"I would not tell anyone to support any local soccer club simply by default. For me, it's more a question of what someone should look for in a club that deems it worthy of support."
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Brace yourselves AP readers! You are in for a quite a read today. This is going to be a long one, but you're going to learn a lot.
Kenneth Tebo has recently launched a new soccer league in the DC area, called the Beltway Premier League. He took some time to talk about why he's doing it, what he hopes the league will be, and easily takes the prize for longest, most detailed answer on every question. Check it out.
Let's start with some softball stuff to get readers familiar with you and then the league. So tell me a little about yourself. Who you are, where you're from, and what your role is with the Beltway Premier League.
Well, my name is Kenneth Tebo. I am the President of the Beltway Premier League DMV, and I'm a bona fide life-long Washingtonian. I was born in Washington, D.C., grew up in the D.C. suburbs of Bethesda and Potomac, Maryland, studied at American University in D.C., and currently live as a Marylander expat right across the river in Alexandria, Virginia. I'm a pretty typical Mid-Atlantic version of the bourgeois Northeastern Megalopolitan. A lot of the families in Potomac are associated with the embassies and World Bank in D.C., so there is a wonderful and harmonious mix of many different national, cultural, religious, and ethnic backgrounds. Spending my formative years there certainly helped me develop an appreciation for cultural diversity and soccer. In my youth, I played in both Montgomery County recreational and Beltway travel leagues, and it was natural that many soccer-rich nationalities were represented on the teams.
During the dark days of American soccer between the folding of the original NASL and the birth of MLS, I would enjoy the sport vicariously through my global friends' support of their European and South American clubs. I was overjoyed when D.C. United came on the scene in '96 and have been a die-hard supporter ever since. In the following years, I also discovered a number of our local lower division clubs such as Real Maryland and the Northern Virginia Royals, and that converted me into a dedicated follower of and advocate for the lower divisions across the U.S.
Unfortunately, although the D.C. area, with its prosperous and cosmopolitan demographic, would seem like the ideal incubator for soccer club and supporter culture growth at all levels of the pyramid, it has been rather lacking in the huge gap between MLS and the academies. To be sure, the supporter groups of D.C. United have been pioneering in establishing the blueprint for support in MLS, and our youth academies are some of the most prestigious in the American developmental system. However, as I witness the excitement of all my soccer community associates over the expansion of pro, semi-pro, and amateur soccer in their cities and towns, D.C. seems to have remained an overlooked nonstarter. I actually attended the unveiling ceremony of the Virginia Cavalry as they intended to launch in the NASL, but we all know that ended dead on arrival. I threw my support behind the D.C. United U23 NPSL who set up shop nearby in Fairfax, but they folded after one season. Subsequently, as the franchise announcements from the NPSL and PDL come flooding in, the ranks of Beltway area clubs in those leagues has diminished.
So, instead of continuing to sit on my hands and wait for something auspicious to develop in D.C. soccer, I decided to create the Beltway Premier League DMV and perhaps expedite the process...
I'm really curious about why you decided to launch the BPL now. You've already got the NPSL, PDL, and soon the UPSL. Why start this now?
Yeah, I've definitely been keeping an eye out for the UPSL and CSL USA NE and tracking their progress down I-95. While I'm aware of the potential competition, I honestly don't think it would be productive to fret about any existing D4 or elite amateur league as I conceive the BPL DMV. My initial intent was actually to start a club movement here in Alexandria, but, when I imagined the progress of the club, I couldn't think of a single league that I would be excited to join.
Certainly, being in a nationwide D4 league lends a club a certain amount of instant credibility and exposure. But, really, even as it relates to MLS, I often ask myself if the main selling point of our top leagues is the simple monopolistic advantage they enjoy through their USSF sanctioning. Do these leagues really utilize the immense resources they've accumulated through fees to market the league, clubs, or players and do they exert maximum effort to ensure the highest return on the investment of their clubs' owners? And that is not a trivial question as, while the deluge of new franchise announcements overwhelm the soccer scene, we must never forget that, behind each club, there are folks who are putting their resources and reputations on the line to augment the sense of pride and unity in their communities.
