NPSL Commissioner Michael Hitchcock answers questions related to the NPSL’s future, the playoffs, and innovation in one of America’s fastest growing leagues.
1. What was it like to visit Detroit to catch their game vs. FC Buffalo?
I had heard great things about the Detroit City game day experience and their great crowds and passionate supporters. So I was very excited to catch a game, meet their fans and spend time with their owners. I had very high expectations going into my visit to Detroit and I’m happy to report that the experience exceeded my high expectations. They had a record crowd. Their supporters are amazing. They have a strong team on the field. And they have a great group of committed, local ownership. Detroit City has shown the potential of what an NPSL team can become when they are integrated into their community through a good strategic plan. The market is embracing the club; while the club is giving back to the community on many levels. They even have a local beer brewed for the club. I’m looking forward to seeing Detroit City continue to grow and evolve. There is a ton of potential for DCFC. I encourage all soccer fans in the region to catch a game. It’s a very cool experience.
2. What other stops do you have planned for your NPSL soccer tour?
I plan to hit all the Regions at least once; so the next stop is the West where I’m going to a San Francisco home game v. Sonoma then meeting with the members of the Conference. On July 2nd, I’m attending the New Orleans v. Monterey Rayados U-20 Friendly; then I’ll hit Florida, Oklahoma, Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and depending on who hosts the NPSL Playoffs in late July & early August, I’ll make it to one Semi-Final game and the Championship match. It’ll be an exciting month... with lots of miles on these tires.
3. What should we expect to see in terms of growth and expansion for 2014?
We’re very proactive with our expansion efforts and we’ve seen significant interest all over the country. We want to be strategic in our expansion by adding new members who are the right owners in the right markets. We’re working on parallel paths of expanding into new areas of the country where we do not have a strong presence while also growing the existing conferences. When I visit markets on the NPSL Tour, I’m meeting with prospective expansion owners. In Detroit, I entertained two prospective members who would join the Great Lakes Conference in the Mid-West Region. Target areas to try to start a new conference would be the Northwest, Rocky Mountain area and Heartland/Middle America while we need to strengthen South Central (Texas) and Florida. As I mentioned, I’m very excited by the response and interest in the NPSL, which is a credit to the attractive sustainable business model that the NPSL provides its members.
4. You created a lot of buzz with your comments on promotion/relegation. Do you think that could work for the NPSL? How far are we away from seeing it?
We’re going to spend time this offseason in studying the different options and scenarios of how this could work. I have a number of ideas that I will share with the Board of Directors at our NPSL Board Retreat in August. We’re going to do a lot of work on this to see what makes sense and when. That said, we know that fans would love to see a system of promotion & relegation in the U.S. and it would be great if the NPSL could be the league to bring promotion/relegation to the U.S. The NPSL is a league for the fans so we owe it to our fans to explore this.
5. What improvements can fans and supporters expect to see before the 2014 season kicks off?
I’d prefer not to comment on specifics right now, but we’re focused on growing the game in all of our markets. The NPSL office will provide greater resources to helping the teams in all of our markets. 2014 is a World Cup year and there’s always a naturally spike in media coverage, corporate support, and fan interest during a World Cup year so we plan to be prepared to leverage that for the NPSL, our teams, our partners, and our fans. More details to come at a later time.
6. The NPSL has a unique playoff format. Why did the league decide not to have a uniform format across all regions and conferences?
One of the great things about the league is that the NPSL is run by the members (team owners) who have the right to make decisions for their respective markets, conferences, and regions based on what they think is best for their region.
7. What should fans and supporters expect to see in the NPSL postseason?
The level of play in NPSL is a very high level. While the regular season has been great; any time you start the Playoffs, it goes to another level. I’m personally excited to see the top teams from around the country play each other in the playoffs. It’s encouraging to see how far the game of soccer has come in this country, on and off the field, and the NPSL Playoffs will showcase the league, our top teams, and great players from across the country.
8. What is going to make this year’s National Semi-Finals and Finals so special?
The NPSL Membership voted on a format where the Top Seed who qualifies will host the playoff in their market which means we’ll have passionate fans supporting their team in their home stadium which always makes it a special event. We have over a thousand incredibly talented players in the NPSL who are living their dream of playing high level soccer and the NPSL National Playoffs will put four of these teams on a national stage to play for the NPSL Championship. Teams have trained hard and played a competitive schedule so this is the end of that journey for the top four teams. It’s going to be special!