Rice Sport Business Society Hosts Soccer Business Panel

Rice Sport Business Society Hosts Soccer Business Panel

On Thursday, April 16, the RiceSport Business Society (RSBS), in partnership with Rice’s Department of Sport Management, hosted a panel discussion on the business of professional soccer called “Alive and Kicking.”

Justin Wolin ’15, the president of RSBS, facilitated the discussion among the three panelists who included Chris Canetti (President of the Houston Dynamo), David Siddons (Strategic Account Manager at Nike), and Frank Arnold ’08 (Director of Operations for the Houston Dynamo).

Members of the panel

The panel primarily discussed the growth of soccer in the United States as both a sport and business.

“Soccer is the fastest growing sport in this country. Major League Soccer is the fastest growing league in this country,” Canetti said. “At some point in the future, whether its 10 years or 30 years from now, I believe the MLS will be the most popular league in this country next to the NFL.”

This growth can be attributed to the fact this generation of young adults grew up with a professional soccer league to follow.

“I think the main thing is our league has been around for 20 years now.” Canetti said. “We are just going through our first generational change where someone who might have been eight years old when the MLS started is now 28 years old.”

Along with the notoriety of the MLS, the increasing foreigner population in the United States has expedited the growth of soccer in the US as well.

“More kids are playing soccer than any other sport right now.” Canetti said. “While maybe the other sports might be in the lead because there’s a lot more revenue right now, that’s changing and all of the statistics and data prove that which is why billions of dollars have been spent on infrastructure for MLS in this country.”

The growth in new infrastructure and passionate fans has changed the game day environment of Major League Soccer. Teams have catered to the zealous fans through the implementation of Supporters Sections at games.

“The Supporters Sections is one of the biggest areas we have grown in terms of operations,” Arnold said. “You get these hard core fans who are out there to sing and dance the entire game. We have gone from 50 season ticket holders in that area to 500.”

Retailers are recognizing the growth in soccer fans and are trying to capitalize on it as well.

“The game of soccer is exploding and the retail results reflect that,” Siddons said. “For the Women’s World Cup, Academy Sports + Outdoors has made a large investment as far as licensed jersey sales and apparel because of the popularity of the women’s team and the fact that it is in Canada.”

As far as the future growth in soccer, the more exposure of the players and their stories is going to be critical for the development of the game.

“I brought Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo midfielder and Nike endorser) out to meet with Academy Senior Management,” Siddons said. “Brad, in half and hour of just Q&A and talking about his background, story, and his work with wounded soldiers, converted all of those folks into soccer fans.”

The growing interest in soccer is showing no signs of stopping anytime soon and as the MLS continues to grow and players become better known, that interest will only continue to strengthen.

Members of the panel

Danielle Spriggs, a junior from Dana Point, California, is majoring in Sport Management and minoring in Business.