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power rankings: fan-owned frenzy

A new type of power rankings has emerged, not long after the most un-serious power rankings post that may ever come out of smallworld.

This time, we’re back to ranking real clubs. To be more specific, we’ll be taking a look at all the member-owned, member-supported, supporter-owned, whatever-you-call-it clubs who use a financial model that’s heavily based on supporter contributions.

Some of the clubs on this list are fully member-owned and give their owner a financial stake in the club. Others, usually amateur sides, solely use membership as a way to produce revenue and exchange gifts and voting rights for the investment.

No matter their structure, though, fan-owned clubs can be the most exciting to support in the world, as they offer a true grassroots feel and the chance for a fan to feel like she or he actually has a place and purpose within the club.

That being said, not all fan-owned sides are created equally, so we’re taking the time to rank our top 20. Without any further introduction, here they are:

20. North Alabama SC – their Huntsville headquarters isn’t far at all from one of the places smallworld calls home in north Georgia. however, it’s easy to feel like NASC is more of an extension of a youth system than a truly independent, member-driven club. they’re relatively new to the adult club scene, but that’s also been pretty evident on the pitch from a men’s and a women’s perspective (NPSL and WPSL, respectively). plenty of time to prove me wrong, but I’m just not particularly excited by North Alabama as a member-owned club compared against so many great ones.

19. New Jersey Teamsters – listen, there’s been a lot of controversy around the club lately. from bizarre SG accounts seemingly run by the front office to a very generous Wefunder valuation, it’s a weird time for the Teamsters at the moment. however, take nothing away from an ambitious Black ownership group in a high-potential area for quality grassroots soccer in New Jersey. the potential for great things is there… so we’ll stick with that for now.

18. Louisiana Krewe FC – even though smallworld lost to them in the Lower League eCup, it’s group C fam for life out here. the Krewe are one of the highest-quality local league clubs in the country. they play in a strong Gulf Coast Premier League and also qualified for the US Open Cup before it was canceled for 2020. they do, however, get to have their qualification carry over for next year. it’ll be exciting to see where they end up in that quest!

17. Duluth FC – okay, this is seriously the weirdest club backstory ever. and that’s a compliment coming from smallworld. you can read the entire thing here, but the club has a really refreshing mindset to promote decency, has proven itself devoted to its community, and rose from a joke among friends to a serious club making major headway on and off the field in the NPSL. their membership program is reasonable at $75 and an out-of-town membership costs just $45.

16. Louisville Lightning – the first club featured on a smallworld soccer report episode! ambitious attempt to bring back the former pro indoor club under the same name. planning to be an indoor and outdoor team, so lots to like about the potential here. also, an absolutely class kit that could go toe to toe with any jersey in the country. even better, they’re focusing on supporting great causes from the very beginning.

15. Himmarshee FC – one of the first clubs smallworld ever wrote about! they’ve got a very cool supporter-based vibe and a pioneer of the concept of building a club out of the ashes of a failed one. after their success rising out of the death of Ft. Lauderdale Strikers, awesome clubs like Lansing Common are sprouting up in the same mold. one of the most affordable member programs out there, with packages as low as $25 per year. a really solid club here.

14. Oakland County FC – you probably expect the proudest supporter-owned clubs to be in grassroots leagues, but Oakland County bucks that trend as a member of USL League Two. they haven’t had a chance to step foot on the pitch in their new league, as they were an expansion team slated to start in 2020. however, they’ve been successful in previous contests and have a wonderful resume off the field. the branding is undeniably good, their jerseys look great, and their member-owned structure is commendable. a cool all-around team up in Clawson and one to watch in the future as a real USL2 contender.

13. Tallahassee SC – pretty sure no one has anything bad to say about the Lions. they’re consistent, built for a great supporter experience, have roots in the Tallahassee community, and treat that community to high-quality soccer as well. we haven’t seen them in NPSL until now, but recent years’ results in GCPL would indicate they’ll adjust to a national league just fine. as far as membership goes, the only option isn’t cheap at $80, but the value is very high. exclusive events, merch, and seating among others make it clear that TLH cares about the people it touches.

12. Palm Beach Breakers AFC – firmly planted as one of the fan-owned stalwarts of the game. there’s history under the former Gold Coast Inter moniker, and new history is being written by Christian Franek and the Breakers every day, it seems. the entire club and its beach-themed branding are a certified vibe, and it all screams local. the membership structure is simple and fan-oriented, giving voting rights and lots of quality swag starting at $50. lovely club right here!

11. Bearfight FC – Bearfight are a very cool side with a strong community interest. they’re still doing a lot of growing and currently playing in a local league in Philadelphia. they’ll certainly be one to watch over the coming years, though, and a club we could see as a perfect fit for NISA Nation down the road. they’ve also got a purely supporter-run structure, with every member earning one equal vote. they’re really people-based, which is a really cool feature. they could easily be much higher on this list.

10. Union Dubuque FC – very underrated in our humble opinion. many great moments of banter with DeKalb County, and lots of cool combined projects between the two frenemies as well. outside of their relationship with DKCU, they’ve got a nice membership program with voting rights at every tier. it’s very community-oriented and a welcome piece of a very strong grassroots presence in the midwest.

9. Lansing Common FC – it’s hard not to be excited about the work Eric Walcott and his team are putting together in Lansing. as previously mentioned, they’re very much operating in the style of Himmarshee FC, rising out of the death of Lansing Ignite. the difference for me is that Common have an ironically uncommon name and brand, a surprisingly strong support base before they’ve even taken the field, and a community focus that’s been evident since the start. and once you’ve been featured by Joe Meyer of the Lower League eCup, you’ve really made it big in the world. their membership program is simple yet creative, as they call the club “community-owned” rather than member-owned. nobody has any monetary stake in the club, as they’re a 501c3, but every member has an equal say in major club decisions. they’re one of the biggest reasons why the Midwest Premier League will be exciting to follow as it gets going.

