Re-Aligning the American Pyramid: Andy Rittenhouse
Logistical Support For Regional Leagues
My views of soccer come from two perspectives: as a fan and as a father. As a fan, I want to see competitive matches. I want to see teams with a strong fan base playing year after year, with a team in each community for everyone to support. As a father, I want my kids to be able to play at the highest level per their ability. I want them to find a team that they want to support and that they could reasonably attend their matches which would further their enjoyment of the game. Pro/Rel is often thought of as the way to solve the soccer problems in the U.S., but there is insufficient regional leagues to form the lowest base of a pyramid and there is a lack of teams within a reasonable distance to a lot of fans.
When I think of a nationally organized league, I like to think of two hours away as a reasonable distance for a fan to travel to a home match in support of a team I would call my local team. For a lot of people, two hours away is not local at all. As I see it, it is just the most local that I have and it would be great if there was a team closer that I could support as well. Since the United States is already broken up into successively smaller geographical sections, it would make sense to use either counties or other geographical regions as a way to organize new regional-based leagues. Places with higher population densities have already learned how great local leagues are for the soccer community. Look to the Bay State Soccer League, Gulf Coast Premier League, Maryland Majors or Cosmopolitan Soccer League as examples. These leagues are sparsely set across the country and a lot of places do not have anything comparable. So one way to grow this base is to start one of these leagues; which is much easier said than done.
These regional leagues would have to be on a much smaller scale to be successful and people within that realm most likely have minimal related experience. Most of the people that might consider starting a team or league have no experience with running a team, let alone an entire league of teams. Thankfully, things like Dennis Crowley and Stockade FC's primer on the realities of running a team exist, which is posted on Medium. In order to facilitate a regional league starting up, it would be helpful to have a suite of tools available to its organizers. This is where the boring yet important stuff happens. How many people have ever tried to organize a personnel registration? Who among us has had to market a league in order to find the people needed to start and run teams within it? Have you ever shopped for the necessary insurance to play matches on an field you don't own?
The on-field product is where most soccer people have their history, whether for playing or coaching. There are many aspects of organizing a season that are not often thought about unless you are the one in the decision room. A web-based platform or set of apps could deliver many tools that would help a region survive.
Things for the local organizing body to use like an online player or team registration service, marketing or advertising help, how to find owners, scheduling aids, working with sponsors and partnership, or a statewide sport insurance group would go far. Regional leagues need to be organized bodies and have some ways to cut costs, even if that means collectively across multiple regions within a state. Plus, if regions joined together to form a state or national coalition this could lead to a centralized database of every state and each of their regional leagues. This would be a great resource for someone that moves from one area to another to find a new team to join or support. It could also serve as a way for leagues or teams to build a lower league support network.
The naysayers may complain about the quality, but these are the same people that will not support the NPSL, UPSL, USL, and sometimes even the MLS. The regional leagues could be an amateur foundation to the tiers above it. As fans, we have seen teams and leagues start and collapse with relative ease. Helping to provide the necessary infrastructure to run a league could make them more sustainable. Once these discussions start, it is evident that there is a lot to overcome with regional leagues. Issues with travel distance and economic sustainability will have to be dealt with depending on the region of play.
In a country that has a “shop local” holiday shouldn’t we also support a culture of “sport local”? Fostering local access to soccer could provide the lubricant for the current and next generation of players and fans and a logistically-supported, regional base to the pyramid would most assuredly help to provide greater access.