THINK TANK FC: Soccer surges again in Salem

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Think Tank FC talks about running adult soccer clubs at the elite / semi-pro level in the state of Washington and the Northwest. David Falk is the Media Director for the Evergreen Premier League, Western Indoor Soccer League and Northwest Premier League. He founded soccer news website goalWA.net in 2012.

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PDL soccer returned to Salem, Oregon in 2017 and was a hit on and off the pitch for the Portland Timbers U23. (Ean Perkins photo)

THINKTANK-untitled (1)The Cascade Surge were a Premier Development League club out of Salem Oregon from 1995 through 2009. They were generally successful both on and off the pitch. The 15 seasons are a long streak by lower division soccer standards. In 2017 PDL soccer returned to Salem when the Portland Timbers U23 relocated to the state capital. There is much to be learned from what happened next. The Timbers won their division, made the playoffs and had the biggest crowds in the Northwest Division.

It started by taking the best of the local soccer talent and bringing them into the fold. Timbers U23 Head Coach Aaron Lewis has lifted the Corban University men’s soccer program (Salem) to national prominence in the NAIA. He also won the Evergreen Premier League title with Vancouver Victory FC in 2016. When the Timbers brought him on board Lewis brought a bunch of other local soccer standouts with him, including some coaches and a number of players. In that way the Timbers U23 were “local” for Salem while at the same time representing the powerhouse ‘brand’ of the MLS Portland Timbers.

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The club made a splash by managing to get billboards erected around Salem. They are hyperactive on social media. They cater to fans – thanking them with waves and walk-overs both home and away. They won matches in exciting fashion. They were excellent at telling their own story. The soccer fans of Salem responded.

It might be easy to dismiss the story of the 2017 Timbers U23’s as nothing more than a PDL side benefiting from its connection to its MLS “Big Brother.” That would be a mistake. The club did many things right locally, and on their own. The community has responded. There were multiple home crowds over 1,000.

Team GP W L T PTS GF GA +/-
Portland Timbers U23 14 8 2 4 28 29 12 17
Calgary Foothills FC 14 8 2 4 28 20 15 5
Sounders FC U23 14 6 7 1 19 22 20 2
Victoria Highlanders FC 14 5 8 1 16 17 28 -11
Lane United FC 14 3 6 5 14 21 24 -3
TSS FC Rovers 14 3 8 3 9 19 29 -10

The Timbers U23’s season ended on Friday July 21st in Arizona with a 3-1 loss to FC Golden State.

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Sell Season Passes to Families and Friends

Youth soccer clubs prosper in part because parents are so active and invested in their young player’s lives. The riddle of how to keep that ‘investment’ going when those cute little kickers become adult players is one that has yet to be fully solved. However, the truth remains that players are a club’s best asset at the semi-pro level…and in theory their families are the best source for ticket sales.

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This 2011 Tacoma Tide season pass was mailed to supporters wrapped in the club’s colors, with candy treats in club colors, and wearable via a yellow ribbon (also club colors) (David Falk)

Try to wrap up family ticket sales as early as possible. Have something ready for holiday shopping. A ticket package that might include a lanyard pass to wear to matches. You can incentivize your players by letting them know that they are responsible for selling 4 season tickets at $50 a pop to their families, friends, significant others, former coaches, etc. That’s $200 they owe the club – but they can get it back by selling 4 season tickets.

Don’t forget former soccer coaches and grandparents. They might have the interest and the time to go to matches that parents do not. You could give each one of your players a “Thank You Coach” season pass (for free) that they in turn would hand deliver to a mentor in their soccer past.

Getting families in amateur / semi-pro matches regularly might include having special recognition nights: Father’s Night, Mom’s Night, Grandparents Day, Coaches Day. But you’ve got to make them feel special once they get there. Be sure to have your players welcome (if possible) and personally thank their families and fans for coming. This goes farther than almost anything else can. Look at how the traveling NCW Alliance players (of Wenatchee) thanked a fan who came to their NWPL match in Bremerton this summer (video below.)

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Did you know that the English Football Association (FA) has a page on “How to start a football club?”

The Georgia Revolution  of the NPSL drew a club-record crowd of 675 this season.

The awesome soccer site AFTN.ca gave great coverage to the new TSS Rovers. That was the former Washington Crossfire (Redmond) that moved to BC in the off season. They had some nice moments with supporters just like the Timbers U23’s did.

Here’s another Stockade FC story. Hey, why not?

Riverside Coras (NPSL) pack the house – except when Mexico is playing.

Your players could one day make it to MLS – but it is a tough road.

Here’s more soccer expansion news and rumors than you likely need to know.

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