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The United States of Soccer Issue 1


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The United States of Soccer is a quarterly publication of The Bridge Sports Group. In each issue, we’ll engage our deep network of experts, fans, media members, marketers, athletes and other key stakeholders to explore various aspects of the U.S. soccer market. You can read each issue from start to finish, or jump around and just read the entries most interesting or relevant to you.

Note that, while we appreciate the value and influence of data, that is not our focus here. Instead, our aim is to provide the reader with a look behind the numbers. We’ve spent years connecting with people at all levels of the sport and believe that their knowledge, experience and expertise can provide invaluable insights for those looking to understand the sport in the United States.

For leagues, teams and brands eager to engage the U.S. soccer audience, we hope you’ll find The United States of Soccer to be a valuable resource. If you are interested in learning more, reach out to us, we’d love to share our thoughts and hear about your challenges and goals. If we can’t help there’s a good chance we know someone who can.

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The United States of Soccer Issue 1

  1. 1. A publication of The Bridge Sports Group Issue One - Spring 2016 The United States of Soccer spor ts group the bridge
  2. 2. i The United States of Soccer, Issue #1 - Spring 2016 The United States of Soccer is a quarterly publication of The Bridge Sports Group. In each issue, we’ll engage our deep network of experts, fans, media members, marketers, athletes and other key stakeholders to explore various aspects of the U.S. soccer market. You can read each issue from start to finish, or jump around and just read the entries most interesting or relevant to you. Note that, while we appreciate the value and influence of data, that is not our focus here. Instead, our aim is to provide the reader with a look be- hind the numbers. We’ve spent years connecting with people at all levels of the sport and believe that their knowledge, experience and expertise can provide invaluable insights for those looking to understand the sport in the United States. For leagues, teams and brands eager to engage the U.S. soccer audi- ence, we hope you’ll find The United States of Soccer to be a valuable resource. If you are interested in learning more, reach out to us, we’d love to share our thoughts and hear about your challenges and goals. If we can’t help there’s a good chance we know someone who can. Rick Liebling, North American Strategy Director Clay Smith, Business Development Director © The Bridge Sports Group 2016 The Bridge Sports Group is focused on building partnerships between Europe and the USA, particularly in the soccer marketplace. With our un- matched experience, insight and expertise, we specialize in identifying and delivering commercial, marketing and technical partnerships for leagues, clubs, athletes and brands. Our team is positioned internationally, with our headquarters in Berlin, and offices in Paris and New York. Our extensive global network of experienced and successful partners allows us to deliver creative and compelling solu- tions. spor ts group the bridge
  3. 3. 2 Forward: The American Experience
 Rick Liebling describes the unique qualities of American soccer fandom. 1. The Kid
 10-year old Liam Wendell explains his admiration for English football. 2. Fútbol
 Veteran marketer Raul Garza on the importance of U.S. Hispanics. 3. Business United
 Andrea Sartori of KPMG on the changing approach of foreign clubs. 4. Strategy and Tactics
 Broadcaster & analyst Bobby McMahon wants clubs to have a plan. 5. The Real Grassroots
 Steve Bayley uncovers the passion at the base of the pyramid. 6. The Land of Plenty
 beIN SPORTS on-air personality Phil Schoen talks televised soccer in the U.S. 7. The Culture Club
 Chicago Fire super fan Pattrick Stanton on the in-stadium experience. 8. The Kit Man
 Doug Williams of Sports Endeavors on selling merchandise in the U.S. 9. Growing Pains
 Mark Fishkin, host of the Seeing Red podcast, talks mainstream media bias. 10. The Player
 Olympic medallist and professional player Lauren Sesselmann shares her story on becoming an elite level player in the U.S. 11. The Commish
 NASL commissioner Bill Peterson on the health of the league.
 Spring 2016: Table of Contents
  4. 4. iii I first began working in soccer in 1999, but had already fallen in love with the sport a few years earlier. In 1996, working for the New York Yankees (where I spent time as the Assistant to the Traveling Secretary - the real life George Costanza - but I di- gress), I had a colleague of Portuguese descent who regaled me daily with stories of Luis Figo, Rui Costa Fernando Couto and the rest of the Golden Generation of players from the Penin- sula who were never quite able to claim ultimate success on the international stage. After several months of this I decided to invest time and energy into soccer, a sport that wasn’t really on my radar at the time. I paid little attention to the 1994 FIFA World Cup, despite it being held in the United States. I was working in professional baseball at the time and my summer was full with home runs, Messier guarantees and a car chase in a white Ford Bronco. But rooting for a Portuguese team seemed, well, not only odd, but downright impossible. The internet was still a nascent entity and following European soccer meant waiting for the scores to be published in the Tuesday print edition of the New York Times. In researching English football, Manchester United didn’t seem right (no bandwagon jumping for me) and Liverpool seemed a club that had seen its best days. For some reason, the team called Arsenal appealed to me. Was it because Morris- sey, a favorite of mine, had released an album called ‘Your Arse- nal,’ or was it because they had a player I was vaguely familiar Forward: The American Experience By Rick Liebling Over the last 16+ years, Rick Liebling has worked with such brands as MasterCard, Gillette, adidas & Yahoo!, helping to support their soccer sponsorship initiatives at the FIFA World Cup, UEFA European Championships and UEFA Champions League. He was involved in the launch of the WUSA, and has worked with international stars such as Pele, Sir Bobby Charlton, Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Jurgen Klinsmann, Lothar Matthaus, Ruud Gullit and Tim Howard. He is the North American Strategy Director for The Bridge Sports Group. Follow him on Twitter @RickLiebling
