22 Nov

Philly Union Owner Commits Millions Aimed At Reshaping The American Soccer Landscape

by Tanner Simkins @TannerSimkins

This week is Soccerex in Miami, a gathering of all the elite powerbrokers, brands and media companies to talk about the continued expanding business of soccer, especially in the Americas. While there is always much expected talk around where soccer is going in the U.S., what was not expected on Thursday was a burst of positive news, and big money, from a somewhat unlikely source. The news was to the tune of $50 million committed to a new soccer venture find dedicated to two pieces of business; media and young player development. The new  business is called “For Soccer Ventures,” and is the brainchild of Philadelphia Union investor and entrepreneur Richie Graham.

This new, well funded business, which will be led by a veteran team that includes executives like former head of sports marketing at adidas soccer Aaron Maines, former ESPN executive Marc Horine, ex US National team member Heath Pierce, former US Soccer executive Ryan Mooney, award winning filmmaker Burke Cherry, and education leader Dr. Nooha  Ahmed-Lee, will look to  source, acquire and manage a portfolio of investments and businesses and will be comprised of two key platforms. One is dubbed “The Soccer Collective,” a new media house leading a collaborative movement to celebrate American soccer culture and fan experiences through storytelling, activations and brand content development. The other, “The Soccer Alliance,” will expand Graham’s existing network of soccer properties with a focus on youth clubs, leagues and tournaments with the objective of improving the on-field experience for players and the American soccer family.

What does this mean for the soccer and the sports business community, we asked Managing Director of the new business, John Parker, to break it down.

Explain what the content platform will be, and how much focus will be there vs. the youth development side?

The Soccer Collective is a media house focused on branded content and experiences. We are already sourcing add-ons that focus on American soccer culture. The youth soccer platform and the media house platform have their own management teams and have no limitations to their remit. We’d consider there to be equal focus on the two platforms.

Richie is already a part owner of the Union, and there has been a lot of talk about MLS growth, NWSL expansion, USL expansion and the like. Will any of this money go toward the pro side of the game like new team investment?

We separately continue to invest in Philadelphia Union, which also fields a USL club. We are committed to the Union, the KSE ownership group, and the growth of the Club we’re seeing year-over-year. We won’t be sourcing any further professional soccer investments.

What has the reaction from US Soccer been, or from MLS for that matter?

We’ve worked with the USSF and MLS for years on a variety of projects, and have always gotten great buy-in. Earnie Stewart, the current U.S. Soccer Sporting Director, was previously the Union’s Sporting Director, and a lot of his vision is in our DNA. More broadly, both groups are always supportive of further investment and commitment to the domestic game.

Does this conflict with all that US Soccer is trying to do?

This is synergistic. One of our Managing Directors, Ryan Mooney, was previously the Chief Soccer Officer at the USSF and knows intimately how we can help enhance their efforts. There are areas that, as a member association, US Soccer simply can’t operate. We share the same vision and purpose, and can broaden their reach.

We have seen many elite clubs come into the US and try and start youth development programs. few have made any headway so far, how is this different?

For one, we’ve all done it. The management team we’ve assembled knows intimately the successes and failures of the landscape, and have built a local version of this business in Philadelphia. Secondly, we have the passion and resources. This isn’t an affiliate model you’ve seen from international clubs looking for a quick buck or branding opportunity. We’re committing with investment and ownership.

Will you look to find outside investors to grow beyond the initial commitment figure and where will you look for them?

That’s not the current plan. With our current structure, we maintain the agility to commit to a vision and purpose. Never say never, but at least not now.

We have seen Liga MX do well in the US in terms of engagement, how much of this will go toward Latinos, inner city and minority development?

One of our guiding principles is that we want to celebrate the diverse American soccer experience. Soccer in America is not monolithic, the experience of the second generation Mexican American is very different than that of the West African player in our school, or the twenty something who sits in the Timber’s Army at Portland. We want this to be a collaborative movement, that provides the platform that specifically accommodates the unique player or fan, and doesn’t try to be one answer for all. Whether it’s a podcast, a definitive docu-series, a local soccer club or a soccer tournament, we want to lower the barrier of entry and provide more access to the sport.

Whats the biggest challenge in making this successful?

American soccer is a very diverse landscape that emanated from the grassroots, and therefore operates differently in different regions and within different subcultures. While that diversity is one of the things that makes the American soccer community so meaningful to us, it does mean that it’s a bit like real estate…we need unique strategies and specific representatives for each.

With the World Cup coming in not that long a period to US soil, and the Olympics now almost here (with all the issues the women’s team is still having), whats the one area in say, three years time, where you will have made the mist tangible impact on the investment?

This isn’t a race to profitability, this is about establishing sustainable businesses that will capitalize on 2026 and 2028 well afterward. To that end, first three years, it’s about the “most” metrics—most players in our clubs and leagues, most engagement, etc. Once we can engage with our audiences, then we can have the more intangible impact for the sport in the U.S.