Over $10m of youth soccer talent on show

sgsn money 2

At the end of this month, the Fall soccer seasons will start around the United States. Much has been written about the success of soccer as a participation sport in America. Whether it is by dint of the perceived reduced risk of concussion injuries, the global nature of a sport in a media age or just because grass roots soccer and the professional game are getting it right at the same time this time round, soccer is booming amongst young boys and girls in America.
In the small Commonwealth of Massachusetts, there will be three main Club soccer tournaments for boys and girls between the ages of 9 and 14 over Labor Day weekend. The GPS Milan Cup, the FC Stars Cup tournament and the Aztecs Labor Day Classic. GOS have over 260 teams at their event, FC Stars approx. 256 in their Cup and the Aztecs have over 165 teams in their Classic. 685 teams.

A conservative estimate is ten players per team. 6850 players.

Another conservative estimate is that the parents of those players would pay $1,500 per year to their soccer Club for the season.

That is $10,275,000 in annual soccer fees. In just one small State. Soccer Nation.

Michigan United Football Club

Get 'em young! Red Card protest Mid West rivals Typical home gameThe recent record soccer attendance at The Big House for the Manchester United v Real Madrid match has again caused gaggles of distant commentators to wonder as to how soccer and America are truly madly deeply bonding this time around. And rightly so. Over 109,000 is a very large killer statistic and it ought to be noted – but one swallow on its own, even a very large one, does not a summer make. Some have said that the large crowd was the exception to prove the ever true rule that Americans and soccer do not go together. Others have said that whilst Florida, California, New York and New England have had many opportunities over recent times to see the global Galacticos of soccer, Michigan, despite its size and population, has been starved of a glamour match and that the large attendance was just a result of years of pent-up support overflowing in one huge exaggerated crowd. Others have cynically pointed at the questionable nature of announced attendance statistics in soccer over the years and hinted the 109,000 is merely a cynical manufactured PR move by US Soccer soon after the World Cup excitement. It ought to be remembered that in the UK, attendances were serially under reported fifty years ago as a tax dodge. That, of course, was in the dark days before sponsorship became a forensic science and huge revenue stream for clubs. However, the on-the-ground truth is that association football is very much alive in Michigan and has quite a story to tell. Nowhere more so than in Detroit. Bankrupt, broken, blue collar, spit-in-your-eye Detroit.

In the 4th tier of the US Soccer pyramid, Detroit City FC play in the Great Lakes West Conference of the National Premier Soccer League. Despite its lowly ranking, Detroit City not infrequently achieves gates of 3,000 and is known for its raucous, hostile and uncompromising home game atmospheres, After investments in Melbourne City FC and New York City FC, the cognoscenti at the Etihad could do worse to look to the MidWest of America for perhaps the most dynamic and exciting “City FC” at moment. Flares, mass crowd dancing in the stands, hilarious vitriolic chanting that would make most wholesome MidWesterners blush – this is Oakland Raiders fan club meets Millwall with a nod to college band choreography. The drive behind this are the Northern Guard Supporters group, who boasts more than 95,000 Twitter followers and who combines passion for the city and the sport with one of the best social media strategies in soccer.

It is impossible to categorize this Club and their supporters. They surprise at every turn. Based in perhaps the most hard-nosed city in America, yet the team has a French nickname “Le Rouge”, despite the fact that the kit is not really red. It is claret. Or maroon. Or wine. But perhaps nobody in Harry’s Detroit bar knew the French for maroon when the decision was made. The ‘No-one Likes Us, We Don’t Care’ attitude of the Northern Guard is mixed with a strong vein of social philanthropy. In May 2014, a soccer referee from Westland, Michigan, in a town soccer match, was attacked by a player and died from his injuries. Four weeks later the Northern Guard sold red cards to raise money for the deceased’s family, Over $3,280 was raised and at the appropriate time, the Northern Guard all as one raised a red card in protest at his death. The DC FC front office matched every dollar, making it $6,560 for the family. This is local protest at a wider social phenomenon by a vibrant group of supporters finding an activist voice for good. Furthermore, the Club has had a match day this season promoting LGBTQ inclusion in sport and the Northern Guard recently started another fundraising campaign for a member who had tragically lost a child shortly after childbirth. Who said soccer was irrelevant in America?

Over recent years, Detroit had to hear a lot of fancy-pants, distant commentators spout a lot of unpleasant cliches about the people and the City. More than one article was written citing the uncaring and selfish nature of some of the decisions and choices that Detroiters had made. Out of that bankrupt mess has risen DCFC. If one needed evidence of passion and care, go to a DCFC game. Follow the Northern Guard on Twitter.