  5. 5. iv with, Dennis Bergkamp, who I recalled had scored a noteworthy goal in that 1994 FIFA World Cup? For reasons I honestly can’t re- call now, I travelled to London in the Spring of 1997, and, as one does while on holiday, I popped into a bookstore one day. Browsing the tables I saw a book called ‘Fever Pitch.’  It was the classic edition with the sepia-toned picture of a young Arsenal fan from the early-70s on the cover. Remember, at this time, I had no idea who Nick Hornby was nor the im- pact the book was having on football in England. But I picked it up and read it and well, that was that.   A few years later, as my interest in, and devotion to, football in general and Arsenal in particular grew, I found myself spending time on Big Soccer, the internet message board that was to soc- cer in America what Switzerland is to watches and quality chocolates. Big Soccer was the only place (at least it seemed) where Americans were talking soccer. It certainly wasn’t hap- pening on TV, in newspapers or magazines, or around the wa- ter cooler at work. Finding the Arsenal message board, it wasn’t long before I asked, “Does Arsenal have a supporters club in the U.S.?”  Af- ter it was confirmed that indeed, Arsenal did not have an official fan club in the States, I declared that I was starting one. Now, some 15 years later, Arsenal America, the club I founded, has 63 branches across the United States. Why share this personal history with you? Because I think it per- fectly encapsulates what soccer is in America. My story is com- pletely unique… and exactly the same as that of thousands upon thousands of other fans of the game in this country. No family or geographic connection, no particular reason at all, and yet totally committed to the sport and a team. I’m fortunate enough to have seen Arsenal play at both Highbury and The Emirates, but many members of Arsenal America have never seen their favorite team in person. That doesn’t stop them from getting up at 7am (or earlier on the West Coast) to watch them play live. And now, after working at two FIFA World Cups, a UEFA Euro- pean Championships, a UEFA Champions League final and helping to launch the WUSA, I’ve seen the state of American soccer, and American soccer fandom, change dramatically. I’ve met with some of the biggest teams in Europe who have
  6. 6. v wanted to come to the U.S. Many have tried to “crack the U.S. market” but very few, if any, have had a real impact. Why is that? Well, many reasons, really. In fact, that has provided the impetus to write this, to understand the U.S. soccer market in a new and different way. To look at as many of the factors as I could, to try and see what makes soccer in America tick. I believe the United States is a market unlike any other when it comes to soccer. No other market has as many competing sports, a more diverse ethnic background, a tradition of gender balance in the sport and, perhaps most crucially, in no other market is soccer as divorced from mainstream culture as it is in the United States. All these factors, and more, make America a true one-off. Marketing the sport in this country requires a de- gree of knowledge, patience and passion, not to mention com- mitment and strategy, that most clubs or organizations don’t have, or aren’t willing to invest in. That of course makes the op- portunity for those that do all the more intriguing. While I have my own opinions and theories, I thought it would be interesting to speak with a cross-section of experts and key stakeholders on the game in the United States in order to get a fuller picture of the situation. Indeed, the diversity I spoke of vir- tually demands that one engages with a host of people. And so, over the course of this first issue, I’ll be introducing you to indi- viduals who are fans, marketers, media members and more to help explain The United States of Soccer.   I also wanted to share a story because I think it can be too easy to reduce soccer in America to numbers. Broadcast ratings and MLS team valuations, youth participation numbers and ethnic demographic growth are all indicators of a kind, but sports, and certainly soccer, are built on passion. Passion that comes from belief, experience and history, and it’s from personal stories and anecdotes that we can unearth the most valuable insights.
  7. 7. 1 The Kid
  8. 8. 7 “The Academy system in America is rubbish.” Our journey begins where it does for so many in this country - at the youth level. Pass any park or school field on a pleasant weekend and you’re likely to see young boys and girls running up and down the pitch, parents eagerly cheering them on. For most, it’s a first foray into team sports, and a social aspect of be- ing part of the community. For a small percentage it quickly be- comes a passion. For years, supporters of soccer have pointed to youth participa- tion levels as a foundational argument for the growth of the sport. Yet four decades or more of growth at the youth level hasn’t translated to mainstream adult popularity. But I thought it would be interesting, and insightful, to speak with a youngster deeply involved with the sport and so I connected with Liam Wendel, 10, who lives in Washington state. Liam is not your standard youth soccer player. His family lived in England for a brief while and he trained with top professional clubs including Chelsea FC. Liam takes the sport very seriously and is cur- rently a product tester for adidas. I wanted his opinions on the game and the difference between the United States and England, and Liam didn’t disappoint. The Kid Liam Wendell
 Student, Soccer Player, adidas product tester
 Seattle, Washington
 Age: 10 

  9. 9. 8 He’s clearly a young man who thinks seriously about the game and sees a future for himself in the sport. As a young fan and player living in the United States are you more interested in European soccer or American soc- cer? Why? I am more interested in European football because the competi- tion is better, and it's high stakes football. I also enjoy European matches because the players don't give up. Even if they are down, they will fight till the end just to se- cure a draw and get the one point. This one point pays off in the table and I like how they fight till the end of the match. I love watching Champions League, Euro Cup and FA Cup. Plus, I set my alarm and wake up early on the weekend (06:00am) to watch EPL and La Liga. While living in the UK, football matches and what happened over the weekend is what my friends and I would discuss at school. Football is part of everyday conversations and even my mother became knowledgeable about football because she was surrounded by it every day. From a playing perspective, the European coaches, technical directors and clubs create an atmosphere that is serious and educational. The players are very serious about getting better, and competing hard. I found my groove and passion playing football in Europe, and I miss it every day. *** Whether it’s a generational thing, or having lived in two distinct soccer countries, Liam displayed the loyalty that is more and more the norm amongst fans here in the States, noting that he supports Chelsea, Real Madrid and QPR, while also rooting for Toronto FC and Seattle in MLS. While that list might shrink, grow or change in the upcoming years, it’s clear that in addition to geographic proximity and star players, clubs have an opportu- nity to engage young fans and win their attention. Having experienced competitive soccer in both the U.S. and England, Liam was quite candid with his opinions on youth player development: The Academy system in America is rubbish. The coaches, drills and education in Europe is much faster and intense; and as a player you are learning and getting better and you see your de- velopment improving. In my opinion, coaches have a tough time coaching American players because not all of the players are there for the right rea- sons. For example, some kids play soccer just for the social rea- sons (their classmates play on a local club team).
