Detroit City Futbol League

In its third season, the league consists of teams representing 28 Detroit neighborhoods with nearly 800 registered participants, over 80 percent of whom are city residents. At the outset, the primary goal of the league was to bring people together from diverse Detroit neighborhoods in a fun, healthy way, reaching beyond traditional community organizing focused on fighting blight or crime. A secondary desire of the league was to promote and market these various neighborhoods.

Accomplishments: 
  • Created nearly 30 neighborhood-based soccer teams that double as community organizing tools.
  • Gotten nearly 800 residents of the city of Detroit more physically active on a regular basis.
  • Improved name recognition of certain neighborhoods to both new and old residents and inspired folks to explore new neighborhoods and businesses.
  • Promoted community service: For example, several teams adopted vacant lots and converted them into playable fields, coach youth soccer, and participate in neighborhood clean-ups.
  • Created a regular meeting place for people from across the city to come together and enjoy each other’s company in a fun setting.
  • Received national and local media attention, shedding a positive light on the city of Detroit.
  • Made the city more attractive to potential residents: Nearly 30 individuals have specifically cited the league as the reason they moved to Detroit.
Funding: 
The vast majority of the league’s revenue comes from $20 per player each season. The league also sells naming rights to fields to small businesses that are sponsors. The primary expenses are field rentals, referees, and equipment.
Budget: 
The league now operates on an annual budget of $17,000. In its first season, the league did not have referees and used homemade goals fashioned out of PVC piping, allowing it to operate on a budget of less than $4,000.
Organization: 
The league operates as an LLC, currently with five owners, one of whom operates as the league commissioner. The league is heavily structured around the captains of the neighborhood teams, who are chosen by their teammates. With considerable input from the captains at annual meetings, the owners of the league make the final decisions.
Participants: 

The league is composed of neighbors from all over the city. Team captains must live in their neighborhood and are expected to recruit players from within it. Tools used to recruit neighbors include posters at local businesses, neighborhood listservers, and through community development corporations and other nonprofits specific to the area.

Inspiration: 

Great cities are made up of great neighborhoods, and all too often these neighborhoods are under-recognized or underappreciated by those who live nearby. Neighbors needed a fun way to interact with each other, learn about each other, and take pride in their neighborhood.

Actions Taken: 
  1. Identify Your Need and Opportunity: Most people understand the need to bring together neighbors in a fun and engaging way, and sports are an obvious choice. But why soccer? There were already several softball leagues in the city, and soccer is a sport that most anyone can play to some degree, regardless of their skill level.
  2. Get Legal: Athletic competitions, even if they are intended to be “just for fun,” are physical and can lead to injuries. This is especially the case with adults, who are often accustomed to sedentary lifestyles. Work with an attorney to create an LLC and a waiver that every participant must sign, to shield you from as much personal liability as possible.
  3. Solicit Neighborhood Allies: For a league to succeed on a neighborhood level, it needs advocates in different neighborhoods. A group of well-connected people in strategic neighborhoods were brought together at an initial meeting for feedback on the idea. These people weren’t selected because of their athletic prowess or likelihood of playing, but rather because they knew neighbors who would be interested and potentially could take the lead as captains. It was important to get neighborhood captains that weren’t already over-committed and could dedicate time and passion to forming a team of their neighbors.
  4. Make it Accessible: For the league to be an effective community-organizing tool, it was important for it to be as accessible as possible. League fees are kept to $20 per player (dramatically below any comparable leagues), and the rules were simplified and rewritten to discourage physical contact.
  5. Promote Good Design: As a marketing tool for the various neighborhoods in the city, the league stressed good design and solicited graphic designers to help come up with logos for each of the early teams. The league worked with small retail shops to sell teams’ extra jerseys to spread the word about the neighborhoods and the league.
  6. Make It More Than About the Game: One of the most popular aspects of the league is the official post-game bar night. Each team in the league has an official bar and after each game night the league has a meet-up at a rotating list of bars in different neighborhoods. The Tuesday bar night regularly draws more than 300 players, spectators and others and has been known to make an unsuspecting bar dry in less than an hour. These bar nights, along with the games, have become the meeting place for young and active people across the city, spawning all kinds of new relationships and collaborations.
  7. Make it About More Than Fun: Staying true to its original mission to find new ways to build stronger ties among neighbors, the league has a community-development purpose. Each team is encouraged to do community service, and points are rewarded for completed projects. These points are used as a tie-breaker in the league standings, and an award is given to the team that completes the most community service.
  8. Maintain Consistency: The integral purpose of the league has always been more about community than soccer. As the league became better known, soccer players from across the metropolitan region tried to join up. To keep the league true to its original mission, a cap of five players was placed on the number of non-Detroit residents each team could have.
  9. Develop Capacity: Since the league is an all-volunteer operation, it was crucial to identify talented and qualified people to help with basic tasks. A group of individuals were identified to help maintain the fields, while another group handles the coordination of bar nights and the season-ending tournament, and another coordinates and documents teams’ community-service activity.