The future for soccer and Detroit is bright. The future is Rouge.



Soccer & America. Truly Madly Deeply?

Soccer at Fenway 2014

Soccer Pink Hats

Soccer and America. It’s hard to know where to look these days, given all the articles on “Has America finally fallen in love with soccer?” after the excitement of the World Cup. The pre-season tours to the USA by the great and the good of global football perhaps give a chance to see exactly where in this slow process of America falling in love really, truly, deeply with soccer. Cut to Boston last night for a glimpse as to how the romance is faring.

Fenway Park in Boston last night played host to the Buick Football At Fenway event, a very unique meeting of two Club football giants, who are taking different routes back to that oh-so-small-very-elite band of the most global elite teams. On the face of it, the similarities are very evident; both teams are back in the Champions League next season after some years’ absence, both teams are American-owned with Boston-based men at the helm, both clubs are trying to expand their global branding in an aggressive fashion, both teams have bought English players over the summer to bolster their rosters. The paths chosen by each team’s brand, however, are very different. Roma has decided to build a new 52,000 seat stadium, Liverpool is tweaking 45,000 capacity Anfield (now 7th largest in England) into a larger 54,000 seater stadium. Roma has welded itself onto the Disney brand & is twinned with grass roots youth soccer organizations in America, Liverpool is still looking as much to Asia as it is America with Standard Chartered as its main club sponsor and Garuda Indonesia as its kit sponsor. Whilst Roma’s coach using Google Glass during the second half of Roma’s May 2014 match in Orlando certainly appeared ground-breaking, Roma’s success in the rapidly growing social media brand wars is still modest. The official AS Roma twitter feed has 464k followers at time of writing. Liverpool FC has an impressive 2.93m, more than Manchester United at 2.83m or Manchester City at 1.88m

In terms of the actual game day experience, soccer at Fenway Park is always going to be a mismatch of some sorts. The benches are in front of the Green Monster wall, which leaves the manager and substitutes far away from any crowd atmosphere and many of the seats are facing home plate rather than the center of the field. The Liverpool owners had clearly worked very hard to make this a success. As in 2012, penalties but not extra-time would be used to determine a winner if it was nil-nil at the end of 90 minutes. The PR machine had been hard at work as well. Robbie Fowler and others spent time that week running soccer sessions with the children at the world-renowned Perkins School for the Blind in Boston, King Kenny was wheeled out to be the one to let loose 96 red balloons in memory of the Hillsborough victims, and Stevie G, Raheem Sterling, Adam Lallana and Daniel Sturridge all walked out to applaud the supporters, despite not being named in the playing squad.
However, some things conspired to make the event less than it might have been. It was hard not to be a little distracted during the game by the fact that, at the bottom of the Green Monster wall, there were two huge white hot dog shaped balloons, each with the teams’ crest and name on, each held in place by a dozen youths. At halftime, for some reason, the Liverpool sausage was noticeably sagging a little. The word flaccid was even been whispered in the stands. The sausage revived itself in the second half, perhaps resulting from a stern phone call from John Henry’s box, prompting a flurry of youthful retagging of ropes. Some of the fans were also less than hard core. Boston Red Sox fans will know the expression “Pink Hats” as a derogatory phrase describing the sudden flurry of mostly, but not exclusively female, fans who swarmed to baseball games in the season after the Sox won the 2004 World Series, ending the long drought. These are fans who were there because a Red Sox baseball game became the hip place to be in the glow of the World Series glories. At Fenway last night, one could also see the emergence of soccer Pink Hats, perhaps emboldened by the recent Team USA World Cup palaver. This isn’t a bad thing, it’s just not traditionally been a football thing.

Talking of the football, it came over as a poor game, especially after the feast of the recent World Cup. Some of the Liverpool youngsters impressed, such as Ibe. Others, such as Kristoffer Peterson seemed as if he would look out of place on Fratton Park, let alone Fenway Park. Some parts of the game were predictable; Coutinho was by far the best player on the pitch, Ashley Cole was roundly booed and Roma scored the winner at the death as Marco Borriello got the better of three Liverpool defenders in the box. Still, pre-season is pre-season. Brendan Rogers said he was happy for the experience and the fitness elements to playing on a very hot evening. The crowd was 95% red with many $125 new Liverpool shirts being sold and worn, which must have made the owners happy, but one couldn’t help feeling that the crowd would have been vastly preferred penalties.

The romance, at least last night, was full of wanting and full of show, and a lot of money was flashed around during the date. The partners, however, still appear to be fumbling around with the lights on and haven’t, well, got it fully “on” quite just yet.