United Soccer League Focusing on Diversity, Youth Initiatives | Sports Destination Management

United Soccer League Focusing on Diversity, Youth Initiatives

Mar 19, 2023 | By: Michael Popke

In an effort to live up to its claim as the largest and fastest-growing professional soccer organization in North America, the United Soccer League (USL) is taking giant strides with diversity and youth initiatives.


In late-February, the USL’s United Black Players organization announced a new name and brand. Formerly known as the Black Players Alliance, over the past three years the group has established itself as an important piece of the USL community and created important partnerships, according to league officials. With a mission to address inequity issues within the sport, the UBP has set forth new goals aimed to impact the youth, collegiate and professional ranks while developing a sustainable future for minorities in the sport.


“Since our inception, we’ve been able to achieve a number of goals that we’ve set for our organization,” UBP Executive Director Brandon Miller said in a statement. “The league has been very supportive on a few key initiatives and we look forward to expanding our work under a new umbrella in 2023. We felt the name change was important as we look to move in a more focused direction.”


Previously, the UBP was involved in the establishment of the USL’s United Against Racism campaign in 2021 and launched its own youth soccer clinic initiative in 2022.


The UBP announcement came on the heels of the USL unveiling Step Up: The Bold Next Phase in the USL’s Women’s Soccer Strategy in January. The blueprint is part of the USL’s ongoing strategy to take the women’s game in United States to the next level by maximizing player potential, delivering a “world-class” fan experience, and growing the business of USL clubs.


USL DEI Developed over the past two years, ”Step Up” paves the way for the USL to build, operate and grow the most comprehensive and powerful ecosystem in women’s soccer, according to league officials. It lays out a clear player pathway from youth to professional, including the launch of the professional USL Super League in 2024, continued expansion of the pre-professional USL W League, and the establishment and growth of the USL Academy for girls.  


“Our vision is to be a global leader in women’s soccer on and off the field,” USL CEO Alec Papadakis said in a statement. “The fully integrated women’s pathway we are building is transformational for the USL and for the game, providing thousands of additional opportunities for players, coaches, referees, executives, partners and fans in professional women’s soccer and all the way through the American soccer pyramid. We have the committed ownership, infrastructure, and expertise to build a viable long-term business that brings the excitement of women’s soccer to more fans and more communities across the country.” 


The Super League is expected to begin announcing its founding clubs in the coming months, and the USL W League — which launched with 44 clubs in 2022 — is expected to expand to 65 clubs from coast to coast this year, with a target of 100 clubs by 2026. Meanwhile, the new USL Academy League will feature up to six girls’ divisions in 2023 and increase to more than 12 divisions by 2026, USL officials say.


Individual USL clubs also are doing their part to increase soccer’s visibility and reach in their own communities. Detroit City FC, a USL Championship club, announced in February a ticketing change that club officials are calling DCFC’s “most significant investment yet in youth soccer in Detroit.”


A new $1 fee on single-match tickets and selected group offerings for all home games purchased directly from the club will be allocated to the Detroit Sporting Coalition (the DCFC nonprofit arm that runs Detroit City FC City Youth). In 2022, DCFC sold more than 75,000 individual tickets and ticket packages throughout 26 home matches.


“This is likely the first time in American pro sports history that a professional team has introduced a ticket fee dedicated to supporting youth sports,” proclaimed an announcement from team officials, who said they were inspired in part by the Aspen Institute’s Project Play.

Detroit City FC City Youth has nearly doubled in size every year since its founding in 2019, according to DCFC, and almost 300 boys and girls are participating in the program now.


“We are committed to DCFC match days being the most affordable, accessible and inclusive pro sporting event in Detroit, so we don’t take lightly asking our supporters to cover any new costs,”  Sean Mann, Co-Founder & CEO of Detroit City FC, said in a statement. “But it is equally important that we apply those same values to City Youth, and this struck us as an ideal means to do so. Through this new mechanism, everyone entering Keyworth [Stadium] will directly invest in growing our sport among youth in our community. And that means a lot to us as an organization.”


Meanwhile, One Knoxville SC — a new US League One club this year — recently partnered with United Way of Greater Knoxville to create Goals for Good. One Knox fans and business partners will have the opportunity to pledge a dollar amount per goal scored to local nonprofit organizations at all 16 homes games during the 2023 season.


“We are passionate about using soccer as a force for good in Knoxville,” Sam Weisbrod, Executive Director of One Knoxville’s newly formed nonprofit arm, the One Knox Collective, said in a statement. “Through Goals for Good, we hope to encourage our fans to join us and collectively champion the local causes we care deeply about.”


Those causes include Community Schools (a Knox Education Foundation initiative) and Two Bikes (dedicated to expanding local access to bicycles).

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