Jonathan Collura joins GCPL

Photo courtesy of    FC Nation Podcast

Photo courtesy of FC Nation Podcast

Jonathan Collura has been sending messages throughout the US since he became the Founder and President of Bugeaters FC of Nebraska. Now, his move to join the Gulf Coast Premier League’s Board of Directors not only sends a message about his particular ambitions and perhaps the pathway of his club, but also sent a message that is beginning to resonate more and more at the levels of American soccer below those sanctioned by the US Soccer Federation.

“Regional leagues are the pathway at this level.”

The GCPL announced the move on Thursday, January 24th and it immediately struck many as a savvy move for the relatively young league. Founded in 2014, the GCPL has spent much of its life consolidating its modest gains and insuring that there is a league for these clubs to play in that is not too large to be sustainable, both in terms of the travel expected, and the membership of potentially toxic clubs. Now there are 18 clubs that will call the GCPL home in 2019 and with expansion comes risk. This is where Jonathan Collura sees himself as being an asset for the GCPL. “I had a vision of helping to develop clubs and giving them sound business models. As you know, I believe that leagues are about the clubs and should help focus on them being sustainable.” Collura’s background at Bugeaters will certainly help those new clubs just starting out, but it is his experience in England that informs much of his focus on the club level in the US.

He is also on the Board of Directors for the National League North (Tier 6) club Bradford (Park Avenue). This is the first tier in English football that regionalizes, with Tiers 1-5 being national leagues. In an area roughly the size of Michigan, that is very possible. Even in this small geographic region, the need for local focus and regionalization is understood to help all the clubs at that level remain sustainable. The pyramid is constructed in such a way that the steps from amateur levels to professional are more gradual, with local leagues giving way to regional, and finally national before introducing clubs to the challenges of the professional levels.

The challenges of national leagues become much more pronounced in the United States due to the sheer size of it. Conversely, the focus of the GCPL has always been local, and this is something that resonated with Collura. “I contacted the GCPL guys and had quite a few discussions with them. Independent, locally managed and club focused is what I immediately found them to be,” he said. This independence is also something that will strike a chord with those who have admired Bugeaters whether in Nebraska or from afar. The club has consistently marched to the beat of its own drum and blazed new trails in American soccer. This type of club that is seen as more significant than any league or entity they belong to is exactly the type of club that the GCPL targets. Collura immediately saw the similarities between the things that drew him to start Bugeaters and the GCPL.  “I said that I wanted to help them continue what they’ve built and add some of my acumen to the mix.”

His acumen is not limited to the sport of soccer either. His experience in banking and corporate finance give him more ability than most to assist clubs in not only succeeding financially in the short term but establishing a foundation to achieve true sustainability. “Focusing local and ultimately on development can only happen if you have a good business plan,” Collura added. This is where the local focus turns from the type of idealism that drives many a supporter of a lower division side, to the pragmatism required by the executives of the clubs that operate in those divisions. Collura understands that this will ultimately be about solid, sustainable growth both in a commercial and branding sense if this venture is to succeed. So with Collura making this move to the GCPL, what does that mean for his other venture, Bugeaters FC?

The GCPL announced in November 2018 that they were adding a new conference to the league’s set up. The Great Plains Premier League (GPPL) will be “operated and commissioned by the GCPL in the 2019 season.” This development would not seem to be a coincidence, as Bugeaters sits squarely in this new conference’s region. It has yet to be announced whether they will be involved in this new venture of the GCPL, but suffice it to say that the writing seems to be on the wall as Collura joins the Board of Directors of the parent league. Collura has not commented and you will have to make your own inferences as to the way ahead but Collura’s ambitions are transparent. “I have always wanted to help develop the game on a larger scale than just a club… I intend to help [the GCPL] with the mission that they have done so well with.”

The sustainability of regional leagues continue to be a draw for more and more clubs, with the high standards they set for members being a further incentive. Much of the expansion of this model, focused on local ownership of community clubs that have a solid, sustainable approach to their business, will depend on the success of the model in the GPPL as well. If it is successful, it is not hard to imagine an expansion of this model across the country. With lower barriers to entry in terms of finances than the NPSL, but more vetting and exclusivity than the UPSL, the niche for these leagues could be getting bigger. Time will tell if the GCPL’s model continues to expand, but with Collura helping solidify the team at the helm, the GCPL may just become the standard by which all amateur leagues measure themselves.

- Phil Baki