  10. 10. 9 In England, everyone on the 1st team (youth academy) wants to play football at the highest level and their goal is to train with a Premier League Academy team. I was very fortunate to train with QPR and Chelsea junior academy coaches, and this is what I want to see occur in the US as soccer improves. It's sad the US didn't qualify for Rio 2016, and in my opinion there is no excuse because the US ought to be better than we currently are. *** It’s clear from speaking with Liam, that after more than two dec- ades of increased soccer coverage, the next generation of soc- cer fans are more sophisticated, knowledgeable and have higher expectations. They are growing up with unprecedented access to the sport and don’t know anything else. As a result, they aren’t satisfied with mediocre products or experiences and will seek out brands and teams that provide them the quality they expect. To earn their loyalty, teams, brands and leagues will need to have social, content, experiential and cause-based initiatives, while also putting out a strong product on the pitch. Kids in the U.S. are more savvy about soccer than you’d think. Treat them with respect to earn their loyalty. Tweet this.
  11. 11. 2 Fútbol
  12. 12. 11 “Soccer is in our DNA.” Want to know the future of soccer in America? Take a look at demographic trends in this country and you’ll see that Hispanics are an ever-increasing percentage of the population. Their love of soccer will fuel the sport in this country for the foreseeable fu- ture. Raul Garza has been a marketing professional focused on this group for almost 30 years. In that time he’s been involved with many soccer-related projects.  His insights and observa- tions were some of the most interesting I encountered while compiling this report. How does he explain the relationship between Hispanics of Mexican descent and soccer? I can only contribute three words: DNA, passion, spending. Soccer is in our DNA. Fútbol is the dominant sport in Mexico and most of Latin America so it's part of our popular culture and national identity. Many of us played as kids there or here.    Studies have shown the two demographic groups most passion- ate about soccer are Hispanic, and young adults 18-29 years old. Groups most likely to have played soccer in their youth: adults under 40 and Hispanics. According to Nielsen, 94 per- cent of Hispanic males are sport fans, and 56 percent consider Fútbol Raul Garza
 Marketing Communications Consultant
 Los Angeles, California

  13. 13. 12 themselves avid fans. Sports is the most popular section for subscribers and readers of Spanish-language newspapers such as the nation's largest daily, La Opinion, in Los Angeles. Ap- proximately half of Hispanics describe themselves as soccer fans as compared with a quarter of non-Hispanics. The success of Major League Soccer and of the U.S. in interna- tional play, the good representation of Hispanics among MLS players, the Hispanic community's youthfulness (the median age of Hispanics in the U.S. is 27), independent leagues (in April 2013 there were 95 independent soccer leagues and 100,000 players in the Los Angeles market alone), youth acade- mies, and more and more telecasts of international games by English-language networks are also contributing factors to a growing and ever more passionate fan base. Mexican American fans are the most valuable fans. We are two-thirds of the U.S. Hispanic population. We turn out in big numbers for our home teams (whether MLS, Mexican National League, MLB, NFL, or NHL). We'll drive for hours to get to a sta- dium, often making it a full day trip. We're the biggest audience for television and radio at home and in sports bars. We're rarely alone, almost always in groups of family members and friends because it's a form of entertainment and an opportunity to so- cialize. We spend big on tickets, gas, parking, food and bever- ages (especially beer), and team brand merchandise. We spend on others. We may not spend as much on an item as non-Hispanic consumers but we'll buy more and shop more. One complication has to be noted: nationalism. Soccer fans of Mexican heritage are split in their loyalty between U.S. teams and Mexican teams. Mexico-born fans are overwhelmingly more loyal to Mexico regardless of how long they've lived in the U.S., while U.S.-born fans can go either way. This passion -- and "identity conflict" -- is especially evident at U.S.-Mexico games, events where tension and bad behavior by and be- tween fans can rise.   **** The value and opportunity of the U.S. Hispanic and Spanish speaking soccer demographic can not be over-estimated. They are also under-served by much of the soccer community. Local, grass-roots programs, cultural sensitivity and understanding, and great passion are the keys to unlocking the potential of this group.
  14. 14. 13 To fully understand the U.S. soccer market, you must understand the U.S. Hispanic market. Tweet this.
  15. 15. 3 Business United
  16. 16. 15 “...leagues and clubs have become aware of the importance of having a constant presence in the American mar- ket.” While Deloitte has managed to establish their Football Money League report as an accepted, or at least well-reported on, ba- rometer of the state of football finances in Europe, they aren’t the only financially focused company that keeps its eye on soc- cer. Andrea Sartori is the Global Head of Sport for KPMG. In his role he oversees Football Benchmark, KPMG’s business- focused look into the sport. Sartori notes that European clubs have become more sophisticated and knowledgeable in their approach to the U.S. market in recent years. That’s something that was lacking as recently as 10 years ago, as I can attest to firsthand.  How should foreign clubs look to leverage the U.S. market from a commercial standpoint? European clubs have always recognized the importance of the American market. However, until recent times, the connection between clubs and its American fan base was limited to spo- radic summer tours – thus limiting brand activation opportuni- Business United Andrea Sartori Global Head of Sport for KPMG Hungary
  17. 17. 16 ties. In order to maximize their commercial potential in the United States, leagues and clubs have become aware of the im- portance of having a constant presence in the American mar- ket. In the last years, social media has played a key role in the growth of American fan bases thanks to the ability to timely de- liver content tailored to young international fans. As an exam- ple, a recent study carried out by KPMG Football Benchmark team indicated that approximately 16% of FC Barcelona and 10% of Chelsea FC Twitter followers were North American. The audience data from Brazil’s 2014 World Cup also confirms the increasing popularity of the sport, as 44% of American viewers were 34 years old or younger versus 30% in the UK or 25% in Spain. Moreover, to strengthen their relationship with young American fans and with the goal of creating a continuous fan ex- perience, European clubs have also actively supported the crea- tion of local fan clubs. As American fan bases continue to grow, football entities expect to exploit their assets in the most developed sports market in the world and thus have gradually opened new branch offices in North America to be as close as possible to their commercial partners. The latest example is the New York office opened by La Liga last December where Raúl will act as Spanish football ambassador. **** As Sartori states, You can’t maximize the opportunity from afar. Engaging the U.S. soccer market is a year-round endeavor, and one that needs to be executed from the U.S., with an under- standing of the market. It’s a perfect example of where devoting limited resources will result in little to no return, but a true com- mitment can produce quality outcomes.
  18. 18. 17 You can’t maximize the U.S. soccer market from afar. Having a full-time U.S. pres- ence is critical. Tweet this.
