Futbol and crowdfunding- a ‘match’ made in Detroit

“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds;…”

-Excerpt from a speech by Theodore Roosevelt called “Citizenship in a Republic”, Paris, April 23, 1910   

Sean Mann is the real deal.

I first met him at a job interview.  I wasn’t happy with the candidate pool for a newly created job we designed to engage everyday Michiganders in a discussion about the importance of our cities. It required, I believed, a unique skill set and uncommon passion. A colleague of mine sensed my frustration reading through resumes and suggested I meet a young guy who had recently moved to Detroit after studying in the U.K. and caught her eye as someone who really seemed to “get it.” She called him. He interviewed. To this date, it remains the only time someone referenced the rap duo of Kid n’ Play while seeking employment with our organization.

Sean did great work with the engagement campaign before moving on in his career. In his time with the League, Sean displayed a quiet, intense love for his adopted hometown of Detroit that inspired everyone around him. His deeply honest, contrarian’s demeanor opened many eyes to important issues he faced everyday in his southwest Detroit home. Morning “water cooler” talk often included Sean sharing stories about boarding up vacant properties, working with neighbors to rehab abandoned parks and meetings with local people about how to thwart greedy land speculators who were destroying organic redevelopment efforts. He also found time to author one of my favorite blog posts of all-time.

Some people talk about doing good things. Sean does them.

Crowdfunding comes to Michigan- local people helping local businesses

Two years ago my colleagues and I at the League worked hard to pass state legislation that allows community based crowdfunding. The new law means that people in Michigan can legally invest their own money in local businesses with anticipation of a return. It’s not like the popular Kickstarter or GoFundMe campaigns that are simple donations for a cause, it is an actual platform for investment in small businesses. We think the law provides entrepreneurs and start-ups with an exciting new avenue for raising funds. Check out this early success story.

More on this later…

The quest includes soccer

Fresh off of the surprising success of a neighborhood recreational adult soccer league (one he initiated, acted as commissioner and even built make-shift goals out of PVC pipe), Sean and friends Todd Kropp, Alex Wright, David Dwaihy and Ben Steffans decided to set their sites on professional soccer. It seemed odd since past attempts at bringing pro soccer to Detroit failed despite deep pockets, television contracts and marketing budgets. The city even played host to a World Cup event in 1994, but that didn’t help either. Pro soccer, as far as Detroit goes, seemed like a lost cause.

But Sean & Co. had different ideas. In 2012 they combined their love of grass roots activism with a passion for the game and scraped together enough money to cover the entrance fee which gave them the right to enter a team in a fourth tier professional league. It was here that the Detroit City Futbol Club (DCFC) was born. The team would serve the dual purpose of bringing professional soccer to the community and building community networks that would aide the colossal rebuilding process already underway in the city.

The first marketing campaign was limited to distributing paper flyers at local bars and word of mouth.  The owners tried crazy things to make the game day atmosphere exciting- have you ever seen a giant air gun shoot jean shorts into the crowd as souvenirs? In the beginning a small band of regulars came to watch. The team even established a mini cult-like following among the long suffering pro soccer fans in the area. Then the team began winning and more fans showed up, eventually forming European style support groups and adopting the team as their own. This past season attendance for games was regularly above 3,000. DCFC shirts and scarves are all around town and the spectacle of smoke bombs, constant chanting and spirited player/fan interactions has made DCFC home games a must-see spectacle for die hards and casual fans alike.

The community work continues as well. Since 2012 DCFC has raised money for the Wounded Warriors Project, the United Way, the Police Athletic League and a local non-profit that shelters runaway and homeless LGBT teens. The club also purchased new uniforms for the girls soccer team at Cass Tech high school. And the folks at Harry’s Bar don’t complain either when a few thousand fans show up early on game days to eat food, drink beer and march in unison to the field.

A new home for DCFC

The incredible growth of DCFC has made it impractical to keep playing games at the high school field that they have called home for the last four years. So what do most sports teams do when they need more space? Build something new? Lease a facility somewhere cheap?

C’mon, this is DCFC we’re talking about!

Instead of taking the easy way out the guys decided that their new home should be at historic Keyworth Stadium, an 80-year-old field tucked into a traditional neighborhood in Hamtramck.  In its heyday Keyworth played host to FDR, JFK and scores of important local events. The Detroit and Hamtramck public schools used if for sporting events. So did the Detroit Catholic League. It feels like the perfect place to continue the ascension of the club. A ‘Field of Urban Dreams,’ if you will.

DCFC Crowdfunding Campaign

Artist rendering of a restored Keyworth Stadium

There’s just one catch. Like many older, urban structures in America, Keyworth stands in a state of disrepair having suffered through decades of neglect. The stadium was foolishly deemed 0bsolete years ago and its ownership passed through the hands of private businesses and government agencies, none of whom properly maintained the structure. A large price tag now stands between the dream and reality.

Here is where you come in

To raise funds for the renovation of Keyworth, Sean and his partners have turned to- wait for it…- CROWDFUNDING to get them over the hump. Under the law people who live in Michigan can make an investment, not a donation, in the club. As Sean wrote in a recent article in ModelD:

“DCFC has embarked on a campaign to breathe new life in to this historic structure and grow our club at the same time.  And we are taking on the rehabilitation of this historic stadium though the largest community investment campaign in Michigan’s history. We proudly believe this is a true public-private partnership that genuinely benefits the community and its investors. 
We aren’t billionaires angling for public money. We are not looking for Kickstarter donations. We are giving our supporters the unique opportunity to invest in historic preservation, a dense and diverse community, and a growing business that represents Detroit across the country with an immense amount of pride . . . with a meaningful financial return.”

Become a Part of It Now

If you’re reading this blog I hope that you will consider an investment in DCFC. I’m making one. As I see it, an investment in the DCFC crowdfunding campaign checks the boxes in a number of important areas- soccer; Detroit; Hamtramck; historic preservation; social entrepreneurship; and, community (re)building.

A few bucks towards the cause means you will help a good ‘man in the arena.’  As an extra bonus, your investment will secure your own spot inside of it, too.

  • And if you’re around Detroit on December 3rd, come out to Gold Cash Gold in Corktown ( from 5pm – 6:30-pm for a night of bourbon, community, and the coolest professional soccer club in the country.