Yesterday afternoon, FC Dallas held a media event at the American Airlines Center debuting the brand new Budweiser Poolball that will become a fixture on the Budweiser Beer Garden. It was a great event that doubled as a sort of media day and I was able to get some exclusive time with Doug Quinn to chat about a number of topics including Fernando Clavijo, opening day with NBC, a jersey sponsorship update and much more. Look for exclusives with Ugo Ihemelu and Clavijo coming up on Thursday and Friday!
This interview is a bit of a daunting read, but I thought it would be good to post the entire thing as getting this time with the GM is pretty rare and I think there's some really great stuff in here including $4 20oz beer on the beer garden(!), an update on how ticket sales are going for opening day and more.
First off, talk about your excitement to have Fernando Clavijo here in Dallas
I’m beyond excited…he’s my guy, the administration that I’ve gotten to build in the past year and a half, after we decided to go in a different direction with technical director last year, we said what do we need? We didn’t rush which is I think the important thing and we started looking at what we need. What we need and what everyone else needs in the league are much different because of who we are.
We’re not just a pro team, we’re a youth development program and we have the #1 academy in the country. The business that we want to build is a business that replicates the models of the Barcelonas, Madrids, Ajax’s and Chivas Guadalajaras of the world where you start with kids as young as seven years old, you develop them through the system and you have homegrown players like we have many of and you have guys that have the ability to make it to your 18, ultimately your 11, and become Messi or Rooney.
Keep reading, trust me you don't want to miss any of this interview
But you also have guys that you showcase out and loan out in the world and you can be able to generate revenue like Brazil does basically as a machine giving our young American players opportunities all over the world and driving up revenue for us to continue to raise the quality of product on the field.
He knows exactly how to do all of that. In his spot with Traffic Sports as an agent in Miami and Central America, Latin America, he knows everybody and in real time knows everybody because the names and faces and everything changes at clubs and agencies. The relationships he has with them are right now.
The relationships he has with Major League Soccer, and Major League soccer moves a little differently, the people up in New York I kind of know those as well, but he knows both games. He knows the college game, he scouted college, he knows MLS and probably best of all is that he and Schellas are very like minded and add that to the fact that Dan Hunt has basically been our pseudo-technical director for the past X months. He and Fernando are very like minded. Also, his meeting with Clark Hunt, the chairman, went incredibly well. All of us recognized his character, all of us recognized his unique skill sets and all of us recognize he would be a perfect fit for us.
Fernando said everything came together very quick, can you talk about the process of this hiring?
It did come really really quick. I basically said, we’ve gotten through the draft, we’ve gotten through building the team for 2012, really I was not under any pressure to find somebody in time for the summer transfer window, maybe Aprilish, but his resume came across my desk from Schellas and I called him up. We chatted for an hour and a half, and it was a great conversation.
I asked him if he was going to be in Dallas any time soon and he said he would be here for the U23 Mexico-USA game. That was like the next week so I said great, Clark and Dan happened to be here, Schellas was here, I was here, so we all just sat down had a conversation and we unanimously looked at each other, including Fernando, and said do you want to do this? And he said yeah, I want to do this and it was over and done.
Moving on to opening day, you’ve got a lot of new initiatives coming along, what did you identify from last year that maybe you needed to improve on this year and what are you most excited about with your improvements.
The most important thing you can do with any club is create an organic environment that will stimulate involvement and engagement by your fans. Our fans are 18-34+, the sweet spot is that 20-28 year olds and they don’t remember the world without soccer in America and Major League Soccer. Supporters groups don’t happen by someone saying "we need to build a supporters group" they happen organically and you create an environment that allows them to do the things they want to do and be excited.
So we did two things, one we took all our pregame activities and focused them inside the stadium. Last year we had the march to the match, beer garden, north concourse, this year there’s three spaces everything is inside. The club, we’ve completely renovated, the Winstar River Club, we hired an all new concessionaire, the guys that do the Cowboys and the Yankees, they’re going to have an amazing experience in the club.
We also created something completely brand new called Lamar’s Tailgate. If you know Lamar, or knew Lamar, and I’m from Kansas City, he put on the greatest tailgates in the history of the world. So in honor of that, we have that great piece of real estate in the north concourse, we talked to the Legends people and I said "if FC Dallas were a food, what would it be?" and I said, of course, Bar B Que, so we bought a 1,000 pound, $18,000 bar b que and the other thing is street tacos, street food is all hip and cool right now…were also going to have food specials before every game. So you can come in and if a beer, braut and bag of chips is $12.50 it will be $10 or something like that, every game will be something different.