  19. 19. 4 Strategy and Tactics
  20. 20. 19 “European teams have no idea how big and complex the US market is…” Every couple of years it seems soccer media in the States un- dergoes an evolutionary process, or like a snake, sheds its skin to reveal something new. In the late-90s Fox Soccer Channel changed the game. Here was a channel that if not quite totally devoted to soccer, it certainly made it its primary focus. The nightly wrap-up news program, Fox Soccer Report made Jer- emy St. Louis, Michelle Lissel and Max Bretos household names for soccer lovers in America. Though they were not al- ways loved. Soccer fans were quick to jump on the Big Soccer boards to discuss everything from how the anchors pro- nounced, or mispronounced, a player’s name, to what Lissel was wearing on a given night. But one person came in for universal praise, the Scottish foot- ball pundit Bobby McMahon. McMahon, a resident of Canada since 1979, brought that brogue and a level of soccer knowl- edge not seen anywhere in the U.S. at the time. He continues to write about soccer, and brilliantly so, on the Forbes website as well as Soccer Report Extra. McMahon’s broader under- standing of the sport from a playing and business perspective makes him an obvious choice to ask the following: Strategy and Tactics Bobby McMahon
 Commentator, Pundit, Journalist
 Alberta, Canada
  21. 21. 20 "At a time when the game is truly global, how does a Euro- pean club make a meaningful mark on the U.S. market?" I often wonder what some clubs are thinking when they talk about making an impact in the North American market. Most clubs would be better saving the time and effort and instead look to benefit from league marketing rather than looking to do it by themselves. There may be a long tail at work but just like in Europe, 20% of clubs are going to get 80% of North American fans who are look- ing to support an overseas team. The long tail has some value but I am not sure it provides a great ROI. From time to time, we will see a Fulham situation but that was more a case of an opportunity being identified in terms of under- valued players, rather than a strategic decision to sign North American players in order to attract N.A. fans. Let's face it, the best marketing tool is always a winning side. Not saying that most European teams should put no effort in but they are better off being strategic and supporting any re- gional fan base that might exist rather than looking at North America as one big market to convert. Build on what might be there rather than spreading thinly. Perhaps that is the biggest problem - European teams have no idea how big and complex the US market is and how it isn't ac- tually one market but hundreds of markets. Take Dundee's idea of playing Celtic in North America - reading the media stories in Scotland you would think all they would have to do is turn up and play a game and make an appear- ance or two and Americans would become Dark Blue fans. No- body asked the question as to why Dundee only gets 4 or 5,000 to home games? A far better return on investment would be money spent at home. ***** The United States is like that giant sandwich on the menu. You can’t wait to devour the whole thing, but halfway in you realize it’s more than you can handle. Better to take a focused and stra- tegic approach. Remember, you can do anything, but you proba- bly can’t do everything.
  22. 22. 21 The U.S. soccer market is too big to engage without a real strategy. It’s not one mar- ket, it’s hundreds. Tweet this.
  23. 23. 5 The Real Grassroots
  24. 24. 23 “The United States has always been a footballing nation.” Because Promotion / Relegation doesn’t exist in The United States of Soccer, it’s often hard to get a full understanding of the “soccer pyramid” in this country. While MLS has achieved a general level of notoriety, fewer people are aware of the NASL, let alone the USL, and below those leagues exists Non-League soccer. Steve Bayley runs Non League America, a website dedicated to chronicling, promoting and celebrating another side of soccer in America, one that is based in local communities and deep his- torical roots. Steve’s journey, like so many in America, started with curiosity and then the magical spell the game can put on people took over. Here’s Steve’s story... It was with great enthusiasm but absolutely zero guidance that I began my exploration of the lower tiers of American soccer sup- porter culture in 2012.  Having fallen down the Wikipedia K- Hole through the English non-league system, and seen the FA Cup in Torquay, and the USL Pro Game of the Week on Fox Soccer Channel, I had faith that there was an unreported base of supporter culture out there somewhere, and I made it my mis- sion to find it.   The Real Grassroots Steve Bayley
 Editor, Non League America
 Atlanta, Georgia

  25. 25. 24 Initially, I wrote game recaps for, the only site offer- ing full coverage of the U.S. Open Cup, the world's third oldest cup tournament, but as the ask there was primarily document- ing box scores and adding some color around play by play re- cap articles, the writing lacked the cultural perspective I was searching for. I had seen just enough videos on YouTube to give me hope that the independent clubs with strong ethnic ties and rich histories that I was seeking did in fact exist, and that it if I kept digging I would unearth the gems I was searching for.   Based in New England at the time, I traced the USASA teams (officially the 4th Division which catches all amateur sides, but widely referred to as the 5th Division - with NPSL and PDL, summer college leagues being designated 4th Division) playing US Open Cup qualifiers back to their home leagues and started to investigate those competitions: the Bay State Soccer League in Massachusetts, the Cosmopolitan Soccer League in New York, and many others.  What I found was a fascinating history of American soccer, much deeper than even I had dreamed about, and certainly much deeper than the organized soccer media, under the all encompassing eye of the Illumigulati (Gar- ber, Kraft, Gulati) would have you believe.   They like to push the narrative that soccer in the United States began with MLS, or perhaps the 1990 World Cup, but the truth is, the United States has always been a footballing nation, and the interest is now proliferating much faster than MLS can ex- pand.  To date, MLS has done a great job in controlling the nar- rative of the game in this country and selling the notion, that no official soccer exists outside MLS.  This is of course a huge fal- lacy, but in the interest of brand management, they have con- structed a narrative that the sport of soccer as a whole in the country is incredibly fragile, and only under their watch will it get the tender loving care and artificially restricted low salaries nec- essary to collude with their largely NFL owner base who does not want to undertake the investment necessary to compete on the open market for the world class talent it would take to fill their NFL stadiums for 20 home dates a season.   Even in spite of all these barriers, supporter culture in the lower leagues is growing at a phenomenal rate. Cities and towns across America are discovering the joys of watching live soccer, largely through the proliferation of NPSL clubs.  The NPSL func- tions as an independent amateur league, with automatic qualify- ing spots in the US Open Cup, giving the top teams from the previous year the chance to test themselves against other ama- teur sides, and if they advance, pro teams from the USL, NASL, and eventually MLS.  It is through success in this tournament that clubs like Chattanooga FC have been able to catch the at- tention of the soccer nation at large, and in 2015, they drew 18,000+ to Chattanooga for the NPSL national final.  Other teams such as Detroit City FC, Tulsa Athletics, FC Buffalo, Fresno Fuego, Des Moines Menace, FC Wichita, the Atlanta Sil- verbacks and others consistently draw crowds in excess of
