By Ryan Makuch/NPSL.com
Sasquatch is coming to the NPSL.
You read that right. Appalachian FC’s Chief Marketing Officer is everyone’s favorite two-footed mystical mountainous creature. And on Saturday April 24, Sasquatch was on hand to oversee the ribbon cutting for Appalachian FC’s new team shop.
One of the newest teams in the NPSL and set to take the field for the first time in the 2021 season, App FC have been making waves in more than just luring Sasquatch out of hiding. The club shop opening marked the end product of weeks upon weeks of planning and preparing for an event.
The event saw roughly 20-25 members of the Boone, North Carolina, community in line for the ribbon cutting ceremony. Those early birds also got the worm in the form of the club’s signature Squatchy Ale, brewed by local sponsor Booneshine Brewing Company. Mike Raymond, a member of the Appalachian FC Ownership Group, noted that within the first 90 minutes of the store’s opening, the club sold over $1000 worth of merchandise and ended the day with around $3000 worth sold, in all.
This is just the next step in the community of Boone embracing Appalachian FC before they even set foot on the pitch. One of the reasons for getting this brick-and-mortar headquarters for the club was that support that they saw, both in the community and online.
Local sponsors have immediately taken to the newly-formed club. In addition to Booneshine, Harmony Timberworks was responsible for donating the wood used for tables and display cases in the team space. Raymond also noted that he expected at least 30 sponsors, perhaps closer to 35, featured on sponsorship boards during the club’s home matches.
Online sales have also boomed since the club’s inception: since mid-November the club have done $90,000 worth of online sales. Raymond cited these numbers specifically and the sheer quantity of purchases made as a key reason to getting this space, saying, “We needed a space. We needed to order more stuff. We needed more space to spread out and do shipping more efficiently.”
At that point, the club decided that if there was to be a physical home to Appalachian FC off the pitch, a physical storefront made sense.
In addition to that storefront, a 10×20 room that you enter upon walking into the space, the building also possesses a larger room that will be used for team meetings and film sessions, making it a true home for the team.
“It’s perfect for what we need,” said Raymond.
That statement from Raymond could also apply to Boone, as a city, and the introduction of Appalachian FC to the community. COVID-19 has hit many places and organizations hard, and Appalachian State University was no different as the school announced the folding of the men’s soccer program – a legendary one that once-upon-a-time was an elite program that went to back-to-back Sweet Sixteen berths in 1977 and 1978.
As a short-term goal, Raymond noted the excitement that the club had to welcome in several now-ex-Mountaineers in for a proper send-off from the city of Boone. For the residents, this could “scratch the itch” that the program folding left behind, noted David Jackson, President and CEO of the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce.
The Boone Area Chamber of Commerce is another example of the community rallying support around the new soccer club. Within the chamber is the Boone Area Sports Commission, a non-profit sports tourism agency that hopes to boost the profile of Boone in new and exciting ways. Jackson noted the success of a 2019 match between two local teams as a key driver in getting Boone an NPSL team. The event sold over 1,000 tickets, and the idea soon turned to reality thanks to interest from Michael Hitchcock and Jason O’Keefe.
O’Keefe, former head coach of Appalachian State’s men’s soccer team, met Hitchcock when O’Keefe was recruiting his son. Once the program folded, the two both quickly seemed to understand the hunger that the community had for soccer, and moves were quickly made, including getting local owners involved and on board.
Once again, this is partially where the chamber of commerce came into play, as they helped connect the club with big-ticket sponsors in the area. Jackson also continued to give Hitchcock and the new organization credit for understanding the area, noting how Hitchcock immediately linked up with high-profile business owners to get involved, an action that Jackson noted allowed other local sponsors to feel comfortable with the program and hop on board.
“It’s pretty humbling, honestly, to see the support that the community has given us,” said Raymond. “It really makes all this time and hard work that everybody in the ownership group is putting in worth it.”
Jackson noted that this is not just a club being built, it’s a culture being cultivated for supporters.
“I think the local ownership has done a great job of establishing the expectation that this club will be here for the long term,” he said, noting the brand management by Hitchcock. “The buzz around here is very real. People are excited to have something they can call their own.”
It’s a terrific start, but what of the future? Raymond’s long-term goals are simple: Keep soccer in the forefront of the community, try and build the game, and give young players an opportunity to further their careers while giving the youth of the area positive role models playing a high level of soccer.
The excitement is palpable in the Boone community for the newest soccer club in the area. And with a co-sign from Sasquatch, you can start to believe in the hype…and the monster.
Photo Credit: Appalachian FC