The first ever Boca Raton Soccer Summit, a collaboration between Boca Raton FC and The Palm Beach Sports Commission was held this past weekend. The event was also sponsored by media outlets SocTakes, Protagonist Soccer, Midfield Press and Non League America.
Streamed live, the summit had 35 registrants, all associated with amatuer or semi-professional clubs from across the county (mostly Florida). Several important topics of conversation were discussed among the participants and those watching live from other parts of the country.
The summit’s conversations were moderated by Kartik Krishnaiyer of The Yanks are Coming and The Florida Squeeze. Presenters included Derek Reese the President of Himmarshee FC, Steve Bernasconi of The Soccer Tour, Conrado Giulietti of ESPN & DAZN, Pedro Heizer of Boca Raton FC, Andrew Ross of the Lakeland Tropics and Nipun Chopra of SocTakes.
Some of the key themes that came out of the conference were as follows:
Knowing your audience
Is the audience for lower division soccer based around general sports fans? Or is it as many think, hipsters and those involved in causes around social justice and left-wing politics that gravitate to soccer fandom? Or maybe it still soccer moms after all these years? Or maybe it is those seeking community in the absence of religion or other community institutions? Is it friends and family more than anything? These are the important questions in identifying your fan base.
One observation that was universal is that it is difficult to get fans who watch the (English) Premier League, the most-popular soccer league in the world to go to lower division matches. While very notable exceptions occur, most people who wake up early to watch the Premier League at their local pub or on NBC do not go to local amatuer or lower division games, and marketing to them when resources are tight sometimes leads to disaster. Part of this is not the fault of the fans of the Premier League but down to the peculiar structure and setup of US Soccer. Still the structural and ideological debate will have to be saved for another time, the bottom line is it isn’t worth chasing fans who at this point are unlikely to attend matches.
Signing local players
Building local interest involves creating context for a club. Signing local players and getting involved with the local community is key. Is avoiding the local youth soccer politics critical? Yes, but you can’t eschew youth clubs completely.
For the purposes of earning news coverage and followers on social media platforms, local angles are critical. Neat content like locker room cams and behind-the-scenes interviews drive interest especially when they have a local flavor to them.
A difference does exist between members and simple supporters or season ticket holders. Engagement for those who buy memberships and more invested in the club is critical. Making members feel close to the action or a part of the club critical to success. The access and inclusiveness of lower division soccer is what distinguishes it from other forms of local entertainment.
The role of leagues
In the rest of the world clubs compete in open systems but in the United States they are forced to be held hostage for lack of a better term by a system of closed leagues. In an open system, clubs have control over far more than they do in a closed system where leagues have various means making life difficult for club autonomy.
Much more was discussed in off-the-record conversations among the participants of the conference on the topics above and much more. However, part of the benefit of attendance at the summit was the private interactions and discussions. That is an incentive to attend what is planned to become an annual event on the soccer calendar.