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Sunday, 16 March 2014 22:00

Club Sport: Organizers soliciting support for semi-pro GR soccer team

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A Grand Rapids group is hoping the Green Bay Packers’ business model will work for a different kind of football team: semi-professional soccer.

Organizers behind the Grand Rapids Football Club are in the early planning stages for what could become just the second supporter-owned team in the National Premier Soccer League.

Given the popularity of various youth soccer clubs and the growing number of participants in local soccer leagues, GRFC thinks a community-backed nonprofit model will attract supporters and provide the resources it needs to field a team starting in the 2015 season, said Matt Roberts, one of the principal organizers.

“I think it will work here,” said Roberts, who serves as the director of youth development for the Grand Rapids Crew Juniors, a soccer club affiliated with the Columbus Crew of Major League Soccer. “I think if it’s community-owned, everyone will jump onboard and take to it quicker — as opposed to it being owned by a single club or just a big money owner.”

GRFC has a goal of 200 initial members each pledging $100. The $20,000 would be more than enough to cover the $16,500 needed to register in the NPSL for 2015. The club would need approximately $60,000 to operate for a single season, Roberts said.

Currently, 26 members have pledged their support at the $100 level.

The NPSL teams have no age limits and often feature a range of amateur and collegiate players and former professionals. Amateur players can maintain their college eligibility, but players willing to forego their amateur status can be paid a small salary under league rules.

In Grand Rapids, the team doesn’t plan to pay players and coaches as the club tries to get off the ground. Paying for the coaching staff will be the first priority, Roberts said.

“We’re going to rely on the community big time when it comes to game days,” Roberts said.

The team is in negotiations to play home games at Grand Rapids Public Schools’ Houseman Field at the corner of Fountain Street and Diamond Avenue, Roberts said.

The facility, which was renovated at a cost of $6 million in 2008 and seats 10,000 people, more than meets the 500-seat capacity required by the league.

The NPSL is a fourth-division organization in the U.S. Soccer pyramid under the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF). The NPSL is recognized as a “semi-professional” league by the U.S. Adult Soccer Association (USASA).

The NPSL started in 2003 with six teams. This year, 78 teams will play games in 13 divisions across the country. If GRFC is accepted into the league by a committee of current team executives, the club would play in the Midwest Region’s Great Lakes conference.

Current teams in the conference include Detroit City FC, the Dearborn-based Michigan Stars, Cincinnati Saints, Lansing United, FC Buffalo, AFC Cleveland and the Erie Admirals SC.

The Grand Rapids group is following a community-based, supporter-owned model pioneered last year by a team in Nashville, Tenn. The 200-member club that started with just a Facebook page and a Twitter account is now backed by local government groups and several corporate sponsors. After a merger with Nashville Atlas FC, Nashville FC plans to field its first team in May.

“They were able to organize and put things in motion very quickly and now it’s gone on from there,” said Roberts, adding that he’s been in contact with Nashville FC co-founder Chris Jones. “I think if it’s done the right way and we can get people to buy in, we can bring that opportunity here.”

Organizers plan to host a launch party for the GRFC website at 7 p.m., Saturday, May 3 at SpeakEZ Lounge in Grand Rapids.

With the 2014 FIFA World Cup approaching this June, GRFC organizers hope to capitalize on the sport’s publicity to rally supporters as well as corporate and small business sponsors.

“Part of our idea was to use the World Cup as a springboard,” Roberts said. “With so many people watching soccer this summer, we think it will really help draw people to the club. Grand Rapids is already so many things like Beer City and Furniture City … and we want to make it Football City.”

Read 5261 times Last modified on Sunday, 16 March 2014 23:20

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