Home NASL & USL FC Edmonton Ball’s vision for FC Edmonton: One club, one culture

Ball’s vision for FC Edmonton: One club, one culture

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Jay Ball showed up for work as the new general manager of FCE at the beginning of last week. But he and the team agreed not to announce his appointment till last Thursday, to give him a couple of days where he could fly under the radar and assess what the team most needed on the business side of things.

He’s since met with the team, met with the front office staff and had pow-wows with owners Tom and Dave Fath. And, after his first week on the job — he has some priorities in place.

“We have to adopt a culture of winning in the office to match the culture on the field,” he says. “There is not one culture in the front office and one culture on the field. It should be one culture for the whole club.”

Ball takes on an enormous challenge. FCE does not have a paying shirt sponsor. Their 4,500-seat Clarke Stadium was only filled to the brim once last season, for the Amway Canadian Championship semifinal second leg against Vancouver. For NASL matches, it’s normal to see crowds just under or a little over 3,000 (announced).

Ball is the former president of Junior Achievement; he’s helped coordinate marketing and tickets sales for cycling’s Tour of Alberta and the Women’s World Cup matches at Commonwealth Stadium. He’s a hockey dad.

Of course, there will be those who would say that a true “soccer person” should be GM. But, often, those true “soccer people” struggle to understand how to attract casual sports fans; they market exclusively to the soccer community, and base their expectation based on plaudits from, well, other soccer people. An outsider often has a clearer view — think about how a football man, Don Garber, was able to change Major League Soccer. Think about how Gary Bettman, a basketball man, changed the National Hockey League.

Ball said that FCE must improve the game-day experience for its fans and those who the club wants to become fans (which is well, everyone).

“No question, I have to think big,” he says. “This job is the opportunity of a lifetime. The two other franchises (the NHL Oilers and CFL Eskimos) have done awesome jobs in fan engagement.”

So, the things that will attract casual fans need to improve. Food service needs to improve. There needs to be seating packages that can bring fans even closer to the game. And ball says the corporate program needs to be completely revamped.

And, to convince Edmontonians to come to games, Ball says the team has to do a better job telling its story. And that begins with the staff; ticketing and marketing people need to know the players. They need to know why the internationals have chosen to make Canada their home; they need to know about the academy kids who are breaking into the first team. Ball says that the staff and players need to function as one. And that means staff coming out not only to games, but to training sessions.

And he doesn’t see FC Edmonton as needing to battle the Oilers or Eskimos for eyeballs and dollars.

“FC Edmonton has a niche,” he says. “We don’t compete for partners. We’re a completely different value proposition. We have to adapt our identity to our city rather than try to force an identity on the city.”

Again, that’s an interesting viewpoint. Anyone who has read my work or heard my voice on broadcasts knows how concerned I am by the Canadian soccer community’s insular nature (“we hate baseball,” “not nearly as many people watch the Super Bowl as watch soccer,” “curling’s on TV, again?” “why is it Oilers all the time…”). Instead, we need to accept what works in our sporting culture and see what best practices we can pick up from other leagues and other teams. We need to try and be part of the greater sporting community, not compete and try to one-up hockey or football or curling or basketball or baseball.

But, FCE needs a narrative.

“We have to tell our story,” Ball says. “We have to talk about the Faths’ dedication to [coach] Colin Miller’s vision. How do we do that? But we need to use emotion to excite people. We have to engage people.”

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4 Comments

  1. Patrick LaForge

    February 15, 2016 at 9:47 pm

    I think Jay is a great choice for GM @ FCE. He is a natural builder but It will take a community to save pro soccer for Edmonton sports fans. Working together, FCE can be successful so long as no one person or group needs to take credit for helping out. I have my season tickets, do you?

  2. left back

    February 15, 2016 at 7:50 pm

    He needs to go to Seattle and Portland and watch what they offer…. massive beer gardens before and after games… march to the stadium as a supporters group… pubs who support the team… recognition by the media…… and a decent location for the game….. this is why location of Clarke is the worst thing about FCE… Clarke is such a poor area of town and a transit destination… not many decent pubs and in the shadow of Commonwealth…. you can’t get excited about a game that is played there…

    transform the old Telus field into a soccer stadium… tailgate in the parking lot field to the west…. central location down by the river… hold beer gardens in the big field to the north…. that would be something to look forward to… and keep it as grass… huge flood lights for night games… it would be a better option than what is going on now….. anyway.. i have watched games all over the world… and a lot of mls games lately as well…… comparatively…. you won’t find a worst venue than Clarke…. … hope he makes changes that put people in the seats…. good luck…

  3. italk2u

    February 14, 2016 at 5:19 pm

    Soccer for the masses!…not just supporters./ Like this guy already.

  4. cwell

    February 14, 2016 at 4:42 pm

    He’s got it right! Steep hill to climb, but there’s no other way.

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