When you talk to Craig Tornberg, one of the main people in the new front office of Boston City FC, some things quickly become apparent. This is a man that has a wealth of experience marketing soccer in this country and with great experience comes great passion for what he does. He waxes poetic about his experiences in New England and the people he’s worked with, never letting a name slip out of his mouth without a story or compliment to go along with it. In addition, he brings a sense of humor and ability to read a room that is essential to any businessman, regardless of his trade.
A stalwart of the New England Revolution for over a decade, Tornberg got his start in the American soccer scene at its genesis: marketing the all-new Major League Soccer project to people at the World Cup in 1994 in Los Angeles.
“We were volunteering at the World Cup for a booth for Major League Soccer where we were taking $75 deposits for season tickets. We were trying to generate interest for teams that had no name, clubs that had no players, no traditions, and it we were trying to get and extract from a very limited marketplace,” said Tornberg. “If you remember, there were a lot of kids playing but it wasn’t the cultural phenomenon that we’re enjoying at all. The cultural side was the immigrants that were attending the games, if you will. There were a lot of new Americans that were attending a lot of the matches and a lot of people that wanted to explore the event. But, the tradition of football in this country was limited.”
Add in a subsequent decade-plus of working as the Revolution’s Vice-President and General Manager, Tornberg certainly brings a wealth of experience and knowledge about the American soccer scene that is hard to find in this country. Tornberg now brings this same experience and knowledge to Boston City FC as acting managing director and special advisor to the ownership group. Tornberg expanded on what that role means.
“I think that Renato and Palhihna, in particular, look to the experiences I had and wanted to put something together in a real professional manner and they reached out to me and we were able to do so. Normally, it wouldn’t be a lower division team that would be in a position to take me on for my services, but they really want to make a full run with this organization. Some of the things I’ll do off the pitch are organizing their front office and finding the right people to operate it going forward and we’ve started on that trend by taking on a great person to start in our sponsorship areas. We’ve taken on a wonderful individual to take on our team administration role (note: Victor Oliveira was announced as team administrator this week). There’s key elements to running a top fledged group and you want to have great people around you. That’s the first thing.”
“The second thing is for strategic planning, to work with the ownership group and the staff to make sure that we are a little more ahead of the game. I think that they were recognizing the enormity of details that are involved in running a club. It sounds easy when you’re looking from the outside in, when you start getting into the middle of it and seeing the amount of administrating that’s involved and the business. So, I think they recognize that. They also recognize the fact that it was probably a little on the later side on puling the trigger for moving in that direction. However, one of the reasons that I got involved is that they look at things for the longer range. They aren’t looking at this as a seasonal event, they’re looking at this as a growth opportunity.”
Tornberg refers to CEO Renato Valentim and President/Manager Palhinha. Valentim, a resident of Boston since 1998, is best known as a world-renowned real estate developer and restaurant owner. Jorge Ferreira da Silva, commonly known as Palhinha, is best known for his time at Sao Paolo, during which he won two Copa Libertadores and Intercontinetal Cups. He also scored 5 times in 16 caps with his native Brazil. Tornberg holds a certain admiration for both of his partners in this “journey” that is Boston City, and expressed what both their backgrounds mean for the club.
“You know, Palhinha played (and I’ll digress a little bit) under the radar for awhile in Brazil, then through a long time of work and training was able to get discovered in America and Belo Horizonte and ended up at Sao Paolo, one of the biggest clubs in Brazil and certainly one of the biggest clubs in the world. He understands what it takes to put in the efforts to get the rewards. Renato is very similar, and that’s another very exciting thing. He did everything within the restaurant business before he started to own them. He understands this is not an overnight thing. I think it was Billy Joel who said “I worked eleven years to become an overnight sensation.” So they get it. That’s one of your Long Island boys, right? So I think that’s brilliant, he toiled for years until he was able to put the things together that were necessary to become successful. When you have people that are that engaged and are ready to work, it’s great. We’re preparing to open up an office, and they love the brand. And I love that they love the brand. I brought my family the other day by the office just to see it (I have a small little group that I’ve been working with since the Revolution days, a little underserved soccer program for underserved kids). We finished some games, and I said ‘Hey, wanna see the office?’ and we drove by and every single window has our emblem, every shade has Boston City Football Club and you can see it. They’re finishing the interior of it and it’s going to be AMAZING! They’re proud to show it! You’re going to go to the office and you’re going to feel like you’re going to a soccer club, and I appreciate it. Especially at this stage, where we haven’t really gotten off the ground yet.”
“The mass transit system, only five minutes away, we’re going to have a shuttle to bring fans back and forth. What does Renato do to make sure we’re covered and in the negotiations with transportation companies? He buys a bus. He went out and bought a bus yesterday. That’s how committed he is to this project. I think he’s still going to drive his Ferrari, though. I already asked if that’s the end of the season bonus that I’m working for.”
One of the more interesting things about Boston City FC. are the connections (and passion) that Valentim and Palhinha are already flexing, before Boston has even kicked a ball yet. To start, Palhinha was so invested in the brand of BCFC that he got a tattoo of the club’s crest last year. The two are so respected in their home country that the Boston City project received an invite to participate in the 2015 Belo Horizonte Cup, competing with the likes of Nacional, Seleção Matozinhos, and AMDH. The pair made the most of the trip, doing various networking activities such as making many in Brazil part of the “Fan Club” as well as meeting Cruzeiro Esporte Club president Gilvan Tavares. The likes of footballing giants Zico and Romario as well as Brazilian music icons Fernando Pires and Pinha Presidente have wished the pair luck this season, and half of the team’s opening day roster is listed as hailing from Brazil.
