The STATE of Soccer in WASHINGTON
Jeff McIntyre’s dream of owning and operating his own football club came true in 2012 with the Pacific Coast Soccer League debut of Bellingham United Football Club. The “Hammers” made lasting impressions in their first season both on and off the pitch, raising awareness of the PCSL and giving greater Whatcom County a rallying point.
goalWA.net talked with McIntyre recently about running BUFC. Jeff says there was a steep learning curve in year one. “Running a new club takes a lot of work and planning. We took a full year to create a plan that we were confident would work for players, coaches and fans. With that being said, we learned a lot along the way and had to make adjustments each week for the upcoming match.”
Match day at Civic Stadium was the focal point of efforts from staff and volunteers. “Our biggest challenge was just trying to get the right people in place to make sure match days went off without “too many” flaws in the production and entertainment value for the fans,” says McIntyre.
“Our final attendance average was 1,077 per match. We had some real strong matches of 1300 to 1500 and a few that dipped below 1,000 when we were competing against major holidays and/or other big local events.”
The Hammers took a lower-level college and high school American football stadium and transformed it, as much as possible, into a futbol venue. “Civic Stadium was a great venue we felt as far as giving us a “proper-stadium atmosphere”. We were able to really add to the fan experience by setting up a good-sized beer garden and doing some other special things that you can only do in a stadium environment,” McIntyre explains. “There were some challenges however, mainly being the condition of the pitch not being ideal and of course the football field lines are something we’re not real keen on.”
A nod to old English tradition was starting home matches at 3:00 PM, mainly on Sundays. Jeff says that caught on with supporters. “Having our matches be predictable by being on Sundays at 3pm really worked well for us and will be something we hope to continue to do in the future. It’s late enough that people who go to church can come a match later in the day and early enough to not keep families out to late with the work week starting the next day.”
One of the unknowns going into the season was just how much the community in Bellingham would respond to the team. Season ticket sales were very good (over 400) but the Hammers wondered how far it might go beyond those faithful. “From my perspective I thought the soccer community really enjoyed our inaugural season and what we brought to Whatcom County soccer in our first year. I had many folks come up to me throughout the season and since the season has ended and thanked me for what we helped build,” reflects McIntyre.
“Some businesses in the local area embraced our club and concept from inception and we were able to sign agreements with partners early on, which was another critical component to our success. There were other businesses that took a “wait and see” position to see if we were going to be able to draw crowds and attention in the community. I think those businesses will be more likely to partner up with us going in to the 2013 season now that they’ve seen what we can deliver.”
Jeff had his eyes wide open as the players racked up first-year wins and the turnstiles clicked away. “I learned that running a club takes good people, planning and the willingness to listen to feedback from fans, players and coaches. I also learned that if you put the time and effort into building a club with the local community and civic pride at the forefront, then good people will be there to lend a hand and support the team.”
An encore is already in the works as the club thinks ahead to 2013. Season tickets for that new campaign are already for sale at www.BellinghamUnited.com.
“We have some exciting announcements coming in the off-season that will make 2013 even better than 2012,” McIntyre teases. “We just signed an extension with head coach Lance Calloway to return in 2013, a new assistant coach will be named soon and we’re finalizing a link with another European club with tentative plans to travel to their location at the end of next season for some international friendlies.”