Oakland County FC started off as Oakland United FC playing the Great Lakes Premier League, now known as the Premier League of America (PLA). Over the past few months, Midfield Press has been talking with Nick Morana, Theo Foutris, and Ben Rode, co-owners of OCFC, about the league, the team, their move to Royal Oak and their long term vision.
1. What has been the biggest struggle for you as an independent team?
The biggest struggle for us as an independent team has been stability and exposure. There isn’t much structure for us to lean on as an organization as the league was created at the same time as our club. Both being in vital periods of the growth stage, our club stands alone in the passionate journey for success. This instability puts our marketing efforts at the forefront of our priorities, used to gain traction with our supporters as we gain exposure.
2. How do you feel the regional structure of the PLA helps your team grow and connect with the fans?
Local fans have been waiting patiently for years for their love of soccer to evolve in their presence. Up until recent years, there were only local leagues in which only players themselves along with the referee staff were in attendance. Now with the emergence of the PLA, many large soccer communities are given the opportunity to provide an exciting and engaging game day experience while still upholding a quality level of competition.
3. What is the long term vision of Oakland County FC?
The organization was established with a passionate mission to offer the best soccer experience given the resources at hand. As the club grows, it will follow the trends the surrounding communities set. Oakland County FC is adaptable to methods that will enhance the game day experience for the supporters while staying true to offering competition at the highest level possible.
4. With some teams in lower division soccer adopting a non-profit approach towards ownership and operations, do you see yourselves trending towards that model, or do you feel that hinders your ability to function?
There are pros and cons to a non-profit approach, and just every business structure in general. It depends on what the long term vision is of the club and what helps them in both the short and long run at the time of the decision.
5. How do you plan on connecting with the fans going into the 2017 season?
We will engage our supporters in every way possible within our limitations. With great momentum after the first season, we have a better understanding of what works and what doesn’t. We are teaming up with the city of Royal Oak and their leaders to make our presence known. We believe a growing soccer organization partnered with an active community will offer exponential growth.
6. How important is the Open Cup for smaller clubs such as yours, in terms of exposure and relevance in the public?
The Open Cup allows our fans the opportunity to view their local team compete on a national stage. Along with the excitement brought by the national exposure is the natural appeal of increasing talent with every knockout round. Given that we proceed to the final stages of the tournament, we could find ourselves playing teams that reside in the MLS.
7. How difficult is it to acquire corporate sponsors as a smaller league team? What are the biggest challenges?
This process is very difficult when presenting to a carefully branded corporation with a conservative approach. The difficulty lies in convincing the corporation that our intentions and future path align with their mission statement. We may be viewed as malleable and unstable from their perspective making them leery of attachment to our organization. Therefore we mostly approach smaller businesses with a plan to provide them exposure.
8. The US currently does not follow a European style model that permits transfer fees for players to move from one club to another as a source of revenue. Would you support that, or do you see yourselves less as a development club, and more of a competitive one?
There is no easy way to tackle this question. The current status of soccer in America hinders player transfer as there aren’t small steps in between each level of the pyramid when it comes to professional soccer leagues, i.e. promotion/relegation. The way we fair in this structure is by selecting the best talent around and working on it with high hopes for it to catch the eye of a higher league. The process for doing so is still under construction.
9. For those not familiar with the way a soccer franchise operates, what would you tell someone who is looking to build a team in a nearby city?
There is no right or wrong answer to this but we gained traction by listening to our closest fans when contemplating what was best for the club. Examples of this include sit down meetings with responsive locals and brainstorming sessions with supporters pitching their ideas.
10. How important is a venue when you’re looking to start a club, or grow it?
There are guidelines within each league with minimum requirements needed when selecting a venue. In starting a club from a grass roots level, we would recommend putting more effort into finding a responsive and welcoming community as opposed to the facility where the games will be held. Almost any venue can be carefully customized given the creativity of the organization, allowing for a perfect home.
11. Looking back on the last few years, what do you think were the most important events of your franchise’s history, and what do you predict for the future?
Home opener versus Ole Soccer Club – May 14, 2016
This game day set the tone for what we were in for as an organization for years to come. Emotions were tested as the ups and downs were made immediately apparent since almost everything was unexpected. We were able to look back and reflect on which methods worked and which did not so we could tweak future operations to enhance the overall game day experience.
We are hoping our recent move to Royal Oak will soon be the best answer to this question as we strive to make this our final resting spot as we plan to succeed year after year with our organization and the community.
You can find Oakland County FC on the web at: www.oaklandcountyfc.com