  26. 26. 25 1,000 for amateur games.  In these places, teams have embed- ded themselves within the fabric of their communities, and unique local supporter cultures are developing and emerging.  Usually the cultures begin with teams copying recognized Euro- pean club chants, or things a member or two may have heard at an MLS game somewhere along the way, but as these clubs continue to buck the odds and return year after year, distinctive local traditions are evolving and serving to cement the presence of the supporter groups and the clubs they support in their com- munities.   Although the lack of promotion-relegation in an integrated pyra- mid has significantly retarded the growth of the game in the United States, the fact that many clubs continue to thrive de- spite not having a fair chance at the top flight shows just how deep the passion for the teams runs, even in just a few short years of formalized support. Supporters of lower level teams are beginning to reject the idea that MLS is the only legitimate league and model, and that their town deserves the right to their own club, who can represent the people of that city and get a chance to compete on a fair playing field with the best in their area. The embracing of local rivalries has been a huge plus for NPSL, and a few other leagues such as the Premier League of America, and several other splinter factions.  Real lo- cal rivalries will always hold more sway in a community than those forced into some kind of "Rivalry Week" promotion made for TV. This hands-on local angle is one of the premier attrac- tions to the NPSL model. The major drawback however, is the limited summer schedule due to the league’s use of active col- lege players to form the bulk of the player pool.   The future has never looked so bright for lower division soccer clubs. The next step in the evolution of the game at this level is ideally some sort of promotion-relegation system, even if MLS opts out of it altogether and pro-rel occurs between USASA, NPSL, and NASL clubs, as there has been some intermittent speculation to that effect. As long as people keep turning out to support their local club, Non League America will continue to turn out for the supporters and provide them with a platform to grow their clubs exposure, and thus their own little corner of the world's game.   **** There is a world beyond the Manchester Uniteds, Real Madrids, A.C. Milans and Portland Timbers of this world. For many peo- ple, a rich history, a compelling story and a passion for the sport are what it’s all about. Not only do they want to know about it, they want to experience it, be part of it. This presents a great op- portunity to create a deep connection with the fans.
  27. 27. 26 There’s more to soccer in the United States than just MLS. Powerful communities exist in the grassroots. Tweet this.
  28. 28. 6 The Land of Plenty
  29. 29. 28 “There is no country on Earth where you can watch more soccer.” Phil Schoen is a respected broadcaster who covers several leagues, most notably La Liga for beIN SPORTS with his part- ner, the magisterial Ray Hudson. Schoen has been in the game since the late-80s and as one of the more notable voices of the sport, he’s more privy to the thoughts of fans than most people. From the feedback you receive from viewers, do you be- lieve there is a difference between US-based fans who root for European clubs, and those that root for MLS clubs? It would be a mistake to come up with a simple yes or no to this complicated question. Considering the extremely diverse makeup of the American Soccer Fan, there are more flavors than Baskin Robbins. It would take a lot of thought to even represent this on a Venn diagram, because there are so many different opinions. On the whole, I would say that most Major League Soccer fans are more open to appreciating other leagues around the world. They just value the experience of having a team that is truly their own to root for, with all of its flaws. Most have a favorite The Land of Plenty Phil Schoen
 Miami, Florida
 Broadcaster, beIN SPORTS
  30. 30. 29 team in Europe, South America or elsewhere – but they’ve also developed an allegiance to their ‘home’ team. On the other hand, many hard-core fans of teams from other countries wouldn’t give MLS a thought, unless it was to deride it. Most international fans who have communicated with me don’t feel the quality of play is worth watching, even if many haven’t watched in years – their minds are made up. While other fans will point to tactical or technical weaknesses as rea- sons they won’t watch, from my personal experience, fans of England’s Premier League are the most vocal and vicious in their attacks. Many haven’t watched a game in years, if ever, but are ce- mented in their almost visceral disdain of MLS. The league has brought in some big names to try to attract them, but in many cases that seems to add fuel to the fire, as they point to MLS as a retirement league. I would add that MLS’s job is made much more difficult because there is no country on earth where you can watch more soccer. Fans can tune into the big sports networks like ESPN, Fox and NBC Sports, or to more soccer-specific sources like beIN SPORTS and Gol TV. For Spanish-language fans, you have Univision and Telemundo and all of their subsidiaries, add the wide variety of ethnic channels and the growing emergence of online carriers like One World Sports, and you can watch soc- cer from practically every country on earth. MLS is not only com- peting with the other North American sports for attention, but it needs to make its product stand out from fans who already love the sport. **** Soccer fans in the United States, once starving for live cover- age of the sport, now dine at an all-you-can-eat buffet and so teams and leagues must seek out additional ways to engage fans and build a strong fan community. In a market where fans can easily watch 10-15 live matches a week, and your club is only one or two of those matches, you have to have a strategy that allows for interaction during the other times.
  31. 31. 30 Tweet this. Soccer in the U.S. suf- fers from a perception prob- lem and the abundance of tele- vised games from Europe may not be helping.
