St. Louis USL PRO Franchise Focused On Year One

Team building on inherent advantages to be 'best USL PRO franchise in the country'
by Dave Lange   |   Monday, July 21, 2014

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Focus.

It’s a word you hear a lot when you talk to the staff of St. Louis FC, which begins play in USL PRO next spring.

“We know exactly what we want this to be, and that’s the best USL PRO franchise in the country,” says Patrick Barry, the franchise’s executive director. “That’s where our focus is.”

When the franchise was awarded last May to St. Louis, one of the nation’s historic soccer cities but one conspicuously absent from Major League Soccer, speculators asked if this was a step to MLS. Speculation leads to distraction, and distraction can fuzzy focus. Hence, distraction is something St. Louis FC avoids.

“We’ve conditioned everyone in our organization to identify what they are trying to do and keep a laser focus on it,” Barry says. “If an MLS opportunity arises out of our efforts, great. But that will be a step somebody else will take.”

The focus right now at St. Louis FC is to prepare for season one. The franchise began its work with inherent advantages.

First, it is an offshoot of St. Louis Scott Gallagher Soccer Club, a 40-year-old organization that has won more than 25 national age-group championships, has more than 3,000 youth players, and competes at all levels, including the U.S. Soccer Development Academy. The club has a deep staff of experienced coaches, and St. Louis FC tapped that depth to name Dale Schilly, a longtime SLSG coach, as the pro team’s head coach. Schilly’s resume includes coaching AC St. Louis, an ill-fated second-division pro team, for the last half of its lone season of existence in 2010.

Second, it owns its facility, the 6,000-seat Dennis P. Long Stadium, part of the 30-year-old St. Louis Soccer Park complex of six full-size fields, meeting facilities, concessions and locker rooms.

Third, the operation is run by seasoned business people, including Jim Kavanaugh and Tom Strunk of World Wide Technology, a St. Louis-based firm with more than $6 billion in annual revenues. Kavanaugh, president of SLSG and a former pro indoor soccer player, is CEO and co-founder of WWT. Strunk, an SLSG board member, is WWT’s chief financial officer.

A fourth advantage is the franchise’s hole card: time.

“Everybody we talk to around the league is really jealous of our planning time,” says Jeremy Alumbaugh, St. Louis FC’s general manager.

With almost a year to plan, St. Louis FC is directing its attention this summer to learning, remodeling, marketing and scouting.

The learning curve consists of visits to existing USL PRO franchises. Staffers have visited the Pittsburgh Riverhounds and the Oklahoma City Energy, and stops are planned at Charlotte Battery and Sacramento Republic.

Remodeling consists of adding seat backs to center sections of the bleacher-style stands, upgrading lights to USL PRO standards, fine-tuning a recently added digital scoreboard, and improving parking, concessions and other amenities.

Marketing efforts began with a low-gear campaign this summer to gather season-ticket deposits and establish relationships with local youth clubs and supporters’ groups. The campaign shifts into first gear with a full-blown season-ticket campaign in the next four-to-six weeks.

Scouting, via on-line studies of NASL, USL PRO and USL Premier Development League games, has been going on all summer by nine coaches. “We’re taking notes on players, identifying their qualities, and getting a book on each of them,” Schilly says. “We have a pretty good database of the strengths and weaknesses of players, their technical foundations, and how they impact the game. We don’t know who will be out of contract until after the season, but we’ll have important information on players when we have to make decisions on those who are available.”

The club also is in talks with the St. Louis Ambush of the Major Arena Soccer League about sharing players, and plans similar discussions with the St. Louis Lions of the USL Premier Development League and St. Louis FC Bordo of the National Premier Soccer League.

Still to be determined is the team’s affiliation with an MLS franchise. Chicago Fire were ready to align with St. Louis FC in May, but that hasn’t been confirmed. “We have a tentative agreement with a team,” Barry says. “We are waiting for clearance from the leagues to formalize the affiliation, which is contingent upon outside factors. Once everything is settled, we will announce the agreement. Meanwhile, we continue to work as if the affiliation is in place.”

Efforts also are under way on related developments. The Chicago Red Stars and FC Kansas City of the National Women’s Soccer League played a friendly at the Soccer Park last March, “and we’re looking to do that again for sure,” Alumbaugh says. “We’ve also talked to a couple of international clubs that have shown some interest in coming in and doing something as part of their preseason tours. But that’s probably part of year two.”

Year one is all about keeping focus. “We’re putting new business on the back burner,” Barry says. “We’re staying focused on making St. Louis FC as good as it can be.”

Dave LANGE

Nationality:
USA
College:
SIU
Club Domestic:
Houston Dynamo
Club Foreign:
Liverpool
Dave writes about soccer in St. Louis, something he's been doing since the early 1970s. His book, "Soccer Made in St. Louis," was published in 2011 and has almost sold out. He was a head coach for 11 years at Busch Soccer Club.
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