SOCCER STARTUPS: BUILDING A SOCCER HOTBED IN MICHIGAN WITH LANSING UNITED
The idea behind Lansing United originated in the most unusual way, starting as a brainstorming session and a bar napkin during a road trip to see the U.S. national team in action. Many people plan and many people talk, but Lansing United owner Jeremy Sampson actually put his ideas and plans into action, creating one of the most successful soccer clubs in Michigan and the Midwest.
“Writing the business plan was the first step and then it was taking all of the pieces in there and making it come to life,” Sampson commented. “It’s one thing written on a piece of paper, but it’s much different when you are bringing those ideas to life.”
Lansing United came to life in a big way thanks to their community-centered approach, passionate supporters, and their ability to advance their players and staff to the next level.
“On the field we’ve just had a group of dedicated players and coaches,” Sampson continued. “We have always had a competitive group and they have played with ‘Pride, Passion and Unity’ for the club and the city of Lansing.”
Off the field Sampson marketed the team to the youth clubs in his area and he used his relationships with the local media to spread the word about the club. The result has been 18,000 fans and supporters going through the gates over the past two seasons to see United in action.
“I went to all of the premier clubs in town and offered them the same thing,” Sampson added. “I didn’t play favorites. They all had the opportunity to have an assistant coach on staff and a club day where their players would get into the game for free by wearing their club’s jersey. Once they came they loved it. I also partnered with the Capital Area Soccer League, the umbrella for all of the youth teams in 26 different towns in mid-Michigan.”
Sampson also gives loads of credit to his talented coaching staff, in particular former head coach Eric Rudland. Under his expert tutelage, Rudland led the squad to a conference and regional championship in 2014. That was an impressive feat for a program in their inaugural year.
The Sons of Ransom, the team’s supporters’ group, have been quite influential, creating a great atmosphere for players, fans, and supporters alike. Sampson says that they have been a huge part of the club’s success.
“It’s a group that we let grow organically. We found a couple of captains and they have done the rest. They are the ones that create a unique atmosphere so when those youth players come they have a great time and want to come back again.”
Having loads of talent on the pitch certainly helped make the case for Lansing United. Players from around the world have called the club home. Matt Brown, Tyler Pasher, Marcos Ugarte, and Brian Cunningham have all found great success in the professional game.
Brown continued his on the field success overseas, playing non-league football in England. Pasher and Ugarte both found a home in the USL. Pasher is currently with Swope Park Rangers and Ugarte with the Rochester Rhinos. Cunningham played professionally in New Zealand’s top-flight before recently signing with the Tampa Bay Rowdies.
Some younger players have even used the Lansing United experience to move to a higher level of the collegiate game. Several players, like Austin Dunn, moved to a D-I program as a result of playing in the NPSL in the summer. Dunn started at Olivet in D-III before earning a spot at the University of Detroit, a D-I side.
Having a pipeline to the next level is something that Sampson is excited about.
“Sending guys on to play at the next level is what the NPSL is all about. We are able to give guys a platform and then it’s up to them to perform. I didn’t think that we would have guys from our first team going right to the pros but those guys worked so hard. I would see them before and after training putting the extra work in. They treated Lansing United like a professional team and then they took that opportunity and ran with it.”
But it doesn’t stop with the players on the field. Many interns that have worked for the club used the opportunity to break into the business world. They gained real-life experience in the sporting industry and they turned that into a real job.
United’s success has taken part alongside a soccer boom in Michigan, a state that has experienced significant growth in the beautiful game. It’s a really exciting time for Sampson to be involved.
“The sport of soccer is growing everywhere, but we have something very special in Michigan. The youth numbers continue to grow each year and there are more adults playing than ever before. Having six teams from the same state all within two hours of each other in the same conference is something that no other state has. We are really proud of the soccer culture in Michigan and I am honored to have a small part in growing the game in Michigan.”