  32. 32. 7 The Culture Club
  33. 33. 32 “In typical American fashion, we too
 something great the world had to offer and made it our own.” One of the big mistakes MLS made early on was to market the sport almost solely as ‘family friendly.’ While soccer is inclusive, MLS marketing tried to focus too much on the Soccer Mom demographic that was highly sought after in the mid-90s. As a result, the early years of the league saw the stadium experi- ence lack the atmosphere often associated with the sport. Eventually a few teams caught on and started allowing banners and other elements more familiar to the global soccer experi- ence. The teams also started developing relationships with the growing independent supporters clubs, bringing them in during the decision making process regarding the in-stadium experi- ence. As a result, even when watching a match on television, a viewer can tell there’s something different about a soccer match as compared to other U.S. sports. Songs, drums, banners, ti- fos… all these create the unique atmosphere of a soccer match, and are a fan cry from the team-driven efforts of other sports. No need to cue the crowd to clap or cheer at a soccer match, a dedicated group of fans is already taking care of that. The Culture Club Pattrick Stanton
 Capo, Section 8 (Chicago Fire Supporters)
 Chicago, Illinois
  34. 34. 33 Pattrick Stanton is a Capo for the Chicago Fire’s supporters club, known as Section 8. Here’s his story: USA soccer culture is the younger brother to the world’s pas- sion for the game. Like any younger sibling, we are prone to latch onto all of the best, and worst, traits the European style of support has to offer. The passions of the Ultras [though not their often discriminatory beliefs], and devotion of the traveling away days were instant positive influences within growing supporters groups. At the same time, racism was prevalent amongst many supporters from Europe. This plagued supporters groups matur- ing in the states as former European Ultras found the lax secu- rity around supporters sections a safe haven to express old world ideology. For years some brave fans physically fought off bigotry of the worst kinds trying to purify their section of hate. Supporters culture in the United States are a tossed salad of ex- pressions of passion from around the world. We have pulled from all the best Ultras, and English away bhoys, while support- ing our roots and embracing very American ways of support. Face painting, tailgating, and a multicultural/multilingual song selection are the cornerstones of most supporter groups from the USL, NASL, and MLS. Europe's passion for the game was contagious, and so too was their style of support. In typical American fashion, we took some- thing great the world had to offer and made it our own. Reinvent- ing songs to fit our hometown clubs was a natural progression and now our stadiums fill with the voices of the passionate few whom have caught the football sickness, and it's incurable. **** While as a nation we are often accused of being nationalistic, U.S. soccer fans embrace the foreign aspects of the game, from the players to the culture. Helping fans explore that culture and providing them with the tools to incorporate that culture into their own can be a key to success.
  35. 35. 34 Tweet this. The U.S. soccer fan is unlike fans of other sports. More inclusive, and more willing to borrow from their European & South American counterparts.
  36. 36. 8 The Kit Man
  37. 37. 36 “You can imagine Manchester United is not interested in rocking the boat to share the love with Crystal Palace.” In the early 90s, the idea of going into a sporting goods store and buying a jersey of your favorite soccer team was, well, ludi- crous. If you wanted to show your support for Liverpool or Bay- ern Munich or Barcelona you really had one option: The Euro- sport catalog. When it arrived in the mail, you devoured every page. There in full color were images of your favorite European and South American players, jerseys of all the major clubs, and more cleats, shinguards and corny soccer t-shirts than you’d ever seen. With the advent of the internet, became the go-to place for your soccer needs. Both Eurosport and are owned by Sports Endeavors, a North Carolina- based company that is as important to the growth of U.S. soc- cer as any other organization. Doug Williams, Business Devel- opment Director at Sports Endeavors, explains the challenges for foreign clubs looking to sell merchandise in the U.S.: Ease of use is the biggest challenge. The two things they could do are: The Kit Man Doug Williams
 Business Development Director, Sports Endeavors
 Hillsborough, North Carolina
  38. 38. 37 1. Consolidate. Right now, an interested licensee party has to go from club to club to club negotiating individual license agreements with each one. American buyers (not consumers, but the buyers at general retail) don’t want to see product for one or two teams that they can offer, and don’t want to shop around from this entity to that entity to find out who has what club. The licensees are used to signing one deal for a whole league (NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL) and having a complete assortment of product for all teams. The retail buyers are used to see- ing all the teams, whether they buy them all or not. 2. Domesticate. Larger clubs may have mature licensed product programs in the UK, but virtually nothing in the US. They expect that any retailer will just buy from the licensees in the UK. So, there are plenty of challenges - length of time to market, additional shipping charges, duties on product (especially apparel), customer serv- ice, dollars v euros...
 We do see some progress on the domestication front, however. Clubs are beginning to hire licensing agents in the US to find US licensees. Consolidation would seem nearly hopeless, how- ever. Each club is its own little kingdom with their own way of doing business. I saw a factoid that said the top 6 clubs do 6 times the licensed sales than the rest of the EPL combined. You can imagine Manchester United is not interested in rocking the boat to share the love with Crystal Palace. So you end up with Leicester City. At the top of the [2015-2016] table and they literally have no product to sell in their own sta- dium store. They are printing t-shirts as fast as they can for themselves, but it is totally unavailable in the US market. **** The only thing worse than not having fans is having fans you’re not in position to service. Great opportunities don’t wait for you to be ready for them. Make sure that when your moment in the sun comes, you’re ready to take advantage of it. 

  39. 39. 38 Tweet this. While it is improving, finding merchandise for your favorite soccer club can still be difficult. A hungry fanbase is being under-served.
  40. 40. 9 Growing Pains
  41. 41. 40 “...the game is more available to Ameri- can consumers but still "invisible" to mainstream sports fans.” Mark Fishkin is the classic example of the knowledgeable fan who was able to take his love for a team and turn it into some- thing more. As host of the popular Seeing Red podcast, Fishkin has become a beacon for New York Red Bulls fans. Mark’s a longtime soccer fan, but focused his allegiance on the local team from their arrival as the MetroStars in 1996. What makes being an American soccer fan unique? My first thought is "how much time do you have?" American soccer fans are fiercely protective and incredibly para- noid. They are fragmented in their beliefs about the quality of youth development, about business models and their impact on the quality of the American player, and about whether their na- tional league is worth watching. Some American Soccer fans would rather sit on a barstool (or increasingly on their couch) at 8am watching their favorite Barclay's Premier League team than sit in a modern, beautiful stadium 30 minutes from their home supporting their local Major League Soccer team.  Some believe that without a system of promotion and relegation, Growing Pains Mark Fishkin
 Host, Seeing Red podcast
 West Orange, New Jersey
  42. 42. 41 American soccer will suffer eternal mediocrity. Some spend all their vacation time traveling all over North America to support their MLS side.Then there are the millions of American soccer fans that support their favorite National Team: Mexico. American soccer fandom is growing, but in a world where it's in- credibly still at the margins of sports media. Despite more tele- vised matches than ever before, the mainstream sports media still has little room or time to cover the game with more than shallow depth.  The internet and social media remains the key outlet for American Soccer fans to find analysis, debate, and connection. Still, after all that, American soccer fans remain optimistic, and hopeful that one day the US Men's National Team will achieve what the Women's Team has done three times now: lift the World Cup. Another interesting notion is that the newspapers and TV guys are becoming less relevant in a world of Vine videos and Peri- scope. At the same time, the game is more available to American con- sumers but still "invisible" to mainstream sports fans. I think that once:    a) old sports editors croak    b) MLS doubles their salary cap    or c) NYCFC wins MLS Cup (seriously), most NY sports jour- nalists still won't be bothered. The 'soccer sucks" or "soccer isn't a sport" crowd is still as large as ever. **** It may be hard to wrap your head around, but there are defi- nitely pro and anti-soccer camps in the U.S. The fight between the two has mostly ended, not because a winner was declared, but because the pro-soccer forces just stopped bothering to fight. In the long run, they’ll win. Demographics tell us so. But right now soccer is still seen by many, and many in positions of power, as an “other” to be ignored or feared.  Understanding the U.S. soccer media landscape requires the same level of knowledge and understanding as a Nepalese sherpa navigating Mt. Everest.
