Two new soccer teams in Richmond are jostling for position – and sponsorship dollars – in an already crowded local sports scene.
RVA Football Club and Chesterfield United Football Club recently played the first games of their inaugural season in the National Premier Soccer League, a fourth-tier league in the U.S. soccer pyramid with almost 60 teams across the country.
While players and coaches on the two teams aren’t paid, their goal is to help local college and high school players develop to play at the next level. That requires revenue for equipment, travel and marketing expenses.
Neither team makes much off ticket sales. RVA FC plays its games at Sports Backers Stadium, near the Diamond. Its ticket and concessions revenue goes to VCU, which owns the field. Chesterfield United plays its games at Fort Lee, where it lets members of the military in for free.
So competing for sponsorships against the area’s other college, pro and semi-pro teams – including the higher-level Richmond Kickers soccer team – will be important.
RVA FC has yet to land any major sponsors, but owner and head coach Grover Gibson said the team is focused on winning games first.
“We’re kind of lacking because we don’t have someone doing the marketing side of things,” Gibson said. “But we want to make sure the product on the field is right first.”
The club has local sponsors in Own Touch, a soccer training company in Rockville, and local brewery Hardywood. But it lacks the high-dollar sponsors that could give it a boost.
Gibson, a 34-year-old Fredericksburg native, coaches the team for free. In the mid-1990s, he passed up a soccer scholarship at UVA to play pro in Germany. He bounced around to eight teams in 13 years before an eye injury ended his career.
“I said I’d never be a coach,” Gibson said. “I was the type of player who was always blaming coaches for things going wrong.”
Gibson’s soccer charity fronted the start-up money for RVA FC. The team has spent almost $50,000 to cover the NPSL league entry fee, travel and equipment expenses and a $10,000 fee to play home games at Sports Backers Stadium.
Chesterfield United, owned by the youth soccer club of the same name, isn’t having trouble finding sponsors in its first season.
When an NPSL team was in the works, the club’s connections in the community paid off, according to Pat McStay, the team’s director of operations and co-general manager.
Its sponsors include Dick’s Sporting Goods, Enterprise Rent-A-Car and CiCi’s Pizza.
“We have the benefit of having an automatic fan base and people we can reach out to for sponsorships,” McStay said.
The National Premier Soccer League grew out of the Men’s Premier Soccer League, which formed in 2002. The league now has 10 divisions spread across four regions.
NPSL Commissioner Michael Hitchcock said many of the league’s teams thrive in smaller markets, like the Chattanooga Football Club in Tennessee, but the league also has teams in larger markets such as Sacramento, New Orleans and Houston.
Teams in the NPSL pay an annual membership fee that covers administrative costs for the league and travel expenses for teams that make the national playoffs. This year the fee was $3,500.
Some owners look to turn a profit, but others, like Gibson, just want to expand the game of soccer in their communities.
“At the end of the day, I’m not trying to make money. I’m just trying to break even,” Gibson said.
RVA FC’s next home game is next Friday at 7 p.m. against D.C. United U-23 at Sports Backers Stadium. Admission is $5.
This Saturday, Chesterfield United FC will take on CASL Elite at 7 p.m. in Williams Stadium at Fort Lee. Tickets are $5.