The trend of European teams investing in the growth of American soccer continues. Last month, FC Schalke 04, one of the top teams in the Bundesliga, announced it would be the official soccer club of Kick It 3v3, the largest and longest running grassroots soccer tournament tour in the United States.
Kick It, which hosts over 65 events per year, has been working to grow soccer in the U.S. for over 28 years. Its programs have been successful, producing U.S. National Team players, MLS players, and collegiate athletes. The partnership with Schalke will provide Kick It a boost in resources as it revamps its 2018 national tour while, in turn, expanding the German soccer club’s presence in the U.S.
“With [Schalke’s] history, their brand, and our access to the youth soccer market in America, it just felt like it benefited both of us,” explained Matt Novogratz, the CEO of Kick It.
With more than 150,000 members, Schalke is the fifth largest sports club in the world in terms of membership. Through the partnership, the club is hoping to expand its reach in the United States.
“We’re thrilled about taking this major step with Kick It to bring the power and tradition of Schalke to America,” explained Alexander Jobst, Member of the Managing Board for FC Schalke 04. “We’ve had much success this past year introducing Schalke to select cities like St. Louis, Pittsburgh, and Columbus, and we’re excited to be able to reach youth players on a national scale over the next three years with Kick It. We hope that from now on these kids and their families will support FC Schalke 04 as their favorite team from the Bundesliga.”
Working with Kick It, Schalke will be able to reach over 30,000 youth players across the country this year alone, helping it both develop and scout youth players while cultivating its American fan base. Additionally, players who participate in Kick It tournaments will gain exposure to the club and receive a jersey inspired by Schalke. One of the winning teams from a Kick It tournament will also have the opportunity to visit the club’s VELTINS-Arena in Germany.
By exposing American soccer players to Schalke at a young age, the club will be able to imprint its brand and values early, which is almost certain to develop a new generation of fans. Schalke understands that this investment will not only help cultivate new fans of the club at a young age, but also aid in the development and scouting of youth players.
Current Schalke midfielder and U.S. Men’s National Team star Weston McKennie grew up playing Kick It tournaments and eventually graduated from Schalke’s well-regarded “Knappenschmiede” academy.
“I remember those fun weekends playing in Kick It tournaments as a kid in Dallas,” said McKennie, expressing his excitement at the partnership. “Small sided games are such a cool way to develop skills and have a blast with your friends.”
Novogratz points to McKennie’s history with Kick It and current role a player with Schalke as a sign of the three versus three tournament’s impact.
“It’s really come full circle,” says Novogratz, “The legacy is a great one with Kick It.”
The partnership with Schalke is just one in a series of changes Kick It has made recently to revamp its brand after being acquired by Grand Sports Management last year.
“We’ve been rebranding everything from the logo to the website to the tech, but what we really needed was strong partners and partners that made us stand out. So along with Schalke, we also added partners like GoGo Squeez and Laughing Cow, to really put us as a premier youth soccer events company in America,” explained Novogratz.
While Schalke is looking at Kick It to help expand its reach in the Americas, Kick It is hoping to leverage the partnership to expand internationally.
“With the partnership with Schalke, we really hope to bring this global. So our plans for next year and the following year [we hope to] start doing events in Germany, some in Europe, some in South America, so we hope by 2021 you’ll be able to do a Kick It event anywhere in the world.”
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Schalke joins clubs like FC Barcelona, who have established FCBEscolas, their youth development academies, across the country. Schalke’s Bundesliga rivals FC Bayern Munich took a different approach, launching a player development partnership with FC Dallas earlier this year.
With international clubs pouring resources into youth soccer, the future looks bright and Kick It is excited for the opportunity to contribute and hopefully find the next Weston McKennie at one of its events.
“With the resources that Schalke is putting in this summer, we really hope to expand and leave a lasting legacy on the youth soccer market in America,” said Novogratz.