  43. 43. 42 Tweet this. Because the U.S. market is saturated with other tradi- tional sports, soccer still does not receive equal billing. It’s power is online.
  44. 44. 10 The Player
  45. 45. 44 “Now you think to yourself this is the life, playing professional soccer was a dream come true, but no one prepared me for the hardships that came along with it.” Walk down the street of any American town and randomly ask someone to name an American soccer player and it’s likely you’ll hear responses like, Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Brandi Chastain, Hope Solo, Abby Wambach or Alex Morgan. Seven elite level players - FIFA World Cup winners, Olympic Gold me- dallists - and all women. In no other country are female soccer players as well known and as successful as here in the States. Current pay disputes not withstanding, the women are the stars of the show, or at the very least on par with their male counterparts. It would be gross negligence to not have the female perspective accounted for in this, or any, issue of The United States of Soccer and honestly we are remiss for not having a larger representation (though it was not from a lack of effort, and will be remedied in future is- sues). The Player Lauren Sesselmann
 Professional Footballer, Olympic Medallist
 Green Bay, Wisconsin
  46. 46. 45 We are, however, thrilled and honored to have the following per- spective from Lauren Sesselmann. Lauren was born in the U.S., played internationally for Canada and professionally in the States. Here story illuminates not only the challenges and sacri- fices of being a professional athlete, but crucially, the complex, bordering on byzantine structure of youth/amateur soccer in America. It’s a far cry from the academy systems of Europe. Lauren’s story showcases the depth and strength of the women’s game in America and highlights the need for any brand, team or league to recognize the impact of women on the sport in this market. * * * My story is a little different than most. I’m from Green Bay, Wis- consin which is a pretty small city, and to be honest, Green Bay and Wisconsin itself isn't really considered a soccer power- house. The club teams that I grew up on were fairly decent, but we never really traveled outside of our neighboring states be- cause coaches, parents etc. never really wanted to and it was expensive. I will never knock the atmosphere I grew up in be- cause I loved it, but to be honest now looking back I never really had the proper training. Now…maybe people just thought not a lot of talent came out of my city, but to be honest there are a lot of talented players, just not enough coaches and parents that are willing to train them the correct way. I've spoken to a bunch of kids and they have told me numerous times the way I train them is not how their clubs coach them and their coaches tell them they are doing numerous things wrong, but never tell them what they have done wrong or how they can change it. For me I wanted more growing up, so I decided to go to the best team in the state which was 2 hours away. Now, it was a huge commitment, my parents every day switched off which one would drive me to and from practice so I could train and do my homework in the car. As hard as it was driving four to five days a week four hours a day, it was worth it. I was getting the coaching and the training I needed and wanted, and I was get- ting looks from the top schools. I set the bar high for myself. Growing up watching the national teams wanting one day to be in their shoes and to wear a medal around my neck. My first stop was getting a scholarship to a Division 1 school. I didn't get to hang out with friends much because I was always gone, but it was ok because I knew what I wanted and no one was go- ing to stop me. And it paid off. Almost everyone on my team re- ceived a D1 scholarship and I was on my way to Purdue Univer- sity. I originally really wanted to go to University of Wisconsin but the coach told me he didn't recruit within Wisconsin be- cause there was no talent…that was a huge slap in the face be- cause he never even took the time to watch.  College was amazing. I had actually met my coach at ODP (Olympic Development Program) Regional camp, which I was lucky enough to be a part of. I had a blast there and our highest
  47. 47. 46 ranking was #10 which was huge for the school. I had a great career there holding six school records, and becoming All- Conference and All-American. But, after college, like so many others there was no where for us to play, the WUSA (the first U.S. women’s professional league) had just folded so my dreams of pro and national team were gone. So I got a job with IBM until I heard talks of WPS (a second pro league). I left my well paying job to try my hand, and one of the best days ever was getting drafted.  Now you think to yourself this is the life, playing professional soccer was a dream come true, but no one prepared me for the hardships that came along with it. In my first three years I barely ever played, was cut and traded and ended up on four different teams. I was told I was too slow, not tall enough, not strong enough, not technical enough…I was told pretty much every negative thing. Until I met a coach that instead of tearing me down, worked with me on my strengths and weaknesses and told me I would be rewarded for my hard work. And then my confidence grew and I earned a chance to play, that in turn led to me getting a chance to come into Canadian National Team Camp. I earned a spot on the team where I have played my heart out and helped the team win two medals (Gold at the 2011 Pan American Games and Bronze at the 2012 Olympics). I have been through it all, most notably the injuries. My journey has been a crazy one, but one I wouldn't change for anything. I accomplished eve- rything I dreamed of doing. Yes I want more, you wouldn't be an athlete if you didn't want more, but I am so proud of everything I overcame to get to that place. Soccer has been my life for so many years. The process is dif- ferent for everyone, my goal is to help others with the process and help them achieve their goals. Coming from a small city makes it a little harder to get noticed, but if you have the drive and the guidance you can do it. Soccer is an incredible sport that has gained so much traction these past few years. Women are selling out stadiums, women's games are being watched more than men's, more kids want to be like us…it's such an emotional and incredible thing to see. For me as a player noth- ing gives me greater joy than being a role model for someone. This sport has opened so many doors and it will continue to open so many more and I am extremely grateful to be a part of it all. * * * Youth training programs seem to be a default position for for- eign clubs entering the U.S. market. But they must understand the U.S. system (which even most Americans don’t) and they must offer something else besides coaches with foreign ac- cents.
