The Birmingham Hammers are entering their third year as a club and second in the National Premier Soccer League’s Southeast Conference. The jump from an independent club to the NPSL was a tough one on the field in 2016 and the club learned a great deal from their experiences. Morgan Copes, president and general manager of the Hammers, stressed that they are determined to improve in 2017.
Thanks to Morgan for speaking with us and we will be following the team in conference play in 2017!
Jon Nelson: What did you think about last year on and off the pitch for the club? Did expectations match results?
Morgan Copes: We were thrilled with the attendance increase year over year, but we were a little disappointed in how the results went. Having said that, we are not far off from competing for the playoffs this year. Our new coaching staff has done an impeccable job so far and we are anxious to get out on the field again this summer.
JN: What was the biggest lesson you learned in the front office?
MC: We tried to grow too fast last season and it really caught up to us. We attempted to improve by leaps and bounds from year 1 to year 2 and in some cases, we bit off more than we could chew. There is no one to blame but ourselves, but the beautiful thing about it is we have the opportunity to learn from our previous mistakes.
JN: What lessons did you learn about the community?
MC: We had a little tailgating community start to develop before matches which was really cool to see. In the South, tailgating is an art and people started taking it seriously. Some showed up 3-4 hours before the match. They had tents, grills, games, and coolers full of refreshments. It was 100+ out there some days yet they were determined to build something unique and they certainly succeeded!
Another thing we noticed is that once school let out, our attendance began to decrease slightly because many of the families coming out to support us were taking vacations.
JN: What did you learn about building a team out on the field?
MC: The injury bug is a real thing. We never could have prepared for, or even imagined, it would hit us that hard. What we thought was going to be a great team after only losing to Chattanooga 0-1 in our season opener quickly began to take a turn for the worse.
JN: Were there any misconceptions that you guys had to battle?
MC: That people think we do this full time. We are essentially volunteers and no one in our organization is paid a penny for their efforts. It makes it difficult at times when you can only schedule meetings after normal business hours or during your lunch break, but we have been able to work it out.
JN: So then, going forward… how much time off did you give yourself before getting ready for this year?
MC: We got a couple of months off, but not much more than that. There were countless loose ends that had to be tied up at the end of last year. We had to get on the horn with our sponsors to discuss the upcoming season, recap with our venue, and prepare for the NPSL annual meeting. 2-3 months after the season finishes until the first few months of the new year are just as busy, if not busier, than the actual season for us.
JN: How is it different with (for a comparison) a child that’s no longer a newborn? And how do you avoid “The terrible Twos?”
MC: Last year was technically our 2nd season (we ran an exhibition season in 2015) but this year will be our 2nd in the league. It’s still very difficult to get it all right and avoid disaster. We’ve spent countless hours planning on some of the things we did well and even more hours on the things we didn’t do well. It’s a never ending process of always trying to improve. Ultimately, you have to be willing to look yourself in the mirror and say you screwed up in some areas. At some point, you have to make difficult decisions that will have a major impact on your season and organization as a whole.
JN: Who do those following the league and the franchise need to keep an eye on when watching the team this year?
It’s difficult to say at the moment because we have not made any official signings yet. We are confident in our new coaching staff to make the difficult decisions and bring in the best players possible. I will say that the Magic City Brigade are a supporter’s group who are getting bigger, stronger, and more organized. We are expecting some cool things this summer from them!
JN: What are you most proud of in the build of the franchise?
MC: Our community (corporate included) and fans. Without them, we don’t exist. They deserve a the majority of the credit for making this team what it is. The Magic City Brigade were a different level of kick ass last year and we cannot wait to see what they bring to the table this year. You know you’ve got something special when players are writing publicly to thank the Brigade for showing them what it really means to support a team and an organization. We didn’t get the results we wanted last year, but the Brigade were always there to sing and give their support for the Boys in Red.
JN: What advice would you give to prospective franchise owners?
MC: Buckle up, get a helmet, and some thick skin. You’re going to be tested mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally and everything in between. In the end, you’re still going to be a fan. When you see your team score a game winner in the 80+ minute and hold on with 10 men, you’re going to celebrate just like everyone else. It’s the greatest feeling ever and you can’t use words to describe it.