Pro Soccer, Black Firms in New Business Relationship
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African American-owned businesses are not normally considered to be partners with Major League Soccer (MLS) and its teams but that is changing with the utilization of Black firms during the sport’s all-star activities in the District.
The District, with its pro soccer team DC United as its anchor, hosted the 2023 MLS All-Star Soccer Celebration culminating in the game on July 19 at Audi Field in Southwest between the league’s all-stars and Premier League club Arsenal. City officials expressed excitement about the economic potential the week’s events had for the city.
“We are expecting 20,000 attendees at the all-star game,” said Angie Gates, the president and CEO of Events DC, the official sports, entertainment and convention authority in the District, on July 12. “We estimate that $11 million will be generated in the city during the all-star week. The all-star week will provide jobs for residents and economic activity for the city’s businesses.”
MLS’s all-star celebration occurred on the heels of a report, “Level of Interest in Soccer in the United States as of May 2023, by ethnicity” by Statista, a website providing marketing and consumer data, that interest in the sport among Black people stands at 12% who are avid, 27% casual and 61% who have no interest.
Black Business and Pro Soccer
However, Danita Johnson, DC United’s president of business operations has noted the club’s local business recognition program highlighting Black businesses through the organization’s and Audi Field’s digital platforms.
“We believe soccer—and sport as a whole—stands alone in its unique ability to unify and foster community,” Johnson said in 2021. “We’re excited to be able to use our digital platform and matchday experience at Audi Field to support and amplify the work and offerings of the local businesses in our region starting with several Black-owned businesses.”
The local business recognition program’s first recipients were Black-owned Bailiwick Clothing Company, Bashford and Pitt, Cut Seven, District of Clothing, Handmade Habitat, JusRedor Collection, NVADE and VeganQueenCuisine.
D.C. United efforts are replicated at the Major League Soccer level with its National Black Bank Foundation initiative. The initiative, announced in March 2022, leverages an unprecedented $25 million loan from a syndicate of Black banks, marking the first time any sports league has participated in a major commercial transaction exclusively with Black banks.
“Major League Soccer’s partnership with the National Black Bank Foundation is a tangible step in efforts to close the racial economic gap in the United States, and it’s the right business decision for us,” said MLS Commissioner Don Garber.”
During the all-star celebration, the league launched the MLS All-Star Small Business Pass from July 15-19. The pass allowed fans to access promotional discounts at dozens of District businesses with Black-owned Little Food Studio, Roaming Rooster and Hill Prince participating. Businesses participating in the pass program were reimbursed for the discounts provided so that participation didn’t impact on their bottom line.
Additionally, the MLS announced its collaboration with District-based clothing firm SOMEWHERE. SOMEWHERE offers T-shirts, bucket hats, travel and tote bags and premium scarves. For the all-star game, SOMEWHERE was commissioned to create a capsule for the game, in the form of a specially designed scarf.
Dominick Adams, co-founder of SOMEWHERE, was thrilled about the MLS collaboration.
“Having grown up at 4th and P Street in Southwest, literally blocks from the stadium, this project is a dream come true,” Adams said. “It’s why we continue to strive as a brand to represent the best of the best in the world while continuing to stay grounded here in D.C.”
Corey Arnez Griffin is the chair of the board of the Greater Washington Black Chamber of Commerce.
Griffin, 52, said his organization was not approached by either the District government or MLS in regard to member firms conducting business for the event.
“We were not consulted but we weren’t surprised,” he said. “We like to see organizations and Black businesses engaged in events like that.”
Griffin said his organization will continue to dialogue with Mayor Bowser and D.C. Council member Kenyan McDuffie (I-At Large) to see that Black businesses play a role in the “robust economy involving sports.”