So, as I surveyed the landscape of soccer in this region, I saw higher-level amateur leagues that were full to bursting with youth academy showcases. It is only natural that academies dominate the D.C. area, as we have some of the richest counties in the nation and a youth player pool that is both talented and wealthy enough for the academies to prosper. Likewise, the majority of soccer luminaries and club owners around D.C. and the Mid-Atlantic are more of the player-development-over-supporter-outreach mentality, which is also natural as most of them have been players or coaches most of their lives. But I've witnessed too many instances where, when you have a league with a mix of autonomously or supporter owned clubs and academy-run clubs, there is a massive disparity in the level of engagement the clubs have with the community or the media. It seems extremely unfair to be a committed owner who invests a lot of effort and resources to build a brand and a supporter base to elevate the popularity and profitability of the club, which in turn elevates the popularity and profitability of the league, only to share the same league with and pay the same league fees as some apathetic academy showcase with a clip-art logo that hasn't even tweeted in two years.
And I feel the leagues have not done their more ambitious owners any favors by not demanding a certain minimal standard and elevation of quality in presentation and outreach from their more ambivalent clubs. I see no excuse because, in most cases, it's more a question of simple self-awareness and effort than money. Sometimes it's a simple matter of reaching out to our dedicated advocates in our soccer blogger community.
Now that the nationwide leagues are competing with each other and desperately scrambling to fill their roster of clubs, you'd be hard pressed to find an auspicious portent of the elevation of standards. Beyond commitment to marketing or outreach, you often have to question the academy showcases' basic commitment to the existence of their senior sides, especially here in the DMV where the PDL and NPSL presence has been a revolving door of folding academy clubs. I won't mention the club, but I have attended matches of a local Northern Virginia PDL club (that no longer exists) that were played on a rec field in front of 20 folks. On the upside, I could let my dog stretch his legs on the adjoining field.
Anyway, rather than being deterred by the existence of other leagues, I'd say I was more determined by what I found lacking in their existence. Basically, I created the Beltway Premier League DMV to be that league that I would have been excited to join as a club owner. I also created it to be a platform for the creation of the type of ambitious and outreaching clubs that I would be proud to share a league with. If the other leagues did increase their presence here and scooped up a bunch of academy showcases in the process, I would not find it a threat to the BPL DMV because our aim is to be the antithesis of that. I would, of course, emphasize that our clubs secure their stadium facilities as quickly as possible.
I am not naive, and I wholeheartedly appreciate and understand the herculean task of finding and recruiting clubs. Slogans and affirmations can be uplifting, but they're hardly lubricants that will enable a league to simply pull ownership's out of its behind. I certainly give the NPSL in particular a lot of credit for their ability to spread the seeds of D4 club ownership in uncharted territories such as the Deep South, Plains states, and now the Dakotas and Big Sky; and for gracing us with clubs like Chattanooga FC and Detroit City FC who have created the blueprint for successful D4 club operations. With the BPL DMV, I am attempting to spread those seeds here in the D.C. Metro area which I feel has been uncharted territory in terms of supporter-outreaching or supporter-owned clubs.
Obviously, I have only so much control over the level of quality of the clubs that apply for membership to the BPL DMV. Need does not always correlate with demand. We are going to have to work double-overtime and employ many strategies to solicit interest in our league, and it is basic probability to understand that generating more interest equates to generating more quality. The league has only existed in minimal beta form for a few weeks, during which, we have been primarily focused on setting up the foundation of the league. Now, we are beginning our first phase of promoting the BPL DMV to the community, so we will be able to better gauge what level of ownership exists and where we need to focus our efforts and resources most to effectively inspire and generate that ownership. Perhaps it's a blasphemous rumor, but I've heard tell that soccer does not sell itself.
The answer to your last question would be that I'm starting it now because it's better than never, and any time is ideal when you're talking about an imperative.
You've given a lot to chew over with that. What is it about your region, beyond the current gap in the DC area for adult soccer teams, that has convinced and inspired you to start this league?
Well, first of all, this region has allowed me to live a happy, free, and comfortable life, so, if there is anything I could do to raise the quality of life or the amount of joy in this community, it would be incredibly rewarding. With my provincial pride and the gratitude and affection I feel for the folks of the DMV, this is certainly a labor of love.
Soccer is very prominent in the culture of the D.C. area. In terms of professional soccer, we have enjoyed the Diplomats, D.C. United, the Freedom, and the Spirit. We also have a number of distinguished college soccer programs around the Beltway, and, of course, there are the stellar youth academies and recreational organizations. Not to mention all the pick-up games you will discover driving past most fields. Many kids in the DMV have played soccer on some level and are well oriented to the sport and MLS, and there are many adults in the area, such as myself, for whom soccer has been omnipresent their whole lives. I started playing soccer pretty much the day I could start walking, and my childhood is full of memories of heading to RFK with my youth club to see a Dips match. On top of that, the D.C. area has a massive population of immigrants representing nations with rich soccer traditions from all continents (well, I haven't met an Antarctican yet). And as popular as soccer is here, the prominence of the sport should be elevated even further with the opening of United's stadium at Buzzard Point.
