UCFB goes Stateside
What do I want out of my trip?
With only a few days to go until my trip across to the west coast of North America, I thought now would be a good time to outline what I want from this trip academically.As a marketing student, I want to experience how the teams in America market themselves to their fans. I hope to go to as many games as possible of as many different sports as I can, although I may struggle with some more than others!
I also want to experience the playing side of things and see just how much America has took to soccer and whether the MLS will ever be able to compete with the likes of the NFL and NBA, without relying on global superstars such as David Beckham joining their teams.
This week was my first week in San Francisco and I spent the beginning of the week checking out the city and familiarising myself with the local transport links.
However, on Wednesday I traveled on the caltrain to Belmont (A city located halfway down the San Francisco peninsula) to meet a man named Garth Fraser. Garth has recently bought into the I9 Sports franchise. Garth explained that I9 sports are one of the largest providers of youth sports leagues in the United States and offer leagues, camps and clinics for boys and girls aged 3-17 in various sports such as flag football, soccer and basketball. I9 believe that all children should have fun playing sport while learning the rules of the game and how to act in an appropriate manner without the pressure of the ‘win at all costs’ mentality.
Over the next few weeks I will hopefully be helping Garth with several things. One of which is to help Garth redesign the promotional leaflets. As well as this I will also be attending several I9 open days where you inform local parents about I9 and what it is they do in the hope that they will register their child.
In the next week, I will be going to see San Jose Earthquakes play at home to Sporting Kansas City in the MLS and then I will be travelling north to Seattle to meet with the Vice President and watch them take on their local rivals Portland Timbers.
Week Two: I9 Sports
Since the last post, I have done a few things with I9 sports. These include designing a leaflet for them to use for their fall season; attend two ‘open days’ and help coach the last session of the summer season.
The two open events (you set up a tent outside a shop or at a farmers market and pitch the product) were on Friday and Saturday. The first, on Friday was at a local farmers market and this was to promote the up and coming fall seasons for soccer and flag football. The second on Saturday was further away in Half Moon Bay where I9 are looking to start new leagues so this was about telling people what it is I9 do, and making sure people see the name. Both events lasted around four hours. For me, this is a fantastic opportunity to experience guerrilla marketing first hand and see just how important customer engagement is.
Sunday was the last day of the summer season for soccer and I was asked to help coach the three different groups. It was really good to see I9’s mission statement put into practice on the field. There was a clear emphasis placed on values such as teamwork and sportsmanship which are not only important in sports, but also in life. It was also paramount that the children had fun and didn’t feel under pressure from coaches or parents which is why it was encouraging to see parents sat on the side line encouraging all the children and not just their own.
After ending a short time with I9, I think this is something that would work in England. This is because in England we have a “win at all costs” mentality and this puts a lot of pressure on children and sometimes this means they don’t enjoy the sport. With something like I9, it means children can learn the skills of the game at their own pace and with no pressure and that could see a lot more children take to sports.
Week Two: San Jose Earthquakes
On the Sunday after the coaching session, I went down to San Jose to see the Earthquakes take on Kansas Sporting City at Buck Shaw Stadium, Santa Clara. Firstly, the stadium is part of Santa Clara University although the Earthquakes have plans to move into a new stadium at some point next year. A large portion of the stadium is made up of metal bench seats. The one thing these seats do is they allow more people in and they help generate an atmosphere with people banging their feet and clapping their hands on them.
The atmosphere is quite unique and is unlike anything I’ve seen in England. I think the game was pretty much sold out and the fans were singing for the full 90 minutes with San Jose even claiming to have their own ultras. The quality of the game was what you would expect from maybe the Championship or League One in England with both teams taking a very direct, physical approach to the game.
Week Two: Seattle
The purpose of my trip to Seattle was to meet Gary Wright, current vice president of Seattle Sounders. I arrived in Seattle late on Thursday night and went straight to the hotel to get some sleep. On Friday, I took a cab to Renton which is where the Virginia Mason Athletic Centre is based. VMAC as it is known is the home of the Seattle Seahawks (NFL) and also where the Sounders business operation is based. The team itself trains at a separate facility. After a tour of the facility (the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea have visited and been impressed by) which includes a full size American football field, a locker room bigger than anything you’ll see in England and a state of the art gym, I sat down with Gary to pick his brains.
