By Patrick Cronin
Hampton Union, Tuesday, December 27, 2011
[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
HAMPTON -- Seacoast United Soccer Club recently completed its transformation to a for-profit organization, a move it hopes will help it expand facilities and perhaps even spawn a Major League Soccer team someday.
“I know this might sound crazy,” said Executive Director Paul Willis, who helped found the club in 1992, beginning with two youth soccer teams. The club has since grown to more than 100 teams and training programs in multiple sports, ranging from the youngest age levels to semi-pro and competing locally, regionally and nationally.
The change from a nonprofit to Seacoast United Sports Clubs Inc. began nearly a year ago for the Hampton-based club. It was finalized Dec. 16 with a property transfer of the club's four-field outdoor complex in Epping and its 70,000-square-foot indoor facility in Hampton. The properties were sold to SUSC Hampton Realty Trust and leased back to the soccer club. The indoor facility was purchased for $2.55 million and the outdoor facility for $1.1 million. Willis and Ian Burgess are listed as trustees of the SUSC Hampton Realty Trust.
Willis said it was challenging as a nonprofit for the club to access capital for expansion and improvements of its existing facilities.
“It was very difficult for us to borrow money and be able to do some of the things that we ultimately want to do,” Willis said. “By doing this, it will allow the club to continue its growth.”
Willis said the move will better position the club to compete with regional for-profit clubs such as Mass Premier Soccer, North Shore United and the Black Bear United.
He said the hundreds of families whose children are involved in the club's teams and programs won't notice much of a difference. The club is also continuing to run programs at indoor facilities in Kingston and in York, Maine.
“The only thing they will see is us trying to make it better and improve the facilities,” Willis said.
Facility upgrades in view
Willis said the for-profit group will manage the business of the club, explore future capital improvement opportunities and raise the profile of the organization in the region and beyond.
The club's outdoor fields complex in Epping, which opened in 2006, has professional-quality FieldTurf playing surfaces, but no bathrooms or locker rooms. There are portable toilets and one small concession stand for the thousands of kids and parents who pass through the complex off Route 101 each month from early spring to late fall.
“We don't have stands or bleachers to watch the game,” Willis said.
The group is also looking at opportunities to further develop the Hampton indoor facility.
Nonprofit work to continue
Dave Baker, who was the chairman of the nonprofit club's board of directors before the transformation, is president of the Seacoast United Foundation, which will continue the club's interests in fund-raising, charity golf tournaments, scholarships and its annual dinner/auction at the Wentworth by the Sea Hotel in New Castle.
“The idea behind the foundation is for that foundation to act 100 percent like a charity,” Willis said.
Scholarships, he said, will be awarded to support players in Seacoast United, as well as soccer players in other organizations in Rockingham and Strafford counties.
“So this goes beyond Seacoast United,” Willis said.
Seacoast United unveiled its first semi-pro men's team in the spring of this year. The Seacoast United Phantoms began play in May at Portsmouth High School as a member of the Premier Development League, the fourth tier of soccer in the United States.
Seacoast United's youth teams compete in elite regional leagues around New England and the Northeast, and two of its girls teams recently won United Soccer League Super Y titles at the North American Finals.
Willis noted there are more than 100 professional teams at various levels in England. There are only 18 teams in MLS, including the New England Revolution.
“We will never be D.C. United or New York Red Bull because we are not a city or big metropolitan area,” Willis said. “But if you look everywhere else in the world, there are smaller clubs, but they are professional and play professional soccer.”
Willis said it's only a matter of time.
“Down the road, I have enough faith in soccer in this country that I generally believe that is where it will ultimately go,” Willis said. “It could be 10 or 20 years down the road, I don't know. But you have to start somewhere. I would love for this place to be a MLS club and be the first one that was started from scratch.”