Ottawa Fury FC – Running the Club
Ottawa Fury FC – Running the Club
(Atlanta – GA / By Glenn Boylan)
In the final installment of our series with the Ottawa Fury about what it takes to start up a new soccer team, we’re going to look at about some of the administrative aspects of fielding a team that have to be taken care of before the first game kicks off.
During the break between the NASL Spring and Fall seasons, Fury President John Pugh took some time out to talk with me about the these aspects of starting a team.
Uniforms and Equipment
When I thought about what it might take to start a new team, some of the first questions I though of were: Where do you go to get a new team’s uniform designed? Are there soccer uniform designers?
Well, it turns out there ARE soccer uniform designers, but you get to them by working with your team’s apparel supplier. Most teams have a commercial agreement with an apparel supplier. For the Fury, that is Admiral Sport. Admiral is also the apparel supplier for NASL’s Minnesota United FC and the Tampa Bay Rowdies, and several other professional soccer teams.
John outlined the process. You talk to several suppliers, try to work out the most beneficial financial arrangements you can, and reach an agreement. Then you go to them and tell them your colors, red and black in the case of the Fury, and ask them what kind of designs they have.
“They came up with some custom designs for us,” John explained. “As a startup club, it’s a good idea to keep your fans involved, so we actually took that to the fans. We put three designs out there. They universally panned one of them, the other two they liked. In the end we decided on a different design for the home jersey from the away jersey. Those were the two that they liked, and we made one the home and one the away. “
I also asked about the equipment that teams use at practice: there are the little cones that the players dribble the balls around; there are a dozen balls or more flying around; there are temporary goals, and probably more stuff than I even notice. Who, I asked, was responsible for getting all that?
In this case, and in some other items I asked about, John said that falls to the Fury’s Director of Operations. Other teams might use a different title, such as General Manager, but most clubs will have one person with these responsibilities. For the Fury, this is Melanie Ireton.
John said that some of those items are going to be part of the team’s agreement with their apparel supplier, things like pinnies, training gear, and track suits. But the more physical equipment would probably come from another vendor.
“We use Kwik Goal,” John told me. “They have goals of various sizes. You want small goals for training and short-sided games. You want ladders for drills, and small hurdles. They have a whole variety of things, including a sort of artificial wall of players. They’re like mannequins. So you’d probably hook up with one of those vendors, looking to see if you can do better than just buying out of that catalogue.”
Because most of the player’s cleats look different from each other, I guessed that the players pick out their own cleats. John confirmed my guess. “You’re absolutely right, cleats are a very personal thing. Everybody has their favorite pair, and that’s left to the players.”
Next on my hypothetical to-do list were travel arrangements for the team. This is another area that falls into the bailiwick of the Director of Operations.
“Obviously it’s a big job,” John answered, “One which has to be done carefully because travel is one of your highest expenses if you’re playing in a pro league like the NASL. Our closest team is New York, and we’re going to travel as far as San Antonio and Minnesota and Florida.”
I was surprised to hear that the teams are not usually able to work out deals with the airlines. John said, “You might think so, but it’s not the case, and generally you’re well advised to book those flights as soon as your schedule is known. We travel with about twenty-five or twenty-six people, usually.”
That includes eighteen players, the coaching staff, Graeme Ivory, the Fury’s Media and Communications Director, and the folks needed for the radio broadcast. (All of the Fury’s games are broadcast on the radio back to Ottawa.)
Of course, once you get to where you’re going, you need to stay somewhere. And the NASL has a pretty clever way of handling that. “In our league,” John explained, “the home team provides up to ten rooms for the opposing team. That allows the home team to strike an arrangement with one particular hotel, make that the team hotel, and then we broadcast that information to the other teams. If the visiting team wants to purchase more rooms, they can do it at their own cost.”
The typical away game trip involves traveling on Friday, arriving in time for a short practice session. NASL games are typically on Saturday evening. For the Fury, playing the game Saturday evening makes it almost impossible to get back that night, so they usually stay overnight and return to Ottawa on Sunday morning.
