An Interview with Andrew Weilgus of Atlantic City FC
Some NPSL teams come in with a whimper, while others come in with a bang. Atlantic City FC looks to be the latter. With an ambitious plan to serve an underserved sports market, ACFC could very well be the next NPSL success story. Consider the four major elements of success in NPSL: coaching, community engagement, media/advertising, and housing players. Atlantic City FC has addressed all four issues from the jump.
For starters, ACFC has wasted no time in filling out its coaching and technical staff. As a player, Kristian O’Leary made over 300 appearances for Swansea City FC before hanging up the studs to focus on coaching. He has coached in the Welsh Premier League and at his beloved Swansea, where he was first team assistant head coach. Jeremiah White III was an All-American at Wake Forest before a pro career that took him to Serbia, France, Greece, and Denmark. Domestically, he played for New England Revolution and even the US Men’s National Team. It is safe to say that potential NPSL players will have interest in learning the skills and tactics these men can teach.
As for community engagement, ACFC will surely benefit from the fact that Atlantic City currently has no local spectator sports besides high school and college teams. They have the opportunity to become the club of the people. There is also a plan in place to engage the local youth soccer clubs, and to help as many kids as possible realize the dream of playing at a higher level than previously possible in the area.
The media plan is in place as well. This is incredibly important for NPSL teams, as every mama from outside the area (or outside the country) wants her baby to go to a place where she can watch him on TV. Atlantic City FC will stream its games online, but the club has also signed a deal with Longport Media and all of their affiliate stations. This will ensure coverage and marketing in the area is at a premium.
But Atlantic City FC still has one more trump card up its sleeve—one that could easily give it an edge over its competitors. People who truly know how the NPSL works will tell you that the secret to on-field success is the ability to house players. Since most NPSL players maintain their amateur status and therefore do not (legally) get paid, housing is a HUGE issue in recruiting.
Atlantic City FC is not just housing their players; they are housing them in a beachside boutique hotel. ACFC players will live in Chelsea Hotel, a property recently acquired by Tropicana Hotel, the club’s sponsor. It is easy to see how this will help with recruiting. The pool alone would be a huge selling point with the average 20-year-old, and very few NPSL clubs offer a spot on A-1-A (Beachfront Avenue).
The club has also secured a solid, soccer specific venue. The soccer field at nearby Stockton University features a grass field with locker rooms and 2,500 seats. That is perfect for NPSL.
Midfield Press had the opportunity to chat with club executive Andrew Weilgus about his plans for the upcoming season and his vision for the Atlantic City FC.
MP: What makes the Atlantic City market right for soccer in 2018?
AW: For a city with 20 million annual tourists, it was remarkable to us that Atlantic City had no sports teams. Being a passionate fan of lower level soccer world-wide, we felt many of the cities that had success creating a team were very similar to Atlantic City. Spending time in the community, I’ve seen a tremendous growth in soccer’s viability—from kids wearing jerseys to local restaurants showing games, I’m convinced this city will embrace having a team that represents them on and off the pitch.
MP: What are the most attractive elements of the NPSL model, and why were you drawn to it?
AW: There is a tremendous satisfaction in watching players rise through the ranks of the minor leagues / college level to become professional players. The NPSL gives us a great opportunity to see players who are working towards taking their game to the highest levels of world soccer while allowing us to create a community-oriented, affordable experience for the people of Atlantic County. The local travel and the rivalries we will build within the NPSL are going to be tremendous, and we are very excited to be part of the fastest growing league in the US.
MP: NPSL teams take a lot of ribbing on Twitter when it comes to crest design, but your branding looks fantastic. It is unique to Atlantic City without being over-the-top, and #SoccerTwitter loves it. How does your branding fit with your overall message and online presence?
AW: We were fortunate enough to have Derek Reese work on the design. We certainly recognized the importance of that part of the business. We now have 10,000 Twitter followers (@AtlanticCityFC), so we needed to have a brand that was out there in the social conscience—something that was recognizable and unique.
MP: With two first division teams within a two-hour drive, how can Atlantic City FC carve out its own niche?
AW: This is not at all about MLS or competing with professional sports. It is about a community in Atlantic County that has no team of its own. Our goal is to provide top-class entertainment for the 270,000 residents that are here year round, while giving visitors something to participate in when they come to our area.
MP: What is the local youth soccer scene like in Atlantic City, and how can you capitalize on the existing infrastructure?
AW: Our long-term focus is to put as many resources into the local, underserved Atlantic County youth as possible in the hopes of developing local talent. We want to do our part to help the United States Men’s and Women’s teams become as competitive as possible on the international stage. Currently, many people work very hard to help local youth develop in our area. Whenever possible, we would like to assist with clinics and community-focused programs that bring these organizations together for our common purpose.
MP: You recently added Kristian O’Leary, who played and coached at Swansea City for a number of years, and former New England Revolution player Jeremiah White III to lead the coaching and technical aspects of the game. What can you say about these key additions?
AW: What I’ll say about both of them is they share our vision for what ACFC will bring to the community in both the short and long term. We are happy to have them both.
MP: What will be the role of volunteers in the Atlantic City FC structure? How will you recruit those volunteers?
AW: We plan on having a tremendous volunteer program that treats our volunteers like members of the team. A club is only as strong as the people who work with it, and with our community focus, we will have no shortage of room for people who want to be involved with ACFC.
MP: Where do you see American soccer in 10 years time? How can Atlantic City FC contribute to that vision?
AW: As we mentioned, our goal is to help do our part to develop the local talent of Atlantic County—regardless of their economic situation—and to give that talent a clear path toward helping the US become a soccer force. I hope US soccer can keep building vital infrastructure while engaging more qualified people to take part in the training and coaching process. We feel it is a core mission of any community team to ensure every kid, regardless of their resources, gets a chance to compete if they have talent.