"I want to do it all. From scratch."
Today's Interview is brought to you by Rabble.tv. Rabble.TV is the future. Ever want to give live commentary on a game you’re watching? Interested in doing a podcast? Want fun things to listen to in your down time? Or when you're supposed to be working? This is the place. Content from all around the world, and all accounts are free. Follow them on Twitter at RabbleSoccer, and dive into a whole new level of Soccer Fandom.
Welcome, welcome, AP readers! I hope you've been enjoying the changes on the site so far this year. The increase in articles and article quality. If you've missed any of Dan Roberts work, we've created a brand new catagory just for him. Click that, and you can read all of his past work, and can find everything he writes moving forward in one convenient location.
Now, I got to spend some time interviewing Dennis Pope and I have to say, he's got to be one of the realist guys in lower level soccer I've talked to. He has a vision for his club, and he's sticking with it. No pie in the sky dreaming, just down to earth realism. And he's doing it all while working as the United Premier Soccer League's new director of communications with three kids in school. Check it out.
Tell me a little about yourself. Who you are, where you're from, and what your role is with Inland FC?
I'm Dennis Pope and I've been a professional sports journalist in Riverside (Calif.) for more than 15 years. I joined Inland FC in 2011, a little less than a year after it was founded by Ryan Leonard. I purchased rights to the club in 2014, of which I am still sole proprietor.
It's cool to call myself CEO, but we don't have a board or shareholders yet, to be honest. Legally, just a sole proprietor.
You've got to start somewhere. How did you come to be involved with soccer in general, and Inland FC in particular?
I played AYSO as a kid but I fell in love w/ the game during the 1994 World Cup, and ended up playing JV on my high school team for a couple of seasons in between football and baseball. (Soccer is a winter sports in SoCal). But then I broke my ankle playing basketball(!) at the conclusion of my junior year and it ended high school sports for me. I continued to follow MLS and the International game throughout college and into my professional life, but didn't pick up the game again, physically, until we enrolled my oldest son in AYSO in 2009. ...
6 Dec 2016
What's the 'origin story' behind the creation of Inland FC?
Ryan Leonard created the team in a non-sanctioned league here in Riverside, with players from other teams and some new recruits in 2010.
I joined in their second fall season (2011) and have played in every game since (more than 120 consecutive). I moved over to GK late in Fall 2011 and have played every game at keeper, including our 2-0 win in the Fall 2016 Pete King Cup Final on Nov. 20. We moved to NAASA-095 (a USASA sanctioned league) as one of its founding memebers in Fall 2013.
The Pete King Memorial League, is named after one of the founders of the local AYSO region where we play all our games. He also ran the region's first adult soccer league for 15 years from the mid-90s through 2010. He passed in 2011 and we named our league, of which I've also served as director for three years, after Mr. King, who was a native of Liverpool, loved the Reds, and for years after coming to Riverside's March Air Force Base as part of the RAF, he and his wife settled in Riverside and opened up the first soccer shop, servicing 2-3 generations of the area's soccer players.
So our success story is wrapped around the formation of our league.
Some additional team backstory, courtesy of Ryan Leonard, one of the players at Inland FC
What is the level of competition like in the NAASA-095 like, and how would you describe the league to an outsider? It's not a league that I've encountered before.
Competitively, it's ebbed and flowed with the player base. We're closer to an Over-30 league these last two seasons.
I don't know if you have experience running a team or a league, but it's been real, so far. And now, I've recently taken a new job as the Director of communications for L.A. Wolves FC, and as Media Relations Manager for the United Premier Soccer League.
How do you balance working for the UPSL and Inland FC? That sounds like a quite a bit of work to get done for both organizations.
I have stay regimented or I get behind. There's nothing worse than an overflowing inbox.
Oh that's for sure. Where in California is Inland FC located? I'm familiar with the Inland Empire region, but I also know it's a pretty big region.
We're in Riverside, the area's biggest city. Did you know that at 4.5m combined residents, Riverside/San Bernardino/Ontario (the Inland Empire) is the biggest metro area w/o a Top 4 pro team.
That's a handy trivia question to bust out as needed. Why hasn't anybody set up shop there with a pro team? Are they thinking the communities aren't distinct and consider themselves Angelenos?
Lack of facilities, mostly. Other than a mid-sized arena in Ontario and some average college facilities, a team would have to come in and build. Chivas USA, before its demise, had put feelers out and placed a bid on land surrounding a large, old golf course, but the City didn't like the deal.
I don't think it's an identity thing. But you're either at Dodgers or Angels fan, that is true. 95 percent are Lakers fans and Galaxy supporters.
But the people here are ready for something to call their own. There's a lot of I.E. pride, and MASL's Ontario Fury has benefitted from some of that. They continue to draw bigger numbers every season.
Community pride is definitely on the rise everywhere, and sports teams are primed to capitalize on it. You've mentioned facilities are an issue. Where does Inland FC play currently?
We play at A.B. Brown Soccer Complex in Riverside. It's one of the premier AYSO facilities in Southern California. However, I do have my eyes on, and I'm taking steps toward, buying a piece of property on which to develop our club.
