EPLWA Media Partner Footy Americano interviews Evergreen Premier League Communications Director David Falk about how and why the league got started.
Please, tell who you are and what it is that you do with the Evergreen Premier League.
David Falk, Director of Communications. I handle press releases, email, website, social media and promotion / marketing. I was one of the original founders of the league back in 2013.
I understand that doing this must take up a lot of your time. What is it that drives you to do the work that you are doing?
Yes, helping the Evergreen Premier League is pretty-much a year-round thing for me. I also am helping with the Western Indoor Soccer League (WISL) and the new Northwest Premier League (NWPL), the women’s outdoor counterpart to the EPLWA. It’s thousands of hours per year between all of them. The leagues do pay me a volunteer stipend, but certainly the effort involved comes mainly from a desire to see the game grow at the adult elite club level in Washington. What drives me is a love for the sport, the culture we are building and the players, coaches and fans that work so hard to represent their hometowns on match day.
From this motivation you must have came up with a plan, a vision. Can you remember the moment you convinced yourself that the Evergreen Premier League would be brought to life?
Jeff McIntyre, the founder and owner of Ruffneck Scarves, was also the founder and original owner of Bellingham United Football Club. They played two seasons in the Canadian-based Pacific Coast Soccer League (PCSL). Ruffneck and my soccer blog, goalWA.net, have had a sponsorship relationship since 2011. So we met at a Starbucks and the thrust to get a league like the PCSL into Washington was discussed. I knew I could use goalWA.net as a way to introduce the idea and get the word out, so that is what we did. I came up with the name “Evergreen Premier League,” as Washington is nicknamed “The Evergreen State.” It was also fun that the initials were “EPL,” a common term used for the “English Premier League” back in the days before the Barclay deal made it the “BPL.” All we could do was put the ideas out there. I had some notion it could happen because there were some clubs looking for a league. But I was happily surprised when we opened it up for club applications that we had 19 clubs apply, and a good number of them were quality applications.”
Is there a history of the league that you would like to share?To continue from above, the club applications gave rise to optimism right away. The Spokane Shadow had a decade’s worth of history in the PDL. Yakima United had connections to the old Yakima Reds that spent well over a decade in the PDL. Wenatchee FC would be a new club right in the heart of the state. South Sound FC was already playing and competing at the USASA national level out of Tacoma. Of course McIntyre and Bellingham United were also a cornerstone. The “Hammers” were drawing big crowds of over 1,000 in the PCSL. Other parts of the state were covered with clubs in Bremerton, Seattle and Vancouver, WA. So from the very beginning we saw signs that it could work. Then it was a matter of selecting the final 8 clubs and hosting a first season.
What exactly is the Evergreen Premier League? In that, I am asking what identity the league holds and what distinguishes it from, say, a national league.The EPLWA is a 4th Division USA league that gets that designation thanks to our Premier League designation from the United States Adult Soccer Association. We are an amateur league for future and former professionals and local elite players either in or out of college. Our motto is “Our State. Our Clubs. Our Culture.” This means we control the league in a way that only locals can – with an understanding of local soccer, local club needs, and a strong desire to keep league costs low so that we can let our clubs use most of their ‘soccer money’ right in their home towns, building their operations.
The state of Washington has seen more than a few clubs come and go out of national leagues. To name a few, the Spokane Shadow, Spokane Spiders, Puget Sound Gunners, and Yakima Reds (all from the PDL) have moved or folded. Seattle Sporting FC and Inter United FC (both of the NPSL) have also folded. That’s six clubs from well-known national leagues that couldn’t survive. Further, we had a stint of sides in what was called the “National Star Soccer League,” that got burned by corruption in the league’s offices. Those sides were Shelton Timberland FC, Chelan Warriors, Yakima United, Seattle Stars FC and Tri-City Power. That league folded, leaving these local clubs without a return on their fees and without a place to compete. Seattle Stars FC and Yakima United joined the EPLWA.
