Ladies and gentlemen, the time has come for a new club feature! Today, we have the spotlight on Ozark FC of the NPSL. They’re based in Bentonville, AR, and they’ve got one of the more distinct stories and identities within lower-league American soccer.
Todd Carrigan, one of the club’s owners, actually spoke with me over the phone to discuss Ozark and give me information for a feature. I think that’s a pretty distinct gesture in itself. It sets the stage quite well for the story of Ozark FC.
Now, read that last sentence back in the voice of a professional campfire storyteller. #SmallWorldCampfireStories
Anyway, Todd gave me an idea of what Northwest Arkansas looks like to preface what Ozark is doing for this community.
Northwest Arkansas is interesting, but it’s really not all that unique. What I mean is that there’s a huge racial divide. You have four communities that are made up from Missouri down to Fayetteville, AR. Each community has a very distinct role in the makeup of the area.Todd Carrigan, Ozark FC owner
Okay, that’s already teaching me something I had no idea about. I wouldn’t have thought of that area as being so diverse, but Todd wasn’t finished.
You have this huge economic, demographic, racial, and territorial swing. People look around them and look down their noses at the other communities.Todd
So, then, we reach the real reason behind Ozark FC’s existence and why it’s placed where it is.
Although we’d love to be able to make a few bucks, we’d really like to create a way to overcome those demographic divides. Soccer is the sport to do that with!Todd
And this is what makes lower-league soccer great. Community-driven clubs are the reason SmallWorld exists! Hats off to Ozark for that.
But how exactly did Todd come to own Ozark?
In 2017, the first summer that Ozark was around, I wasn’t involved at all. I just stumbled upon the club, being a soccer fan in Northwest Arkansas. I reached out to the owner, not wanting to get paid but just to be part of it all.Todd
As it turned out, the ownership group wasn’t a great fit. Proximity made things difficult because the original owner was from Louisiana and didn’t know the area well.
They went through the first season and floundered along the way, and at one point, a friend of mine said ‘how about we see if we can just buy this from him!’Todd
Indeed, they could buy the club from him, and they officially took over the club on March 29, 2018. As in, less than two months before they first played a competitive match.
Todd admitted that understandably, the club hurt for positive results in their first season under his ownership. However, in 2019, Ozark reached the playoffs for the first time.
What we really want to do is have consistency that the community can count on.Todd
That’s all anyone can ask for, and once again a reminder that Ozark is in it for the benefit to the community.
Speaking of community, Ozark has a really refreshing take on club culture and what matchdays look like.
It’s me and two other folks that own this together. We have a very small staff. We try to do something that is engaging but simple, just because of numbers. We play at a local high school, so it really creates this family environment. We have a great family culture.Todd
How else is that family atomsphere displayed?
We kinda make it fun, doing a halftime show with things that are corny and funny. We don’t try to rake people over the coals for refreshments. We partner with youth soccer clubs around here to generate support. Kids get to do things like walking out with players for starting lineups and handing players water. We’re just trying to bring something that nobody else is bringing.Todd
It seems like that strategy is working. They’re bringing a family-minded atmosphere and it’s just right for the area and the way Ozark wants to serve it.
Financially, though, there are definitely struggles that come with being a smaller team in a less-populated market. Todd mentioned that the biggest expense that he didn’t necessarily expect to be so pricey was travel.
Even though we’re positioned well in the conference, [travel] is probably our biggest expense. Last year, we were able to take care of housing through host families, but this year, we had a combination of renting places for them and giving them host families. Just kind of taking care of them. It’s a stressful expense to manage!Todd
Even in admitting that taking care of players can be stressful, Todd and Ozark as a whole are doing things right by treating players as well as possible under their budget and NCAA rules for college-eligible players.
So, if you’re as excited about what Ozark is up to as I am, here are some ways you can help Ozark grow!
Buy our gear and socialize it! That’s one big way to help get our message out. Also, just follow us and interact with us on social and create equity within the community! Those are things that could be really impactful. Making connections with people who want to support and help financially in NW Arkansas that have influence is a third key thing that people can do and perpetuate that ‘local supports local’ concept.Todd
And one last piece of advice from Todd:
If you flip the script on how you look at what’s in your community and use something that appears to be competition as something that makes you unique. Get behind anything that you’re interested in. Don’t operate from a position of fear or ownership of an idea or a group of people or a place.
That does a much better job than I could at summing up what Ozark FC is doing, and I’m glad I had the pleasure to hear about it straight from the source.
Thanks to Todd Carrigan and the entire Ozark FC team for their help in making this post possible!
Make sure you take a look at the other clubs that have been featured so far on SmallWorld! Just click on the tag at the bottom of this post that says “Club Feature”, and you’ll see the other fantastic clubs I’ve been able to put in the spotlight.
Support local soccer, unify those around you, and seek out diversity!
And don’t forget to tell some high-quality #SmallWorldCampfireStories this winter.