So, you want to start a soccer club? You may have been inspired by Red Bull’s investment into RB Leipzig (then SSV Markranstädt) in 2009, catapulting the club from the German fifth division to the Bundesliga in 8 years. Or you may be a billionaire looking to take an already top-tier side into domestic and global dominance (looking at you, Manchester City, and Paris St. Germain).
More likely, however, you neither have the backing of a corporation the size of Red Bull nor the resources of an oil-rich billionaire. You just have a love for the game, and are interested in starting a club. So, where to start in your quest for starting a soccer club?
You can start right here. Below are my top tips when looking to start a soccer club. Note these do not have to be chronological; you can simultaneously be doing them.
Running a club is not easy. It’s an operation. You will need to put in hours, find the right resources, recruit players, organize training and matches, financially sustain the club, and many more things. It really is another full-time job if you want to do it right.
With our day jobs, the motivation is, more often than not, the paycheck. We make a living with our jobs. This keeps us going in the face of challenges. You need to find your deep-down motivation for starting a club. Are you in it for the long haul? Are you going to quit at the first challenge? Do you have what it takes?
Do some soul-searching and think about the why. Why do you want to start the club? If the motivation isn’t strong enough, it may not be for you.
As with any major undertaking, you need to set goals for your club. This is before even starting it! I usually enjoy setting 3-4 types of plans:
- Short-term: these can be weekly or even daily milestones. Things like: find a pitch, research sponsors, register for a league, etc. These are the goals that will be checked and updated the most.
- Medium-term: these are more on a 6-month or annual basis. Things like: I want to have a squad of 15 players, or I want to see an improvement in our striking force, or I need to cut down on our pitch and operations costs. These cannot be achieved in a week or even assessed. Some of these may even bleed into the long-term territory, but keeping them medium-term allows you to assess them periodically.
- Long-term: These are milestones you want to hit. Things like: I want to have a dedicated pitch for my club, I want our club to win the local league within the next five years, etc. You evaluate the progress made periodically within the goal horizon and update them at each milestone.
- Dreams: These are the crazier ones. Things like: I want to get into the MLS, win the MLS, turn a multi-million dollar profit, etc. Things that won’t seem realistic when you first start. But remember, things always seem crazy until they’re done. Don’t discount dreams; they may be your core motivation anyway.
Now that we’ve got the philosophical out of the way, you want to get to the ground. Do you have a group of players? Do you have a group of coaches? That is to say, do you have the base-elements of a club (a team)?
Reach out to your fellow soccer enthusiasts. Ask parents whether they’d be interested in their child joining a new club. Be prepared with a pitch (not the soccer pitch, the entrepreneurial pitch). Get players on board; get coaches on board. Formulate the “club.”
How much does it cost to start a soccer club? That’s a tricky question with no one answer.
The first step is to identify your major costs. Typically, these include training and match facilities (pitch, referees, etc.), kit and equipment expenses, sign-up and registration costs, and so forth. You’ll likely have volunteer coaches and players initially, but you may also need to keep in mind paid professional services as you go.
Think about how you’ll cover these costs. Will it be contributions from your players? Will it be out-of-pocket? Typically, the best way to raise funds is to get a sponsor on board. Even better if you can get a recurring sponsor! If your team is composed of local players, reach out to local businesses and offer them an opportunity to sponsor you.
Sponsorship can allow you to cover many of your major costs. In exchange, you give businesses the opportunity to advertise.
As with your core motivation and club goals, it may be a good idea to set financial goals too. It may be a good idea to get a financially savvy person on board to take on these responsibilities.
You want to identify the right facilities for your club. Facilities that fit your aspirations and your financial profile. This includes finding the right training pitch and even refereeing services when necessary. You can get in touch with a sports club if you have the financial means. In your earlier days, you can even try public facilities as they may be more budget-friendly.
Once you get into a rhythm, try to stick to a few pitches only. Don’t constantly change your training locations. It’s essential to make it easier for your players and coaches. Consistency in the facilities/services helps with that.
Enforce periodic training. Most unorganized clubs fail due to a lack of commitment to training. You have players haphazardly showing up to training sessions, but expect a starting place when in a tournament. Training is of paramount importance to a club. Here are a couple of tips on how to train better:
- When you have the financial means, hire a professional coach. As your means increase, hire various coaches for different aspects of your game (offensive, defensive, fitness, recovery, etc.)
- Reward disciplined trainers. If a player shows up every day on time, get them on the starting lineup, even if it means snubbing the more talented absentee. Soccer is a team sport. And eventually, hard work trumps talent.
- On the same note, discipline players who don’t show up or who half-ass training sessions. Bench them for games.
- Set defined training days, times, and locations. This creates a schedule for players.
Chances are, the motivation to start your own club has come after you’ve played a bit yourself. So you may be aware of the different leagues or competitions going on in your area. Assess the ability of your team and sign up for tournaments. Competition is essential for a soccer club. It fuels discipline and motivation for your players. It also allows you to track your progress.
Some of this can be done through old-school networking. You may run into a different team while training. Or you may organize a casual match with another local club. This then grows into a group of clubs, presenting an opportunity for organized competition.
On a similar note, if there are opportunities for your club to get affiliated with certain leagues, take them! It obviously has to be at the right level and within your budget. But if you can become an affiliated member of a league or a competition, that gives you something recurring and regular to be a part of. This is very important for the long term.
Get your name out there. Build a following. It may seem futile to do this in the beginning, but it’s absolutely worth it. Presenting yourself as an organized, professional club improves your ability to attract players, sponsors, coaches, and leagues. Even in your earliest stages, I suggest you put some effort into your marketing. Some tips:
- Create a presence on social media. Post consistently on that Instagram or Facebook page. Advertise your matches. Put up a clip from a training session. Talk about recent acquisitions or additions to your team.
- Have an official website or contact point. Have a dedicated email address or phone number for club-related matters. Again, this may seem silly to do in the beginning. But it is much harder to do once you’ve grown. If you sow the seeds early, it will be easier.
- Invest a few minutes of the week in doing cold marketing. This could be reaching out to a new sponsor, contacting a new league, or connecting with a potential coach. In my experience, cold marketing may not pay dividends in the short term, but if you do it consistently over some time, you’re bound to benefit from it.
This is also one of those things that may be hard to implement early when you’re just starting out. However, having a broader vision for it doesn’t hurt. You should define an operational structure for staff.
How do you ensure a coach sticks to his responsibilities? Or a player, for that matter? You need to have some sort of operational or legal framework to maintain your operations. This may be tricky to do in the beginning. But as you grow, do some thinking about player/staff contracts.
The Final Whistle
Starting a club from scratch is no joke. A haphazard group of players who get together on scattered days and participate in one competition a year is not hard to obtain. It’s much more challenging to build a proper club structure that allows your players to constantly train and compete while growing as a financial and footballing operation at the same time.
A final tip: in addition to building the soccer team. Build a team around yourself that will help you create that soccer team. Challenges pile up fast as the interest and participation in the club grow. It cannot be a one-man show, and delegation beats a do-it-all attitude all day!