  48. 48. 47 Tweet this. Because of its compli- cated youth/amateur set up, training and coaching in the U.S. isn’t always up to inter- national standards.
  49. 49. 11 The Commish
  50. 50. 49 “...we have a professional soccer fan base that is growing exponentially.” The NASL is a unique entity in American soccer, existing as both a source of nostalgia and a cautionary tale as well as a hope for the future. In its original incarnation (1968-1984), the league saw tremendous, if sporadic, success before an Icarus- like fall. It then rose Phoenix-like (to mix mythological meta- phors) in 2011 and now has established itself as a viable 2nd Division league. The league features several clubs with histori- cal ties to the original version of the NASL and this year has signed high profile media and sponsorship deals. In recent years the league has attracted notable international talent such as Spain’s Raul (formerly of Real Madrid) and at the beginning of May, former Premiership standout Joe Cole. The NASL and its current position in the U.S. soccer firmament may be as interesting and complex as the United States of Soc- cer itself. In order to get an overview of the league, we spoke with NASL commissioner, Bill Peterson, to hear more about the league and his views on soccer in America. The Commish Bill Peterson
 Commissioner, NASL
 New York, NY
  51. 51. 50 As NASL Commissioner, what is your number one prior- ity?
 I think overseeing the growth process in a wide variety of areas – not only through the addition of new teams, but also through the growth of our existing teams. Whether it’s attendance, spon- sorship, or communicating best practices, it’s our job to share information that will help our clubs promote themselves and the league to the general public. So it’s really trying to shepherd the overall growth of the league.” When selling the league to sponsors, what is your number one selling point? First of all, we have a professional soccer fan base that is grow- ing exponentially. It’s a group that has become a very large and very important part of the North American sports landscape. I think a really vital thing for companies who are considering part- nering with the NASL is helping them understand just how im- portant of a demographic they’re dealing with. The second piece is the fact that we have a very strong work ethic through- out our league, and we tend to over-deliver on the partnerships that we have. It really is a good value for potential partners. You have an opportunity to partner with a great organization that will work to over-deliver your benefits to a significant demographic that is growing quickly. Where are the biggest growth opportunities for the NASL? We haven’t really scratched the surface yet in every area of the business, and even on the field, we still have plenty of room for continued improvement. We’ve added two new broadcast part- ners in beIN SPORTS and CBS Sports Network, but on the sponsorship side, we’re really just getting started in earnest. We’re obviously looking at securing more national sponsor- ships. Our teams do quite well locally, but we now feel like there are opportunities on a national level with the size of the league and the growth of the league. You’re seeing progress on the field, as we continue to improve our rosters and identify more talent year after year. It’s a big territory and it’s a global sport, so there are a ton of opportunities for us.
 What are the NASL’s biggest challenges? It’s always about executing the fundamentals. Our clubs need to be relevant on a local level, and when we have 20 clubs that are filling their stadiums, we’re going to be a very strong and very important part of the global soccer landscape. We’re trying to stay focused on the fundamentals: playing great soccer, cre- ating great stadium experiences, and being relevant in our com- munities.
  52. 52. 51 How important is the idea of promotion and relegation to the growth of soccer in the U.S., and specifically to the suc- cess of the NASL? Let’s address it philosophically. I don’t think it would have an im- mediate impact on the NASL. In the long term, though, it would allow for more of the people in North America to become emo- tionally tied to professional soccer. It would give people more reason to support their local clubs, and I think it would help raise the profile of the sport. I also think that it would aid in player development and ultimately the competition would be more attractive to the fans. There are a lot of positives to it – it’s just a matter of figuring out the best way to assemble it and get started. * * * Under-served communities, under-valued opportunities are where the NASL may stand today, but that may not be the case for long. Rayo Vallecano already owns the team in Oklahoma City and more eyes are on the league. Creative partnerships on and off the field are ready to be leveraged. Momentum for soccer is building at all levels and as a result, new marketing opportu- nities exist. Tweet this.
  53. 53. 52 Ready to come over? Creating this first edition of The United States of Soccer was a labor of love. Speaking to our network of soccer friends, business professionals, media members and sports executives is how we spend our days, and it’s our pleasure to bring you inside this world. We hope you’ve found the stories and anecdotes included here to be insightful, and perhaps most importantly, actionable. The Bridge Sports Group was designed to help teams, leagues and brands better understand the U.S. soccer landscape, and ultimately facilitate engagement, interaction and growth. We’re here to help you identify opportunities and achieve your objectives be they: • Fan identification and growth • Content creation • Social Media engagement • Merchandise sales • Public Relations • Youth programs • Marketing and technical partnerships, and more. The sport of soccer has never been stronger in the United States than it is right now. Domestic league growth, expanded television coverage, an explosion of coverage via social, online and traditional media and a young, desirable demographic that is increasingly choosing soccer over other sports make this the time to explore opportunities in the States. Achieving Success in the U.S. with The Bridge Sports Group Click here to get in touch with
 The Bridge Sports Group.
  54. 54. 53 Issue Two - Summer 2016 In the next issue of The United States of Soccer we’ll take a look at the strategy of European clubs conducting summer tours in the U.S.; go deeper inside the youth soccer scene; talk to foreign clubs already establishing a foothold on these shores and much more. Our goal with every issue of The United States of Soccer is to present our readers with behind the scenes stories, unique per- spectives and actionable insights on the soccer market in the States. If you’re involved with the business of soccer and would like to share your story get in touch with us, we’d be interested in featuring you in a future issue. Look for issue two of The United States of Soccer in Mid- August. Until then, enjoy the Euros, Copa America, the Olym- pics and the heart of the domestic league seasons here in the States. Preview Icon Credits:
 Sport Club International by Andrea Severgnini
 Soccer Ball by Hayley Warren
 Soccer Logo by Ben Mahler
 spor ts group the bridge