Photo courtesy of Sons of Ransom
The Sons of Ransom – Lansing United’s supporters’ group – see the potential a professional soccer team would bring to the capital of Michigan.
From May 22-26, United Soccer League’s Division III Vice President Steven Short visited multiple Midwest markets, including Dayton and Toledo, Ohio, Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Grand Rapids and Lansing, Michigan. Short identified the “strong soccer infrastructure” currently in Lansing, and one of the driving forces behind that in recent years has been the Sons of Ransom. Created by Eric Walcott, Richard Schenck and Stefan McMillan in 2014, the group has looked to grow the game and the community since then.
“The Sons of Ransom are more than just soccer supporters, we're Lansing supporters,” Walcott told USLD3.com. “So, we do a few community projects, raise money for local causes and try to strengthen the relationship between Lansing United and the Lansing area.
“Local support for soccer is most evident in youth participation statistics,” Walcott added. “High school programs benefit from this, so high school soccer attendance is solid. Lansing United, with very little marketing and a poorly-located stadium, draws anywhere from 700-to-1,300 people to home games, which is higher than a lot of other teams in the league.”
Three years since helping create the supporters’ group, Walcott is still heavily involved with the Sons of Ransom, which cheered on Lansing United in its final match of the season on Sunday.
“Supporters’ groups are vital for a few reasons. We're the core group of dedicated fans who show up at home and on the road, showing support for our club and the players on the field,” Walcott said. “Talk to any players for a few minutes, and they all mention how encouraging it is having a rabid fan base supporting them at all times.”
And Walcott believes there is opportunity to grow that base in the coming years.
“While Lansing United already draws fans from the Lansing area, a professional team in Lansing could draw from an even larger geographic region in what's clearly a soccer-hungry state, appealing to people from Jackson, Mount Pleasant and more,” Walcott said. “We've also got a core group of fans that follows Lansing on the road all across the region, giving the team enthusiastic support at home and on the road.”
Plans to launch a new third-division league, which is scheduled to begin play in 2019, were announced by the USL on April 2 after more than 20 months of preparation. Short has expressed the importance of building a regional model, which will help reduce travel costs for teams and fans looking to follow and support their teams on the road.
Lansing, which is home to Michigan State University and Minor League Baseball team the Lansing Lugnuts, continues to draw interest from Short, especially given the recent downtown development efforts the city has undertaken. Michigan’s capital appears to be a city on the rise, and Walcott agrees.
“Lansing is beginning to come back,” Walcott said. “The population of the region is showing growth for the first time in a long time, and Lansing is attracting more young professionals.
“The ability to tap into the MSU population is an added bonus. A well-located stadium and a solid marketing-promotion strategy can really help Lansing United attendance explode. Also, Lansing has an incredible amount of youth playing the game in some capacity compared to other markets its size.”