NPSL’s Spera talks ‘free market’ soccer


NPSL Managing Director Cindy Spera responds to a series of questions from in the Q & A posted below.

The questions were submitted to the league over a month ago and reflect the time they were sent. The NPSL kindly stuck with the request and got back to us as soon as they felt they could. The league has been busy recently with meetings and planning in the volatile world of American lower tier soccer. Describe the state of the NPSL after the 2018 season. What are some topics that will be explored at the next AGM?

Cindy Spera: The NPSL is thriving and has reached an exciting change point. The league has stabilized in almost all conferences, meaning that we have the right number of teams in a regional area, all are competitive on the field, and all have stable ownership groups. This gives us the ability to be very selective with new members, and incrementally upgrade the overall quality of the league every year.

A few years ago, we changed the branding of the AGM to the AOM – Annual Owners Meeting. The attendees of the meeting are at the GM and Ownership level, enabling us to focus the meeting on league vision and strategy, and include topics that support our ownership groups in running a successful business.

Does the NPSL have a ‘place at the table’ with US Soccer when it comes to lower division classifications and a possible (ever elusive) US Pyramid? What is the NPSL position on such a pyramid structure?

The NPSL believes that there should be a way to distinguish the quality of the leagues below the D3 level, and across the amateur level. We believe that players and fans should have a scale with which to compare leagues and help them make the best choices for their playing career. The NPSL is supportive of a rating system and has been in discussions with USASA on this very topic.

How can NPSL balance the needs of small, financially strapped clubs while also addressing the desire of well-supported and well-funded clubs to “move forward” towards a pro model?

NPSL Official Logo 2016We consider our diversity of teams to be something to leverage and a quality that makes us unique. The NPSL is accessible. You don’t have to be a millionaire or reach an asset threshold to apply for membership. NPSL teams have different missions, revenue sources, and ownership structures. From an operational standpoint, we try to level the playing field by leveraging technology, providing staff support, and sharing best practices to allow our smaller teams to be self-service so they can operate competitively on a smaller budget, while enabling more advanced teams to target resources to revenue rather than operations. From a strategic view, we are exploring different products we can offer to meet the needs of the teams that want to move to a higher level. At our recent NPSL Board Retreat, we specifically discussed the needs of our members and decided to explore ways to allow teams to advance to the next level of game standards, revenue opportunity, and performance on the field.

The Pacific Northwest has lost a number of NPSL clubs over the years: Southern Oregon Fuego, Gorge FC, Seattle Sporting FC, Inter United FC and most recently the Kitsap Pumas. How is the league addressing these foldings and also trying to rebuild in what is now a 4-club NW Conference?

The Northwest is one of our newer conferences, and we expected and have planned for some growing pains. Starting last year, we have hired a dedicated Director of Expansion in Dina Case. Dina has been targeting the Pacific Northwest and working individually with the owners in that conference to develop a depth of teams and stabilize that area. The owners in the Pacific Northwest are extremely dedicated and committed to the NPSL, and we have unprecedented interest in that area for 2019.

Is NPSL talking with (USL) D3 or NISA about working together? Several NPSL markets (clubs), including the Spokane Shadow, are in cities where D3 is either coming or has expressed interest in coming. What is the NPSL position on that?

We are receptive to discussions with the other leagues, and those conversations are managed and currently happening at the board level. Our approach is and will continue to be that our role as a League is to create an environment where our teams can thrive and be successful. As the Director of the league, I believe that the NPSL can complete with D3 teams, D2 teams, and even MLS teams in certain markets. Fans are more interested in level of play and game day experience than the league label or designation. Soccer is a free market and a competitive business as we know, and the NPSL has proven that we are nimble and can react to competition. We are poised and positioned to remain competitive and relevant as market dynamics change.

Do you see any end in sight to the explosion of adult amateur clubs and leagues across the USA? What role is the NPSL playing in this unprecedented period of growth?

Soccer will continue to explode in the US and that growth will only become greater as the sport is injected with the energy and excitement of the World Cup. The NPSL mission and commitment to the sport remains unchanged. We are committed to player development and to providing a platform where business owners can bring soccer to their communities and make the sport accessible to as many supporters and players as possible.

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