8. AC Chehalem Valley – if there are few lower-league clubs doing fan membership right, that number is even lower for women’s lower league clubs. assistant editor of Protagonist Soccer Joshua Duder is the man behind the Oregonian side, and he’s done a lot of things right. ACCV has wonderful branding courtesy of Calyx Design, and they’ve also got a brilliant membership program set up. affordable at $50, and with no single owner or ownership group, every penny is a direct investment into the club that holds true meaning. great club in a space where they’re needed most!

7. DeKalb County United – these guys are really breaking new ground. John Hall and his crew are working intentionally on making life easier for lower-league clubs to come after them and be successful. the most recent example is their Club Start Up Pack, a fantastic endeavor to give upstart clubs all the information they’ve gathered at an affordable price. they have one of the most enviable rivalries in the country with Union Dubuque, and will certainly rub it in Dubuque’s face that they finished higher than their Iowan counterparts. they’re also very media-savvy, sporting a podcast, a blog, and good social media engagement. these guys get it and they’re in the game for all the right reasons.

6. PDX FC – a new club to the fan-owned fold, PDX are proudly Portland through and through. with a brilliant badge (again, designed by our friends at Calyx Design) and kit lineup, they look sharp and have acted sharply on and off the pitch as well. their Wefunder campaign has deservedly picked up a lot of steam, and they’re looking to break into the professional ranks with the investment capital they have (nearing their goal of $50,000!). could see them as an excellent NISA Pro club, especially as Oakland Roots leave a large hole to fill on the West Coast. this is a fan-owned club I’m really excited about following over the next few years.

5. Minneapolis City SC – the OGs of smallworld and the pride of all lower-league soccer supporters. they’re doing fan-ownedness the right way, letting those fans create their culture, using their resources to tangibly impact the community, and putting together what’s probably the best supporter atmosphere and on-field product below the professional ranks. you already know this, but in many ways, the crows are the benchmark for anyone venturing into the membership model.

4. Detroit City FC – they’re NISA fall season champions. they have the most passionate supporter’s group in the nation. they also have potentially the country’s best lower-league stadium. they’re in the woso game, fielding a UWS club. it’s really hard to beat DCFC as a whole. now that the attempt to soften the blow of Le Rouge landing in fourth has been made, let’s get to their membership program, which is what this ranking is about. it’s still great, to be clear. the model is very similar to what PDX is beginning to do and what Chattanooga has already done. it’s still in the beginning stages, though, and putting their fan-owned model above others that are already established doesn’t feel right. we expect nothing less but greatness from the entire process, and they’ve raised over $1.2 million, so it’s no small effort up in Hamtramck (spoiler: it never is with these guys). but in an incredibly deep pool of member-owned clubs in the US now, it’s a somewhat harsh 4th-place spot for City.

3. Providence City FC – where do you even start with the Rogues? it’s not far-fetched to say that Providence City is the single most exciting and best-run local league club in the country. they’ve got a loyal fanbase that rivals many professional clubs, an impressive lineup of beautiful kits (most recently the donut one), and they’re one of those clubs that will never be accused of existing for anything but community development and growth. true to the creative roots of Rhode Island’s capital, the Rogues are a member-owned masterpiece, the type of club that could put American soccer supporters on the map globally if given the chance (*cough NISA nation cough*). a deserved top three spot, even if usual suspects Detroit City had to be snubbed to make it happen.

2. Chattanooga FC – this might not be much of a hot take unless you’re part of NGS, but I’ll defend it even so: CFC has the best soccer kit display in the United States. cool experiments with goalkeeper kits, classy home and away kits that keep it simple, and even the main sponsor works great aesthetically. aside from that, they’re one of the first to jump on a train that many have followed in recent times: the Wefunder model to fan ownership. it’s true equity stakeholding down in Chattanooga, and like everything the Boys in Blue set their minds to, it’s been done with machine-like precision and excellence. they were bested by grassroots cousins and friendly competitors Detroit City on the pitch this NISA season, but for me, their fan ownership model is superior to DCFC’s and second to only one. and that one happens to be…

1 San Francisco City FC – continually surprised City doesn’t get more attention. they’re another grassroots club in a not-very-grassroots USL League Two, but this might just be the best-structured fan-owned club in America. it’s a 51-49% ownership model, so it’s a rare case in a closed-system league where supporters actually own the majority of the club. they were born in the same year the author was, so that’s kind of a long time. great Hispanic presence within the club as well, and all that adds up to probably the most, consistent, community-driven, and crucially underrated clubs in American soccer. really feel like they deserve the number one spot, especially since many won’t have heard of them or seen too much of them.

So yeah, a few shocks in there. Death threats are not necessarily outside the realm of possibility. But controversial though it may be, it was time for all these member-owned clubs to be assorted and put in some sort of order.

A lot of this comes down to personal preference and experience, so feel free to propose your own #1! There are certainly more cases to be argued.

No matter your opinion, thanks for reading and considering supporting all these wonderful clubs.

Nearly all of them still have membership options available for you to be a part of. Make sure to support them and be a part in the great things they’re doing!

Stay weird and support local soccer!

Blessings,

Danny

By danny kotula

danny kotula is an aspiring sports writer and play-by-play commentator. unfortunately, he is not good at either one. his interests include watching soccer and listening to obscure music genres, and those aren’t even his most boring ones. he was born in Tacoma, Washington but has called South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Texas, California, Georgia, and Costa Rica home over the course of his life. he generally knows where to put a comma, which is by far his most redeeming quality. he is writing this in third person as if he were famous enough for someone to write him a biography, but don’t be fooled. he’s not famous.

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