From a business perspective, the Beltway economy tends to be insulated from the ups and downs of the larger American economy, so the climate for investment and entrepreneurialism is always favorable and stable. I believe this area ranks third in the nation in terms of median income. Many folks in our immigrant community have seized on the opportunities for upward mobility this area affords and have enjoyed financial success working hard to grow their family businesses as well. So the pool of potential ownership and support is wide and diverse.
Basically, considering our soccer-savvy demographic and seeing the success of other amateur soccer leagues in regions that don't possess the inherent advantages for a soccer league that we do (I'd say the EPLWA, PLA, and GCPL are a few of the regional leagues that I admire and am inspired by), I figured now was as good a time as any to see if we could replicate that success with the BPL DMV. With a lull in club presence from the PDL and NPSL and the coming invasion from the newer national leagues, I also figured it was ideal to launch the league and establish ourselves as quickly as possible; again, more for the sake of securing stadium facilities than competing for franchises.
I've seen you say on some tweets that are certain areas you're looking to when it comes to teams. How big exactly is the DC Metro area, and where are you looking to have teams from?
The official Washington metropolitan area as defined by the Census Bureau has around 6 million folks. The region stretches up I-95 towards Baltimore and down I-95 halfway to Richmond. You also have the western counties that extend all the way to West Virginia and the I-270 corridor up through Frederick. Initially, I want the owners to focus on investing in their clubs rather that charter transport, so it would be ideal to limit the jurisdiction to D.C. and the more densely populated adjacent counties, such as Arlington, Fairfax, Montgomery, and Prince George's, to limit travel expenses.
If you take any exit on I-495, I-395, or I-66, chances are, you'll end up in an ideal community, in terms of the density and diversity of the population, for a soccer club. I am loath for the BPL DMV to be simply an outer suburb or gated community league, so enjoying a good representation of clubs from the districts of Washington would be awesome. Rockville being the second most populous city in Maryland and having an increasing Central American community would be a great location. Arlington with its youthful hotbed of hipsterism has a lot of potential. Really, when I think about it, it's somewhat pointless to single out any one location because there is so much variation in the urban, suburban, and rural communities of the DMV, and there are so many communities that could bring a special and unique flavor to the Beltway Premier League DMV. Obviously, there are certain locales around the Beltway that hold a special place in my heart, but I'm building a region-wide league and not recreating the travelogue of my Washingtonian life. If we reach a roster of clubs that require regional divisions, then we would contemplate extending outwards. We actually did receive an inquiry from interested ownership up I-270 in Washington County, but that's practically Pennsylvania, so I told them it would not be ideal at this moment.
Interesting. Also good to hear you're getting interest already, even if it farther afield then is ideal at the moment. I'm curious about this, because it's something you've put a lot of work into. And that's branding. How did you go about coming up with this logo, and why does it look the way it does?
One of many imperatives of the Beltway Premier League is to place as minimal a burden as possible on our member clubs as it relates to fees. We will have no franchise fees, so that is off the table. The affordability of the league fees will already be hindered by the fact that an officiating crew in our region and for our level of competition can cost upward of $200 per match, and we include referee compensation in our league fee. Our target for the inaugural season would be a minimum of six clubs in our elite division, which would mean a base fee of at least $1,000. That would not leave a lot of wiggle room to balance affordability with league operating costs in addition to our ambitions for growth as a league. Inevitably, we want to raise the profile of the BPL DMV through such ventures as live streaming all our matches or hosting tournaments, and we are determined to make an additional contribution to the community through charitable works and fundraising.
So, the league will depend heavily on merchandise, events and other ancillary streams of revenue generation to fund all of our ambitions. This, along with complimenting and synergizing with the aspirations for sustainability and growth of our club owners, is why we place a great deal of importance on media, branding, and marketing. We believe the league will enjoy more success if we approach it as a culture and lifestyle. Of course, we can't jump the gun at this point as a lot of the identity and aesthetic of the league will be organically influenced by the culture and lifestyle of our club's communities, and, considering the diversity of the region, that could be far ranging.