Our fees for 2016 are just $1,250 per club. The league operated with volunteers and is a non-profit. The fees cover general league expenses (marketing, championship trophy, etc.) and allow our clubs to spend the savings on themselves and their soccer communities.
Please elaborate a bit on the motivations of your organization. Why create a soccer league specific to Washington state?
Furthermore than as discussed above, we wanted to help local clubs grow and create opportunities for players, coaches and supporters to follow elite clubs right in their home towns. We went in with the idea…”What if Washington were its own country?” Well then of course it would have its own soccer league. And this idea is not foreign to us, as the “Cascadia” movement has looked at the Northwest as its own unique region / country for quite some time. We wanted to provide an option for soccer people that had the love but maybe not the pocketbook for national league fees. We wanted to see more players get summer experience. We wanted local kids to see adult players playing live at local matches. We wanted to give the clubs and local soccer people control of their own destinies, and final say-so in league operations.
So, you had a cause and an idea. How does one go about starting an entire elite amateur league? What do you think was fundamental in launching the Evergreen Premier League?
We had lots of help from Washington State Adult Soccer (Tim Busch, President) and Peter Ostrovsky (EPLWA President.) The Washington State Referee Committee was on board right away with us, understanding the great opportunity to get more matches for their officials. GoalWA.net already had a soccer readership of thousands, so we had a channel to reach people. Key folks in local soccer were part of the teams that applied to join the league.
What are your long term ambitions for the league?
It’s still about creating cultures that are meaningful and that will last, and founding clubs for the long term. We are entering our third season in the same 8 towns we started with. That’s a foothold on stability. Next step is to grow attendance so that our clubs can grow as local ‘businesses.’ We have drawn just under 30,000 fans over two seasons and 112 matches. It’s a good start but we need to see growth there to take some pressure off of our owners. Things like expansion, US Open Cup play and traveling for friendlies with other regional leagues are on our radar. Individual clubs may jump in to some of that and lead the way.
Now, for some questions on the status of soccer in Washington:
It is apparent that soccer is a big thing in at least Seattle from the large and consistent crowds that the Sounders pull in. How well of a representation is this for the entire state of Washington?Soccer is huge in Washington. Playing the game is huge. Coaching is big. Running clubs is big. Actually attending matches with huge crowds and supporters culture — that’s a Sounders thing. That’s part of why the EPLWA exists – we want an opportunity for culture to grow in Yakima, Bremerton, etc.We have seen supporters culture bloom in the EPLWA in both Bellingham and Wenatchee. The Kitsap Pumas of the PDL have supporters groups, and they also have a nice community base and fan average. The Sounders U-23 of the PDL have supporters and a solid attendance base. So there are pockets of life around the state, but overall the huge Sounders numbers are not reflected in our 4th division sides, which rank below national averages in both the PDL and NPSL. It’s hard to draw fans to 4th division soccer in Washington.
On the women’s side, again we have lots of teams, but fans have been missing. Reign FC are great on the pitch, but attendance has been low compared to the jugernaut down in Portland with the Thorns.
College soccer also has room for improvement when it comes to crowds.
Our state is immersed in soccer, but only the Sounders get sensational support.
Is the average soccer fan able to go to any metropolitan area and find a pick up match at the local park? If not, do you see this kind of behavior happening soon?
Yes. Another area where Washington succeeds is organized adult soccer. The GSSL (Greater Seattle Soccer League) is huge. Washington has the highest per capita percentage of registered youth and adult soccer players in the USA.
Wow, interesting fact that you just gave. What are, in your opinion, the keys to soccer surviving and thriving in your state?
“Soccer” will always be here. The sport is a part of our heritage. Clubs and leagues may come and go, but the sport is engrained in families over generations.
The EPLWA is helping keep costs of league fees low so that our clubs have a chance to stick around. We also are going above and beyond to help them with social media, marketing and public awareness. After that, it is up to the owners and their communities to make it work.
The Sounders are an attendance phenomenon. They have established over 8 seasons that they are back in a big way. Now we are working to see that kind of interest bloom in our other towns.