Spotlight on Surf SC’s Nationwide Affiliate Programs
Exclusive Interview with Bryan Thistle and Chris Adams
With the ever changing youth soccer landscape, small clubs can find it hard to compete in today’s highly competitive environment centered on big name awareness. Youth soccer club affiliate programs can offer more than just leverage with large retailers and player development curriculums — here is a spotlight on the Surf SC Affiliate program.
Youth Soccer News: Today, youth soccer is more competitive than ever. A fast growing part of the booming, $15 billion dollar youth sports world, youth soccer clubs are expected to be run like businesses.
Gone are the days of small mom and pop soccer clubs succeeding in their communities. Being part of a larger youth soccer organization can have its benefits.
Now, small clubs can find it harder to compete than before and affiliate programs can provide a safe haven for long term sustainability as well as immediate market, name-brand awareness.
As this new trend emerges – we thought we would take a look at one of the fastest growing affiliate programs. The Surf SC Affiliate Program was launched 2012 when Murrieta Youth Soccer League became Murrieta Surf Soccer Club – the first Surf SC affiliate. Now, the Surf SC program has grown to 10,000 youth players wearing Surf on their jerseys, and 12 affiliates extending Surf SC’s reach from coast to coast.
Smaller youth soccer clubs looking for access to college coaches and scouts as well as highly sought after acceptance to prestigious tournaments may opt for joining an affiliate program.
The Surf SC Affiliate program is free to join and the benefits are significant — from free software to run your club to hands on marketing support and, of course, nationally recognized player development and coaching curriculums from the 10x National Championship youth soccer club.
Diane Scavuzzo interviewed Bryan Thistle, VP of Surf Cup Sports and Chris Adams, Business Development Director — the people behind the Surf SC Affiliate program.
Diane Scavuzzo: How many youth soccer players wear the Surf logo on their jersey?
Bryan Thistle: There are 10,000 youth players wearing Surf on their jerseys playing at 12 Surf SC affiliates.
Diane Scavuzzo: How has the landscape of youth soccer changed in the last decade? Is it harder for a small club to thrive today?
Bryan Thistle: Youth soccer has changed tremendously in the past ten years, and continues to evolve at a rapid pace in response to increased pressure and demands from both the top gaming leagues and also the consumer — the parents and players.
The top sanctioning bodies in the United States are attempting to exert increasing control over the clubs participating in their league in terms of oversight, curriculum, and training environment that requires a solid and competent staff to manage.
Parents are also demanding more professional coaching, better facilities, better competition.
This means that clubs need to be run professionally if they are to thrive at the highest levels of the sport.
We are seeing clubs look to associate with bigger brands in order to better weather the changes in the industry.
Chris Adams: We are all seeing a huge movement of clubs merging and joining larger organizations — especially with the increase in MLS development academies. Smaller clubs are facing increased pressure to have a support system larger than many can afford.
Several affiliate programs are focused on generating revenue, and others, like Surf SC’s, are focused on the end consumer — the player.
One of our top priorities is increasing the value and perception of our brand.
We want to help grow youth soccer at the highest levels — and raise the bar on player development. Surf SC’s affiliate program allows us to assist other clubs to benefit from our experience and success — and, this allows us to grow our brand.
Bryan Thistle: Our vision differs starkly from the vast majority of the affiliate programs available for youth soccer clubs.
Our goal is to have a Surf affiliate in every major market in the United States that is the standard-bearer for excellence within their community.
We don’t feel that we get there by taking from our partners in terms of per player fees or licensing fees.
The Surf Affiliate program is free.
We think that the better long-term strategy is to help each partner grow by providing tools, support, and the benefit of our major partnerships.
Simply put, we do not use our affiliates as a source of revenue.
Chris Adams: I think what sets us apart is the truth that this is not a revenue stream for us.
I managed several large soccer organizations during my time at Soccer.com. They all have a value offering, and I encourage any clubs that are thinking about joining a large soccer organization to shop around.
Our affiliation is a partnership.
We love to hear from our affiliates and cater to their needs, rather than setting a hard and fast template for what a Surf club should look like.
