As the cofounder of social networking sites Foursquare and Dodgeball, Dennis Crowley knows a thing or two about building communities. Now he’s moving from the virtual world into the actual one: Crowley is the chairman of the Kingston Stockade Football Club, an expansion team that will join the semiprofessional National Premier Soccer League this spring. Stockade FC will play its eight home games at Kingston’s Dietz Stadium between May and July.
An accomplished entrepreneur, Crowley, 39, has twice been named one of Fortune’s “40 Under 40,” and twice featured as a member of Vanity Fair’s “New Establishment.” He and his wife, Chelsa, who have homes in both New York City and Marbletown, are expecting their first child in May.
In many ways, Crowley says, his move into sports is no different than his online ventures. “This project is really an extension of some of that thinking: ‘How do you bring people together in the real world?’ ”
Hudson Valley caught up with Crowley to ask about this latest enterprise.
So you think your work in technology and in soccer is similar?
They seem totally independent on the surface, but really they are both about building a community of people who want to experience something. So it’s kind of the same. Putting a team together came from the principle — which also drove me to do tech stuff — that if you want to see something, you should make that thing. And if you want that thing, there is a good chance others want it, too.
We will use similar tools, a lot of social media, to help get the word out or to buy tickets or T-shirts with the team logo. There is a bit of overlap — it’s not like running a large tech company, but starting a company from scratch is not that different.
It is also about convincing people that this crazy idea is actually going to work out. At first, everyone told me this was never gonna work. Now they say they can’t wait to see a match.
Where did your love of soccer come from?
I played a little as a kid, but I barely remember playing. It really started in 2010. I went to the World Cup in South Africa with my brother. We went to the square, which was mobbed with people who had been saving for four years just to get to this place, whether they went to a match or not, just to be there with everyone else. There was so much national pride — they were wearing their national flags as capes — I had never seen anything like it before. Usually, as Americans, you don’t celebrate the fact you’re from the U.S., but suddenly you are the most proud American in history. The patriotism you feel is amazing.
Living in New York, soccer is a big thing. All the countries are represented in the city, all the bars are showing games; there is a Brazilian bar, a Jamaican bar, and you watch games with people who are really into it. I got swept into that.
And you think that will happen here?
I think that the market is really underserved. There is something special about this area. We have really strong college and high school programs, and youth soccer organizations are huge here. Everywhere I go in the Hudson Valley I see people wearing their favorite European team’s jersey, but I never see people gathering to watch a match. So how do you take that enthusiasm and make something awesome for people to be part of, right here in the Hudson Valley? You make it as much about getting people together and giving them a really great time on a Saturday afternoon as you do about soccer.
Do you play soccer?
I started playing five or six years ago with some buddies in casual leagues in the city and in Kingston. That is where the real, deep love and appreciation of the sport came from.
Are you any good?
I am not good. You don’t want me on your team. But I enjoy it. People call it “the beautiful game.” I like that there is no stoppage of play. There are these incredible, magic moments where plays assemble out of thin air, and if you aren’t paying attention, you can miss it. So it draws your attention for 45 minutes, then there is a little break, then another 45 minutes, and then it’s over. I find it so much more enjoyable than a slow sport like baseball, or one with so many stoppages, like American football.
Do you have a favorite local joint to watch matches?
About the only one I have been to is the Union Tavern in Poughkeepsie. The American Outlaws Hudson Valley Chapter [a community of soccer fans] — that’s their bar. They drew hundreds of people to watch the women’s World Cup games last year, and they had about 400 at the U.S.-Netherlands men’s match [last June].
Is no score “nothing-nothing,” or “nil-nil?”
I have never said the word “nil” in my life. The score is always zero-zero. Not all traditions carry over to here.
You have said you want the entire Valley involved in this team. What does that mean?
This is not just a Kingston thing — it’s a Newburgh thing, and a Beacon thing, and an Albany thing. I don’t want this to be, “I am a huge soccer fan, so I will support this.” I want it to be, “The Hudson Valley hasn’t been represented on a national level before, and this team could compete in the U.S. Open Cup someday.” I want people to get excited about that, and to be part of it. This is not just for soccer snobs. I want people to find out about this thing that people are so excited about all over the world. When people experience it the first time and see people singing team songs and cheering together in organized ways, it’s awesome. It’s a tradition in Europe that I want to recreate here in Kingston. If we can bring people together, if a couple hundred people show up, we will feel we have done something great.
What’s a soccer team without a loyal group of followers? “One thing I’ve learned over the past five years is that any respectable soccer team needs a supporters group,” says Ryan Suto, who along with Zachary Lewis, founded the Kingston Stockade FC Supporter Group. “The group’s main goal is to cultivate an inclusive, passionate, and fun community, both at Dietz Stadium and beyond. Although the group is still in its beginning stages, they’ve garnered about 20 people at recent meetings. Sporting Stockade FC beanies, tees, and scarves, members meet at Keegan Ales in Kingston to chat about all things soccer. The next phase is figuring out what the group’s chant will be. “Once our name is in place we can better come up with something,” says Suto. “We have some ideas floating around, but we want it to be organic and fun.”
Want to help? Click here to suggest a group name for a chance to win season passes.