Our current logo was designed by Michael Taylor, who also designed the Premier League of America's logo and has done a lot of work for Global Scarves. Just like most soccer supporters, I've spent far more time analyzing the aesthetics and standards of club logos than that of league logos, so it was a bit of a challenge to get my head around a concept to represent the BPL DMV. It's also a lot easier to conceive of a club logo as the task is more about focusing on a prominent landmark or identifying theme of a specific city or locale.
With the BPL DMV, I wanted a logo that would be more representative of the entire Washington metropolitan region. I wanted to avoid the cliche symbols for representing the region such as the Capitol dome or the Washington Monument; plus, those are more D.C.-centric icons. I also did not want just a generic soccer ball or player silhouette or to use the common soccer league color scheme of red, white, and blue. Finally, to set us apart, one of my primary directives to the designer was to avoid any imagery or coloring that would remind anyone of D.C. United.
The green and gold of the logo is a reference to the wealth and prosperity of the D.C. area. The gold is the opportunity this region affords its inhabitants, and the green also stands for the ever-expanding suburbs that have thrived thanks to that opportunity. On a personal note, green and gold are also the colors of the flag of my hometown of Potomac.
The symbol of the compass and square is obviously taken from Masonic iconography. Members of the freemasonry had a massive influence on the establishment and layout of D.C. and the surrounding area, so the logo is largely an homage to the Founding Fathers of America and the nation's capital. For me, the symbol represents the intellectual curiosity and enlightenment that influenced the formulation of our nation's ideals, and, thus, I hope our logo implies the study and awareness of lower division soccer that is the foundation of the BPL DMV's ideals. Sure it's somewhat of a bombastic conflation, but growing up around the seat of power of the greatest superpower this world has ever seen tends to inspire one to wax grandiose.
Some see implications of the Illuminati in the logo, which is not surprising as, from what I hear and read of folks' descriptions of the machinations of the D.C. crowd, it would seem that Middle America believes the denizens of our fair metropolis are all sinister, plotting, lizard people. I don't know about the Federal establishment, but I would love if they drained the actual swamps of D.C., as the humidity and mosquitoes can be a bit much in the summer months. To be honest, I get a kick out of playing on people's assumptions about our reach and influence, but, really, the logo is all about enlightenment and transcendence and my desire for the BPL DMV to serve as a shining example for other regional amateur leagues that share our aspirations.
Of course, we have the old-timey ball in the center because, at the end of the day, it's all about soccer, and we chose the old-fashioned ball because, well, we're just classy like that. The "D", "M", and "V" obviously stands for "D.C.", "Maryland", and "Virginia", and "495" is for the Beltway. The Federal font of "Beltway Premier" in the logo is pretty self-explanatory, and the two stars on each side represent our elite and recreational divisions. I left "League" off the logo so that it can be more flexible for application to those ancillary revenue streams I mentioned or more malleable for the designers of our promotional graphics and merchandise. I'd imagine the logo will undergo many variations and derivations over the coming months and years. Our ideals and ethics are absolute and eternal, but our brand will be constantly evolving.
Since you touched on it in your answer, and it's something I'm curious about anyway, how do you plan on helping incoming teams due branding well, especially if you're going be emphasizing merchandise? There are a ton of new teams, and the logos are, as you know, all over the place when it comes to quality. And as we've seen with Chattanooga and Detroit, a good brand can go a long way in legitimizing a team.
Well, I wouldn't want to diminish what has been achieved in Chattanooga or Detroit by putting it all down to branding or marketing. With those situations, you have the perfect storm of ambitious and outreaching front offices coupled with individuals in their supporter groups who understand and appreciate how the clubs can serve as vehicles for civic pride and community service. I don't believe that Chattanooga FC or Detroit City FC would be held in the same esteem or would have such recognizable brands if it were not for the tireless efforts and sacrifices of the Chattahooligans or Northern Guard to grow their supporter communities and infuse them with an identity and sense of collective purpose. Of course, the efforts of these groups would be pointless if they did not have the advantages of receptive and competent ownerships that can rise to the expectations and standards set by their supporters. It always comes back to synchronization of incentives and unity of purpose being the true keys to success.