But, one has to wonder, how did a former Sao Paolo player and world renowned businessman end up in the NPSL of all leagues? Well, Tornberg explained, it all has to do with the “nimbleness” that the situation provides.
“I think the wanted to do their research. The came across the NPSL and thought that that would be the proper place for them to begin. One, because they thought it would appeal to the particular market that they were trying to address, and the people that they met at the NPSL. As a result, that’s how it started. Then they really formulated from the community some kids that were able to do the trip and wear the brand and head to Brazil. Obviously now that we have a first team that is going to be our lead program, which is very different than a lot of clubs. A lot of clubs kind of throw something out there as the first team after having a pretty strong academy program, and they say ‘well we’re losing all the kids, they’re going on to university or they’re going on to overseas, we don’t have anything for these kids so lets throw a first team together so they have something to aspire to. Ours is starting from the first team and we’re going to build that structure down.”
In addition, Tornberg believes that the NPSL fits into a good niche of the soccer pyramid that bigger leagues like MLS can’t.
“I love the part of NPSL that is involved in this. There’s no question that after a period of time, these organizations grow beyond the ability to be as nimble as they are, to work in some communities. As much as they try, it becomes harder for a variety of reasons. This is really a nimble organization that has the ability to get into communities, work with kids, get themselves involved with these kids, running everything from clinics to things that we can do at matches that are different. It’s a little less restrictive to execute things at the stadium that we’re starting in versus some of the things we can and cant do at a major stadium like a Gillette Stadium or a MetLife stadium. Again, there’s a place for both. That’s whats nice about the NPSL. They fit into those voids, and MLS has been clear that they want to be only a major league. That’s how they want to be seen. They want to have the top clubs in the top leagues in the world. I don’t necessarily think that’s the mission statement of an NPSL club. It’s much more about developing. If a player comes in, plays a year, and sets up a platform to get transferred into an MLS club or into an international environment, that would please an NPSL club to no end. In MLS, they don’t want them to go overseas, they want to keep those kids in the league and attract those players from overseas. So it’s a little more focused on the development, and we believe that there are more kids out there to be developed than what MLS can handle, or what any of the leagues can really handle.”
That seems to be the gist of Boston City. This is not a club that looks to go for the jugular of the Revolution’s efforts in New England, it looks to merely use the “nimbleness” of their organization serve the community and the fans of the club. While Tornberg takes pride in the Revolution jerseys he sees everyday, he still has a certain anticipation of seeing Boston City jerseys out in public. He mentioned many times about working with kids in youth clinics, local businesses in marketing, and many other grassroots efforts that warm the heart in an era of big money TV deals and players who move where the dollar goes. Boston City truly looks to be a club “of the People, by the People, for the People”, as the motto goes.
The sentiment is expressed further in the club’s mission statement.
“Boston City is a club that will always embody the passion and competitive spirit of the sport we play. We will at all times be authentic, honest, inclusive, and strive for excellence so we may properly represent the greater Boston community we serve. Our players, our staff, our partners, and our fans will proudly wear our shirt.”
With the club set to kick of May 1st against the defending champion New York Cosmos B, Tornberg was cautiously optimistic when asked about results on the field and off. He knows that Palhinha has worked very hard with the roster, and both sides are excited to get started in the new league. However, as he put it, “You don’t know until you really start competing against some of the other teams and then its time to start tinkering and finding out what we need and how to augment or what you need to subtract”. As for off the field, Tornberg realizes how a late start to efforts makes things more difficult for the club, but mentioned that there are currently 200 season ticket holders ahead of the new season. Much like results on the pitch, it appears Boston will approach the inaugural season off the field with a cautious optimism that accompanies hard work and grassroots work.
Finally, the usual question to wrap up with when discussing a new club: where do you go from here? There were many times where Tornberg mentioned that he, Valentim, and Palhinha want fans to “come along for the journey” and see where it all takes them. He discussed the difficulties of establishing real “long term goals” in the current soccer climate:
“It’s too early for us to really set up that longer term vision. If the leagues themselves weren’t evolving so quickly, then it would be something that we could sit down and say hey, in 10 years we’re going to be doing this. I just saw Commisioner Peterson talking about relegation and promotion with the NASL and NPSL… how can I set up a long term thing, and say ok, we’re going to be playing here this time, etc? We might be playing in the NASL (if that comes to fruition) if we put together a good product on the field. So, its very difficult, but its also pretty clear. There’s talk of a new stadium in our local area: 6,000 seat stadium. It’s been approved already by the planning commissions not too far from where we currently play. That’s exciting for us, because that’s the sort of thing that we can aspire to and we can fill. Beyond that really depends on how well we’re able to put the packages that I just described. That being close to the fanbase… If there’s enough people proud enough to wear our shirt? Guess what. The sky’s the limit.”
For a club with such passion and investment in the community, the sky is the limit indeed.
Boston City F.C. kicks off their 2016 NPSL campaign against reigning champions New York Cosmos B at Brother Gilbert Stadium at Malden Catholic High School, kickoff 6 P.M.