Opportunities to invest in sports teams are usually limited to the select few with spectacular resources.
But the founders of a local men's soccer club, PDX FC, are giving supporters that opportunity.
"We're not multi-millionaires," said Luke Babson, who in 2017 founded PDX FC with his brother, Max. "But, we thought, 'Let's build something as a community.'"
To help that happen, the Babsons made ownership units publicly available starting Sept. 21. As of the morning of Oct. 14, the club's public offering at https://www.Wefunder.com/PDXFC had raised $47,821 from 193 investors. The goal is to raise $240,000, which Luke Babson said will give the club the funding to make the move to a year-round operation that pays at least some of its players.
Most of those who have invested so far have committed between $100 and $300, according to Luke Babson. For an investment of $100 or more, the club is giving investors voting rights, an owner's scarf and certificate, plus one 2021 season ticket. An investment of $200 or more includes a lifetime season ticket. Those investing $300 or more also receive a custom team jersey with the owners' names listed.
Shares are valued at 8 cents, so $100 buys 1,250 shares. If the club reaches its goal of raising $240,000, there will be 3 million shares.
PDX FC is one club among 90 or so members of the semi-professional National Premier Soccer League. The team does not pay its players. Much of its roster is current college soccer players. Others who have played for PDX FC over its first three seasons are players looking to move up the soccer ladder.
Babson noted that community-owned clubs are well established in Europe. The idea isn't foreign in the United States, either. The NFL's Green Bay Packers are the most high-profile community-owned sports business in this country.
While it's still rare in America, recent examples of opening up a soccer club to investors gave the Babsons reason to be optimistic.
One example of a local soccer club that turned to community funding is in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Chattanooga FC, a NPSL club that has moved into the professional ranks by joining the third division National Independent Soccer Association, reportedly raised $500,000 from some 2,000 investors in 2019.
Another is Detroit FC. A community effort in the Michigan city this summer raised more than $1 million through WeFunder.com to help offset COVID-19 related losses. Detroit FC had some 1,700 season tickets sold for its first season in the National Independent Soccer Association before COVID shelved the season.
PDX FC currently is one of two National Premier Soccer League teams in Portland. It plays in the six-team Northwest Division of the NPSL, a national league that is in effect the fourth tier of club soccer in the United States. League competition is held regionally. There was no 2020 season because of COVID-19. In 2019, PDX FC finished at the bottom of the Northwest Division.
International Portland Select is the other Portland club in the NPSL. That club, under several names, has been a mainstay in amateur men's soccer locally since 1996. Coach Harvey Hurst called the PDX funding project "really intriguing."
Hurst knew about the Chattanooga club's public funding success, and said he is excited to see how the PDX FC funding effort plays out. Hurst said IPS might look into attracting public investors in the future.
Hurst is looking forward to building a rivalry with PDX FC.
"I think there are plenty of fans in the area to go around," Hurst said.
PDX FC is unsure where it will play home matches next season. Concordia University has been its home, but the closure of the university throws the future of its sports facilities into uncertainty. Babson said PDX FC attracted crowds between 300 and 400 fans to most home games. He would like to double that number next season.
Beyond 2021, the Babsons want to move PDX FC from the two-month season offered by the NPSL into a year-round league. The third division NISA, which struggled out of the gate, now has 10 clubs announced, three of them in California. It hopes to begin play next year after the pandemic spoiled its planned 2020 debut.
PDX FC struggled for results on the field, though it did win the 2020 Oregon Open tournament for men's amateur teams, played in July. PDX FC has had some notable players. Daniel Luis Saez, a midfielder with the Cuban national team who settled in the Portland area after he and two teammates defected during the 2019 Gold Cup tournament, had two goals in three 2020 Oregon Cup games with PDX FC. Babson said Saez has had some interest from USL clubs.
Luke Babson, the PDX FC head coach as well as founder, said part of his motivation is to tap into local talent and to provide another avenue for players from this region who aspire to a pro soccer career. A former coach for Eastside Timbers youth soccer club with the Portland Thorns Olympic Development Program, Babson believes there is enough soccer talent in the area to field a competitive third division club. He noted, too, that many players don't have an opportunity after college to continue on a path to a soccer career.
The current expenses for the club are league dues, facility rental fees, game officials, equipment and travel. If the club moves to a year-round operation, travel costs would go up. The plan would be to eventually offer "entry level" salaries to some players but to still rely on ambitious amateurs.
Among the plans for the money they raise will be a higher-quality webstream of matches, Luke Babson said.
Early in the process, Luke Babson said about 30% of investors were from outside of Oregon. One of those, according to Babson, is Chattanooga FC chairman and co-founder Tim Kelly. Kelly has been a good resource for the Babsons as they explored the public offering, Luke said.
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