No one can accuse Matt Privratsky of going too far. The Minnesota Aurora FC co-founder didn’t know how the Twin Cities would react to a new women’s soccer team, so he entered his inaugural season with modest ambitions.
“It was as simple as this club needed female coaches and not charging players to be in the team,” Privratsky said. “It turned out that vision was incredibly small. I’ve never been happier to be so wrong.”
Privratsky could laugh at himself this week, while enjoying the afterglow of a season that exceeded all expectations. It ended last Saturday with a 2-1 extra-time loss to South Georgia Tormenta FC in the USL W League Championship game, at a sold-out TCO stadium, as a crowd forecast at 6,489. watched the Aurora finish with a 13-1-1 record.
The club became an instant success in almost every way, leaving its nine co-founders giddy and a little dumbfounded. The Aurora averaged 5,626 fans per game, a league high, doubling the stadium’s capacity to meet demand. Media coverage, webstream viewers, volunteers and sponsors have all increased more than expected.
Aurora president and co-founder Andrea Yoch said the team will turn a profit in its first year. Merchandise sales were five times higher than expected, sponsorship revenue was three times higher and ticket sales more than doubled compared to club estimates.
Internal staff will grow
While the Aurora’s success on and off the pitch has ensured dreams will be bigger next year, the club’s founders aren’t losing sight of their original goals. Yoch said the organization remains “very committed” to USL W, a pre-pro league that doesn’t pay players, and plans to stay there in 2023. There are no immediate plans to become member of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) or the USL Super League, a second division professional league launched next year.
“USL W is a great league that matches our mission. Trying to find another dance partner when we really like the dance partners we have just doesn’t make sense. »
Over the next several months, the Aurora will hire more full-time employees, introduce a mascot at the Minnesota State Fair, and plan more community events. All of these tasks will be made a little lighter by an unforgettable first season.
“It was beyond anything we imagined,” Yoch said. “Our predictions were ridiculously wrong. There was an appetite for this, and people just gobbled it up. Now it’s about how do we make this sustainable? The growth opportunity is huge, and we want to ensure that we continue to do things right.”
Privratsky called it “heartwarming” to see the reception Aurora received. A longtime advocate for women’s sport, he envisioned a club that could give athletes and coaches a path to professional football, as well as an environment that would support and celebrate them.
He and the other eight co-founders thought they could keep the team running with the help of a few part-timers and volunteers. They didn’t expect to work nonstop over the past 14 months, juggling Aurora duties with their full-time jobs to keep up with demand.
Team merchandise sold out quickly and had to be reordered. The club has hired additional people to help with stadium sales and operations. Even in a difficult work environment, the Aurora had no problem filling positions.
“The creation of this team resonated with a lot of talented people,” Yoch said. “They wanted to be part of what we were building.”
Since the Aurora doesn’t have a player payroll, Yoch noted that it’s easier to run a profitable franchise from the get-go. Still, she says, revenue grew rapidly and exceeded the club’s initial low targets.
That revenue helped defray costs, allowing the Aurora to retain much of the $1 million raised last year by selling team shares in a community-ownership model. When he tapped into those initial funds, he used them in a way that contributed to success on the ground. The Aurora rented two houses for the players, which created team bonds. While many opponents traveled by bus to road matches on matchday, the Aurora paid for hotels so the club could arrive the night before.
NWSL can wait
According to an ESPN report last month, NWSL franchise valuations have skyrocketed and the league plans to add two teams in 2024. Commissioner Jessica Berman told the network that more than 30 potential owner groups are interested. Yoch said going pro is not a priority for the Aurora right now.
“USL W is a great league that fits our mission,” she said. “Trying to look for another dance partner when we really like the dance partners we have, it just doesn’t make sense.”
Privratsky said the first task during the offseason was to hire a full-time team president and other key personnel. Club officials will look at ways to improve the matchday environment, and Yoch said they are already trying to add more seats to the TCO Stadium. The Aurora also wants to hold more community events, such as clinics, which Yoch considers an important part of the team’s identity.
With the next matches several months away, Yoch and Privratsky might even rest. But probably not much.
“In the long term, our group has a lot of ambitious goals,” Privratsky said. “We have proven the concept. Now it’s all about getting established and building something lasting.
“It’s really gratifying to see the first season go so well. It confirms what can happen when you invest time, money and energy in women’s sport.”
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