The on-field success and subsequent growth of the Swans over the past 4 season has been exceptional and none more so than overseas, where the Swansea City brand has grown considerably. Our Supporter Director Huw Cooze, outlines the development work that has been done in the United States to date and what the future holds.
The club board initially approved the development concept to launch our brand in the United States with a view to building our fan-base in America. The plan was to grow the brand through grass roots and create partnerships with the appropriate amateur clubs within the US. This would then be followed through with the first team playing matches in the US with the ultimate objective of partnering with an MLS team.
Five Year Plan – North Shore United
It was a conversation between Brian Katzen and Huw Cooze that started a partnership with the American Youth team, North Shore United.
Brian, whose business partner in America, had some kids playing at North Shore United (NSU) introduced me via email to the president of the club, Mark Koenig and after quite a few email exchanges a partnership was established.
Swansea City were playing in the Championship at the time and needed to grow its fan-base, especially in North America. North Shore United were an expanding Youth set up from the sports mad area of Wisconsin with some 1,200 kids on the books aged from 5 to 23.
It was agreed that Mark along with head of coaching Sinisa Angelovski would come over for a weekend, watch a game at the Liberty Stadium, meet some of the directors at Swansea and do some general fact finding. The pair were over for the match against Nottingham Forest in March 2011 and we all agreed that a partnership made a lot of sense for all.
Lots of ideas were explored with an ambitious plan to bring over a tour party to play against Swansea City in 2012.
In April 2012 a tour party of 48 from North Shore United headed to Swansea. On tour was an u14’s team from NSU with an even mix of parents, they took advantage of the good weather to do lots of sight-seeing in and around Swansea in between training sessions with Swansea Youth coaches as well as their own coaches who had travelled over from America. They watched an u18’s game at St. Helen’s rugby ground before taking on Swansea u14’s at Llandarcy sports academy, where they narrowly lost 5-3 to a strong Swansea side.
One kid stood out for the North Shore team, his name was Luka Prpa, the Swansea coaching contingent could see that Luka had something that they liked, so much so they decided to keep an eye on the youngster to see how he progressed and in March 2015, Luka was invited over for a 2 week trial. He had made the US National junior team in the States and had certainly improved since 2012, the current position is that Luka has to continue his education and soccer schooling with the US Nationals in Florida until March 2016 where Swansea will reassess again at that time.
On a rest day it had been arranged for the kids and parents alike to spend the day at Swansea LC2. The NSU coaches and I went to watch the first team train at Llandarcy. Later, they were introduced to Brendan Rodgers, Colin Pascoe and Alan Curtis, where different methods and techniques were discussed. Pictures were taken of the group to the delight of the coaches with the kids extremely envious on their return with their pictures and stories of how they met some of the players and coaches of the Premier League team Swansea City.
To plan a trip of this nature takes some organising and I’m glad to say that as well as Mark and Sinisa, I was introduced to Joe Hames who is Director of Coaching at NSU, I gave Joe all the contacts, ie. hotels, coach companies, restaurants, places of interest etc and Joe, as well as booking the flights, sorted everything out in advance from his Cederberg home. It was pleasing to see how well executed the trip was and without Joe, I don’t think it would have been possible.
For our part, we wanted to introduce the brand to a bunch of ‘Soccer’ loving Americans. So the day before the Premier League match against Newcastle we gave them a stadium tour along with a visit to the club shop where they kitted themselves out for the match the next day. They left Swansea on the Tuesday morning for our away fixture in London at Loftus Road v QPR.
The tour was extremely successful and with Joe telling me that nearly every kid at NSU now follows Swansea City was an added bonus.
The Swansea Way
Whilst the tour was a good way of getting a foot hold into North America, we needed to cement this partnership. It was agreed to send out 3 Swansea Youth coaches to give expert coaching seminars and explain the ‘Swansea Way’ philosophy at the Summer Camps run by NSU. The news that Premier League coaches would be involved spread quickly and helped swell the numbers.
