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News & Press: FOCUS

Taking Soccer to the Next Level

Wednesday, July 5, 2017  
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In the sports world, there are two measures of success - on the field and off the field. By either measure, one would have to conclude that the Lansing United soccer team has been a solid success. Now, in its fourth season in the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL), Lansing United has carved out a well-defined niche in Lansing’s growing sports industry marketplace.

Team founder Jeremy Sampson, a former TV sportscaster, says the progress has been “good.” The team has maintained a stable base of fan support, regularly drawing between 800-1,000 fans to its home games at Archer Field in East Lansing. Unlike minor league baseball and the local favorite Lansing Lugnuts, wins and losses and the team’s position in the standings are important to rabid soccer fans. In that regard, United has done very well, posting a winning season in its first three years including advancing to the national semi-finals in the team’s first year. The winning culture makes a big difference in terms of assembling the talent needed to keep the team moving forward.

“We’ve been able to recruit good coaches and bring in high level talent to allow us to have success on the field,” said Sampson. “We bring in the top college players from across the Midwest and some from across the country.” United’s fan base would agree with Sampson’s assessment as evidenced by the enthusiastic energy they bring to the game. United’s fan group, known as the Sons of Ransom, generate excitement in the stands that is reminiscent of the scenes witnessed in professional European stadiums. That atmosphere helps draw fans to United games.

“Some people have never seen a group of 40 guys that have drums or bullhorns or smoke flares,” said Sampson. “They are singing and chanting and standing for 90 minutes during the game. It’s unlike anything that people that attend North American sports are accustomed to seeing.”

Like any business person, Sampson recognizes the challenges of competing for customers who have lots of options for how they spend their limited free time and invest discretionary dollars. The team has kept ticket prices low (online tickets are $8 for adults and $5 for children). Sampson is constantly looking at new innovations to keep the product fresh and interesting, including new items in concessions and fun activities like bubble ball battles introduced in year two. This season, United partnered with Super Fan to introduce a fan loyalty app. The engagement app gives fans a way to interact with the club.

“Whether that’s earning points by coming to a game or sharing game photos with friends or being able to purchase tickets, it is another way to give the fans something different,” said Sampson. “We’ll be able to give users some special fan experiences, including those that reach a certain point level will be able to be on the field with the team during pre-game warm-ups.”

 The business community has been instrumental to the success of Lansing United. The team has seen the number of business sponsorships jump from six in its first season to 27 this year. Sampson is most pleased with the fact that almost all of his sponsors stay with the team once they sign on, which can be attributed in large part to the value that Sampson makes sure each sponsors receives.

"LAFCU is proud to be an early sponsor of Lansing United. Lansing United and Jeremy Sampson are making the Greater Lansing region a better community one soccer game at a time, one soccer clinic at a time, and one youth day at a time,” said Patrick Spyke, LAFCU CEO. “LAFCU has a strong affinity for positive youth programs and seeing over the years the impact this has had in our community has made this sponsorship a worthy investment.” 

“Lansing United embodies the entrepreneurial spirit in Greater Lansing. From concept to reality, Jeremey Sampson and his team have built a community around soccer. Lansing United’s success throughout the Midwest highlights that our region is a great place to live, work and enjoy professional sports,” said Patrick Dean, vice president business development for Dean Transportation. “Dean Trailways of Michigan has been proud to support Lansing United from its inception, as the official transportation provider, to support Jeremey’s vision of making Lansing a sports destination. His entrepreneurial spirit, community commitment and vision made it easy to invest in his organization.”

“The Lansing United helps to create community engagement with their games and team involvement,” said April Clobes, CEO of MSU Federal Credit Union. “For our region to attract people to want to live and work here, we need a robust offering of arts, culture, and sporting activities to appeal to everyone’s interest. A vibrant community provides us the opportunity to attract employees and members to our business.”

Another off-the-field impact that is important to Sampson is the United’s role in connecting with young people in the region and promoting the overall growth of the game of soccer.

“We can be a driver for young people to get interested in it or somebody who maybe hasn’t played in a couple of years,” said Sampson.

Sampson has been exploring options for the team’s future. Though United has enjoyed a good level of success in the NPSL, there are some upside limits in the amateur soccer world. To that end, Sampson and others in the region have had conversations with two competing professional leagues looking to ramp up in 2018 and 2019. Both leagues are interested in Lansing as a community that could successfully host a professional soccer team.

“The leagues have already looked at Lansing and said, ‘this can happen here,’” said Sampson. 

“They know what Michigan State brings to the region and they know the success the Lugnuts have had, and they have targeted Lansing as a place where professional soccer can make it.”

There are challenges that must be addressed for Lansing to make the jump into the professional soccer arena. Financially, there is the matter of a $500,000 entry fee into Division 3 and paying the team’s players. All of that will require many more fans, which also means a larger stadium. Sampson is scouting for investors and looking at several potential stadium locations.

Those in the industry see the clear potential for a professional franchise. The United States Soccer League recently held a day long site visit to Lansing, including time with Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero. The Greater Lansing Sports Authority, which leads efforts to promote sports tourism and lure national sports competitions to the region is actively working with Sampson.

“We are the prototypical market that they (professional leagues) are looking for,” said Mike Price, CSEE, CTA, executive director of the Greater Lansing Sports Authority. “There is no doubt in my mind that with the right partnership and financing that professional soccer could work in mid-Michigan.”

In its first year, Sampson says Lansing United were the “shiny new toy.” United now appears poised to take its game to the next level, which would add an important new component to the region’s attractiveness as a sports destination.

“We think about something that is different we can bring to the city of Lansing that is going to attract and retain great people who want to live and work in this community,” said Sampson. “Professional soccer is something that checks all those boxes.” 

Click here to download the July issue of FOCUS. 

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