In June 2015, Crowley was sitting in Angry Wade’s, a dive bar in the Boerum Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn, with some friends from the recreational soccer team he played with on weekends. Though he never played soccer in high school or in college at Syracuse, Crowley always had a passion for the game. While they were discussing the future of their squad and the lower divisions of American soccer, they began talking about starting a team of their own.
For most people, the conversation would have ended there. But Crowley excels at building things. In the past, that meant tech companies, like Dodgeball, which he sold to Google in 2005 for an undisclosed amount, and Foursquare, which has 55 million active users. Crowley figured, why not build a soccer team as his next challenge?
The Hudson Valley felt like a natural location. Crowley and his wife, Chelsa Crowley, a cosmetics entrepreneur, had just purchased a house in Kingston, about two hours north of Manhattan by car, and he was spending his weekends in the 24,000-person Ulster County city first settled by the Dutch in 1652. Crowley knew that Kingston had a growing community of young couples and families moving there from New York City. Ex-urbanite hipsters, he thought, were the type of people who would probably get behind a local soccer team. On August 15, 2015, Crowley submitted an application to the NPSL to create an expansion team. He thought the league’s bureaucracy would take a year or more to approve it. Instead, it took a month.
One $12,500 expansion fee later and Kingston Stockade FC—named for the fortification that protected the city’s settlers during the 17th century—was official. Now all Crowley needed was a coach, players, a field, insurance, sponsors, jerseys, balls, a dozen more things that he knew about and as many that he didn’t, before the season kicked off in May 2016. He hoped to do it all on an operating budget of just $50,000.
One by one, Crowley checked items off his to-do list. He worked with Kingston’s mayor, Steve Noble, to secure the 1,500-capacity Dietz Stadium, owned by the city and the school district. It’s a venue that could be in Anytown, USA, with an eight-lane track ringing a football field painted in the maroon and gold of the Kingston High School Tigers. Crowley and general manager Randy Kim hired George Vizvary as head coach. A Hudson Valley soccer legend who led SUNY Ulster for 39 years, Vizvary enthusiastically pitched himself during a Stockade FC fan meet-up at a bar.
In early February, Crowley and Kim launched an online store to sell jerseys and tickets. Later that month, they had their first of five tryouts. Finding players through Vizvary’s connections to local talent and the grassroots efforts of scouts Dan and Nick Hoffay, the team announced its 26-man roster in April. Meanwhile, Stockade FC secured sponsorships from local merchants including a bus company, a bakery and a radio station.
Without a doubt, the team sparked some economic piggybacking.
Stockade FC’s debut match was away on May 8, 2016, a 1–1 draw against Greater Lowell United, a three-year-old team from western Massachusetts. Two weeks later, Dietz Stadium hosted a weekend doubleheader. Paying from $5 to $8 a ticket, 830 fans attended Saturday’s 1–0 win; 851 saw Sunday’s 3–0 victory. Crowley had expected 300 attendees at most.
Stockade FC drew an average of 755 fans for its eight home games, by far the highest in NPSL’s North American Conference, thanks to its sophisticated marketing and organization.
“It felt like you were in a professional club without actually being in a professional club: the management, game prep, around 800 fans every home game with drums and chants,” Dylan Williams, a two-time All-American at Division III SUNY Oneonta, says via Skype from Tasmania, where he’s now playing for Launceston City FC.
The Crowleys had a baby daughter, Via, in May 2016, so Crowley spent the first couple months of the season on paternity leave. After that, he managed team affairs while continuing to work full time at Foursquare. “I try to do an hour a day [on soccer],” he says. “There are always a couple days where it picks up a little, but I think people underestimate how much you can get done with an hour a day.”
With a record of five wins, eight losses and three draws, Stockade FC finished seventh of nine teams in its division. But the experience was fulfilling for Crowley in ways he hadn’t expected. “I’ve never done anything with fans,” he says. “Foursquare has users, and users are cool. They appreciate the product. But they aren’t buying your stuff and wearing your stuff.”
The team lost just under $30,000 in its debut season. Operating expenses were $85,933—instead of the $50,000 that Crowley had hoped they would be—offset by $99,327 in revenue. Crowley hopes to decrease operating expenses in the coming year, as well as increase revenue from sponsorship, merchandise and ticket sales. “We invested in a lot of the infrastructure: cash register, radios for games, sidelines banners, balls, two iPads,” he says. “The Amazon bill alone was a couple thousand bucks.”