BY STEPHEN GANAVAS (@STEPHENSCOUTED)
Dennis Crowley has described his Kingston Stockade project as “open source soccer”. As someone behind start-up tech companies such as FourSquare and Dodgeball, he is not a stranger to the world of entrepreneurialism. Yet, he stops short of using that term.
“I like to call myself a builder because I like to build things I want to use,” Crowley explains.
“I think of businessmen and entrepreneurs as people who start things for the sake of it.”
Crowley seems to perk up as soon as he starts discussing his club, Kingston Stockade, which he founded from scratch in Kingston, New York, two years ago.
“For us, it was just like, ‘hey, let’s get a bunch of people that want this to happen and get them to pitch in to make it happen’,” Crowley recalls.
“Really, that’s how it came together. Kingston’s a small town, it has about 20,000 people in the city, maybe 200,000 in the county; and the county’s big. It would take you an hour to drive from one side of it to the other.”
Crowley seems reluctant to take a lot of credit for the success of the club. He acknowledges that he is financing the club in his quest to make it sustainable and “break-even”, but the conversation seems to drift to how the club has immersed itself within the fabric of the community and how the club is almost entirely community driven. He speaks about his proudest moment of running the club glowingly, and it seems fitting that it is not their conference title last season, nor is it any victory or milestone.
“The most rewarding moment for me personally was after the first game,” Crowley pauses momentarily, but not hesitantly.
“A whole bunch of kids ran down from the stands and they ran to the fence to get autographs from the players. That was totally unexpected. There was probably about 100 kids there. And the players, a lot of these guys are amateurs and they’re like, ‘what do we do? What do we sign?’. We had one pen, and I said, ‘I guess we just stay here and sign everything we can find for all these kids and nobody goes inside until everything gets signed’.”
He pauses again.
“That’s a tradition we do every game now. But to see that happen the first time, and say, ‘holy cow, this isn’t just a fun project for me or the volunteers, but these kids, if we keep this club going for ten years, some of these kids will grow up and play for the team’. This is what I’m very excited and motivated about. And then it turns from a fun project, to something that is an important thing to do in the community, and this is an important thing for us to teach other communities to do because it is meaningful.”
While Crowley is invested in the community aspect very heavily now, the project started as a model or a blueprint for other people who wanted to form their own teams. He writes long and detailed posts online explaining how the club is run and what the revenues and expenditures are like for a club of Kingston Stockade’s size, which have been met with positive feedback in the United States football community. These posts “show how the sausage is made”, in Dennis’ words.
In 2017, however, his role within American soccer has changed. Bound by the closed system of the United States Soccer Federation which does not permit a merit-based promotion and relegation system, Dennis’ team, like many others in the United States, is in football purgatory. Confined to the fourth division, the Stockade are also confined to fourth division revenue streams that pale in comparison to the higher divisions. He aims to change this system and has acted swiftly through a joint Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) filing in conjunction with Miami FC owner Riccardo Silva. But Crowley remains uneasy with the idea of being the face of the promotion/relegation movement in the United States.
“I definitely don’t want to be the face of the promotion/relegation movement,” he insists.
“I’m just one guy with a division four team that is passionate about making this happen. There are plenty of fans that want to see this. There are plenty of clubs that want to see this. And ultimately we think it’s good for the sport, it’s good for everyone involved and it will be good financially for the clubs that are able to perform and want to invest and take it seriously. It’s hard for me to imagine that it’s not a good thing for the sport in the US.”
Despite speaking to him over the phone, it is easy to imagine the emboldened body language and facial expression that would match the confidence with which he speaks on the topic of promotion and relegation. He is evidently well versed on the complications and ramifications of change, but believes in his plan for the game. He speaks with quiet confidence, but also pride.
“I do believe that opening the pyramid here in the US would encourage loads more investment at lower level teams like ourselves,” Crowley points out.
“One of the biggest things that I run into from all the people I talk is, ‘so you’re doing this club, and if you win what’s next?’ And I say, ‘well there’s nothing next, you can’t move up’. But what if the system changes? What if we can help change the system? Then there’s a reason to invest.”
Crowley is unyielding in his determination to see the global system of promotion and relegation implemented in the United States, despite the clear obstacles.
“I fully understand all the financial reasons why many of the existing MLS owners would be resistant to change,” he admits.
“But that’s not a reason to never to do it. There’s no time like the present. There’s no need to wait and we might as well get started on it now.”