As for the standards of branding and presentation in the Beltway Premier League DMV, we require that, in the application process, clubs provide their logo and website. Therefore, we will get a glimpse of the level of quality each club brings to the table from the get go. We'll communicate to the club, courteously and with magnanimity, what needs to be improved in order to meet the standards of the league, and we'll advise the clubs on how to achieve those standards. Usually, that will be a simple matter of hooking them up with a talented graphic designer. As we build our roster of clubs, I imagine a lot of those assessments will be made by me as BPL DMV president. Once the clubs are set, and each front office has nominated its representative to the league, these matters will be considered and voted upon by the board of directors.
I certainly don't want to discourage folks who may be passionate about the sport but are not so well versed in the area of building a club identity, so it is incumbent upon me to emphasize that we will work patiently with the clubs. What's most important for our applicants is to have a desire to transcend. Just yesterday, I was speaking with a gentleman from a rec club based in the Jamaican community of Prince George's County. They're registered with the Maryland State Soccer Association, but, for the most part, the club is simply a means for a group of working class guys to get together and play a sport that has been a major part of their lives for as long as they can remember. They don't have any internet presence, and they're definitely not plugged into the American soccer social media bubble or all of its ongoing debates and discourse. They don't know Ted Westervelt from Ted Danson. They're all about the pitch. These are the types of purists and idealists that I want to build the foundation of the BPL DMV upon. They also harbor a deep commitment to and pride in their community and cultural identity. My responsibility is to impart to them how they can now create a club identity that expresses their culture and how they can engage their community through their club and vice versa. Once I explained how their club might grow and prosper via the platform of the league, the guy was very receptive to the idea of reorienting their approach and mission. We'll see where things proceed from here, but I do hope I will be announcing them as a member club soon.
One thing to keep in mind is that, for me, the Beltway Premier League will be a full-time commitment, so I will be able to exert all my efforts in advising and assisting the clubs. This league is not just some hobby I'll attend to in my spare time like some two-bit fantasy league. The BPL DMV is now the entirety of my existence, and, when I'm not working on it or talking about it, I'm pondering or plotting it. As this will probably be new to a lot of our owners, I'm assuming I'll have to advise on a lot of minutiae beyond just the branding: social media, club sanctioning, player registration, media generation, facility rental, merchandising, event planning, crowd-sourcing, etc. As part of our club recruitment strategy, we will be hosting seminars for prospective owners. Along with presenting the mission and benefits of our league, we will also orient the owners to what they can expect and what will be expected of them when operating a club in the BPL DMV. You really do have to continuously emphasize the standards from day one and impart to all the owners that consistency in quality is essential league-wide.
For me, the major challenge and the herculean task with be snaring clubs in our net. Once they're in our fold, I have the time, patience, knowledge, and, most certainly, passion to get them up to speed. They may come to us a bit shabby and unpolished, but I will ensure and guarantee that they are fully formed and professional in presentation before they are given the final BPL DMV stamp of approval and announced to the broader soccer community.
I believe one of the guiding principles of the promotion/relegation movement is the expansion of entrepreneurial opportunity in American soccer. Likewise, I want to inspire and enable as wide and deep a potential ownership pool as possible for the D.C. area. To this end, we will also be offering a third level of membership to the BPL DMV that will be known as the "Incubator Division". This non-competitive tier will be for the dreamers out there who might not have the necessary resources to actually field a team. Again, we will work with these folks to create a club identity and internet presence and bring their grassroots movement to the attention of the community through marketing and media. Membership in the Incubator Division will lend their movement credibility and exposure that will hopefully attract others in their community to contribute to their cause, be it through specialized skills or financial investment. The BPL DMV will provide a supportive environment for the movement to raise funds and build an organization until they are ready to join our competitive divisions.
Wow. I really like that commitment to quality. The lower levels of American Soccer desperately need more people who can impress these kind of things on to clubs. Where does this passion for soccer, especially at the lower levels, come from? You've got an insane amount of interest and look like you really want to help teams succeed in every way possible, which is really rare.
Well, my brand is being a righteous guy... ha... ugh. No, I have a strong individual identity and sensibility, and I have a lot of self-confidence and self-esteem, but I've always found more satisfaction in harnessing my knowledge and abilities to collective endeavors and for the betterment of the community. I prefer my opportunities to serve as an umbrella for others rather than a funnel for myself. Like every true-blue American alpha male, I sometimes daydream about power or prestige, but it's always in the context of exploiting those assets to liberate or uplift others. I don't know if it warrants any credit as it's all predicated on self-evident truths that any knucklehead with a shred of moral and intellectual curiosity can access. Plus, Saint Francis of Assisi is one of my role models, so I've always had a disposition towards the disadvantaged underdogs.