Schedules can complicate things however. During the Spring, the Fury played in an Amway Canadian Championship game at Edmonton on a Wednesday night (Edmonton is about a four hour flight from Ottawa), and then had a game in Atlanta on the following Saturday. In this case, instead of returning to Ottawa, they went from Edmonton straight to Atlanta. Still, with a three hour flight back to Toronto, going through U.S. customs, getting their bags, putting the bags back on, and flying to Atlanta, it was more than a 10 hour trip from hotel to hotel. No doubt Melanie was busy that week.
Jersey sponsors, stadium sponsors, broadcast sponsor, signage on the field… Sponsorship plays a huge role in the finances of a professional soccer team.
The Fury are in a unique situation as far as the stadium naming rights. Their new stadium, TD Place, opened in July. TD Place will be home to the Fury, a CFL football team, and a hockey team – all owned by the same ownership group, the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group. Having three teams play there gave a high value to the naming rights for the stadium.
For the soccer team, the highest value sponsorship is the jersey sponsor. The value to the sponsor is the exposure it gives them. Heart and Crown Irish Pubs are the Fury jersey sponsor. The value to them is the local exposure they get for their chain of pubs. And both parties try to maximize the benefits of the sponsorship. For example, the Heart and Crown hosts viewing parties for the Fury away games.
Obviously, the team wants to sell tickets and get people in the stadium for support, atmosphere, and revenue. TV and newspaper advertising seemed obvious to me, but I asked John if there were other approaches they tried to take.
“Advertising takes many forms,” John replied. “It could be in the form of putting the ad on the side of a bus, or putting the ad in the bus shelter, for example. And of course, web-based as well as print-based. So we put together a marketing plan with a lot of different components to it. One of the things we did was to have place mats you get in the pub, that you put beer on, we had thousands of those made and gave them out to local pubs. There’s a big sports radio station here that’s one of our major partners. And we partnered with both of the major newspapers.”
The Fury does an outstanding job with social media. John explained the Fury’s approach.
“I think everyone now recognizes the power of social media. It’s vital, and I think the connectivity to your fans is everything. If our fans have these options to communicate, with other fans or with the club, I think it just engenders more loyalty to the club. They feel part of it, and that’s what you want to do.”
More so than any other professional sport, soccer embraces their diehard fans, the supporters groups. The Fury meet with their supporters groups, both individually and collectively, but still give them as much independence and autonomy as possible.
“I think most of the time we’re trying to listen,” John explained. “There are areas you need to get agreement on, handing out flares and things like that. We tried to listen to what they wanted and whenever possible, accommodate them, but always with the safety and security of the fans in mind. The club has to work with them closely but not try to dictate what they should be doing. They’ve got enough ideas of their own.”
Game Day Experience
At any professional sporting event these days – football, baseball, or soccer – there’s a lot going on. Concessions, public address announcing, parking, security, pre-game entertainment, halftime entertainment. I asked John how all that is handled. Is the club in charge of that, or the stadium?
“It could go either way, but more likely the club’s going to be in charge,” he replied. “In our case, we control the stadium that we play in, and the same stadium is played in by our football team and our hockey team. Each puts on a different show. Nowadays you’ve got big screens, so you’re programming what’s going to appear on those screens at various times during the game. You’ve got your sponsors and your advertisers to look after. You’ve got your halftime entertainment.”
John described a high-tech job, because of all the technology the teams have access to now. It requires an organized and programmed effort.
“It’s almost like producing a concert,” John said. “At this time, the players are going to come out. At this time, the anthems are being played. While the anthems are being played, the cameras are on the flags, and so on.”
While we were talking about the game day experience, John mentioned that at TD Place, when a soccer game is played, there will only be soccer lines on the field, and when a football game is played, there will only be football lines.
“We have gone to the expense of buying the technology to be able to make that happen,” he said. “For a fan, it changes everything.”
10 SOCCER – Ottawa Fury FC Head coach, Marc Dos Santos speaks with his team during a practice.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this inside look at how the Ottawa Fury FC came to be. Obviously there’s a lot more to it than putting players in a uniform. And it’s just as obvious that the Fury have approached it in a very thorough and professional manner from Day 1.
I want to extend my sincere appreciation to John Pugh and Fury Coach Marc Dos Santo for their time. I also want to thank Graeme Ivory for coordinating all of the interviews.