Richmond Kickers' City Stadium (Credit: Nathan Reynolds)

Richmond Kickers: GM Matt Spear Interview Part 2 – City Stadium, lessons learned and the club’s marketing vision

In Part 2, Richmond Kickers GM Matt Spear reflects on his first year at the club and looks ahead on the pitch, in the community and the future.

In the first half of the interview, Matt Spear commented on the Richmond Kickers current search to fill the head coach position, the traits they are looking for, how they want to shape the squad in the years to come, and more. You can find that article here. Now in November fans can start to look for more official updates on the coaching vacancy, as well as announcements of returning players for the 2020 USL League One season.

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On his first year at the club and lessons learned: 

“The Richmond Kickers have 27 years of history, but the club seemed ready for a refresh. So how can the organization utilize the global appeal of the game and translate that into the Kickers and RVA area? With the new owners coming in, it started a new chapter for the club. It was struggling on the pitch, so one of my jobs was to come in to analyze the potential at the club. To start the process by focusing on the existing culture and community connections, as well as the potential for both areas. One key focus from this past season was to identify like-minded front office staff, coaches, and then players. A growth area during the year has been the ability to better understand and articulate the club’s vision on and off the pitch.”

On what went well during year one off the pitch: 

“We can’t be all things to all people, nor can we focus on just one specific group. Instead, we focus on building awareness, across demographics. Work to create an environment that can appeal to a wide range of individuals and how they want to spend a Saturday night. At the press conference announcers the new ownership group, I highlighted the importance of the Red Army. Before the season we met with them and they’ve moved to a new tailgate spot that better suits their needs. It is important to let them organically grow, but recognize their contribution to the club and the game.

We did a series a theme nights – wine night, dog night, heritage night, pride night, etc. and hope to expand that next season. We want the environment to feel like a festival with a soccer match going on. Continued the focus on drawing in youth soccer communities and expanding beyond the Richmond Kickers youth system to all youth players in the area, high school/college players, adult players, and soccer enthusiasts.”

On the club’s revenue streams and how the organization views the future of the ground:

“The club has several revenue streams (listed in no particular order) – ticket sales, sponsorship, food & beverage, merchandise, combine/youth camps, selling players, and stadium rentals. All of them need to be developed and all are currently underdeveloped. Growing each of those needs to be a huge focus for us in 2020. And as always each of those can become more fruitful as you build a winning and entertaining team. We have this massive opportunity with this property I refer to as ’90 years young’.

It’s in a great location, but we would like to link more with Cary street. The city trusts us to develop the property, and our organization would like to develop it beyond just a soccer environment. We rent it out for events or program them ourselves – the farmers market, the city uses the parking lot for certain events, Richmond United games, high school matches, etc. But we would like to look into adding more festivals, concerts, etc.”

Regarding the next steps for City Stadium’s improvements:

“The whole year we’ve been working with groups to identify the next steps for the venue’s improvements from a long list of things we want to do, pricing out the options, prioritizing, and timing. For example, we want to bury the power lines but have to do that before we finalize new concrete for the concourse. Other eventual improvements on the list are light upgrades, continuing to adjust the hospitality areas, keep improving the bathrooms, the press box, open up more of the concession stands, create express beer lines, more food trucks to add options, update the visitor locker room, and, of course, eventually replacing the East stand.

Asked about seating in the West Stands and the possibility of adding new red seats:

The bowl is pushed back a bit far, so it’s about how can we get the fans closer with one idea that we build over it. Based on the current setup and building code we can’t put those types seats into every row based on how close the rows are in this old stadium. The same thing applies with long benches with backs. The bathrooms are a key focus – now and going forward, we would like to spread the beer out, right-size the stadium to get people tighter, closer to the field, closer to the pitch.”

On the club’s marketing vision:

“Millennials are a key demographic we are focused on. A lot played soccer or know it through FIFA. Soccer has a global appeal, is diverse, outside, there is beer, networking, etc. Families who want to come out but have to leave early for kids bedtime, some enjoy hanging outside with friends with a beer, corporate groups. A major focus for us this off-season is going to be group sales. We want to be out in the community more often, get the word out on theme nights to various communities, and more on social media. People want the stories, so we are always looking into how to improve fan engagement, such as our fan surveys/polls.

Club’s which the Richmond Kickers look towards as model examples:

“Clubs that are doing the right things: Portland, Seattle, and Atlanta. Portland has the old downtown stadium that has been renovated and a long history. Seattle with its march to the game and development from the youth club. Atlanta regarding how they’ve embraced their city’s culture, such as hip-hop. 30% of the Richmond area is African-American, so how can we connect with that community? If they come to a game great, but if nothing else put on camps, visit schools, and build the awareness.

Note: Due to the length, I have omitted the questions and answers regarding the possibility of a women’s team returning to Richmond. This off-season I’ll have a separate article on the leagues, the club’s initial responses, and the feasibility.

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