I would also consider myself what you could call an "indie kid" (punk died the second it gave itself a name, so I avoid that label), and I've always been more fascinated with the underground and margins of society and culture. As the upper level of our soccer pyramid has proven itself to be nothing more than a corporatist oligarchy that wields its sanctioned monopoly as a weapon to stifle and suppress growth and opportunity in the areas of the soccer landscape that it does not directly control or profit from, it has been very easy to project that anti-corporatist, essentially anti-greed and anti-cronyism, worldview to the milieu of American soccer. To paraphrase, "Corporate soccer sucks."
And that is what has attracted me to be a (self-proclaimed) academic and advocate for the lower divisions. I can think of few other folks with whom my ethos and ideals more perfectly align. I believe in DIY. I believe in the grassroots. I believe in "united we stand". I long for American institutions that are founded on a meritocratic structure for opportunity and advancement, and I am certain that, if we can usurp moneyed interests and place folks with conscience and conviction in positions of influence, American soccer will move onward and upward in no time. I'm all for the Twitter sloganeers, and there's a lot of insightful and reasoned debate coming from the self-anointed commissioners on social media, but I felt it was time to take a more hands on approach to making a difference in the situation.
Over the course of my "advocacy projects" for lower division soccer, I've gotten to know so many outstanding and upstanding people amongst the ranks of the supporter groups and front offices of the lower divisions. These folks are so passionate and dedicated to their communities and have selflessly invested a massive amount of time, effort, and resources into the growth of their club. And, for all their contributions to the awareness of and support for soccer in communities across America where you would never have dreamt soccer might take root, they have been hamstrung by an immensely ignorant and incompetent federation whose posture to everything not related to the USMNT/MLS/USL axis ranges from complete ambivalence to outright hostility. As those of us who truly care about the sustainability and prosperity of American soccer witness our beautiful game being consumed by a conflagration set by collusion and conspiracy, it is more than obvious that the federation's fiddle can only play one money-grubbing note.
Really, at this point, I place all my hope for the transformation of American soccer in the hands of our ambitious and ingenious owners and supporter group leaders in the lower divisions. I think I've probably meandered from the original question, but I believe everyone who tries to carve a niche for themselves in the lower divisions and has any awareness of the bigger picture of American soccer anticipates some day when they'll have to face off against some Goliath. And that's the nature of things with the discord and conflicting interests that have been sown by the higher-ups. Anyway, yup, I'm passionate about soccer, the lower divisions are my church, I am humbled by all those who have already sacrificed so much for the cause, and I am hoping to do my share by dedicating my life to help create quality amateur clubs in the D.C. metropolitan area. I'm pretty sure I touched upon your question somewhere in there.
Your interview will certainly live up to your earlier promise of being Watergate-ish in length and breadth. Let's move into some of the more dreaming and goal oriented questions. Ideally, when do you want to see the BPL launched, and how many teams would you hope to have on board?
Well, let's clarify that the comparison was to Nixon/Frost, the long interview, and not Watergate, the long national nightmare.
We are aiming for an inaugural season kickoff to the Beltway Premier League DMV in the spring/summer of 2018. It would be ideal to start with a lineup of six teams each in the Elite and Recreational Divisions. I'll be posting our preliminary competitive guidelines at the league website on March 1st, the day we officially launch and begin our club recruitment campaign in earnest. This will allow any prospective clubs a glimpse of the rules we will be implementing, although the guidelines will be subject to amendment and a vote by the commissioner of competition and the board of directors prior to the start of the inaugural season. We will be seeking sanctioning from the Metropolitan D.C.-Virginia Soccer Association and the Maryland State Soccer Association.
You've touched on these divisions a couple of times earlier. What is division structure of the BPL going to look like?
The Beltway Premier League DMV is divided into two competitive tiers: the Elite Division and the Recreational Division. The main distinction between these two divisions is the requirements for match day facilities. Our objective for the Elite Division is to meet what would be considered "division 4" standards, and that would entail stadia with a minimum capacity of 500, press box, locker rooms, etc. There is a large number of high school stadiums across the region that meet that criteria. Within a mile from where I'm sitting here in Alexandria alone are two high schools, Thomas Edison, where D.C. United and Honduran National Team standout Andy Najar plied his trade, and Robert E. Lee, that have ideal facilities. I believe the rental cost in this area runs around $800 for a minimum block of four hours.
