Major League Soccer’s 26th season culminates Saturday with the MLS Cup Final, featuring NYCFC and the Portland Timbers. There is a strong argument to be made that the sport is now more popular in the United States than at any other point in league history. Perhaps more notably, the business side of the game is showing signs of living up to its promise. The annual value of U.S. broadcast rights for the English Premier League recently rose 169.5% (to $450 million/year); MLS club valuations have skyrocketed; player transfer fees are climbing (see: Philadelphia Union’s sale of Brenden Aaronson); and blue chip brands are investing in soccer more heavily. For Soccer Ventures, the largest independent soccer media and experiences company in the U.S., will finish 2021 (just its second year) with topline revenues up 600% YoY and in the eight-figure range.
JWS’ Take: Whatever the measuring stick—television viewership (see: MLS, NWSL, Liga MX and USMNT ratings relative to 2019), the number of games available on TV (there have never been more) or attendance (average playoff attendance is 22,889; the cheapest MLS Cup ticket available on SeatGeek is $595)—interest in and around soccer in the U.S. is on an upswing. A growing Latino population base (see: 20% of the U.S. population under the age of 18 is Hispanic) and a new generation of fans looking for a sport to claim as their own help to explain why. According to a recent study by Two Circles, soccer rates as the third favorite sport among American fans aged 6-24 (behind only football and basketball). A 2018 Gallup poll pegged it as the second most popular sport to watch (tied with basketball) among 18-34 year olds.
Richie Graham founded For Soccer Ventures (FSV) in 2019. The Philadelphia Union co-owner saw the trend lines, said FSV chief business officer Marc Horine, and recognized there was a “massive opportunity to accelerate the growth of soccer in America, on and off the field, over the next decade” via a series of grassroots investments and acquisitions—particularly with the 2026 North American World Cup on the horizon.
“Player development is fan development,” Horine said. “[We] are committed to converting players and their families into lifelong fans of soccer.” In the last year, FSV’s Pepsico Team of Champions platform has supported more than 9,000 kids, providing black, Hispanic and female clubs around the country with the financial resources needed to make soccer fields and equipment more accessible and tournaments and league fees more affordable.
For Soccer Ventures’ focus on diverse soccer communities has made it a sought-after platform for blue-chip brands looking to connect with those demographics. Adidas, Pepsi, Lays, Verizon, EA Sports, Ford, Topps, CBS/Paramount+, Chevron and Allstate are among those who have hired the company to assist with immersive storytelling, on and off field properties, activations and strategic services.
For Soccer Ventures (a for-profit business) has two revenue streams: media services and experiences. Its media services arm provides brand partners with content development, strategy development, marketing distribution, ad sales and qualitative and quantitative data services. “From an agency perspective, it is [the collective of services] you would expect—all through a soccer lens,” Horine said.
The experiences side of the For Soccer Ventures business is “about creating properties that brands can engage with and also providing access and opportunity [to] underserved communities,” Horine said. In 2021, the company acquired Alianza de Futbol (the largest Hispanic soccer program in America) and launched two additional event-driven properties. The Black Star Initiative is a platform designed to accelerate the growth of soccer in black communities, while Footy Con is a digital festival built around soccer culture, sneaker culture, fashion and collectibles (the first one took place on the NTWRK App). There are plans to add a fourth event series focused on the women’s game in 2022.
The FSV executive attributes much of the company’s YoY growth to the Alianza acquisition. The 10-city tour (which drew 16,000 attendees and 2,500 player participants at a recent stop in New York City’s Randall’s Island) offers a valuable experiential extension to a brand’s soccer community outreach efforts (think: sponsorship village). The events also generate gate receipts. Around 10% of 2021 revenues came from player registration fees (the balance is tied to brand partnerships).
While the Alianza acquisition turbocharged the For Soccer Ventures business, several macro trends have aided in its success over the last 12 months—including a growing desire by corporate America to engage the Hispanic and black consumer (which has led to more brands investing in the sport). “There are diversity and inclusion efforts at every company now,” Horine pointed out.
Horine argues endemic and non-endemic brands are seeing the value in connecting with consumers at the community level more clearly now, too. They recognize “it’s not about pre-roll ads or banner ads or 30-second TV spots. It is about getting into grassroots communities,” he said. For Soccer Ventures’ connection to thousands of soccer organizations across the U.S. has given it a leg up (as has its reputation for authenticity within the soccer community).
Esperanza Teasdale (VP/GM, Pepsi Hispanic Business Unit) seemed to confirm as much. Pepsico “wanted a partner that [had] a proven track record of driving engagement, understanding and meeting the needs of the community, and leveraging its platform for authentic storytelling,” she said. “For Soccer Ventures meets these objectives—with a reach that spans from the grassroots level to the professional ranks.”
The momentum that currently exists in the U.S. around the game has also made this an opportune time for brands to invest. “There’s this incredible soccer culture in America that is driving this business forward, and then you have this moment in 2026, where it all comes together,” Horine said.
Alianza and the Black Star Initiative events provide FSV brand partners with the opportunity to activate and authentically engage Hispanic and black communities at a local level. But they also serve as showcases for young hopefuls. “In New York, [scouts from] U.S. Soccer were there. We had the Mexican Federation there. RedBull, NYCFC and [the University of] North Carolina were all there. [And] NWSL clubs were there scouting our girls program,” Horine said.