Welcome back readers, hope you all had wonderful Thanksgiving, filled with much Turkey and other good foods. Now it's time to get back into soccer mode and shed a few pounds real quick before all the Christmas parties kick in. Just to keep everyone informed, the next several interviews we're all finished over the last few weeks, but are being released in a delayed manner due to the holidays often becoming much of a more a blur then anticipated. This interview is a great way to to kick start the holidays though. Jason Barbato of North County Battalion out of Carlisbad, California gives some of the best, longest, and deepest interviews we've had. It's a real delight, and I'm excited to see what you all think. Check out the interview after the break.
(American Pyramid: Welcome to the Pyramid Jason. Let's start by having you tell me a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you're from, what your role is with the North County Battalion.
Jason Barbato: I am a native Southern Californian who grew up with a love of sports and sports culture. I was born in Pasadena, grew up on Fontana, tumbleweed around for a few years and finally moved to Carlsbad in 2003. I love where I live and what North County San Diego has to offer. I am married to an awesome woman and have three daughters who inspire and motivate me to be and bring my best each and everyday. My role in North County Battalion, is owner, investor, strategist, marketeer, and everything in between actually playing or coaching. I am fully immersed and involved in the day to day, short to long term vision of the club.
AP: When did you first get interested in soccer in general and owning a soccer team in particular? Was there a certain event that got you into the sport, or have you always been into soccer?
JB: My only experience playing soccer as a kid was with my local AYSO at 6 years old. Growing up in the area I did it was extremely hot and I had severe allergies as a kid; as a result I would overheat and pass out during my games. For that time in my life it wasn’t a good fit. I was more of a ‘traditional’ American Sports fan until I had a coworker who invited me to a World Cup viewing party several years ago. I had casually watched previous matches of the U.S. but it didn’t connect the dots for me until I traveled to Seattle and went to a Sounders game. That experience changed my sports tack indefinitely. From the march to the match, songs, the fact that no one sits down the entire time, to the passion of the fans. To me it was unparalleled to anything I had seen before, including MLB, NFL, NBA playoff environments. I was hooked and from there my knowledge, understanding and involvement in the game has grown immensely.
AP: Now, to people who are in the know, San Diego is almost like the untapped holy land of American Soccer. What makes San Diego such a hot bed for the game, both in terms of participation and support?
JB: The weather, the talent, and the cultural diversity have a lot of folks setting San Diego in their sites. It left me scratching my head for a really long time. I often thought “Why isn’t there an MLS team here?” It doesn’t make sense. But when you equate the problems that the MLB and NFL teams have had here in San Diego, and they have been here for years, I think a lot of investors are timid; and rightly so. There have been grand promises made by clubs to rise to the MLS level that have fallen on deaf ears even to the soccer community faithful. San Diego has some of the highest viewing ratings for men’s and women’s U.S. and Mexican national games. Because the weather is so glorious here you have kids playing any sport, but especially soccer, here year round. One of the initiates we have set out with is to do well where we are at. We have to take care of what is in front of us right here an now. We want to be successful on every level, but not just on the field. We want to be successful in how we communicate with supporters, local youth clubs, casual fans, everyone. We want to set the bar low to bring people in and be welcoming and thankful for support. We have professional ambitions but that isn’t a light that just gets flipped on when investors come calling. It starts in the little things, in everything we do. Professionally I am in residential real estate and when I started my business I was a young faced kid (still relatively am) with a hearty work ethic, but at the end of the day I was working hard to earn the trust of a clientele and be entrusted with, for most people, the biggest asset they had. That was not easy with little experience. But I built my book of business not by going after big fish, or a niche consumer. I built my business one client at a time. I worked tirelessly earn their trust and then their influence. I see no difference in my approach to NC Battalion. I get it, I’m the new kid on the block. I didn’t grow up playing soccer, etc. At the end of the day nothing beats treating people right and that each person feels like you actually appreciate their involvement in the club. That includes everyone from the folks who print our gear, player, supporter or partnering youth club. Not having an expectation placed upon the residents of San Diego that “if you don’t support us you’ll never have an MLS franchise” seems like its the right approach. I say that because of the supporters who have come forward from all parts of the county saying that our approach is refreshing and genuine. If we are going to aspire to the highest levels of the U.S. soccer tiers then we have to first inspire our supporters to help make that happen. It won;t happen because we say so, it will happen because they say so.
AP: Are there any challenges you're facing that seem to be unique to your city in starting this team?
JB: Not necessarily. In a lot of ways we are encountering less of the problems with launching a club and that’s mostly due to the sheer number of residents, how many businesses and household income is in our community and county. But we still are facing many challenges in launching the club. So far the reception has been warm and receptive, we hope to ramp that up to scale in the coming months. Our challenges have been because we simply are new and have no previous track record as a club. We look forward to building upon our first season, however that ends up playing out.
AP: With the team being located in Carlsbad, was there any particular reason that you went with the name North County, and not Carlsbad?
JB: Absolutely. We wanted to have our club be identified with a larger inclusive geographical location. We wanted to have folks from all over the County feel like this club was theirs. We’ve been thanked by a few supporters from other cities thank us because they were proud of the city they live in and didn’t want to wear clothing, etc of a neighboring city. Each city here in North County has it’s own little vibes and perks making each one unique to the residents. Making that larger has actually brought that uniqueness together in a pretty cool way.
AP: How does the local community seem to be responding to the idea of having a soccer team in town?
JB: Pretty good. Everyday we are growing and getting the word out. There is a lot of anticipation for our inaugural season.