Let's talk about that for a little bit, because not a lot of clubs seem to be interested in using the money they pay in rent to get their own property. What has the process looked like for you so far in finding a place to play and then moving towards securing it?
Well, ideally, I'd find an investor with deep pockets who was all-in, but my aspirations don't include more than a community club with a 4th division dream. So, because I am happy to be reasonable in my plans and approach, can I obtain a 5.5 acre property that was formerly an orange grove? I think so. It's going to cost me, but it's doable. After that, it'll be about literal cultivation of my fields, and building an office with locker rooms. And really, it'll be my connections in my community that will help me achieve these goals. I'll become my best version of a horticulturalist, but I won't be doing it alone. But I want to do it all. From scratch.
Being reasonable in your plans. Don't hear that very often. I mean if you pull this off, investors will come along as they see you succeeding. Not something people tend to think about very often. Random question. Is 5.5 acres the minimal amount of property needed for a basic field with locker room and office space?
No, you don't. Everything is about MLS. As for property size, it's just the particular property I have my eye on. It has the right size for a full-sized field with bleachers on both sides, two neighboring pitches, and then the building and 50-space parking lot.
So you can actually do this with even smaller piece of property?
I think my club can. We do need to start somewhere. Team, check. Support system, check. Home pitch It's the next step for us.
Good. Let's play with a hypothetical question. If someone gives you $10 million to invest into the team, what do you do with it?
That's a fun thought. After thorough consideration of choices, I'd likely stick with my plan. I'm committed to my concept. With $10 million I would get sod, and build a full house along with office, player recreation area, locker rooms and a big fitness room. Then I'd invest the rest in the long-term future of the club, after buffering the operating account with about $100,000, of course. Start a youth program, too.
I appreciate the desire to keep things real, even in a fantasy scenario. How important do you think it is for teams, even in the lower levels, to have some kind of youth setup?
It's a great benefit and a tremendous headache to have if you can afford it. With $10m, I'd make sure it happened. I think it bewildering that the majority of youth clubs don't have adult teams, but American soccer.
A lot of bewildering behavior in American soccer, that's for sure. Let's talk about your work with the UPSL. What do your duties with the league look like currently?
We're expanding rapidly in the UPSL. We have a new Colorado Conference set to debut in Spring 2017, and we're adding teams every week. I serve as media agent to all 50-ish clubs.
Three since Friday? That's pretty darn impressive. What does a normal day look like for you right now, with job duties for UPSL and Inland FC, from the time you wake up to ending the day?
It's all integrated because I have three sons (ages 11, 7 & 4) with school schedules so I do most of my work from home. Inland FC isn't playing again until late Feb., so there's no training or anything happening. The UPSL league meeting will happen in January, and we’ll start training again about the same time. I try to train twice a week for a month's time before the season, then once during the week with games on Sunday during the season. My UPSL duties are growing daily, like the league. I'm helping to prepare the league's AGM in January centered around the NSCAA in L.A. I'm also talking to reps from our new clubs every day. That's been fun. There's a lot of excitement out there right now.
There should be. League is growing like a weed! Funny you should mention the NSCAA, their HQ is about two and half miles from my house here in Kansas City.
I'm really looking forward to it all. It's going to be a lot of work.
I bet. Aside from having your own field and a youth program, where do you hope to Inland FC five years from now?
I'd like to think we'd be doing well along with our league, and playing friendlies against some of the local UPSL and NPSL clubs (Coras USA, SoCal SC, Temecula FC) as we begin to gauge entry into the D4 market. That'd be a lofty goal, though.
Would you consider joining the UPSL at that point, or even working with other teams in the area to really build up your field?
I would very much consider joining the UPSL. The price point is exceptional, and yearly budgets are about the price of one mid-priced sedan.
That's not a bad price point at all. Since you are busy, I want to be respectful of your time. Are you ready to move into some more rapid fire questions to wrap this up?
Let's do it.
What's your favorite league and/or team to watch for fun?
MLS & EPL. Severe Anglophile. You want rapid fire. So I'm keeping my answers short. But that last one was a loaded question! I love it all. LigaMX, Bungesliga, NASL, etc. And Bundesliga.
Nothing wrong with that. Favorite players, one past, one present.
What are three books you would recommend, soccer related or otherwise?
FIFA Law Book. Soccernomics. Inverting The Pyramid.
Good reads. Would you rather attend the AFC Nations Cup, Euros, or World Cup?
Euros. That's a proper tournament.
What would you like to say to the people reading this about why they should get out and support their local teams, like Inland FC, regardless of level?
The game needs a thriving subculture. With MLS existing as a sort of Premier League among American and Canadian clubs, it's important that small clubs find their footing, and they need the support of their communities to do that.
Dennis, thanks again for taking the time to help make this happen. 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.
Make sure to spread the word by sharing these interviews, telling friends about the blog, those kind of things. AP can't accomplish the goal of maximum exposure for all levels of the American Soccer Pyramid without YOU. Until next time, Stay Loyal, Support Local.