Help Bring Professional Soccer to Baltimore
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A Professional Soccer Team in Baltimore City Would Provide Opportunity
While rumors of a USL team coming to Baltimore have been floating around for the past few years, with a range of owners rumored to be interested in bringing a team to the area, nothing so far has panned out.
I was recently in Philadelphia for the United Soccer Coaches Convention, where practically every soccer coach, administrator, and journalist involved in the game was in attendance. I own DMVSoccer.com and also have relationships with a number of local coaches, and I was able to confirm that there is an independent, successful entrepreneur (not linked to Under Armour) who has expressed genuine interest in investing the $5 million franchise fee required to bring a USL team to Baltimore City. This potential owner has been scouting locations for stadiums, and attending local NCAA matches like UMBC vs Maryland to observe attendance and interest in local soccer.
Swann Park (as of now) is expected to be the venue for a potential stadium, with the owner rumored to be hesitant to commit until he knows that the local community will support the team. The goal of this petition is to show ownership that Baltimore City residents, Baltimore County residents, and the local soccer community would support a USL team in Baltimore.
How USL Teams Have Recently Expanded in Other Markets
USL was recently announced by US Soccer as the official second-division soccer league in the United States, which means that if a promotion/relegation system similar to the English Premier League and the rest of the world were ever to be put in place, the bottom (3?) teams in MLS would drop down to USL and the top USL teams would be promoted to MLS.
In cities like Cincinnati and Sacramento, teams have been able to come into USL, raise awareness to the local community through grassroots marketing, keep ticket prices affordable, and are now on the verge of becoming new MLS franchises (after less than 2 years) as a result of their outstanding attendance numbers (FC Cincinnati averages over 20,000 per match).
These teams have also brought a lot to the table for their local communities.
USL is currently expanding as a result of many potential owners realizing the opportunity that a USL franchise brings, as talks of MLS promotion/relegation (with USL potentially being one level under MLS one day) continue to heat up.
Baltimore City is a traditional soccer city, and while there have been failed attempts in the past to bring a professional outdoor soccer team to the area (Crystal Palace FC, Baltimore Bohemians, Real Maryland based in Montgomery County, etc.), the sport is currently evolving in the United States, to the point where there is more opportunity for a professional USL team to succeed than in past years.
More kids are playing soccer than ever before, and more people are following professional English Premier League clubs now that practically every game is available to watch on television (did you know that Baltimore was the #1 market in the country for EPL TV viewership in 2017?). The sport is continuing to grow in the United States, yet in a MAJOR market like DC/MD/VA (a market traditionally known as a soccer-rich area), there is still SOMEHOW only one professional outdoor soccer team- DC United.
How Would This Team Be Any Different Than Past Baltimore Pro Soccer Teams?
In 2018, at the MLS level, teams are signing more International players than ever before, limiting the number of roster spots and opportunities for domestic professional-caliber players on MLS teams.
At the same time, many MLS teams such as New York Red Bulls, Los Angeles Galaxy, Seattle Sounders, and in the near future DC United (who just obtained approval from Loudoun County for a new USL stadium) have successfully launched USL teams in order for their younger players to get an opportunity for first-team minutes, in an attempt to earn a promotion to the MLS first team.
That being said, the level of quality of players who could potentially be signed for a professional Baltimore USL team in 2019, 2020, 2021, and moving forward would be a lot higher than the past squads that Crystal Palace FC and other past professional teams in the area fielded. The level of competition and support for USL teams is continuing to improve year after year, and when you compare soccer in the US to England, Germany, Spain, and everywhere else in the world, there are usually 3 or 4 divisions under the "top flight" leagues, with teams who have been around for decades thanks to loyal supporters.
The sport is experiencing tremendous growth in the United States, and the potential for a professional team in the area to succeed in 2020 is a lot higher than 10 or 15 years ago.
This petition is intended to show the potential team owner that Baltimore City (and County) residents would support a professional USL soccer team in Baltimore, assuming that the owner was dedicated to:
1) Keeping ticket prices affordable. Richmond Kickers (the closest USL franchise) single game tickets are $12-$20, with discounts available for group tickets and season ticket packages. Richmond recently broke their attendance records this season, averaging over 4,000 per game (a 76% increase over the past 4 years) despite having an older stadium.
