With the U.S. preparing to host the World Cup in 2026, one Major League Soccer (MLS) owner is leading a $50 million investment in what he called “the most important decade” for the sport in the country.

“American soccer has a voice, and that voice is getting louder,” said Richie Graham, a part-owner of the Philadelphia Union. “The 2026 World Cup is right around the corner, and we need to be aggressive.”

To that end, Graham and a team of former executives from the likes of Adidas AG, ESPN, U.S. Soccer, and soccer-focused digital media company Copa90 have established For Soccer Ventures, a $50 million investment fund focused on growing the game in North America.

The ultimate goal, Graham said, is to create a one-stop platform where those invested in U.S. soccer — including kids, parents, casual fans, professional players and coaches — can touch the sport and its culture. Graham said the world’s most popular sport is benefiting in the U.S. from a rising Hispanic population and a tech-savvy, millennial, and Gen Z fan base.

Growing Audience

“It’s nice to be swimming with the tide,” he said, pointing to the growing audience for women’s soccer and sizable MLS fan bases in places like Atlanta, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Portland, Oregon.

The venture will comprise two principal components: the Soccer Collective, a multimedia content producer aimed at promoting the culture of American soccer, and the Soccer Alliance, meant to build on Graham’s existing holdings through a network of clubs, leagues, and tournaments.

The Soccer Collective will begin next year across social-media channels such as Instagram, TikTok and YouTube, as well as direct-to-consumer platforms, Graham said.

A number of marquee international teams, featuring such icons as Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Neymar, are regularly staging exhibition games in the U.S. in an attempt to gain fans in the world’s biggest sports market.

Graham said it’s only a matter of time until an American-born and -trained superstar emerges, doing for soccer in the U.S. what Yao Ming did for basketball in China.

“We’re in the fan-conversion business,” he said. “This will always be a baseball and football place. But at some point, soccer will have a place at the table.”

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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Photo Credit: Trophy from the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. Richie Graham, a part-owner of the Philadelphia Union, is leading the charge on the formation of a $50 million investment fund focused on growing soccer's popularity in North America. Mariya Buda / Flickr