Chattanooga FC - USL Division III
FAQ and Talking Points
August 6, 2018 - This is a living document, which will be updated with new developments or as information is obtained.
The Chattahooligans are an independent supporters group for Chattanooga Football Club. CFC is our passion. We care about our community and our city as much as our club. We boast a culture of inclusivity. We make hospitality a priority. We are excellent to each other.
Ten years ago, The Chattahooligans were founded to support CFC, starting with a handful of members and growing to thousands. Section 109 of Finley Stadium has become a legendary location in American soccer with fans standing, singing, drumming and waving scarves and flags, displaying clever signs, and supporting the players of Chattanooga Football Club regardless of the result on the field. At away matches, The Chattahooligans often have a louder and more visible presence than the home crowd. Before matches we tailgate with supporters of the opposite team and after we buy each other beers, trade scarves and stickers and work together to grow our supporters groups, teams, and by extension, American soccer.
We work to maintain a positive, inclusive, family-friendly environment, and we encourage everyone to “Come And Join Us.”
First, Chattanooga Football Club is a professional organization. One testimonial, from Pensacola FC Women: “Can we just take a moment to talk about how @ChattanoogaFC @ChattFCWomen do everything at the highest level? They even had a trophy for us today, something that last year's host didn't have. Men's game last night was basically a pro game set up on EVERY level.”
CFC doesn’t have paid professional players. Many of the strongest players in the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) and Women’s Premier Soccer League (WPSL) are active college players, and NCAA rules do not allow college players to be on the same team with paid professional players. CFC tied MLS team FC Dallas in a preseason match this season, and defeated teams with paid professional players. Professional does not necessarily mean better soccer.
“Professional” players aren’t paid pro-level salaries on USL Division III (USLD3) teams. They will be the lowest-paid players in professional soccer. Many current USL players need second jobs to support themselves; this would be a necessity for USLD3 players. “Professional” players don’t necessarily build relationships with the communities where they play, but CFC players put down roots. Many have made their homes here, built their families here, and started businesses here.
But that doesn’t answer the question of why CFC hasn’t moved to a professional league. There are currently two professional leagues in the U.S. sanctioned by U.S. Soccer: Major League Soccer (MLS) and the United Soccer League (USL). Chattanooga does not have the population to support an MLS franchise. CFC has considered joining USL, but the high expansion fee (rumored to be $7 million in 2019), lack of independence in controlling intellectual property and marketing, and high failure rate of franchises (only five of the original fifteen franchises are still in the league, with only one of those leaving for MLS) made it a very risky investment. The feeling is that the proposed USLD3 league will similarly be too expensive (expansion fee rumored to be $500,000) with similar restrictions on intellectual property and marketing, along with the high failure rate of the current USL and a fair probability that the entire division fails. The NPSL has been working toward a fully professional division, in which CFC would likely be a founding member, but this expansion has to happen at a time that makes economic sense for the team.
In summary, the options are a league that’s too big, a league that’s too risky and expensive, and two leagues that haven’t yet launched.
The Chattahooligans were founded to support Chattanooga Football Club.
In other cities where an MLS or USL franchise has moved in, the existing NPSL teams are almost always either greatly damaged or disappear entirely. Tulsa Athletic had a good start, until the USL sent in the Tulsa Roughnecks. Since Atlanta United started the Atlanta Silverbacks have dwindled. Fan-owned Nashville FC sold their intellectual property to Nashville SC when they entered the market. The Cincinnati Saints--who started the same year as CFC--folded when FC Cincinnati entered their market in 2016. A franchise funded by the deep pockets of the USL almost always means the demise of existing teams.
Sports fans don’t typically support two teams in the same sport in the same city or region. In England, you don’t see fans supporting Manchester City and Manchester United or Chelsea and Arsenal. Baseball fans don’t support both the Mets and Yankees or Cubs and White Sox. In college football, no one would dare support both Alabama and Auburn. Supporting two soccer teams in Chattanooga simply doesn’t reflect how most sports fans behave.
The Chattahooligans already support two soccer teams in Chattanooga, the CFC Men’s and Women’s teams. Adding a third team means more season passes, hundreds of dollars in additional parking fees, and additional jerseys, shirts, scarves, and other gear to support them properly. (Chattahooligans rarely do anything halfway.) A few fans can certainly afford this additional commitment, but many cannot.
Accordingly, trying to support a third team here will spread resources too thinly, leading to the inevitable failure of one or more of those teams. We are supporters of CFC first and foremost, and do not believe that supporting a new team is worth the risk of losing CFC. Our stated mission is “Independent Supporters of Chattanooga Football Club.”
Simply put, Chattanooga FC is the original template for a successful non-league soccer team. Sean Mann started Detroit City Football Club after talking with current interim CFC GM Sheldon Grizzle. Since then, CFC has freely shared with other entrepreneurs wanting to start or grow soccer teams around the country, including Dennis Crowley (founder of Foursquare, owner of Kingston Stockade FC), Motorik FC Alexandria, FC Motown, FC Arizona, Ozark FC, and countless others. Similarly, the Chattahooligans have helped other supporters groups around the country by sharing our model and successes--and failures--freely. If CFC loses this fight, many other soccer teams and potential soccer entrepreneurs will have second thoughts about their plans, knowing that the USL can--and will--step in to steal their team.
Chattanooga FC’s agreement with Finley ends on September 30. Soon, 2019 negotiations with Finley will open, and for the first time, CFC will have competition for the stadium. While we do not know how these negotiations will proceed, we do know that the standard USL franchise agreement requires franchises to be the exclusive soccer tenants in their stadiums. As such, if the USL gets an agreement with Finley, CFC will be homeless.
For the Finley Board of Directors, this will probably be a choice between a higher cash offer from the USL group and ten years of experience with CFC. The Finley Board of Directors will need to weigh CFC’s proven annual revenue performance against the projected revenue from the USL team, as well as weighing the interests of the community -- which already strongly supports CFC -- against a group funded from outside that will take profits away from Chattanooga instead of reinvesting in the community.
Realistically, they aren’t good. While there are several stadiums in the Chattanooga area large enough for CFC, they would likely lose a significant number of fans because of no-alcohol policies in the stadiums and parking lots. There is a remote possibility of building a soccer-specific stadium elsewhere in the city, but that would require significant investment which would be unlikely, given the precarious competitive position of CFC.
It is possible, but it isn’t probable. The current CFC Board appears unified in its opposition to the USL business model. It is extremely unlikely CFC would join the USL or unite with a Chattanooga USL franchise.
Again, it’s possible, but improbable. Realistically, the philosophies of the groups seem too far separated to make cooperation likely.