What do Alex Kajumulo, Richard Opanuga, Kendall Reyes, and Alex Geraldino all have in common? They are four of the ten black owners who currently own and operate clubs in the United Premier Soccer League (UPSL), ten more black owners than all of the other professional soccer leagues combined in the US.
Kajumulo, based in Seattle, WA operates six clubs in the Pacific Northwest region, Centralia City FC, Portland City FC, Coueur D’Alene City FC, Tacoma City FC, Spokane City FC, AND Seattle City FC. When asked why he decided to invest so many franchises in the UPSL, he said “Because it is an opportunity that you can’t get in the MLS since the franchise fee is $200 million. MLS is for the elite not for the average person.” Kajumulo has utilized the franchises as a way for the better players in his youth clubs to play against older competition to improve faster. He also mentioned that the promotion/relegation model was a major selling point, “If the UPSL takes its model to FIFA then it could threaten what MLS has here in the US. FIFA admires the promotion/relegation model and they know that MLS is doing it all wrong, there just hasn’t been an alternative until now.”
Another advantage of being an owner of a UPSL franchise Kajumulo mentions is that “You have the rights to your players. There is no single entity like MLS so if you sell a player your club gets the fees. If a player goes through the Academy system in the MLS and has his rights sold then the MLS controls that player and very little trickles down to the club.”
One of the recent expansion teams to join the league last month is the Super Green Eagles FC based in Maryland and owned by Opanuga. The club was founded in 1999 as a professional developmental club with ties to various FIFA federations along with international clubs and yearly training camps in Greece, Turkey, and Spain. It didn’t take much to get Opanuga on board as he saw the league’s growth and wanted to be apart of it. He also praised the promotion/relegation model, “My dream is that, sooner rather than later, the majority of the league will be adjusted or restructured to engage in Pro/Rel systems similar to Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, Serie A and French Ligue 1.” Opanuga’s club is set to begin play in the UPSL in Fall of 2018.
Geraldino, who founded the New Jersey Teamsters in 2017, began play this spring. Based in Bayonne, a city that he has called home for the last 15 years, Geraldino is a Soccer Intermediary Agent, a former NFL Europe player, and has experiences soccer at various administrative levels. When asked why he decided to invest in the UPSL he explained, “I decided to invest in a UPSL franchise because I liked their expansion program and the fact that they promote and relegate. I founded NJ Teamsters FC in 2017 and the league has been very helpful to me and my front office. I want my players to have an opportunity to play either here in the USA or transferred abroad. If they play abroad, they’ll need to be familiar with the system that’s common all over the world. The Teamsters have also been extremely busy and just kicked off their season in late March. “Our future looks bright and part of our business plan is to build soccer stadiums in New Jersey, eventually move up the soccer pyramid and be aggressive with loaning out our players.” Geraldino is also very optimistic about the league’s future, “I can see the league moving up to a level 2 or 3 pro status within the next 5 years.” The Teamsters model is to build from the top-down with strategic partnerships and this summer they plan to kick off camps throughout the city of Bayonne for youth soccer players.
Reyes founded Sparta 20/20 FC in 2017 with the mission to provide the City of Spartanburg and the wider Upstate with a soccer platform and vision of bringing semi-professional soccer to the community. Reyes is no stranger to founding programs as he is credited for starting the women’s soccer program at the University of South Carolina Upstate back in 2000. But, he has come to the realization that joining the UPSL as a franchise owner is an ambitious venture. “It’s a big project that we hope the community will get on board with and come in, support and have an atmosphere and space where all the segments of our community will tie in and have a great time,” Reyes said.
The league is extremely scalable at this point, so the question always remains at what point will it scale down and focus on the strength of its markets. When something grows so quickly there is always a fear that the bubble will burst or that the organization will not have the infrastructure in place to handle the growth. How much more will the league grow in the next six years? That is still to be determined, but one thing is certain and that is that the UPSL is ready to compete with the remainder of the leagues in the US and MLS will eventually need to take notice. With more sponsorship funding, television rights, and revenue sharing for the league, the franchises will eventually have a wider array of support to remain sustainable. As for the rise of black ownership, this is an exciting time and it sends a message to current black soccer players to not just think about playing today because the average playing career is about 8 years, but to also think about tomorrow and having ownership in what you love. That is what Kajumulo wants for future black owners and he will continue to instill in current and former players to own.