We talk a lot about esports, gambling, even lacrosse and rugby as growth business in sports in this country, but sometimes soccer gets lost in the mix. With a host of European clubs and league now either opening or having offices, Paris Saint-Germain and the Bundesliga are the latest, there is no doubt that there is a growing anticipation of what is to come in soccer participation and engagement, and the biggest brands are looking to find their place.
One of those key areas for growth is at the grassroots level, with many clubs, from Chelsea to AC Milan, having opened academies with the hope of cultivating not just fans for life for their club, but to teach young people their style of play that has made the clubs themselves so successful. There remains a growing sentiment that US Soccer, especially on the boys and men’s side, has missed a window on developing young players of all skill levels, and the established global clubs will try and do better by identifying and growing that talent. That’s not to say that MLS is also not trying to do the same, or that US Soccer isn’t trying to change its development programs, all that is also in the mix, as is all the preparation for national clubs on the women’s side as World Cup approaches.
That’s for the elite, when you go below that level, there is an ongoing need to get kids more active in any sport, and you certainly don’t have to go far in any area on a fall Saturday to see kids running around kicking a ball. The engaged kids and families are both potential fans for life, like Little League was a generation ago, and advocates of healthy lifestyles that are much needed. However that mix at the basic level can be very niche, disjointed and can leave many looking for other activities if not done well.
So into all that mix comes a sports marketing veteran, armed with some capital, years of experience and a base of the largest young person’s skills program in the country to help amplify that mix, and grow youth soccer as a brand and cohesive business. His name is Adam Geisler, and on Thursday he was named as CEO of Super Soccer Stars, one of the largest youth soccer programs, and by youth we mean the youngest of the young kicking the ball for the first time, in America.
Geisler is no stranger to startups and turnarounds in sports business and media, having helped resurrect Everlast and grow MISSION into a multimillion dollar sports business and tech success, and he is going to apply those skills now to help make youth soccer a cohesive and well engaged sports business machine.
“Our vision is to become the largest youth sports recreation and educational platform through “deliberate play,” beginning with soccer and moving into our long term plan to acquire and build best in class youth sports brands across the country,” he said in a statement Thursday. “The combination of having national programs in established local markets for young children, as well as the growth spurt that soccer is in right now, really positions us well to not just expand the footprint of youth soccer in America but to also positively impact the lives of thousands of young people through sport. We want to offer best in class programming to every community, partner with schools to enhance their enrichment offerings, and develop strategic partnerships to keep them in sports longer and enjoy the benefits of participation as much as competition.”
The company is certainly not a startup, having been in business for almost 20 years engaging kids with amazing programs from New York, where it is the largest in The Apple, to Miami and Austin and other places. It boasts programs in 24 cities and 13 states reaching 150,000 children all focused on healthy lifestyle and basic athletic skills development while having fun and building self-confidence and teamwork. There are elite programs as well, but the idea of engaging correctly when young, for boys and girls, is the sweet spot.
Can you marry brand success with young people kicking a ball? The details are in the data. Youth soccer has always been very unwieldy, with thousands of kids flitting in and out of the sport. Geisler has worked in companies that have been great at harnessing data and building consumer affinity, and in many ways youth soccer is no different. There are also many frustrated brands that would love to engage more in this vibrant community and also build fans for life, and soccer is no doubt still on an upswing in this country, especially with the new immigrant population who lives the game.
Is it a challenge to translate from sports brands to building a sports brand around healthy lifestyle? Sure, but with a nice base to start and an understanding of the market, Super Soccer Stars has a nice head start and Geisler has certainly tackled the space before, no pun intended.