On Tuesday afternoon, South Georgia Tormenta FC President Darin Van Tassell stopped by the PDL subreddit and answered questions from fans on a wide range of topics, including the PDL, being embraced by the Statesboro community and the recent news regarding the club’s move to the new USL Division III.
You can check out the full thread of questions and answers over on the PDL subreddit by clicking here. Below are a few selected answers from the event.
Q: Do you see USL D3 as a significant upgrade for your club in terms of investment, player quality, finances, etc.? Or is it more of a side step from PDL?
Darin Van Tassell: It is a GIANT step upward for us -- both in economic terms as well as the quality of players. With regard to the pyramid, a move into the third division means for us that we legitimize our place in professional soccer in North America.”
Q: Did you consider other possible leagues? If so, what was appealing about those options? What looked unappealing?
DVT: “Great question. For our ownership group, other leagues were never an option. I have had the good fortune to be involved in the Olympic movement (Atlanta, Athens, Beijing) while working for the International Baseball Federation, and my experiences were one where I valued greatly the quality of the organization at the top that the USL provided. That's why we joined the PDL in 2015 and began play in 2016. Our experience of the way in which the League helped us grow and the constant opportunity to add to the value of what were were doing by professional development opportunities continued to convince us of the value of the USL.”
Q: What are you most looking forward to in your final PDL season in 2018?
DVT: “We have worked hard on the putting together a team that can win a championship. One thing that is true about the PDL -- the quality of the teams are such that you can lose to any team on any day. I have great respect for the other organizations and ownership groups in the PDL, and this year we are in the Deep South Division -- and OMG is that table stacked.
BTW: we haven't completely decided that we won't ALSO field a team in the PDL. It likely remains a key part of our success at the D3 level, and for us to do well at the pro level, we still need to be successful and winning at the PDL. Continue to look for both!”
Q: What have been the biggest challenges for you running the team in the PDL, and what new challenges do you expect to face as you transition to being a pro team? Specifically in terms of getting fans to go to games?
DVT: “I think every franchise spends a ton of time wrestling with the best ways to put fans in the stands. So many ingredients go into that formula. In our first year, we averaged over 2,000 fans in the PDL. Last year, we approached that number again. South Georgia has a smaller population than the more metro parts of the country, but we certainly aren't less sophisticated. I am so proud of the work we have done to cultivate that fan base thus far. We have to play attractive soccer and we have to create an experience. Sports franchises are much more about creating an experience for fans than the actual game itself, in my opinion. The soccer insiders of the world want great soccer and for that group we have to do so. But the casual fan needs that great fan experience. Hope to see you at match this summer!”
Q: How did you originally decide to start a soccer team in Statesboro? What led you to the idea and how did you start pursuing it?
DVT: “My background in international baseball and the Olympics gave me real insight to the power of a global sport. It gave me insight into how other federations -- such as FIFA operate. I have a Ph.D. in International Studies and the area that I spent most of my time writing and researching and teaching about was the impact of sport. For me, there are four global languages in the world: art, music, food, and sport. These are the building blocks and the bridges between nations. I was also convinced that Statesboro was ready to be city that was bigger than our already fantastic collegiate sports. It is a city that embraces its own and it has a proven track record of fan attendance and having to play bigger than it looks on paper. Plus, the traffic here is much better than the bigger cities in America!”