Chris Adams: I started with Surf in January of 2017 after spending the previous 3 years as their Account Manager at Soccer.com — we would like to be in every major US market in the next several years.
The Surf brand is very strong on the West Coast, and we are known internationally as a strong organization focused on player development, but we have a lot of work to do to engage clubs throughout the rest of the USA.
Bryan Thistle: While we have an eye on expansion on the East Coast, we are interested in working with clubs located all throughout the country. Most importantly, we want to see our current affiliates achieving their goals, growing, and sending more players to college than they were previously.
We want the name Surf to always be synonymous with quality.
As MLS academies continue to grow, it’s our mission to be right on par with these professional organizations. We want to send as many, if not more, young men and women to college, USWNT, USMNT, MLS, and any other professional levels.
Diane Scavuzzo: Are Surf affiliates both competitive and recreational youth soccer clubs?
Chris Adams: Yes, our program targets solid and ambitious competitive youth soccer clubs who want to become the premier high-level club in their area but most of our affiliate clubs have a recreational element.
Diane Scavuzzo: Where are you looking to add new affiliates?
Chris Adams: With the addition of San Jose Surf this year, we are currently in discussions to add a few more selective clubs in the Northern/Central California, Nevada, Arizona, and other western states.
Diane Scavuzzo: How large is San Diego Surf SC — how many competitive youth soccer players play for the club?
Bryan Thistle: There are roughly 1,000 competitive players at Surf SC in San Diego. The club has a 66 youth soccer teams — 33 girls and 33 boys teams.
The total number of youth soccer coaches at San Diego Surf SC is 35. This year, Surf SC celebrates 40 years of helping developing youth soccer players and young men and women — and, our 2004 Girls team just became US Youth Soccer National Champions – -our 10th National Championship title.
The Surf SC name is well known and has earned international recognition.
Diane Scavuzzo: What are the benefits to becoming a Surf Affiliate?
Chris Adams:: We utilize the knowledge and connections made in San Diego Surf SC over the past several decades and help other clubs achieve their goals.
Being selective in who we decide to affiliate with allows us to build a very strong network, rather than an immediate large network.
It’s exciting to see clubs coming on board who are at different points in their club journey.
As the network strengthens, it becomes a benefit in-itself.
We’re seeing more clubs learning from each other and utilizing guest playing opportunities every month, and this is really great.
Every club has different goals, and we are well equipped to help them achieve them, on and off the field. My job is to be here for our affiliates. Anything they need help with, it’s my goal to find them someone or something that can help based on the connections that San Diego Surf has made.
Chris Adams: No. While we hope all of our affiliates compete in Surf Cup, Man City Cup, and our Thanksgiving showcases, we do not give them preference over non-Surf teams.
Diane Scavuzzo: Surf SC has a full U.S. Soccer Development Academy – is this a benefit to an affiliate?
Bryan Thistle: We have two affiliates who are in the USSDA, Greater Seattle Surf and Murrieta Surf.
It’s a goal for all of our affiliates to take their clubs to the highest level of competition — whether that means DA, ECNL, or ODP. This level is different for each club in their respective marketplace.
Diane Scavuzzo: Acceptance into the program — How do you choose a youth soccer club? What are the guidelines, if any?
Chris Adams: We only accept clubs into the program that are serious about growing and taking it to the next level.
The beauty of our program is that it is not a “takeover” of an existing club. We look for clubs that are run by quality people and have a strong and positive club culture.
We never want to change what has made a local club successful.
Diane Scavuzzo: What is the accomplishment that you are most proud of?
Bryan Thistle: We’re extremely proud of the 12% average annual growth of our affiliate clubs.
Surf affiliates generally experience strong interest and growth due to the strength of the brand, the tools and support made available to every club, the benefits of the wider Surf network, and a sense of progress and achievement communicated to the community, that the club is serious about becoming the best of the best in the area.
Diane Scavuzzo: What are the biggest mistakes most youth soccer clubs make?
Bryan Thistle: Operating in a vacuum. Assuming that the market realities last year will be the same this year. Failure to cultivate partnerships when available.