|Nick Sakiewicz - CEO & Operating Partner, Philadelphia Union|
|Profile of the week|
Friday, 14 February 2014 16:57
Nick Sakiewicz, drugs the CEO of Major League Soccer (MLS) franchise the Philadelphia Union has a fascinating history in American soccer. Sakiewicz was one of the founding members of the MLS back in 1995 and had spells in higher management with clubs such as the Tampa Mutiny and the MetroStars of New York. Before creating the Union, allergist Nick played a major role in selling the MetroStars to Red Bull and securing the build of their stadium.
It is no surprise therefore that Nick is proud to look at the development of the MLS. The arrival of David Beckham in 2007 sparked a wider global interest in the league and has led to big players such as Thierry Henry, purchase Robbie Keane, Michael Bradley and Jermaine Defoe joining MLS franchises. Nick talked to iSportconnect about expanding the Union and the MLS.
How did you become the CEO of the Philadelphia Union?
I started with the MLS from the very beginning back in 1995 and was one of the founding executives. I then managed a few clubs. I moved to Tampa to run the Mutiny in 1999 and then up to New York where I ran the MetroStars from 2000 to 2005. I got the stadium built there and sold the club to Red Bull. Right after that I formed a company with my partner Jay Sugarman called Keystone Sports & Entertainment and built another soccer stadium in Philadelphia and launched an expansion team. I became the Operating Partner of the investment group led by Jay and a few other investors, so I am a part-owner and now CEO of the Union.
You have a rich history in soccer and have played the game. How important is it for a man in your position to have played the sport and be a fan?
I think it brings a unique perspective. I played both amateur and as a professional and having that background and knowledge of how the sport is and its tradition is an important aspect.. It certainly has helped me. The business experience is very important too. Soccer these days has become a really big enterprise and you have to have equal balance of understanding the game and what the fans want, but also understanding the business side of things. I have managed to marry those two together to create a successful soccer career.
One of those successful moments you mentioned was the sale of the MetroStars to Red Bull. Is that one of the biggest moments in your career?
It is one of the biggest. It was a huge deal. Getting that stadium in the ground was a big one. But launching the league in 1996 and being a part of that small group of executives was a great milestone. My proudest moment is building a franchise in Philadelphia from a blank piece of paper with some awesome investors and building a terrific stadium. It is hard to believe we are going into our fifth season as a club and it feels great. I was recently in London and I met with clubs who were over 100 years old and the Union story is a cool one to tell them.
What was it about Philadelphia that attracted you to the area and made you think ‘this place needs an MLS franchise?’
At the time it was the largest market in the States that did not have an MLS team. As I learned more about Philadelphia I discovered that it had a rich soccer tradition that dated back almost 100 years. There are many national team players who have come from the area and it had a robust soccer league going in the 1930s. The war interrupted a lot of that but it was revived in the 50s and 60s. There are a lot of European expats and they of course bought soccer tradition with them. Their kids grew up in the 70s and 80s. They are not kids any more, they are our season ticket holders! Philadelphia really was a fertile market to grow a strong fanbase.
The Union has played against giants like Real Madrid and Manchester United. How has this helped increase brand awareness?
Those games are great for us, especially in our early stages. It is important to demonstrate to the local fans and to those in Manchester or Madrid that we were a serious soccer club with ambitions and that we can play head-to-head with some of the best players in the world. That was the strategic decision to play those clubs and we will continue to do that. Every year we will play friendlies to continue to remind the world that MLS is a legitimate and highly competitive league. There are perceptions in some parts of the world that it is a league for retiring older players, but it is not. It has become a quality league.
There’s been much written about your business style compared to Tim Leiweke’s of Toronto FC after they bought in Jermaine Defoe and Michael Bradley. What is the situation here?
I have no issue with their business model and I was surprised at Time Leiweke’s reaction. There was a blogger who did not accurately reflect my words. I was asked ‘why didn’t we bid for Michael Bradley.’ We did and we bid significantly more than what Roma was paying him but we lost to Toronto. My exact words were that it would not have been smart for the Philadelphia Union to spend that kind of money on one player because it would have mortgaged our club for a long time. It was twisted to say Toronto were not smart, which I did not say. I also said it is awesome the Bradley is back in MLS. I drafted him with his father during my time at New York. If it is right for Toronto, if it is right for their business model then I think that is fantastic.
Does the acquisition of these players improve the marketability of MLS abroad?
It does and I think it is fantastic. If Toronto can do that then I applaud them. It is great having Jermaine Defoe and Michael Bradley in the league.
As a founding member of the MLS, does it give you pride to see big players joining the league and does it show how far it has developed?
There is no doubt that the conversations I have with my European counterparts today are very different to how they were five or six years ago. It is very gratifying for all of us who have been a part of this league from the beginning to see, not only successful young American players coming back after being tested in European leagues, but also players like Defoe, Robbie Keane, David Beckham and Thierry Henry. It shows how far the league has come, but what is really exciting is where we are going in the next decade.