5-a-side market in the USA: interview with one of our clients


5-a-side  soccer in the U.S. is in continuous expansion. The availability of existing unprofitable structures that can be re-destined entirely to 5-a-side (tennis or hockey facilities) and the higher interest aroused by Americans on soccer-related matters, make 5-a-side soccer a very attractive market for investors and entrepreneurs in the U.S.

Today we had the pleasure to interview Steven Say, a WSBSPORT client who is in the process of opening a 5-a-side facility in Chicago. We asked Steven some questions to receive a more local insight of how the market performs in the United States.

Tell us about your relationship with the world of  5 a side soccer

I was first introduced to 5-a-side soccer when it began developing on the French Riviera (where I grew up). This was the most convenient way to play for my friends and I: we did not have to drive around and hope to find an open field, and we did not need to coordinate with as many players. Moreover the fields were better quality that any random, public location and it was cheaper than going to the movie theater. I first enjoyed it as a customer and thought it was a great business model.

When I moved to the US, I realized the immense potential this business model could have here. After few years of thinking about it, my business partner and I found ourselves in the perfect situation to actually go through with it. We were familiar with 5-a-side soccer from France, we both had a business degree from an American university, we were familiar with the American athletic culture, we had a little bit of money saved, and most importantly, we both had an entrepreneurial mind and knew each other for over a decade.

Is 5 a side a popular sport in the United States or is it still a sport under development?

5-a-side soccer centers as we know it in Europe are almost non-existent in the US. There are some soccer centers that already offer 5-a-side and 7-a-side, but they almost always have the same problems- the fields are in terrible condition, not of the appropriate size (i.e. they often convert hockey rinks into 5-a-side fields, this is way too big), the facilities are in bad shape, and there is no bar or restaurant. But because of the lack of soccer facilities in the US, these places can charge a high price. All together, with league fees and referee fees, people often pay around $15/hour.

With an underserved market, and customers willing to pay a high price, other Europeans companies saw the opportunity and started opening centers in the US. As expected, they are all showing very good results, which makes us confident that we are at the early stage of a great development for 5-a-side soccer in the US.

Could you provide us with some general information about your future project in Chicago (Club/facility structure, number of pitches, location, etc.)

We hope to open our first location in Chicago before the end of the year. It is located at the heart of the Mexican-american community in Chicago, which represents prime customers for any 5-a-side soccer center. It will accommodate 6 indoor fields, as well as a large club house. The club house will include a bar/restaurant, a retail area, a lounge, and locker rooms.

What are the major issues you encounter when planning to open a 5-a-side facility in the US?

The real estate part was definitely the biggest issue we encountered. We struggled to find buildings with enough column span that were in a good location. A lot (maybe most) commercial/industrial real estate listings are not accessible to the general public, therefore we had to rely on brokers and finding potential buildings was a slow process. This part is frustrating, because you cannot really do much about it. Then, when we found potential sites, it was hard to convince landlords to let us in. They were not familiar with 5-a-side, scared to have a startup tenant, and preferred to stick with a more traditional “warehouse” use. We knew this critical process was going to take a long time, but not that long (it took us two years). The good thing is that we stayed patient and did not lose hope as time went by. I am certain as 5-a-side develops in the US, it will become easier and easier to convince landlords.

What would you suggest to an European investor wanting to start a 5 a side business in the US?

I believe they would absolutely need to be familiar with the country and the business practices here. I can not imagine having to go through what we did without knowing the country or the language.

Second is to stay patient and motivated. The few Europeans that started a 5-a-side business in the US showed that it takes on average 2 to 3 years to make their idea become a reality.

Time is money, and as time goes by (waiting to find the right location), you will have expenses. Legal fees and other necessary expenses add up quickly, so you definitely need a substantial amount of money even before finding the right building and investors.

Being helped by the right people is something that will substantially increase the chances of success. Being supported and advised by the WSBSPORT team is something that helped us a lot.

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