Minnesota Aurora FC Lights the Way for Future Sports Teams
When it launched earlier this year, Minnesota Aurora FC garnered local and national attention for its community-owned, women-led organizational structure. Unlike many other sports teams across the country, Aurora is owned by thousands of community investors, not a billionaire. The team’s leadership says the model demonstrates a blueprint for future pre-professional sports.
In total, more than 3,000 investors were involved in launching the team. The organization prides itself on being a community-based club with equal-opportunity leadership.
Minnesota Aurora FC plays in the United Soccer League (USL-W), a pre-professional league targeting amateur athletes. Most players are college-aged and looking to develop their skills.
“We felt there was something that could be built through community ownership,” says Aurora president and former Minnesota United FC vice president Andrea Yoch. “We asked people to join us in supporting women, women in sports, and elevating women’s soccer. We never expected to sell out our shares, and then we did.”
The first Aurora home game on May 26 also sold out. Standing room filled quickly at the TCO Stadium in Eagan, and fan support was evident out the gate. Twenty minutes into the Aurora’s fourth game of its debut season, Makenzie Langdok put the ball in net to give Minnesota the early lead. Two minutes later, Addison Symonds did it again. The crowd’s cheers didn’t quiet down between each goal. And perhaps they were loud enough for women’s sports across the board to hear.
While some organizations take time to develop a relationship with the community, Aurora’s comparatively rapid success in the ticket office was in part due to a successful marketing campaign that reached many local Minnesotans.
Aurora’s leadership used WeFunder, a California-based crowdfunding company, to help market the team. “They have a good crowd sourcing that helps with all the legal, the detail, the secure financial transactions.” Yoch says. “We announced the team was coming, that it’d be community funded. We put shares on sale August 31 last year during the state fair. Then the media picked up on it quickly.”
For now, Aurora will remain a pre-professional team. Yoch concedes that the community-owned model isn’t really feasible for a professional team because “the cost of entry is so high.”
“In minor league sports, it’s very doable,” she says.
Starting a new tradition
Despite its young age, Aurora already has its own chants and traditions. One of these traditions happens before the national anthem: Each starter enters the field together with a young guest, many of whom are aspiring soccer players.
Ticket prices are set low at affordable prices to get fans in the stands. The name of the game is exposure, the team’s leaders say. More eyes on the Aurora mean more successes down the road, they argue. But one of the biggest ongoing issues with women’s sports is a lack of media attention.
“It’s an education that while the sport is somewhat played differently between men and women, it’s still competitive, it’s still fun, it just looks a little different,” she says.
Aurora outside wing Mariah Nguyen says Aurora gives young girls a chance to see a future in professional soccer. One Aurora tradition called “Player Pals” allows kids a chance to walk out on the field with the team’s starters before the game. Many Player Pals are local young people who might not otherwise get such an opportunity.
Meanwhile, during summer, the options for many women soccer players to continue playing between seasons are limited, expensive, or not feasible for college-aged women. To address this, Minnesota Aurora covers registration fees, which can cost upwards of $1,000. In addition, the team pays for housing for non-Minnesota players.
“Finances should not be a barrier for anyone who wants to play sports,” says Yoch. “If you’re good enough to make our team, we will find a way to have you here.”
Players were both recruited and selected from open tryouts by the Aurora’s coaching staff, led by head coach Nicole Lukic, a former D1 athlete and technical director. Lukic and staff assembled a team of young women in the early stages of Aurora’s creation, pitching the prospect of sold-out crowds and high-level training experience without even having a name for the team.
“A big credit goes to the players we do have that said yes and understood the vision before it was a reality,” Lukic said. “We’re lucky to have the players we have.”
With 30 days together as a team before the Aurora’s first game, the team gelled and built relationships that led them so far to a successful 8-0-1 start.
Winger/striker Jill Bennett acknowledges that coming together as a team in such a short time was a hurdle. “We all come from a soccer background, but we’re all coming from a different style of play,” she says. “We all know how to play soccer, but how do we play it together? Making those connections on the field and off the field.”
Nguyen adds: “A first it was quiet for maybe the first four days together. This has been a huge experience for my soccer career, especially being one of the younger players. Being able to look up to girls that have been in this for much longer than I have.”
Now, Aurora players practice six days a week.
“Every girl on this team shows up early in the morning ready to be the best player they can be,” Nguyen says. “It keeps me sharper.”
Adds Bennett: “The energy is different. Everyone out here chose to be out here and wants to compete at a very high level. Everyone who came here is out here to compete.”