Also, in terms of the structural hierarchy of the BPL DMV administration, representatives from the Elite Division clubs will compose our Board of Directors, while our Board of Advisors will be comprised of representatives from our Recreational Division clubs. Both deliberative bodies will be permitted to draft amendments to our league bylaws and guidelines, but only the Board of Directors will have a vote on their implementation at our AGMs.
The Recreational Division should not conjure images of some second rate weekend beer league. It is our aim that both divisions will qualify for Elite Amateur League status from the USASA, and we will demand a high level of professionalism in the front offices of the Recreational Division and a high level of competition on the pitches. Likewise, the BPL DMV will be equally committed to showcasing and generating media for both divisions and their respective clubs. It is far too premature to discuss promotion/relegation, but, if we have a large enough lineup of clubs and the rate of financial and organizational growth amongst the Recreational Division clubs allows and warrants it, we would definitely give the folks what they want.
Sounds like you'd be looking at promotion and relegation as more of a down the road thing, once everyone is up and running and demand is there. Is that correct?
Well, when you've been stuck in the bunker and mired in writing bylaws and guidelines for a while, you can be prone to flights of fancy and pies in the sky to keep yourself inspired. There are a lot of things we'd like to implement and accomplish down the road, but the sole focus for now is to bring the league to folks' attention and recruit clubs. And I am under no delusions about the massive effort it will take just to accomplish that. I would imagine that the majority of clubs that will make up our inaugural season do not even exist yet. So, we are not only faced with the task of selling our league, but we also have to light a fire under the local community and inspire a bunch of soccer-loving entrepreneurs to take the plunge. We will create the platform, but, inevitably, our success will also depend on the community believing in our mission and rising to the occasion. When you are taking on an ambitious and transcendent project such as this, you try to pump yourself up with bombast and bluster, but I am also humble enough to know that there are some fundamental aspects that are out of my control.
Never hurts to stay grounded. Let's move into some shorter questions to start wrapping this up. Want to be respectful of your time. Sound good?
That would be awesome. This is the first media feature for the league, so I'm excitedly curious to see the interest it generates.
As long as you put some of your own media muscle into it, we'll go places. Who is your favorite league and or team to watch for fun?
As much as I appreciate the spectacle of soccer, I'm the kind of guy who can enjoy watching a pickup game. Of course, around these parts, D.C. United at RFK is the main draw. I still follow and support United, THE United, since I've been with them from the beginning, but I don't trifle too much with MLS, especially as they continue to water things down with this crazy expansion. I also check in whenever the USMNT are playing, but I'm more in the club over country camp.
As American soccer has exploded, and I've delved deeper down the wormhole of lower division soccer, my interest in European leagues has waned significantly. I do still follow Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 and support AC Ajaccio due to my French and Corsican heritage.
My favorite club to watch now is definitely Chattanooga FC. Until recently, I ran the NPSL Southeast page at Facebook as a hobby and have gotten to know a lot of the amazing and dedicated folks across that community. Chattanooga FC and the Chattahooligans are stellar in every way possible, and I enjoy watching the live streams of their matches from "Fort Finley". The guys at Chattahooligan Live do a great job with their coverage and commentary. They set the standard we hope to meet with our future live streams.
Do you have any podcasts or books you would encourage our readers to check out, soccer related or otherwise? And what do you think of the 'Napoleon of Soccer' nickname that has just been bestowed on you by AP once this interview comes out?
Books? Oh no, I say everybody put down your books and start putting together those soccer clubs. Well, one book I would certainly recommend is "Love Thy Soccer". It's an awesome chronicle and travelogue of the American soccer grassroots. Actually, I have assembled what is most probably the largest soccer scarf collection in all the Americas, and, before he had the book published, the author, Sean Reid, came to Tebo Manor here in Alexandria to photograph a whole bunch of my scarves for his book. We spent a whole day down in the bunker for the project, so it was fortunate that he was an extremely amicable and intelligent guy.
