the long term vision for the team?
The long term vision is to build the Dayton Dynamo Football Club into a true professional team. Playing a 10 month season, with international friendlies to showcase the city of Dayton, Ohio on a national & global stage. We are here to put on a great fan experience, play good football & represent the city of Dayton with the utmost professionalism.
7. What does the current investor profile look like?
Currently I am the sole owner. I have not ever looked at outside investors yet as I have been fighting to make sure we had all the opportunities to generate revenue for the club & provide a true professional soccer experience. Now that we have that we will be using this season as a template for future seasons so that we can attract investors that may share the vision of the club to grow domestically but also globally.
8. Have you spoken with potential investors about moving the team up to USL or NASL?
I have not spoken to anyone about investing in the club. I haven’t felt that we have proven worthy of an investment as clubs like Detroit City or Chattanooga FC have, strictly a personal opinion.
9. Would the current venue hold up if you moved to USL/NASL or would you need to find a new home? If so, are there existing stadiums you could use in your area or would the investors need to build a new one?
Roger Glass Stadium could hold up for a USL or NASL team on a temporary basis as the max capacity is 2,100. This would be on the low end of what the current USL & NASL teams generate in attendance. If we wanted to sustain a club at that level we would need a 10,000 seat stadium. Dayton does currently have an 11,000 seat stadium (Welcome Stadium) but no beer sales and lack of intimacy doesn’t make it an ideal venue.
10. We have recently seen informative write ups on the financial and operational aspects of successfully running a lower league team by the owners of the Kingston Stockade (NPSL) and Minneapolis City SC (PLA) in an effort to “open source” a soccer success formula to communities around the country. Memphis City FC also debuted in NPSL this past year – what are some of the most important lessons you learned and what advice would you give to folks looking to start a similar club in their home town?
Best advice I can give is budget for very little if not zero sponsorship dollars. The 2nd piece of advice would be stay within your budget, even if that means lacking on what level of product you put on the field. It takes time to earn a fanbase. Starting a minor league soccer team is like starting a band. You’re low budget in the beginning but you earn fans and money etc and you build and grow with the growth of your fanbase. Too many times owners jump the gun and spend a ton of money and expect it to stick in a couple months.
11. What else should the readers of Midfield Press know about your club?
The biggest lesson I have learned is that fan experience is EVERYTHING. Especially for us being less than an hour from one MLS team & possibly a 2nd MLS team in FC Cincy. The days of just running a summer team & that people will come to the stadium to watch and not be entertained is over. Soccer fans can watch BPL, MLS, La Liga, Bundesliga on TV for free weekly. They can see the best soccer in the world, why would they come watch some college players play. What I feel we can do better as a front office is conveying the message to our fans is that “don’t support us for what we are today, support us for what we want to be tomorrow”
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