We’ll have the same thing down on the beer garden for those 21 and older, we will have poolball going on, foosball tables, HD tv’s and even more exciting to me is we put 225 seats down on the field. So the beer garden now flows into those seats and those seats are sold on a per game basis, we’re not selling season tickets so that’s the environment for that 21 and older crowd.
Budweiser has done an amazing job, they’re putting in a neon sign right now that was not cheap. All the standing tables, we’re adding, I want to say 50 tables to the beer garden, you can get in-game beer service in the bleachers and, by the way, a 20oz beer is going to be $4 bucks. The other big change, food specials every game so if you’re on a budget you can have something to drink and eat and it won’t break the bank. Also, we’re going to maintain those specials all game long because it’s an enclosed space, like the club, you can have beer and it goes past the 75th minute all the way through. Because we’ve made it a closed club, now food can’t go in and out and the fact that we’re extending it all the way through the game.
How did it come about getting NBC to come to Frisco for the first game?
First kick has become an increasingly important initiative to Major League Soccer, the most important thing for the league is to put their best foot forward to the public. The commissioner called me and he says "can you sell out opening day?" and I said "Who are you going to give me?" he said "how about New York" and we just finished with them so absolutely.
We almost always sell out New York anyways, in my tenure we sell out LA, New York, Opening day and fourth of July, so I think we’ve got about 2,000 tickets left, we’ll be sold out even if the rain comes and I don’t think it’s going to. With that, we started talking about the programming things and we’re going to put on a heck of a show, it’s going to be something to see.
Selling out opening day and LA is great, but what is the key to selling out next weekend against Portland and so on…
That’s simple too, you’ve got to have season tickets. The foundation of any professional sports franchise, I don’t care what league it is or what sport it is, is you’ve got to have season ticket holders. We tripled season tickets last year, we’ll double season tickets this year, we’re already up 40% over last year and that was a week ago. We’re selling at a pretty rapid pace, our ticket sales department is, I want to say 300 times larger than when I started. It’s a large group and they’re all trained.
The great thing is the culture of the place is everyone recognizes that everyone is working very hard. The guys on the field, the coaches are working very hard and also it’s a special place and a special time. In the next two to three years, my vision is sold out 18 games and a waiting list and there’s no reason we shouldn’t have that with the size of the soccer market in Dallas. Even if we just went after Collin County, that’s 2 million people within 20 miles of the building, that’s bigger than Kansas City.
Do you feel the team as it’s built right now can compete for MLS Cup?
Oh, absolutely. I think this team can win MLS Cup, the challenges for us, and for everyone else, is you’ve got to stay healthy all year and it’s a long season. The other challenge for us is I’ve got a lot of guys that are going to be going off to the Olympics or national team duties which is a good problem because any other good teams are going to have the same problem. I’d rather have a bunch of those guys than non-those guys.
Where are we at on a jersey sponsor? Is it the kind of thing like the technical director where it could come together very fast but you’re waiting for the right spot?
It could exactly be like that, same thing with the naming rights partner. Part of the challenge is that I just haven’t had the time, in the past 18 months my first focus was to build my executive team, the second focus was to build the right plan and really get my handle around what needed to be changed and what needed to build a winning team on and off the field.
I’ve got the executive team in place, Fernando[Clavijo] was the final piece to the puzzle. Because I didn’t have a Fernando for a long period of time, I’ve been operating as general manager as well as chief business officer and now that I have him, no one is happier than me and my commercial group because now my focus is going to be on jersey and stadium rights as well as servicing all other commercial needs which is what I was truly brought in to do.
Are you hoping to bring in another international team this summer?
We are, obviously we’re working with the Cowboys for the Brazil-Mexico game. We’ve been working witht hem on a number of possible games. The reality this year is with the Euros, I don’t want to get a B team or an A team without their A players. I’ve seen what Inter Milan is without their A players, I’ve seen what Barcelona is without their best and if we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it right.
There are going to be opportunities, you’ll see the Rio Grande Plate again whether its Tigres or another Mexican club. We had an amazing experience in Cancun with Atlante and they really are working very hard with us for us to do that every year…so we’re going to definitely have a Mexican team but I’m not going to have a team that’s not right.
So what do you think? Are you ready for Sunday yet?