1. Have clear objectives. For instance, if player identification is a primary objective, it may be possible to find players through a scouting network without, necessarily, having to collaborate with U.S. professional clubs or establishing a club in the U.S. Interestingly, more than 50% of U.S. professional players currently playing abroad got their starts outside of the U.S. professional leagues and so it is important to scour the U.S. college and youth soccer scene as well as the numerous foreign leagues where U.S. players ply their trade.
2. Know your market. Major League Soccer's single-entity structure, salary caps, drafts, eligibility rules for high school and college play, the domination of other professional sports leagues, the strength of the women's game and the sheer size of the U.S. are factors which make the U.S. soccer market unique.
3. Be Proactive, Invest and Stay the Course. First mover advantage is strategically important and so the early start of clubs like Ajax should pay off in the future. No company has ever been successful in terms of building a long-term market presence without investment and clubs need motivated representatives in the U.S. in order to be successful.
4. Emphasize both brand building and profitability. Foreign clubs must balance brand building activities, which may initially be an expense, and business development activities, which can be profitable from the outset.
5. Be prepared for risk and possible disappointment. While the U.S. soccer market is very healthy, due to strong participation in the youth, high school, college and adult amateur sectors, investment in the professional game is still risky. Many successful sports entrepreneurs, however, are taking that risk.
6. Take an integrated marketing approach. Foreign clubs need to engage in a wide variety of marketing activities in connection with targeted fans including events (games, camps, clinics, and seminars), publications, broadcasting and online activities.
7. Focus geographically. The sheer size of the U.S. makes national campaigns very expensive so we would suggest market tests in one or more of the active soccer hotbeds e.g. the Northeast or Southern California. Example: Celtic FC would find large pockets of fans and potential fans in Boston and New York City.
8. Make exhibitions as real as possible. The American soccer consumer will pay for first class soccer experiences. The FIFA World Cup of 1994, the FIFA Women's World Cup of 1999, and the 1996 Olympics were immensely successful but U.S. soccer fans have become wary of teams bringing under-strength squads and/or using trips to the U.S. as training exercises.
9. Consider partnerships. Ideal partners include U.S.-based pro soccer clubs and ownership groups, sporting goods companies, sponsors, media companies, event management groups etc. However, partnerships just for the sake of publicity have very little value. Manchester United's partnership with the New York Yankees appears to have done little to advance the club's brand in the U.S., beyond the initial press conference.
10. Make your home base a focal point for United States soccer fans. Clubs need to offer American soccer enthusiasts' opportunities to visit their stadiums and matches as the experience of watching a game in leading soccer markets such as Spain, Italy, England, Germany and Argentina is like no other professional sports experience in the U.S.
11. Involve the community. It is important for foreign clubs to engage the local community in targeted U.S. markets. The more successful U.S. professional sports franchises enjoy a cooperative relationship with their host communities as do top soccer clubs outside the U.S.
Great brands take investment, commitment, consistency and time to develop, so be patient as building a presence in the U.S. is, very much, a long-term proposition.
A native of England, Mick Hoban is a partner in sports marketing firm, Soccer Solutions. His partners are soccer marketing expert Warren Mersereau and former Germany World Cup coach Juergen Klinsmann. Hoban started his professional career as a player with Aston Villa and played for three clubs in the North American Soccer League. He served as Community Relations Director for the NASL Portland Timbers, is an "A" Licensed Coach, a former coach at college and club levels, a former member of the NSCAA's Governor's Council, and has worked in the soccer industry for Nike, Umbro and adidas, for whom he served as a consultant. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his company's website at soccersolutions.com.