Riccardo Silva has a vision.
Silva, the president and co-founder of MP & Silva, a multi-million dollar international sports rights agency, is bringing that vision to the United States.
Silva believes in soccer, has seen its massive success in Europe first-hand and is hoping it carries over stateside. In an interview with SB Weekly, a London-based sports business podcast founded by Matt Cutler and launching later this week, the native Italian talks about two of his latest ventures – Miami FC, the newest soccer club in the U.S., and the Americas Champions League, which is set to become the all-Americas version of Europe’s ultra-popular Champions League.
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“Now is the time that the big change has begun. Soccer in the U.S. has started huge growth in the last 3-5 years. . . . In 20-25 years, soccer in the U.S. will gradually become as important as football, baseball and basketball,” Silva told Cutler.
Silva’s Miami FC club will be debuting in the NASL (North American Soccer League) this upcoming season. The businessman teamed up with Paolo Madini, one of the most revered Italian soccer players of all-time, to launch Miami’s first major soccer team since the Miami Fusion and Tampa Bay Mutiny were withdrawn from the MLS in 2002.
“It’s something totally new to build, really from the management to the shirts to the players to the coaches – everything was to be built from scratch. It was something interesting and challenging,” Silva said.
Aside from these basics, there are psychological differences in the fans attitudes which Silva considers as he builds his new club.
“If you own a football team in Italy or Spain, you are a hero if you win two games in a row. You are a villain if you lose two in a row and you risk having fans wait for you outside of your home,” he said, chuckling. “U.S. sports are more like entertainment. As a fan, growing up in Italy, my mentality was different. We criticized this entertainment aspect of U.S. sports but with time I learned to really appreciate it so I accepted this challenge for this reason.”
But it isn’t only Miami FC that Silva is creating in the U.S. Along with his company MP & Silva, he plans to launch the Americas Champions League in the next few years. With a similar setup as Europe’s Champions League, Silva believes this tournament will boost popularity of soccer in the U.S. and in the surrounding areas.
“The Americas Champions League is the biggest project in the world of football in the last 20 years and in the next 20 years. It’s a fantastic competition. It’s what U.S. soccer is missing. After the MLS Final, there isn’t something else – what we have in European football.
I think the European championship, since the ‘90s, was one of the main reasons why European football, in England, Spain and Italy, exploded globally. Thanks to the Champions League. Thanks to the big clashes in the Champions League. Thanks to the big stories in the Champions League. Thanks to the big stage of the Champions League. The big European leagues took advantage of it.”
While some American sports fans may think that the idea of soccer emerging as one of the country’s most popular sports is unrealistic, a look at the MLS suggests otherwise. The top soccer league in North America is already closing the gap with the “Big Four” sports, bringing in more fans and driving more revenue than ever before.
“Considering the target audience for soccer in the U.S. – soccer is the sport of the kids. Not only playing but following. If you go to a 10-year-old American kid, most of them will know Cristiano Ronaldo or Messi… Maybe the older population is still following a lot of baseball while the younger population is probably switching a lot from baseball to soccer,” Silva said.
“Probably American football and basketball will remain in the same super high level. There is a switch from baseball to soccer which is happening in the younger populations. That’s the right moment to invest in soccer in the U.S.”
Whether or not Riccardo Silva’s vision will become reality remains to be seen. But Silva, with a wealth of experience and a proven strategy that has worked in some of the biggest cities in countries outside of the U.S., believes it is certainly worth a shot.
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Follow Matthew Hochberg on Twitter @MatthewHochberg.