Ryan Kelley joined the SDH Daily show this morning to tell us about Asheville City’s inaugural season in the NPSL this summer. Thanks to Ryan for answering a few more questions for us…
Jon Nelson: What gave you all the idea to start ACSC?
Ryan Kelley: I read Dennis Crowley’s article in May. I am a fairly avid soccer follower and I was completely ignorant of the game at this level. The more I learned, the more I was surprised that this didn’t yet exist in Asheville. I sent the article to my close circle of friends that I grew up with and we setup a time to meet and discuss the potential. We were intrigued from the beginning, but I think the moment we decided to go for it was the moment we learned that the most successful club at this level was nearby Chattanooga, a city that has so much in common with Asheville from a demographic and cultural standpoint.
JN: At the same time, I read that you also reached out to Foursquare developer (and Kingston Stockade FC owner) Dennis Crowley about starting the franchise, what were those conversations like and about?
RK: We actually didn’t speak with or meet Dennis until the NPSL Owners Meeting in December. When we met we let him know that we were there in large part because of him. It was a cool moment. We have developed a good portion of our club philosophy from him. We want the United States to win the World Cup before we die, and we see Asheville City as our “think global (or national, in this instance), act local” response to that challenge. As was referenced in a recent Yahoo Sports article, we are a rock in the avalanche.
JN: Why the NPSL and not another league? What suited you about their approach to the sport and growing it?
RK: There were a few things that attracted us to the NPSL. First, Asheville has a thriving adult league, ABASA, and we didn’t want to alienate that group by locking ourselves into a U23 structure. Second, we like the autonomy and member-driven structure that the NPSL provides. We are free to build and grow the club in the way that we envision.
JN: What’s the response been like in town? And for those not aware, what’s the soccer culture like in western Carolina?
RK: The response has been phenomenal. We were embraced by local soccer associations, youth and adult, in the early stages. This is no small feat compared to what others have experienced elsewhere, which I attribute to the typical Asheville mentality: we are all here working toward the same goal, to grow the game, and we all have roles to play in that mission. Many clubs face the initial challenge of teaching their community to love the game or to find market share with other major sports. That is not the case here, Asheville already loves and supports the game which is on display in its thriving associations and tournaments.
JN: Expectations for Year One?
RK: We want to make the playoffs, which we think is a realistic goal. We will be bringing in a lot of collegiate talent from the region and beyond, which is another critical piece of our philosophy on how to raise the level of play over time. We want the best of the best locally training and playing in a competitive environment with the best talent that we can attract from elsewhere. We also want to see our jerseys all over the city… we are taking another page out of Chattanooga’s playbook and offering our jersey as our season ticket; anyone wearing one will walk through the gates for all of our games. We just unveiled the design complete with our title sponsor, local (within walking distance) Hi-Wire Brewing, and we will be having a launch party on March 30th for season ticket holders to get their hands on them for the first time. They are on sale now at http://www.ashevillecitysc.com.
JN: So, then, how would you perceive the franchise’s growth over the next little while? How would you like to grow and evolve as a franchise?
RK: We spent a lot of time working with Chattanooga FC and we think their approach to this question is ideal. They talk about growing out into the community as opposed to growing up, which most people associate with moving to NASL/USL/MLS etc. Of course everyone has their eyes on the pyramid and the idea of moving up is enticing, but our growth goals focus on incorporating more and more of the Asheville and larger Western North Carolina communities into ACSC. We still need to get our first season under our belt, but we are working on these pieces and plan to make several significant announcements this year.
JN: If there’s one message for other people who might want to take the route into ownership of sports franchises like you have, what would it be?
RK: Contact us. If we can help, we will. We were inspired by someone who took the time to write it all down for the benefit of the game in this country. We want to keep the momentum building and get a few more rocks added to the avalanche. It is hard work that can sometimes force you out of your comfort zone, but it is legitimately fun.