Lane United FC is a club based in Eugene/Springfield, adjoining cities of about 220,000 in Lane County, Oregon. The club was founded in 2013 and began competitive play in 2014 in the Premier Development League, what might be considered the third or fourth division of U.S. soccer — although the lack of a single league structure with promotion and relegation blurs the distinctions. Many of the players are student-athletes at American universities, held to strict definitions of amateurism attendant to their collegiate eligibility. Amidst this footballing landscape that may seem alien to those familiar with the way FAs operate in the rest of the world, the Reds of Lane United still hold the same goals as any club — they want to win, they want to compete in a higher league, and they want to become a point of pride and support for their entire region.
To achieve that, a club in Lane United’s position must have expertise in the backroom staff. With the lack of promotion and relegation, in order to bring a club into a higher-profile league, results on the field are secondary to business. The former certainly helps in boosting attendance, recognition, and ultimately overall revenue, but even several years of impressive results will do little on its own without the business acumen to convert it into the type of figures that will secure a franchise in the next league up.
In Lane United’s case, the league to aim is to progress to USL Pro, which will comprise 21 clubs throughout the country in 2015, with a goal of 30 clubs by 2018. Its players are full professionals, unlike in the PDL. To be awarded a franchise in the USL Pro, a bidding club must demonstrate it has the proper infrastructure, a suitable business plan, has demonstrated support, and adequate stadium capacity.
“Playing in an amateur league with a short season restricted by collegiate calendars, we don’t have many home game dates to work with. Even with great attendance, our ticketing revenue will always be limited,” said Dave Galas, Managing Director of Lane United. “Attendance is key in driving our other crucial income source however, sponsorships.” While coming up short of its on-pitch aspirations, Lane United did remarkably well in its first season on the sponsorship front - no small feat in a community where the University of Oregon basketball and American football teams rule, the latter routinely selling out its 54,000-seater Autzen Stadium.
“We have worked really hard to offer our sponsors opportunities to engage with our fans, cross-promote with other sponsors, and stay relevant to the soccer fans even during our long off-season” said Galas. The community seems to be responding. After just one season, the Reds enjoy the support of one of the most fervent supporters groups in the division, the Red Aces. With constant singing, drumming, and smoke-bombs to celebrate goals, Lane United matchdays are boisterous events that indicate Lane United might just have the right formula for success. The supervising body at the USL seems to agree, having recently named Lane United as one of four nominees for the both the PDL Rookie Franchise of the Year and the PDL Marketing Award.
Not resting on their laurels, efforts to repurpose and expand a 76 year old 5,000-seater baseball stadium in the heart of town gaining momentum. The city of Eugene has been reluctant to participate financially in this vision so a community-focused non-profit organization has formed to save the existing stadium site for use by Lane United and offer much needed space for a youth sports organization. "The plan as it sits, is to acquire the site and get donations, grant money, naming rights, sponsorships etc. to renovate the stadium, put in a new pitch, build a multi-use field house for basketball, volleyball, and futsal.” Said Eugene Civic Alliance director Derek Johnson. “We are excited to have Lane United as an anchor tenant at the stadium. They have grown from nothing with community support and in that sense, ECA is no different.”
The development of a small hotel on-site would help offset some of the costs, and further add to the appeal of the multi-purpose complex. The central location of Civic Stadium helps in all aspects of the project, but it is also key to Lane United’s aspirations. “We have done extensive research on what factors contribute to the success of a stadium,” said Galas “and I was thrilled that the data backed up my own preferences for a centrally located site surrounded by amenities, easily accessible by foot, bicycle, and public transit. In the PDL I have operated from the standpoint of offering a game-day experience that I would like to be part of as a fan. Moving forward, we are being much more scientific about the process, but I am happy to report that the data supports the vision we had for the continued commercial success of soccer in our community.” Lane United’s dreams of “promotion” may not be far off.
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