Almost 2,000 kids passed through the coaching sessions during the week, NSU had arranged that every kid received a t-shirt with the Swansea logo emblazoned on the front and everyone went away with a certificate saying that they had been given expert coaching sessions by qualified Swansea City coaches.
We have, to date, sent out coaches to Summer Camps in 2012, 2013, 2014 and are about to send them out again this July.
On top of this, last winter they arranged a Winter Camp for the first time and again Swansea City coaches were running the sessions.
In 2014, another tour was arranged on the back of the success in 2012. It was decided to bring an u14’s boys and girls team over, again, with a mix of parents and kids. With the help of Joe, there were 90 over for the week. The previous trip was a good yardstick and many of the events provided valuable experience. The difference was that now Swansea had its own facilities and it was noted how impressive these facilities were by those who had been over in 2012.
The girls u14’s played at Garden Village where they won and a game against a strong Welsh u16’s side at Fairwood which they lost. The boys played Llanelli at Stebonheath which was drawn and Swansea u14’s at Fairwood which was lost. It was good to see all the kids involved enjoying themselves and making friends after the final whistle.
The obligatory stadium tour was arranged and a visit to the club shop where the Americans were not only buying for themselves but had shopping lists for family members back home. I often wondered how they managed to get everything to fit into their suitcases!
The highlight of the week was the premier League game against Chelsea and the tour was another success, plans are afoot for something similar in 2016.
Last summer, we sent out 500 shirts, which NSU have used as playing kit and have been seen in tournaments all across America, they have been successful in many of them too. All kit, including those not sent over by us, have the Swansea logo sewn onto the sleeve so I think it’s fair to say we have left our mark in this part of America.
There were 1,100 from the North Shore club supporting Swansea City at Miller Park in Milwaukee when Swansea City toured America last year with perhaps another 500 supporters from other part of the States, which made it quite surreal for me, and to add to this, a small party of Garry Monk, Kris O’Leary, Leon Britton, Angel Rangel, Jay Fulton, Ben Davies, our media team and I took some time out of the tour to visit the North Shore’s training base.
By pure chance it was the week of the Summer Camps and Swansea youth coaches were also present. Seeing Swansea well represented in another part of the world was something I will never forget. The knowledgeable kids at the Summer Camp were impressive and asking those assembled all manner of questions. The local press were out in force and it was aired on TV stations that evening and made the newspapers the following day.
The original plan has worked. We have quite a following in this part of America. It was always the plan to roll it out to other parts of America once this was up and running. One of the other benefits from all of this is that the parents of the US kids have established a program whereby they will run 2 to 3 trips over to Swansea to take in some games and enjoy our hospitality
We need to expand into other regions within the US and again through a chat I had with Brian we realized that we could establish a strong foothold in the New Jersey region, which was a hotbed of youth soccer. We are now looking to establish a strong connection with a team based in New Jersey.
The team identified is called Cedar Stars Academy and head coach is Innocent Buule, they have 3 teams for each age group from u7’s to u14’s and additionally we will look to establish relationships with the numerous clubs within a 15 mile radius who would only be too happy for us to try and establish another pillar in youth soccer in New jersey.
This is where I see us expanding our fan-base further in America, we might not have the history of some of the clubs in the Premier League but our underdog spirit and never give up attitude combined with our story ‘from the bottom to the top’ is quite unique and resonates well with the American ‘soccer’ fraternity. Winning the League Cup as recent as 2013 also helps tell our fabulous story.
Americans are a knowledgable bunch and have bought into the ownership structure at Swansea. It is well documented that its very different to most other Premier League Clubs with the shareholding spread amongst a group of, mostly locally based businessmen, together with the Supporters Trust. No one shareholder has more than 25% of the shares and the Trust has 21% in total.
The significant fan involvement is unique in the Premier League and uncommon across the rest of the English football pyramid. Richard Scudamore, CEO of the Premier League has described the ownership structure at Swansea City as ‘ideal’.
We look forward to continue building our American plan and hope to see many more Swansea shirts worn over there in the years to come, we know we have only just scratched the surface.
Huw Cooze – June 2015