Detroit City Football Club LLC, a semi-pro soccer team that plays in U.S. Soccer’s fourth tier, has been one of the most remarkable pieces of the city’s uneven turnaround story.
Here’s a team playing a supposedly lower-tier sport that has, in four short but highly successful years, developed arguably the most rabid, passionate and grassroots fan base in a city represented by four big-money major-league pro sports franchises.
And things are definitely getting more interesting for Le Rouge as the team heads into its fifth season.
Having outgrown its original home grounds on the gridiron at Cass Technical High School (official capacity: 2,500), where it routinely sold out games with raucous crowds, the team has opted to pull up stakes and move to Hamtramck’s Keyworth Stadium, a Works Progress Administration field that has hosted Presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy. To finance the move and pay for badly needed upgrades, the five co-owners are borrowing a page from European clubs by turning to its fans for help.
Investing in growth
They’ve launched a “revenue sharing agreement,” a non-equity but interest-bearing crowdfunding drive open only to Michigan residents, in an effort to raise as much as $750,000 for stadium repairs. As of this writing, the organization had raised $395,750 from more than 340 investors, just shy of the minimum $400,000 that would allow the owners to tap the funds.
“We’re very, very close,” Lindsey Pehrson, City’s media director, told 8-Wood. “We’ve had such great response so far. Seeing as how it’s $400,000 and it’s the biggest campaign in Michigan history for a community based financing project, we’re very optimistic.”
City will hold the last in a series of meet-the-owners happy hours to try and raise more funds from 5-7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 3 at New Dodge Lounge, 8850 Joseph Campau Ave. in Hamtramck.
With the help of Sidewalk Ventures, a Detroit-based firm that invests in local businesses, the team has floated a revenue-share loan in which investors would be earn a return of 135 percent over a projected 6.5 years — meaning an investment of $1,000 would grow to $1,350. The target annual rate of return is 10.38 percent.
In an email distributed to associates, Sidewalk Ventures founder Jeff Aronoff wrote that “The team has a devoted following, and the owners are Detroiters, highly engaged in the community. Their success has made them the most likely candidate to rise to the professional ranks, an occurrence made even more likely by the fact that the metro area is the largest market in the US without a pro (soccer) team.”
Detroit City FC is a member of the National Premier Soccer League, in the fourth tier of U.S. Soccer, but has said its goal is to eventually leapfrog up the professional ranks and eventually build its own soccer-specific stadium in Detroit.
At this point, City seems likely to meet its minimum $400,000 mark, which Pehrson said would allow it to renovate the public restrooms, the locker rooms and the concrete structure and wooden benches that make up the west grandstand.
“Anything more than that will cover the east side, which is where the supporters are,” Pehrson said. “That will be the bleachers and the concrete within that structure, too.”
Regardless, the team is now committed to playing its 2016 season at Keyworth, which it says will be able to seat 6,000. It would also bring more space for food trucks and concessions, and a liquor license — a neat trick, especially given that the stadium will continue to be owned by Hamtramck Public Schools.
“This was something that, like I said, we’re so optimistic about, and I think there was no other way for them,” Pehrson said of the owners. “This was just another step for the team. Cass Tech was great for the team, but it was time to move on.”
Left unsaid are whether ticket prices will rise, as seems likely a result of the new move. I sent a query to City CEO Sean Mann, whom I know from the Detroit City Futbol League he organized in 2010, and will update if and when I hear back.
Update: I asked the Northern Guard supporters group whether it had decided on a new home bar in tavern-rich Hamtramck, replacing Harry’s in Detroit. They said they haven’t.
“We imagine supporters spread throughout Hamtramck,” they told me. “We believe a large number will go to fowling warehouse.”
Pehrson said the announcement of a new home bar for supporters is coming in mid-March.
Creative Commons photo by Dave Hogg