Commentary

Just Imagine the Possibilities

The first issue of Soccer Business Insider kicks off with Clive Toye, arguably the founder of modern American soccer marketing. As president of the New York Cosmos in the 1970s, the former English sports journalist brought Brazilian legend Pele and German superstar Franz Beckenbauer to America and put the North American Soccer League on the map. His unique perspective on the rise of the U.S. soccer market lays the groundwork for our diverse columnists to come. Enjoy!

By Clive Toye

There was a time, not so long ago, when the business of American soccer was simple - because there simply wasn't any business in American soccer. How times have changed in 40 years.

As I said in my recent book "A Kick in the Grass" (shameless plug), I sometimes feel like a Pony Express rider who is still around when e-mail becomes the preferred means of communication. The difference between then and now is that dramatic.

When the first truly major push to popularize the game began in 1967, the companies whom we called sponsors were more like patrons; they supported us because they thought it was a nice thing to do ... or because they had a soccer fan somewhere among the decision-makers.

Hence, the first Cosmos sponsors were Safe Toyota, owned by soccer fanatic Joe Manfredi, and KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, whose New York boss was not only a soccer fan but wanted to borrow a few of our players (ringers) to play in a tournament of teams from all the KLM bases around the world. (New York won, by the way, to the consternation of Amsterdam home office).

Now look at the picture ... more players than you can count, more fields across the land than the early pioneers could ever contemplate, Americans playing at the highest levels here and abroad, a national team of increasing quality, a professional league of stability and progress - below which is a series of minor professional and semi-professional leagues ...

... the greatest teams and players coming to visit (and, like David Beckham, starting to stay) and when they are not here in person they are on our TV sets once or twice a week; watched not only by us old folk and young adults but by thousands upon thousands of American kids who think nothing of throwing Ronaldinho's or Rooney's name into a conversation as casually as they do A-Rod's or Jeter's. (I have to mention Yankees names because those are the only two I can think of) ...

... the World Cup has been here and will come again, the CONCACAF Gold Cup is here every two years and has grown into serious status, as the CONCACAF Champions Cup is about to do ...

... and I have just written to the Mayor of the Village of Ossining telling him if he wants my vote he had better get us three more soccer fields for the kids by next year; the sort of letter sent by so many ordinary folk to so many of the elected officials who run our communities.

So the business opportunities now exist from the international levels of the World Cup, the Gold Cup and the US national teams - men, women, youth - all the way down to who wants their name on the shirts of the Under 12 boys' team I coach.

Quite a few folks have found their way through this relatively new, challenging and complex sport to pin down the right business opportunity -- complex because, after all, in American football there is nothing beyond the NFL and not much below college level.

Soccer, conversely, offers a place for everyone to play and a place for everyone to do business as long as they look hard enough and long enough to find what suits them best. It is, and will be, worth it. None of the opportunities are going to disappear, they will simply grow greater in the coming years.

After all, if we can go - as we have - from a country where hardly anyone had ever heard of the World Cup to a nation which one day will win the World Cup, just imagine the possibilities.

Clive Toye is Senior Consultant for CONCACAF, the governing body that oversees soccer in North and Central America and the Caribbean. He was a professional club and league executive for 18 years, including GM & president of the New York Cosmos of the NASL. He is author of the 2006 book, "A Kick In The Grass." To order directly from the publisher: St. Johann Press, P.O. Box 241, Haworth, NJ 07641 or call (201) 387-1529 for credit card orders. Price $22.50 plus $4 shipping.

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