Kingston Stockade FC just completed its third season of semi-pro soccer, a campaign which by most measures came up short of the standard set one year earlier. The team saw its share of challenges on the field in 2018, and according to club chairman Dennis Crowley, it saw them off the field. too.
This week, Crowley’s preliminary numbers showed a drop in overall attendance from 6145 in 2017 to 4646 this year. The seven games represented in the 2017 figure included six regular season matches plus a playoff game on July 15 that drew a club record 1393 fans for a 2-1 win over Hartford City FC. The 2018 tally also includes seven games, though two of those were friendlies. The team did not make the postseason.
Game-day ticket revenue fell 20 percent in 2018, and merchandise revenue dropped 45 percent. The total number of transactions also fell by 36 percent.
Stockade FC is here to stay. Crowley, general manager Randy Kim, and others involved in the team have always talked about long-term projections over five years, a decade, and beyond. Through this prism, Crowley said, the team’s third season at Dietz Stadium as part of the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) was a success.
Building momentum, audience
Stockade went 3-5-2 on the season, with all three wins and one of the ties happening in Kingston. Last year, the first under head coach David Lindholm, the team went 7-4-1 in the regular season, followed by a win in the franchise’s first ever playoff game. With the loss of the Seacoast United Phantoms, the NPSL’s Northeast Region saw its remaining eleven teams moved from a pair of conferences into one, resulting in ten regular season games, down from twelve in 2017.
“We didn’t do the home-and-away thing, and you got a random draw for who you were going to get,” Crowley said. “I tried to design the schedule wherein we had a home game up front, a bunch of games on the road, and the thinking was we’d come back and have five or six games in a row and build momentum in terms of audience and the consistency of the play. But the two things that happened were the team never found a good rhythm on the road, and it was challenging when we came back home. And on top of that we had a string of bad weather, with days when it was just too hot, days when it was supposed to rain, days when it was raining. When you only have five matches at home, when you get two or three hits in the weather it’s really hard.”
In the home opener, 372 fans turned up on a cold, rainy evening to see Stockade beat the Rhode Island Reds 3-0. Kingston then went on a brutal three-match road trip that saw two losses followed by a puzzling referee-shortened 2-2 draw at TSF Academy on May 30. The team didn’t play its second home match until June 2, a frustrating 2-1 loss to New York Athletic Club before a very good turnout of 881 fans. The club had its third-highest turnout ever the following Saturday, when 1014 supporters showed up for a 2-1 win over the Seacoast Mariners.
A week later, a heat wave settled over the Hudson Valley, and Stockade still drew 724 fans for a thrilling 4-4 draw against the defending league champs TSF Academy. After 426 people attended a friendly against Providence City on June 24, the team closed out its home slate on June 30 with a 5-1 win over Boston City FC.
Rain is unpredictable, but the likelihood of hot weather is not. After peppering its first two seasons with a few afternoon games, the team went exclusively to starts no earlier than 6 p.m. Crowley said that helped, both in the stands where it gets very hot in the afternoon, and also in the quality of play on the pitch. But beyond the weather, Crowley acknowledged that those who aren’t ardent supporters are more likely to show up when the team is playing well.
“I think a bunch of things have to go right to have record attendance,” he said. “A little bit of it is the narrative of the club, there are playoff hopes, everything is exciting. And I think a little bit of it is the weather. And I also think a big part of it, which I really want to explore next season, is the atmosphere that we make for the fans. I think we do a really great job, but we didn’t improve a lot from last year to this year.”
More festival atmosphere
One change Dennis Crowley would like to see will hinge on what can and can’t be done at Dietz now that the city has agreed to fully take over ownership of the stadium. Previously it shared ownership with the school district, an arrangement made it impossible to secure grant funding for improvements, and also placed restrictions on what could be sold on the property. With recent state Downtown Revitalization Initiative funding, the city has earmarked $2.5 million to renovate Dietz. Crowley said the 2019 season will likely come and go before work is done.
What could happen sooner, though, is the idea of tented vendors on site and a mini-festival atmosphere on game day. “This is how it’s supposed to be every game,” Crowley said. “I really believe that we should be making this mini-festival every weekend that is a mix not just charitable causes, but of vendors showing the stuff we have in the Hudson Valley. You’re not allowed to do that right now because of the way the contracts are with the stadium. If you want to do a food truck, you can’t. Tommy [Keegan of Keegan Ales] wants to move closer, he can’t. If you want to do a farmer’s market, you can’t. But if we can get rid of some of those restrictions and there’s a couple of thousand square feet, and if you create that type of atmosphere you can bring even more people in, and different people in.”
Stockade officials have always been transparent with their numbers, with Crowley assembling a season recap each year and posting it online (medium.com/stockadefc) around September.
While Kingston’s season was by few measures as successful as 2017, Crowley maintained that the team is still very much heading in the right direction.
“The point of doing the club was not to go win as many trophies as possible,” Crowley said. “The point was that we want to make something that’s cool here, we want people to love it, we want to bring people together, and we want more kids to play soccer. Every season we execute better and better with those things. I feel good about where we are three years in, and I think next year is going to be a good year for us.”