By Peter Wilt, Chicago NASL CEO
The events and actions that serve as the building blocks of a new professional soccer team are not always pretty or exciting or fun, but they’re all important to creating a foundation that if all goes well will serve to support a club that will last generations and become one of the most meaningful things in the lives of many Chicagoans in the near and distant future.
It can seem ordinary – meetings, phone calls, interviews, social media posts – but they create something extraordinary. One by one, interaction after interaction, soccer fans in Chicago are providing input into the creation of a new professional soccer team. These efforts are gathering information from Chicagoans about this new club. They are providing feedback regarding what they like and don’t like and importantly they are sharing information with their own professional and personal networks. These are the building blocks for the club.
The Chicago NASL website launch February 15th was well received and was followed by a flurry of media – traditional and online. The traditional media was highlighted by stories in the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune. It was the Tribune column by John Kass that created the greatest impact due to its length, placement, large photo and content. Kass, like me, is a Chicago Fire season ticket holder and die-hard supporter. He came out strongly supporting Chicago NASL – not as a fan of the team, but as a belief that it will and should succeed in order to give people in the city a team of its own and the Chicago Fire a foil to inspire excellence.
The online media coverage was extensive. Long threads debating Chicago NASL’s name, purpose and potential were generated on Reddit, Big Soccer and Facebook. Twitter also lit up with active discourse on the club and of course, inevitably into the merits of promotion and relegation. I was also the king of soccer podcasts, radio shows and blogs for the two weeks that followed with interviews as short as 15 minutes and as long as an hour and a half on more than half a dozen outlets in the US soccer podcast world. There were also featured blog posts in Soccer By Ives, US Soccer Players, World Soccer Talk and others.
The blogs and podcasts don’t have the broad distribution that the traditional media coverage receives, but the content is much more in depth and often results in meaningful discussion and information sharing. If you haven’t already done so, I encourage you to listen to a couple of those podcasts which are all linked on the Chicago NASL website News tab.
Chicago NASL’s March came in like a lion with all the media attention and quickly evolved into a lamb. Like the weather metaphor, the change did not mean the club’s foundation building work and growth went away, it just settled down behind the scenes and became more quiet. The last month has continued to see considerable information shared on line via the Chicago NASL website and social media. The information included feedback from fans responding to the Chicago NASL survey on team name and other questions, information on the “Friends of Chicago NASL” and news from around the NASL. Those stories have all provided great insight into the club and the League, but my favorite stories from Chicago NASL this month have been the series of articles on the history of some of Chicago’s celebrated ethnic soccer clubs. These clubs have played an important role in the growth of soccer in Chicago and are too often overlooked. Along with Chicago NASL’s professional predecessors, these clubs have provided the foundation for Chicago NASL’s future.
Importantly, we’ve also used March to develop and advance relationships that will lead to partnerships which will grow the support of Chicago NASL. I’ve met with dozens of individuals who represent hundreds and thousands of soccer supporters. Those meetings have been with investors as well as civic, cultural, corporate and soccer leaders. The soccer leaders and businesses include local soccer facility owners, collegiate and youth soccer coaches and directors, recreational social organizations, soccer pubs, a soccer app maker and importantly, folks involved in creating the club’s supporters trust.
The Chicago NASL Supporters Trust is going to be an important part of the club’s grassroots efforts to build a club that represents and connects with all of Chicago. March has been an important month coordinating those efforts. We are talking to several individuals who plan to be the initial representatives of the Supporters Trust before membership eventually nominates and elects its own leaders once the Supporters Trust share sale process is completed. There is also important work with attorneys going on to develop the framework for the Chicago NASL Supporters Trust. My partner Jack Cummins is leading efforts for the development of the supporters trust, which will offer a share of Chicago NASL Club equity as well as benefits such as limited voting rights. The launch of the supporters trust is anticipated for the third week of April and details on two launch events will be announced soon.
The Supporters Trust and many of these other efforts are focused on building a pool of people who together will become the club. An important part of any club is the staff. It will be vital to hire talented, hard working people with good character to fill the staff positions. As you can imagine, I’ve been swamped with inquiries from folks wanting to work on building this new club as a staff member. We’re fortunate that we have time to do this right and there is a great network of talented people to call upon. Using the launches of the Chicago Fire and Indy Eleven as guidelines, Chicago NASL’s timeline is in between the two. I began working as the first employee of the Chicago MLS team nine months prior to its first game and the team was named three months later. In Indianapolis, I began working on the launch phase 18 months in advance and the team was branded publicly 11 months prior to its first game. Chicago NASL’s website launch began the club’s promotional efforts almost 14 months prior to the expected April, 2017 launch. We are aiming for official acceptance into NASL and club branding this June, which would be almost 10 months prior to Chicago NASL kickoff.
Every day more pieces to the puzzle come together as we develop soccer for our city. I thank you for your support of Chicago NASL and invite you to contribute to the development of the club by taking this short survey and by sending me your thoughts and ideas on how to build Chicago NASL.