There has been an explosion of grassroots soccer clubs over the past few years, and the National Premier Soccer League has been at the forefront of it. Detroit City FC became the best known US soccer club outside of MLS, NASL and USL. Chattanooga FC demonstrated that a small city can fill a stadium with over 18,000 people who want to watch their local amateur soccer team play for a national title. Nashville FC started as a supporters owned club and is moving to the professional USL. Dennis Crowley, the owner of the first-year Kingston Stockade, open sourced his club’s experience as a template for others to bring soccer to their hometowns in a league like the NPSL.
All of these success stories and more have happened within the context of the platform that the National Premier Soccer League provides with its regional divisions that help minimize travel costs as well as its low expansion and annual fees. While its teams play in regional divisions and super-regional conferences above that, the NPSL is a nationwide league that serves, along with USL’s PDL, as the unofficial fourth division of US club soccer. The NPSL has grown from 45 teams in 2012 to 85 teams in 2016, with no end in sight. The latest expansion team for the NPSL is Kitsap SC, the Seattle-area semi-pro club that fought its way to the Fourth Round of the U.S. Open Cup this past year, having defeated the USL’s Sacramento Republic in the Third Round.
Midfield Press was able to speak with NPSL Commissioner Joe Barone about what the future holds for the the National Premier Soccer League
1. Kitsap SC is a pretty big team for NPSL to land. They are one of the most prestigious clubs at this level of US Soccer, and just made a deep run in the US Open Cup. How did that move come about?
Kitsap’s owner approached us. The NPSL is a very positive place. The model we offer is current with what goes on around the world in other soccer markets. We’re an amatuer league that plays an important role in American soccer. It is a special day for owners in the league to have a team like Kitsap join.
2. How do you think Kitsap joining the league impacts your future in the Northwest?
We’re working on further developing the footprint there. Kitsap will play a big part in that.
3. The NPSL has been home to some really great grassroots soccer stories – Chattanooga FC, Detroit City FC, Nashville FC and Grand Rapids FC, among others. What is it about the NPSL that creates a platform for people to create these soccer success stories in their communities?
It is a model that is open to the team. It is about the community and the actual ownership group involved in the community. Our main concern is the teams doing well in the community. That is why you have those success stories like the Kingston Stockade which you mentioned. There’s a guy, Dennis Crowley, that was really hands on in the community. It is about keeping the fees low, providing a good stream of services and giving back to the teams.
One of the things as a league is that we don’t mention much is that we give back money to the teams make the playoffs to subsidize their travel. We have a formula on how we give that money back to those teams. In the national final and the national semi-finals, the traveling team has its expenses paid for. It is important to reward the teams for making the playoffs, one of the rewards is making sure the away teams don’t have to pay for that travel. This is where the league comes in and subsidizes the travel. We listen to the needs of the teams and try to understand what the fans and the owners want around the country. We play a role in player development in this country. We’re in a good position to contribute to the growth of the sport in general.
4. The NPSL is a large league with some very successful teams. Have you considered implementing promotion and relegation within the NPSL as the UPSL is set to do in their league?
I have done interviews where I am a promoter of pro/rel. I was born in Italy, so I follow all sorts of European soccer. I am a proponent of it. As far as the NPSL, our league is made up of 4 regions. At the amatuer level, it is not something that we are looking at within our own internal structure.
5. How much does it cost to start an NPSL team?
The one-time buy in fee is $15,000. Once approved by the Board of Directors and Conference, the yearly fees are $5,250. I’m a volunteer. We’re operating this on a shoestring budget. We’re here to stay and to support the growth of soccer in our niche. I wish the best for the other leagues that are also creating opportunities for players and coaches.
6. With USL focused on moving up market with its D2 ambitions, we are seeing smaller, long-time pro clubs like the Wilmington Hammerheads falling out of USL. There seems to be a gap in the market now for a league between NPSL and USL. Have you considered making an NPSL Pro league with a few regional conferences that would fill the gap?
I think that the ideas are there, but you need the ownership groups to activate it and be proactive with and have the funds to make that happen. It is easy to talk about it. What I would like to see that the whole system in the United States is working together because, whether you are at the bottom or the top, we all need a positive environment to flourish in. We wouldn’t be here today if the MLS wasn’t where it is today. There wouldn’t be all of these people talking about soccer in general. All these player and coaching job opportunities. It is important that we have a positive environment and that groups are working together to have a cohesive system. Somewhere down the line there has to be an alignment where we are all starring in the same direction.
7. The NASL and NPSL have a relationship today where reserve teams play in NPSL. Do you see this relationship progressing any further?
The ownership groups of those NASL teams have made an investment into the NPSL. We share ideas and work together.
8. There has been some talk that NPSL and USL might be discussing a working relationship. Can you give any insight into what that might look like, especially given the fact that USL owns PDL, a similar league to NPSL?
There are no discussion between the NPSL and USL. We are an independent league governed by the USASA. We’re a very healthy league. We’ll continue to grow. We’ll continue to stabilize the league. We’ll continue to play our role in development of players in the game. If you see the MLS draft, a lot of the players have played in the NPSL. I’m not just a proponent of the NPSL, I’m a proponent of all soccer. I want the game to develop and people to have opportunities. However, the speculation of us working on a deal with USL, PDL or any other leagues are inaccurate.
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