Last month, San Francisco Youth Soccer (SFYS) president Po Bronson emailed the families of players to announce that the league plans to address concerns raised at the organization’s annual meeting, including a “lack of transparency, the surprise attempt by clubs to take over the association, favoritism by the league of some clubs over others, and the profit-making by clubs using free city fields.” Bronson noted that “real anger was expressed over some SF Rec and Park policies.”
Nonprofit SFYS has been offered recreational, competitive, and elite soccer teams to San Franciscans aged seven to eighteen since 1998. In his email, Bronson likened SFYS to “a startup that is strained by its own successful growth,” and acknowledged that “we have essentially outgrown our regulatory structure and governance.” Bronson noted that many of the 552 votes in its annual election, which were originally meant to be allocated to parents of participants, have fallen into the hands of club managers, some of whom earn income from handling soccer teams without any financial oversight.
The San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD) agreed that SFYS’s rapid growth is responsible for some of the complaints. According to SFRPD, the number of children involved in youth soccer – in all programs, not just SFYS – has doubled since 2009. Upwards of 12,000 San Francisco youth play soccer annually; SFRPD accommodates 650 youth teams in the spring and 900 in the fall. With this participation level, SFRPD acknowledged that conflicts over field allocation have become commonplace. SFRPD has to juggle the needs of adult recreational sports teams and youth teams in sports other than soccer. While expressing sympathy with SFYS’s desire to develop competitive programs, SFRPD stated that “such focus must not negatively impact recreational programs or the fair access to fields by other user groups.”
Under the City’s Approved Benefit Law, SFYS is categorized as a volunteer-run recreational organization. The law stipulates that voting rights must be held by parents, and that there be no paid staff or coaches. Originally, team managers – who were always parents – held voting privileges. Over time, SFYS admitted that some teams began to hire coaches and other paid staff, including those who served as team managers and thereby were given voting rights. In some cases, managers were in a position to make significant profits from their participation in the governance of SFYS.
Bronson stated that he’s had discussions with SFRPD about clubs’ lack of compliance with the Approved Benefit Law. These conversations will continue; Bronson informed families that SFYS had hired a lawyer specializing in nonprofit law and intends to restore transparency to its governance and place decision-making power back in the hands of parents and volunteer coaches.
SFYS staff declined to comment on the matter for this article.