After talking with Gary for an hour or so, we headed back into Seattle to the CenturyLink field where the Sounders were holding an open training session with 5000 or so fans in attendance. At the ground, I met Matt Johnson who hosts the Sounders pre-game and post-game radio show, and also Ross Fletcher who is the play-by-play guy for Sounders FC broadcasting. It was interesting to speak to both men and listen to their experiences within the game and how excited they are to be a part of what is happening at Seattle Sounders.
After sightseeing on Saturday and the majority of Sunday…
It was now time for the game. I met with Gary at the Field Club which is an area behind the southern goal where people can have their photo taken and watch the team warm up. Here, Gary introduced me to Dario Sala who represents two of the Sounders players (Mauro Rosales and Djimi Traore). With introductions out of the way, we followed Gary to Occidental Park which is where the Sounders “march to the match” begins. After witnessing this, I have to say this is probably one of the most amazing things I’ve seen at a football game and I can understand why it is so successful. It gives fans a sense of unity and to hear up to 5,000 fans walking down the street with a brass band behind them is quite incredible. Here it is:
Now on to the match itself, Seattle Sounders – Portland Timbers is probably the biggest game in the MLS. It’s Seattle VS. Portland, Washington versus Oregon and this was reflected in the size of the crowd. The attendance for Sundays game was a record breaking 67,385 which to put into context, was the highest figure for a soccer game in the pacific north-west, the third largest crowd in the United States this year, and according to ESPN, third in the world this weekend behind only Manchester United and Arsenal. For a country where soccer is deemed by most to be the fifth sport, that isn’t too bad.
Xbox are Seattle’s main sponsors and this was evident throughout the game with the electronic advertising boards flashing green to promote their soon to be released console the Xbox One throughout the game. Everything at the club works like clockwork, including the concession stands at half time. In England, you find yourself queuing for the majority of the break, but here it took 30 seconds to get served which is testament to how well everything is run.
After the game, Gary took us up to an area known as the Green Loft which is effectively the players’ lounge. It was great to meet some of the people that I did and talk to them about what I was doing at UCFB with several people commenting on how great it sounded and how the MLS may benefit from this. This included Kasey Keller (ex-professional who now works with Sounders FC Broadcasting) who was intrigued by what it is we do.
Overall, my trip to Seattle was incredible and to meet people like Gary, Dario, Matt and Ross is an incredible thing for someone in my position. The trip only fuelled my desire to work in America and in particular the MLS as it would be great to be a part of an ambitious league with big plans.
Well, this week has been a week of sightseeing so this post will be short. Despite not doing much sport wise, I did want to write about sport in America, in particular high school and college sport and sport on telly.
Firstly, sport is just so much bigger in America than it is in England. It’s everywhere, coffee shops; restaurants; department stores and so on. With that being said, I’ve visited several high schools while I’ve been with I9 and the facilities at some of these schools are better than you’d find at a lot of universities in England. I mean, these facilities are used by 14-18 year olds and these schools have 3G pitches for their football and soccer (usually surrounded by an athletics track). They then have separate baseball fields; a gymnasium; as well as an indoor and outdoor swimming pools. Compare this to the majority of schools in England and it shows just how badly sport in England is treated at the lowest level. These kids in America are given the very best facilities to push them towards college through sports whereas in England, the facilities are poorly kept and aren’t great to begin with.
Secondly, college sport is even more amazing. I mentioned in a previous post that San Jose Earthquakes are currently playing at Santa Clara University in a stadium that holds just over 10,000 people. Sport at college is considered a social event for the people who don’t play and that is why they have big stadiums. This isn’t even a college renowned for sport. Texas A&M ranked seventh in the country for college football and home of Heisman trophy winner Johnny Manziel play their home games at Kyle Field which has a capacity of 82,000. This is bigger than any premier league club and this is where a college football team plays.
Kyle Field – Home to Texas A&M
As well as exceptional facilities, college football is broadcast on national television. This means millions of people can watch a college football game If they choose to. Texas’ next game is live on ESPN, arguably the biggest sports channel in America which gives you an idea of how big college football is here. Put it this way, this is like UCFB, playing at Wembley every week and also being shown live on Sky Sports One. It’s truly incredible. Hopefully in the next week, I’ll be able to go to a local college game.