After months of speculation, fan outcry, and rumors that made the NASL seem like a TMZ outfit (Kardashian and Sting to LA and Orange County…that was weird, right?) the league finally has their long sought after West Coast team. The San Francisco Deltas announced Tuesday that they would begin play in 2017 at Kezar Stadium.
The investment group who won the bid for the team in San Francisco against three other bids boasts an impressive list of company ties, with investors listed who hold positions at Twitter, Apple, Facebook, Polygroup, and Yahoo, among others. The investment group was lead by now CEO Brian Andrés Helmick, a Colombian-born lifelong soccer fan, who founded and recently sold virtual human resource service company Algentis.
Helmick, in a statement Tuesday, emphasized what it meant to bring soccer to San Fran: “This game — soccer, fútbol, football — is one that unites us all, crossing all boundaries whether geographical, religious or socio-economic. Now fans of the world’s largest sport will have an opportunity to experience it played at the highest level right here in the heart of the City.”
In addition, Helmick went on to say how it was hard to see the team from a strictly business perspective and remove his love for the game into his analysis as CEO. He found it interesting how, while the United States dominates the top 50 wealthiest sports teams in the world, none are from the world’s game.
Possibly the most impressive part of the Deltas, however, is their attention to detail. Before deciding on the NASL as the destination for the club, Helmick met owners, presidents, and general managers from all 12 NASL clubs in order to know what he would be getting into and who he would be working with if this was the route he chose.
To go along with this announcement, the Deltas released a YouTube video titled “To the Naysayers”, which evokes both Silicon Valley and Nike advertisements. In it, Helmick goes on to mention how those who say soccer cannot work in the United States “fuel the risk-takers, the agents of change.” The video goes on the mention how involved the club will be in technology, innovation, and new ideas, a nod to the investment groups roots and the initial “soccer startup” idea first floated out in the club’s embryonic stages.
To go with the video, the Deltas have given insight to one of the technological project that their “soccer startup” will be embarking upon. To start, the club is looking to incorporate virtual reality into the fan experience, while letting fans decide which food trucks will be at the games. Furthermore, the Deltas look to implement AI ticketing to Kazer Stadium. This would let fans select where they want to sit each specific game- in a “family section”, a supporters section, and so on. Helmick explained further: “Now we’re maximizing the experience for not only where you want to sit but also who you want to sit next to which I believe becomes increasingly important in a city as diverse as San Francisco.” He also added about technology and Kezar: “There [is a lot about Kezar] that allows us to do something that we wouldn’t be able to do at a more established stadium.”
Despite the “soccer startup” and Silicon Valley ties, however, the club has more goals that money and accolades. There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that the Deltas want to build another championship team for the Bay Area, but their CEO says their goals are deeper than that. “But our overarching goal is to grow the sport. When I walk around in Colombia you see people carrying a soccer ball everywhere. You see people playing on pavement, you see people playing on grass. You see teams at all different levels. That’s what I want to happen. I don’t view sports as a zero sum game of one team needs to win for other teams to fail. If anything, the more we collaborate to work together for with sport we all love, everyone benefits from that.”
Don’t let the money and technology fool you, however: the Deltas and Helmick know that the way to building a great club is taking it “fan by fan”. They’ve shown their power in the initial march to support their club and the nearly 200 scarf-clad supporters that showed up to the Recreation and Park committee meeting for the club’s proposed use of Kezar Stadium starting in 2017- a proposal that was unanimously approved. Part of the reason that the Deltas wanted Kezar was the history. It’s the original home of the San Francisco 49ers and has been used for various professional and semi-professional clubs of different sports since the 49ers left in 1970 for Candlestick Park. Most recently it was used for the Bay Area Breeze of the developmental W-League in 2013 and has been empty ever since.
Finally, that logo you all have loved to hate the past few months? Well, Helmick has heard you, and he wanted to explain the thought process behind it. He explained how in talking with fans, the main message he received was to not “manufacture” something that a completely new club is not. Additionally, he found that with San Fransisco being such an incredibly diverse city, it was hard to find a concept or design that pleased the masses. However, the NASL’s newest CEO found a silver lining about the logo: “As we’ve spoken to people about the triangle [logo] they say ‘Oh, it reminds me of the Transamerica Pyramid. Or it reminds me of Twin Peaks. And it reminds me of the towers of the Golden Gate Bridge.’ The brand lends itself to flexibility.”
All in all, the roll out of the San Francisco Deltas to date has been very impressive. The level of professionalism, attention to detail, grassroots marketing, and aspirations for the club are on par with any of the expansion clubs to date, if not better (not to mention the Silicon Valley all star team of investors). The challenge to see ahead for the Deltas, however, is to see if the can get the correct people in on the soccer side of things. Helmick seems to have the business experience and love of the game to vet personnel properly, but it remains to be seen what will happen on the field. With roughly a year to kickoff, who will manage the club? Will they have an academy? What other personnel will be brought in? These, and many other questions, remain to be seen. However, the Deltas are off to a flying start.
But, this is the first time I truly feel like I’ve seen a vision from the group. And, it’s not bad. It’s pretty impressive. And like I’d expect from a company in SF, they’re finding a way to merge technology with their brand.
Oh, I’m still gonna crack jokes at them, but they’re some big boys and girls over there with a decent sense of humor, and what appears to be a bigger sense of purpose.
West Coast expansion AND a different direction for soccer in the league? Like I told Ricardo Geromel, make those beer drones a reality and I’ll swing by.
I think good things are coming.