San Francisco Gets its First Pro Soccer Team Led by Colombian Entrepreneur
What: On March 29th, San Francisco's new soccer club team, the SF Deltas, announced its official launch.
Why it matters: This is San Francisco’s first professional soccer team. Although the team does not have any players or a head coach yet, the city is getting behind the venture.
Colombian Brian Andrés Helmick has never known life without soccer. When the SF Deltas’s CEO became aware the opportunity to help the city launch its own soccer club, he merged his passion for soccer and his expertise as an investor to make it happen.
Helmick first arrived to the United States to attend college, and then started a career in finance on Wall Street. Later, he moved to the Bay Area, attended business school at Stanford University, and formed, grew and later sold his own company, a human resources platform for startups called Algentis. That business success allowed him to assemble a group of investors—people he knows and trusts from Brazil and the local business community—to bring professional soccer to San Francisco.
The team has been funded by a diverse group of investors who have helped build companies like Apple, Facebook, Google, PayPal, Twitter and Yahoo. The investor group also includes individuals from venture capital firms including Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Felicis and Precursor.
According to Forbes’ list of 50 Most Valuable Sports Teams in the World, three of the top five are soccer clubs (Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, and Manchester United). If you look at the whole list, 42 teams are in the United States. “This shows the huge importance of sports and the success of sports marketing in the country,” says Hemlock.
The team intends to join the North American Soccer League (NASL), an alternate league to Major League Soccer (MLS) that allows owners from anywhere in the world.
“If you look at the spread of global soccer that is happening here in the U.S. now, which wasn’t there five or ten years ago, it’s really fascinating how many kids you see walking down the streets with Messi or Ronaldo jerseys, even they might don’t know where Argentina or Portugal is. But they know who these players are.”
"Timing is everything, and current awareness of global soccer teams and players by Americans is at its peak," said Emily Melton, Deltas investor and partner at venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson, in a press release. "Average stadium attendance for pro soccer is not only outpacing, but in some cases surpassing that of the NBA and NHL."
Going After the Fans
With not even one player yet, the SF Deltas have already brought together a large group of fans. During the two-week period of the hearing that ultimately awarded the team Kezar Stadium –which was the San Francisco 49ers' stadium between 1946 and 1970–, the City collected more than 1400 letters of support; and on March 17th, 200 of those fans attended the final hearing to listen to the decision. Around 50 people gave their opinion on why having this team playing at the stadium would be valuable for the city.
There are a number of things that make this timing perfect.
“I believe that God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason. We are supposed to listen twice as much as we speak. So we went out there to listen what the people want, and understand the market dynamics out there from very different segments,” Helmick says.
According to the CEO, 42% of the population of San Francisco was not born in the U.S., which means that there is a large multicultural community ready to be brought together by soccer, just as they were in their home countries. “This is a market where you can’t go just after one segment, and where you need to approach each one differently, listening to them,” he adds.
Helmick does not believe in the term “Hispanic market” because although Hispanics all speak Spanish, each country is different, and one must approach each community differently. For this reason, SF Deltas’s marketing strategy is based on going after “one fan at the time” individually. “We want, for example, social media to follow what we are doing in the offline world,” says the CEO. So the brand is going out to meet the fans where they spend their time watching games and having a beer. The contact has rather been personal rather than digital.
Kezar Stadium is small, with a capacity of only 10,000 viewers. Helmick is not worried about having to create TV commercials and put up billboards to fill the seats. “We are not doing any of that. We are spending time with the fans,” he adds. Because the team is at a very early stage, it does not have any sponsors yet. Engaged to be married in June, Helmick compares this big step to creating a soccer team. “Until you have a venue to get married in, talking about the music or the food would make no sense at all. Just now that we got our own stadium, we can go after the next step.”
The team intends to join the North American Soccer League (NASL), an alternate league to Major League Soccer (MLS) that allows owners from anywhere in the world, and also permits spending according to your stage of development. This allows the SF Deltas to focus a larger part of its funds on growing their fan base and putting a team together instead of paying the franchise, Helmick explained.
If everything goes as planned, we will see the SF Deltas compete in the U.S. Open Cup 2017, hosting friendly matches including a pre-season match against the San Jose Earthquakes. Deltas fans can now reserve their inaugural season tickets at sfdeltas.com and become founding season ticket members for an initial deposit of US $50 per person.