The growth and progress of US Club Soccer has been quite impressive in recent years, and two weeks ago they took another step forward in a new partnership with CSM Sport & Entertainment. The deal will bring the two organizations together in a symbiotic relationship that will serve both parties well for years to come.
All too often the public focus is on the professional level of the sport when we think about the business side of the industry and the youth level is left as an afterthought. In fact, the youth arena is arguably the most important space for industry professionals to pay attention to when it comes to the importance of growing soccer and securing its long-term future and success.
When you think about the progression of soccer, or any sport for that matter, and looking to ensure long-term sustained growth you cannot develop a strategy that doesn’t include a strong focus at the youth level. They may not have the spending power as they’re (hopefully) not in the workforce like their parents, however, there are two other key reasons as to why they’re so important. The first is that while they don’t spend the money on the tickets or club merchandise, they will be the influencer of these purchases in many instances. It’s the children of the family pushing their parents to go see their favorite player in their favorite sport or buy their jersey, hopefully soccer in the case of MLS. The second reason is that sports fans put their money into the sports with which they most identify and that they feel the most connection to. This connection is not developed once they enter the workforce and have disposable income, rather it is cultivated at a young age as they try their hand at various sports in different youth leagues and attend different sporting events.
That said, the growth and development of a sport shouldn’t be solely commercially focused. In fact, it shouldn’t even be the primary focus, especially at the youth level. After Business of Soccer spoke with US Club Soccer CEO Kevin Payne about the partnership with CSM, it’s very clear he shares similar views. At the core of US Club Soccer is a newly-launched program called ‘Player’s First‘, which aims to re-center everything the organization does at developing the best possible environment for youth players. Payne explained the initiative further and said,
The whole idea of Player’s First has entered the youth soccer vocabulary, and that’s part of what we were trying to accomplish, was to create a brand. Something people could identify with. That brand is intended to represent for parents that a particular club is committed to creating a better environment holistically for the player and the parent for their youth soccer experience.
Youth organizations like US Club Soccer are absolutely crucial to the success of any professional sport, as we alluded to above. For a sport to succeed at the highest level, it must have successful grassroots programs continuing to seed growth from the bottom up. Payne and company are certainly doing their part for soccer in the US. He added,
US Club Soccer is in a great place. We have grown every year of our existence, and in the last 4 years we’ve averaged right around 10% or so, and we expect to have another very good year this year. I think we’re becoming more and more closely identified with a progressive approach to the youth game, particularly to the development of youth players. We’re pleased with the direction things are going but we continue to believe that we can improve and this partnership [with CSM] will be a step in that direction.
This is an organization that has amazing expertise with some of the biggest events on the planet. Most exciting is the database of sponsors that it has in its network. It’s not something you can do very effectively if you’re starting from ground zero. The hope is that CSM will help deliver the message of our progressive approach to youth soccer and that we’re moving in the right direction, and we’re hoping that CSM will help us find some corporate partners to accelerate that even further.
On the other side of this partnership stands CSM, who have a rich history in the global sports industry, as Business of Soccer learned when speaking with the group’s CMO Tim Bampton. A group of 14 agencies that has built a global footprint with 26 offices all over the world on every continent, CSM certainly brings a wealth of expertise and scale to the partnership. Perhaps more importantly, are the company’s core values and beliefs that are engrained into their everyday work that align very closely with the mission of US Club Soccer. Bampton explained,
One of the principles for us as a business, is whoever we’re working for and whatever we’re working to do it’s founded on an intrinsic belief within everyone that works at CSM that sport is a power for lasting good and positive impact.
US Club Soccer absolutely falls into that category. Something that is totally vetted in grassroots sport, mass participation, and in a sport that has massive potential, and we think a really strong future in the US market.
While this partnership has its obvious positives for US Club Soccer, it also helps solidify CSM’s foot in a US market that it sees as a region with massive potential for them in the future, and they see soccer as the perfect sport to partner with to help see that to fruition. Bampton spoke about why this partnership made sense for CSM:
Soccer is on the up & up in the US… any way you cut it soccer is going to be a major part of the US sporting landscape for the long-term. The demographics, the participation levels, and the development of the professional league lead us to have a big belief in that sport long-term as far as the US is concerned. And the other part is grassroots and what we consider to be mass participation. More and more we see the increasing role of grassroots sport and how brands, federations, and governing bodies interact in that space.
It will be very interesting to see this partnership develop in the coming months to see what these two organizations come up with collectively and where strategically they decide to steer US Club Soccer. All indications are that we can expect continued strong growth from the organization that this partnership should serve to accelerate in some new and interesting ways.