In the wavering climate of American soccer, three young owners are planning to let their metro Detroit community and fans buy a stake in their club. As minor league soccer clubs across North America continue to suspend operations each year, the owners of Oakland County FC are making plans for longevity. The 3-year-old club that calls Royal Oak, MI home, announced December 1st they are opening a community trust ahead of the 2018 season. A variety of community owned soccer business models are common in the lower levels of English soccer, are required in Germany and found in other nations across the soccer world. Oakland County FC, who now play in the UPSL will be joining a very small group of American clubs with a community ownership aspect, in an effort to grow their club and the sport in metro Detroit over time.
Grassroots Oakland County FC Announce Community Trust in 2018
Nicolino Morana, one of OCFC’s three owners, spoke with me at length after the initial community trust announcement. The 28-year-old co-owner explained that the ownership group didn’t want their team to operate on a “year-to-year” basis and that a community trust could help make the young club a constant piece in the community.
“Some clubs at this level seem like they are playing just to play, but we want to build something. Yes, you are helping the soccer community by just going out and playing, but are you really helping to grow the game?” Morana questioned. “We feel that a constant interaction between the fans and club will allow the club to grow as years the go on. Instead of operating on a year-to-year basis, invested fans will have their voice being heard, which will hopefully keep the club pushing forward, and with that create sustainability.”
More Announcements to Come
Specific details on the percentage of the club on offer and the initial price of the buy-in won’t be available until the new year. OCFC’s buy-in announcement is just one of multiple announcements the club plans to make before the 2018 season.
“We have a lot of exciting stuff coming down the pipeline but we felt [the trust] was the big bang announcement and everything else will follow suit,” Morana added. “With this announcement it puts more eyes on our team and adds more awareness of our team. More people will start following our announcements a little more closely, trying to figure out what is ahead. The coming announcements will be geared toward building supporter culture and getting some more people able to follow us who couldn’t follow us before. Giving people a few more venues to follow us on.”
Happy Medium Between Passion and Sound Business
OCFC’s trust announcement was coincidently made within a day of a storied NPSL side making a big announcement of their own. The Atlanta Silverbacks announced they had invited their trust to buy a 25% stake in the club for $100,000. Morana made assurances that his club won’t be asking for anything close to Atlanta’s numbers.
“It will be fairly inexpensive to buy-in, it will be something to where you can buy your family into the club,” Morana said with excitement. “We are going for a combination of fan building and financial stability [with the trust offer], we are not asking for an absurd amount of money. We took the first few years to establish ourselves and our name. To get to that next level of exposure we thought the trust would be a great idea. Let’s get the fans involved, let’s get them to feel for the club outside of just coming to the games and supporting the team on the day, let’s get them to feel proud of actually owning something that is in the community. Let’s get them to ‘Bleed Purple’.”
“[The community trust] will be something cool, an opportunity that doesn’t present itself very often. You can be a soccer fan and feel that your team is yours, but to actually know that you have an ownership stake in it and have an influence on the direction of where the club may go [will enhance the fan experience]. [We are] trying to get to the happy medium between passion for sport and sound business.”
2018 will be Oakland County FC’s fourth season of play and their second season playing home games at Royal Oak High School. The club has moved from the regional Premiere League of America to the nation spanning United Premier Soccer League in 2018 due to the merger of the leagues this past autumn.