Exclusive interview: Jeremy Sampson discusses Lansing United’s move to PDL

Soc Takes spoke to Lansing United's CEO, NPSL's chairman and PDL's director.

In their press release, NPSL’s Lansing United confirmed that they will be playing in the PDL next season, thereby becoming the first team to swap between the two leagues for next year. Lansing United President/CEO Jeremy Sampson said in the release:

“We are honored to be joining the PDL for the 2018 season. Joining the PDL is a positive step for Lansing United as we continue to evolve as a club now entering our fifth season. The opportunities for growth as a club and for our players as they aspire to play professionally are really exciting.”

Soc Takes emailed Sampson some questions and was given the following responses:

NC – Why is Lansing United making the switch from NPSL to PDL?

JS – We are really excited to be a member of the PDL and are looking forward to competing against some very good amateur clubs in the Central Conference. There are a few reasons that we have decide to join the PDL. The opportunities for our club to grow and evolve are important.  The rosters of the NPSL have changed over the last 4 years with less and less college players being used.

Mid-Michigan does not have many players ages 22-27 living and working in our area that we can tap into. Our roster composition has always looked more like a PDL roster. This move will also give our players additional exposure to the professional game which we believe is important.

NC – Will you retain the name of Lansing United while in the PDL?

JS – Yes, we will still be called Lansing United.

NC – Recently, NPSL filed a letter of complaint to USSF about what it believed to be were approaches made by USL-PDL towards its teams. Were you approached by USL-PDL in a similar way? If yes, explain. If no, what are your thoughts on the letter of complaint?

JS – No we were not. We reached out to the PDL to discuss expansion opportunities. I can only speak to our situation in which we were never contacted by the PDL or asked by the PDL to leave the NPSL

NC – How did the logistics of your decision to join PDL come about? Are you paying the same entry fee to join PDL as any other team? Or was the entry fee lowered to facilitate the move from NPSL?

JS – After every season, we evaluate our situation and we did so after the 2017 season. I contacted the PDL to discuss expansion opportunities. We submitted and application and we were approved. We do not discuss the financial arrangements between our club and the leagues that we are associated with.

NC – Is your decision to join PDL linked to your purported interest in USL-D3?

JS – Very much so. We have stated that we are very interested in making the move from an amateur club to a professional club. The USL-D3 made a site visit to Lansing earlier this year and they are very excited about this region. I am working each day toward developing a strong ownership group here in Lansing and I am optimistic that we can bring professional soccer to Lansing.

NC – There have been reports about organizational issues within NPSL – as indicated by player availability for the NPSL final. Is your decision to leave NPSL linked to any of those logistical or organizational issues?

JS – I have really enjoyed our four years in the NPSL. It was an excellent place for us to begin as a franchise. No league is perfect in the way that things are handled on a daily basis and if you ask those who run the league if there are improvements in certain areas, I’m sure they will say that the answer to that is yes.

I have watched the NPSL grow and develop over the past 4 years and I want to thank (NPSL commissioner) Joe Barone, (NPSL managing director) Jef Thiffault and the staff at the NPSL for all of their work and wish them all the best in the future.

NC – You are leaving the Great Lakes division of the NPSL – where you had five other Michigan teams and ready-made rivalries – for the PDL, where there is only one other Michigan team. Are you worried about the increased travel costs and drop in rivalries (which in turn, may result in lower gate revenues)?

JS – What we built in Michigan in the NPSL is something special, like nothing else that is happening anywhere else in the country and we are very proud of that and those owners are all friends of mine and will continue to stay that way. We are truly business partners off the field while competing on it for 90 minutes twice a season.

Our hope is that those rivalries will continue even if they are not considered “league” games.  We looked at the increased travel costs in considering the move to the PDL and have factored that into our budget for the 2018 season. Having competing clubs within a close proximity does not always equal a huge bump in gate revenues. 90-95% of our gate revenue comes from Lansing United fans.

I’m not sure that our numbers bear out that fans attend our games because we are playing a rival.  Our data suggests that fans come to our games in larger numbers to see league games.

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Soc Takes reached out to NPSL chairman Joe Barone for his comment on Lansing United’s exit from the league. Barone said – 

NPSL chairman Joe Barone. Credit: NPSL

“It’s tough to understand. I spoke to Lansing United’s chairman today (October 11th) morning. They play in a conference which is well followed on both social media and in attendance, which is tough to replicate.

Which leads me to believe that the undercurrent of the cold-calling of the PDL may have contributed. Here’s someone who said he (Jeremy Sampson) didn’t have the money to play in D3. Was he poached? Was he enticed financially to move? We don’t know. We plan on finding out, but we don’t know.

But, am I disappointed about his decision? Of course. Am I surprised? One hundred percent.

This further shows how US Soccer is so disinterested in the lower divisions that they are allowing the USL-PDL to cherry pick the NPSL. The lack of leadership from the US Soccer federation is absolutely unexceptionable.”

SocTakes also reached out to NPSL managing director Jef Thiffault for his reaction to the Lansing news. Thiffault said – 

“I think it’s like when any of our members leave, we take them at their word that they are in a better situation and we wish them luck.”

When asked, Sampson, Thiffault and Barone all said they don’t know of any other teams planning on leaving the NPSL for PDL.

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Soc Takes reached out to USL-PDL and was given the following responses on behalf of PDL director Todd Eason:

1. Your reaction to Lansing United joining the league?

TE – We are excited to have Lansing United compete in the PDL in 2018. They greatly strengthen our profile in the Great Lakes area, and provide another high-performing ownership group and developmental pathway for players in Michigan.

2. Did USL-PDL approach Lansing or vice-versa?

TE – The PDL was approached by Lansing United.

3. Did Lansing pay the same entry fee as any other team joining the league?

TE – We cannot disclose the terms of the agreement.

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Follow Nipun on Twitter: @NipunChopra7.

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Nipun divides his time between his two great loves - neuroscience and soccer. You can find him discussing both of those, as well as regular updates (pupdates) on his wonderful doggo, Octavia on Twitter. Get in touch with feedback/story suggestions at @NipunChopra7 or nipun.chopra@SocTakes.com
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