Well, as I told an acquaintance just today, I indulged hubris for theorizing the BPL DMV, but, now that we're leaping headfirst into praxis, I'm gonna pivot to humility. So, I think the only real connection between me and Napoleon is that we both have Corsican blood. Coincidentally, my beloved Chihuahua's name is Napoleon, so that name's already taken around here. Isn't believing oneself to be Napoleon the archetype of delusion? I don't know if now is a great time to conjure the image of an ill-tempered and somewhat tyrannical autocrat associated with blustery overreach and exploitative nepotism. I'm not big on the dictatorial style, and I know the BPL DMV will be that much stronger based on an organization that allows for the insights and input of synchronized and incentive-ized specialists. Maybe I could garner some exposure and notoriety by projecting myself as a buffoonish disruptor, but, honestly, the main impetus of the Beltway Premier League DMV is to explore uncharted territory and carve out a niche for ourselves, regardless of what's going on in the rest of the soccer universe. Plus, things didn't really end well for Napoleon, and I'm not looking for a Waterloo or an exile.
I know you're not supposed to give yourself a nickname, but I would want mine to be "that-guy-who's-launched-a-new-ambitious-amateur-soccer-league-over-in-the-D.C.-Metro-area of soccer". Or, you could use my Twitter handle: @BPLDMVPrez.
Alright, so we'll figure out another nickname down the line. Who are your favorite players, one past, one present?
My favorite past player is, far and away, Ben Olsen. I've never seen a player who brought so much intensity, grit, and determination to the pitch. And Olsen certainly knew how to get under the skin of the opposition. I'll never forget that night of the 1999 MLS Eastern Conference Championship when D.C. United faced McBride and the crew in a nearly torrential downpour at RFK. Olsen was like a mad dervish, running tirelessly all over the pitch, and playing a major role in shutting down Columbus to lead United to their third MLS Championship. I also remember that match because Judah Cooks, who played at the high school where my dad coached, gave me his jersey and passed a ball around the United locker room to have everyone autograph it for me. It was sad that Olsen busted his leg at Nottingham Forest just as he was increasing his international profile, and it's unfortunate that his injuries prevented him from making a significant impact with the USMNT. I love that he's now at the helm of the club and still a major part of the United family.
On the other end of the spectrum in terms of flair and finesse, I would say my favorite current player to watch is Luciano Acosta. He's an awesome attacking midfielder, so fluid with the ball, and a great distributor. Considering his knack for finding the goal, Acosta's level of unselfishness is also highly impressive. It's very fortunate that United was able to buy him outright from Boca, and, if he sticks around awhile, he should rack up a few MVPs and take a revered place in the hearts of United supporters next to our other legendary no. 10, Marco Etcheverry. Hopefully, he'll also help bring as many MLS Cups to D.C. as Etcheverry.
Would you rather attend the Euros, AFC Nations Cup, or Gold Cup?
I'm not really big on international cup tournaments, but I guess the Gold Cup since I'd be able to support our guys. To be honest, if I didn't have my responsibilities here, I'd rather head up to Delaware to check out the upcoming Bearfight FC versus LBFC match than go to any of the tournaments you mentioned. Or the Chattanooga FC versus Memphis City FC match at Finley this summer. It would be fun to witness the high jinks between the massive Chattahooligans and the upstart Rogue Squadron.
You get to meet one person from soccer history. Who do you meet, and why?
I would want to meet Johan Cruyff during his year with the Washington Diplomats so that he could drive me over to Potomac where I would hand the younger me a list of stocks to invest in along with a warning about 9/11.
Warning your younger self wouldn't be a bad idea. How would you answer someone asking you why they should get out and support their local soccer team or league, like the Beltway Premier League?
Well, I definitely would not tell anyone to support any local soccer club simply by default. For me, it's more a question of what someone should look for in a club that deems it worthy of support. Obviously, you want a club that is dedicated to putting a determined and talented squad on the pitch that can fill the mantle with trophies and fill the community with pride. And community really should be an inspiration for most everything a support-worthy club does. Does the club exhibit civic pride and does it reflect the ideals and culture of the community? Are the club and it's players out and engaged with the community? Does the club provide a sense of connection and inclusion for the community? Really, the clubs we are looking for to join the BPL DMV are clubs that can answer all of those questions in the affirmative. My hope is that everyone who graces us with their presence at any of our matches will leave feeling joyful and uplifted. Actually, I think the simple satisfaction from adding just a little fun and happiness to folks' lives is the main impetus for creating the league.
Kenneth, thanks again for taking the time to do this, I really appreciate it. Remember, if you are enjoying the weekly content coming out on AP you can Follow AP on Twitter, or Like AP on Facebook. And if you want make sure you never miss an interview, and want to read articles before everyone else, click here and sign up for the Newsletter. You'll be the first to know when articles are released and learn about other exciting content down the road.
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