2) Fielding a competitive team. A big part of the recent success of FC Cincinnati (who played their first game in April 2017, with over 23,000 in attendance) has been their ability to field competitive teams. This is in large part a result of the coaching and scouting staff that they had in place. John Harkes (former DC United, US Men's National Team player, former FC Cincy head coach) was able to bring in scouts like Ryan Martin (current DC United Academy Director) and other quality coaches dedicated to scouting and identifying players who have the talent to play in MLS, but need some more experience in a professional league like USL. These coaches have since moved on, and as a result, FC Cincy had a disappointing season in 2017, losing in the first round of the playoffs (but still believed by many as the next MLS franchise).
For a USL franchise to succeed and sustain interest from the local community, the quality of product, aka the players on the team, will only be as strong as the coaches that are hired to scout and identify potential talent.
3) Baltimore City Community Involvement and Youth Development. While Baltimore is home to some of the most successful youth soccer teams in the country, such as Baltimore Armour (a US Soccer Development Academy Program), Baltimore Celtic, Pipeline SC, and a host of others, the majority of these clubs cater to kids and families outside of Baltimore City- in the County, and elsewhere- which are not affordable for lower-income families.
As an 11-year resident of Highlandtown here in Baltimore City, I'm sure everyone else who lives in the city, or who is aware of the issues surrounding Baltimore City juveniles and children being involved in recent robberies, break-ins, drug dealing, gang affiliations, and other criminal activity would agree that local Baltimore City youth are in DESPERATE need of activities that can keep them off of the streets and out of trouble.
The current lack of access to organized, structured team environments for Baltimore City youth is a severe issue throughout the city. The majority of Baltimore City kids, whether it be the vast Latino population here in Highlandtown, to West Baltimore, to Druid Hill Park and everywhere else in the City, need structured activities and role models in their lives to help them develop into responsible young adults and productive members of society.
I believe that a professional soccer team in the area, with an owner who is aware of the problems that Baltimore City youth face on a daily basis, could bring a lot of value to the community. The majority of inner-city youth possess the athletic ability and underlying desire to participate in an athletic activity where they can express themselves and be part of a team.
And while Soccer Without Borders and other local soccer leagues and organizations are making strides to make the game more available to inner-city youth, a professional soccer team in Baltimore City that kids could look up to and follow could make them more interested in soccer as an activity.
I also believe that one major element which is missing here in Baltimore City when it comes to kids being interested in soccer-or in any sport, for that matter- is the lack of parents and volunteers who are willing to step up as coaches. A professional soccer team in the area who could step in and help with coaching education for parent coaches and volunteers would bring an additional amount of pride and interest in coaches, and players, being involved.
The Best Soccer Players In The World Didn't Grow Up In Gated Communities
Over the past 5-7 years, many have said that MLS and US Soccer's lack of presence in inner-cities like Atlanta, DC, and Baltimore was a major reason why our country has continued to fail as a soccer-playing nation. When you look at South American countries like Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, or African countries like Nigeria, Senegal, Egypt, and throughout the rest of the world- these countries aren't in the World Cup next year because their parents could afford to pay their club soccer fees. The best players in the world come from less-privileged inner cities.
Fast-forward to 2018, and Atlanta United (who just joined MLS in 2017) are already not only one of the most successful franchises in MLS, but they also have one of the most successful youth development academies in the country, competitive across all age groups. Baltimore City has a TON of potential as a market for youth soccer development, and a professional team with an owner who realizes this and is willing to include community involvement and coaching education could offer a lot of value to our local community.
Please Sign our Petition
If you would support a professional USL soccer team in Baltimore City that would be dedicated to providing:
- An affordable game-day experience
- A competitive team that we can be proud of, and most importantly
- A positive influence in the lives of inner-city youth and families, by providing them with the resources and knowledge that could help use soccer as a way to come together and build pride in our local community
Then please sign our petition. Thank you.
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