Saturday, January 29 2022

Today’s guest columnist is Will Wilson, CEO and secretary general of the U.S. Soccer Federation.

For the United States Soccer Federation, and supporters of the U.S. Men’s National Team, this week is undoubtedly highly anticipated. Our home FIFA World Cup Qualifier against Mexico, an event that takes place just once every four years, and the build-up to Friday’s match in Cincinnati are the equivalent of a quadrennial homecoming for everyone who loves our team and all that our game has to offer.

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Ahead of tomorrow’s match, we are incredibly excited to officially announce we have renewed our partnership with Nike, continuing one of our strongest and longest-standing relationships. Our new agreement with Nike represents the biggest and longest commercial partnership in the history of U.S. Soccer, as well as one of the largest investments in soccer around the world.

We’ve worked with Nike for 25 years, and we know that together we can fuel the sport over the next decade, positively impact the long-term development of the game, and reach our goal of making soccer the preeminent sport in the U.S. The new agreement will formally take effect in 2023 and is anchored around global soccer events that will showcase our sport like never before.

In the near future, we look forward to the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar and the 2023 Women’s World Cup in New Zealand and Australia. Then we have an incredible runway towards the 2026 FIFA World Cup in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, which will undoubtedly be one of the most-watched sporting events ever. Right on the heels of the World Cup is the 2028 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles, and as the world’s undisputed leader in supporting women’s soccer, we will close out the decade by aggressively bidding to host the FIFA Women’s World Cup here in the U.S. in 2027 or 2031.

The opportunity ahead for U.S. Soccer to grow the game is one of the main reasons I joined the federation as its CEO and secretary general last year. Along with our president, Cindy Parlow Cone, I am fortunate to have teamed with an amazing group of professionals who have helped us reach this moment. Our current leadership team has played a central role in our recent evolution as an organization and has helped position U.S. Soccer—as well as our players, fans and current partners—on an exciting growth trajectory as we gear up for what can truly be the greatest decade in our sport’s history.

We have another exciting opportunity ahead, as our current long-standing partnerships with ESPN, Fox and Univision expire at the end of 2022 and are up for renegotiation. All three broadcasters have been fantastic partners for U.S. Soccer, and as we navigate the ever-evolving media landscape, we have been encouraged by the response in the marketplace and are committed to aligning with the right strategic partners that are committed to helping us grow the game at all levels. We have a unique opportunity to engage with all fans and know our media partners play a critical role in those efforts.

We are thankful to Soccer United Marketing for helping us build our commercial partnerships for the past 20 years, and as we move forward on our own, we see incredible sponsorship opportunities and are keenly focused on driving strategic value for existing partners, such as Volkswagen, Allstate, AT&T, Biosteel, Budweiser, Chipotle, Deloitte, GoGo Squeeze and Visa. To help us take advantage of our new opportunity to fully control both our commercial and media rights, we have started hiring important key executives to add to our already talented staff.

We will also be identifying and bringing in new brand partners that are aligned with our values and long-term vision for growth, including growing the game at all levels, providing more opportunities to elevate girl’s and women’s soccer, advancing our diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, and connecting with our Hispanic fans in an authentic way. We anticipate making many more announcements like this week’s Nike news in the months ahead.

Importantly, these partnerships will play a critical role in new collective bargaining agreements with our Men’s and Women’s senior National Teams. Following our recent identical collective bargaining offers to both teams, we are working hard to reach agreements that equalize World Cup prize money and provide the players with new opportunities to share in the commercial growth of the game through revenue sharing. This would be a first for U.S. Soccer and our national teams.

These additional commercial agreements and new marketing categories coming into the pipeline will help ensure our Men’s and Women’s National Teams remain among the highest paid in the world. They will also ensure that U.S. Soccer can continue to invest in our Extended National Teams—Para, Beach and Futsal—in our youth, coaching and referee development, and in making the game more accessible for all across the country.

We recently launched our “Only Forward” campaign at U.S. Soccer to reflect the collective mindset of our organization, players, coaches, partners and supporters. That has never been more appropriate than it is right now, as we look toward the future of soccer in this country. We are bullish on what’s next, and together with our current and future partners, it’s Only Forward from here.

Prior to joining U.S. Soccer, Wilson was executive vice president and co-head of football for the global sports agency Wasserman. He has also worked at Soccer United Marketing and the NFL.

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