Super Soccer Stars is America’s most popular grassroots national youth soccer program with a presence in 24 cities, across 13 different states; combined they reach 150,000 children between the ages of 12 months and 8 years. Armed with a new CEO and a “large private capital raise”, the for-profit company ambitiously seeks to reach 1 million kids within 5 years. JohnWallStreet sat down with Super Soccer Stars new CEO Adam Geisler to discuss the ideal age for kids to begin “deliberate practice” (i.e. formal instruction), the lessons he learned at Authentic Brands Group that he’ll bring to Soccer Super Stars and why private equity firms is investing money in youth sports.
JWS: Explain the difference between “deliberate play” and “deliberate practice”? At what age is it appropriate for kids to begin formal training/instruction?
Adam: Our focus is on owning what we’re calling “deliberate play”. We want kids to have fun and enjoy the sport while learning the fundamentals, versus the flip side which is deliberate practice. We believe that the decision point for privatization should occur at 8 years old, but today with parents so focused on driving their kids’ success, we’re seeing “deliberate practice” happen as young as 5; which is what’s causing the decrease in youth sports participation.
JWS: You spent time at Authentic Brands Group, a company that buys distressed brands and revitalizes them. You’re taking over a sport with participation flat or in decline (depending on who you ask). What lessons (i.e. what worked) did you learn at ABG that will be transferrable to a youth sports organization?
Adam: Jamie Salter (CEO at Authentic Brands Group) realized that the future of retail and brands was changing and that it’s necessary to become a “platform business”; that’s no different than what we’re doing here. We have a customer base today of 150,000 kids and our goal is to reach 1 million kids within 5 years; so, we’re not going to just offer soccer. We’re going to introduce other sports to reach that goal and we’ll have scalability and efficiency across the platform.
It’s no different than when Authentic Brands Group bought Nautica. Running Nautica as a single operational company was not efficient for VF Corp. (the prior owners), but ABG’s strategy was if we found the best company to make apparel, the best company to make footwear and the best company to make underwear, then we could scale the business with best-in-class partners and have real efficiency to revitalize the brand. We have a beachhead of soccer and we’ll add best in class brands for some of these other sports (see: lacrosse, basketball). I think our playbooks are very similar.
JWS: Your hiring was announced along with a “large private capital raise.” Why do P.E. firms want to be in the youth sports space?
Adam: They see the same vision that we see in terms of building this new sports platform, professionalizing it with technology, service and a content platform; because, we are a content company. We’ve developed the best content for 2-8 soccer in the entire country. We built it in one of the most challenging markets in the U.S. (New York City). We’ve honed it, developed it, grown it; so, the opportunity is to bring that content to as many people as possible, throughout the country.
Howie Long-Short: Did you know? The privatization of youth sports has created a $15.5 billion industry, one that is expected to grow to $41.2 billion by 2023; expect a rise in travel participation and an increased dependence on software (think: league registration, travel arrangements, game venues etc.) to improve management efficiencies, over the next 5 years.
Fan Marino: While highly unlikely to impact kids in the Super Soccer Stars program, soccer players are at risk for head injuries as they mature (because heading becomes a bigger part of the game) and a recent study indicated that women are more susceptible to the injuries than men are. The Einstein Soccer Study at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine determined that “women who headed the ball a similar number of times to men (ages 18-50) in a 12-month period exhibited 5x more extensive brain tissue damage than men”; equally concerning, damage was found in 8 brain regions within women as opposed to just 3 within men.
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