AP: Tell me a little bit about the league you're joining, the National Premier Soccer League. What kind of advantages does it have over other leagues that you looked at?
JB: We did not consider any other league. I have a personal friend who owns another NPSL club and we talked at length about bringing a team to the area. It was specifically because of his support and guidance that we have a club today and we hope to make the conference stronger with what we are adding to the conversation of soccer in San Diego County.
AP: Was there something in particular that drew you to joining the NPSL over doing something more local, like the United Premier Soccer League that's based in California?
JB: Start up costs, travel costs and exposure.
AP: Do they have a long term vision for their league and your teams role in that future?
JB: I believe that the NPSL will have some pretty big announcements in the upcoming months. We do hope that we can be a positive contributor to the ambitions of the league and raise their profile and ours.
AP: How excited are you at the prospect of trying to qualify for the US Open Cup? I'm pretty sure that it's been awhile since a team from San Diego got to play in the competition.
JB: So excited that we are in the works of designing a specific kit for the U.S.O.C. and we can’t wait to apply to next years competition.
AP: Is there anything you're really hoping to accomplish in your first year as team? Or I guess you could say, what do you believe needs to happen for the first season to be considered a success?
JB: We are so incredibly excited for this upcoming season, I can’t wait to see this come to fruition. From the kits, to the players, the games, chants, etc. Every part of the club is exciting to me. We have a target for game attendance that we are aiming for and also for record. But we want to look at something we can build on, something that we can set a bar to and grow from there.
AP: Why should the average soccer fan care about a team in North San Diego County?
JB: The average soccer fan in North County is higher what most would call a casual fan. We hope they get as excited about us as they have about the craft beer industry and hop on early and loudly, San Diego being one of the strongest craft beer markets in the world. The average soccer fan barely can find a bar in town to have games on the TV, it’s even more difficult to find that for leagues in Europe. We see ourselves as the next natural progression for not only the casual soccer fan, but San Diegans.
AP: Cast a vision for me: Where do you see North County Battalion in 5 years?
JB: In five years we will be two years on the other side of the next World Cup. We see our club igniting in the consciousness of the County by year 3, the next mens World Cup year. I am working today towards identifying land and speaking with anyone who will listen so that we can obtain a soccer specific stadium for our club. We want to be moving out of a high school stadium and into our own grounds in our fifth season. I know it’s crazy, but ambitious for all the right reasons.
AP: How would you describe the San Diego area to someone who's never been there? You know, what makes your neck of the woods awesome?
JB: That's a great question. There's a reason why everyone across this country travels here year round and daydreams of moving here one day. Amazing weather, beautiful people, great food and warm waters.
AP: Bonus Questions: Who's your pick to win the MLS Cup this year?
JB: The first leg of the quarter finals are this weekend. I’m thinking Dallas and NYRB in the final. Dallas to win. I really think that they have no fear and have the guise of anonymity that works well for them. (Obviously, this interview was done before the Conference Finals)
AP: What's your favorite book, regardless of genre?
JB: Outside of the Bible I’m a big fan of “Name of the Wind” by Patrick Rothfuss.
AP: Who's your favorite current soccer player?
JB: Because of where I have begun my journey as a soccer fan I’d have to say Clint Dempsey. He’s one of the few guys in the U.S. that still has some level of creativity and personality and at the same time can put the team on his back and carry them.
AP: Do you have a favorite soccer book, movie or podcast?
JB: I do not.
AP: What's your favorite league and/or team to watch?
JB: I have MLS live and watch nearly every game. I think it’s important to support our domestic leagues first. From there I watch the EPL but I do not have a club that I support there. I also watch Liga MX, if it's soccer then I'm watching it.
AP: Where can people find out more about yourself and the team?
JB: You can find out more info about the club on our Facebook page facebook.com/ncbattalion or our website www.ncbattalion.com
AB: What would you like to say to the people reading this article about why they should get behind the lower levels of American soccer in general, and North County Battalion in particular?
JB: Every local club at any level had to start somewhere. Some started by the ambitious, some the greedy, some the naive, some just because they wanted to cover their bases in case the sport takes off. Soccer will never grow as a national product unless you get involved. I got involved. It led me to start a club because there wasn’t one that was close enough or that resonated with me. Maybe there’s a team in your town, or close enough for you to drive to, do that. Support that team. Support that owner, support those players. One of the things that I have loved about what we’ve embarked on is that I am attracting players who just want a shot at their dream, their dream of one day turning pro. You have a chance to give that kid that opportunity to chase after their dreams and when they do that they inspire a community, and kids catch that vision and then they begin to dream. Then we raise the level of development in this country which played out across states throughout our nation helps produce better talent and ultimately a better National team. It starts small and every person who buys a scarf or a t-shirt or season tickets matters on whether or not that club survives. Most of the clubs on that local level are run by entrepreneurs who are working full time jobs on top of running a club, I know I am. I spoke today with a brand new founding member of our supporters club, we call them the Battalion Brigade. He said it took him 20 seconds after looking at our website to purchase a founding membership and although it gives a good value, it’s not cheap. 20 seconds. I spoke to him on the phone today and personally thanked him for agreeing with our vision as a club, that soccer belongs in San Diego. Owning a club is wrought with challenges and road blocks every damn day. When someone raises their hand and says ‘I’m in” it gets that club one step closer to their goal and for some teams it’s just to break even, or survive for another year or moving up a tier. Do that, jump in. Most of us haven't grown up when professional leagues were born. We’ve seen that happen in our generation with U.S. soccer and it’s growing, it’s not perfect but it’s headed somewhere. You have that opportunity. Take it, be passionate, bring all your friends, yell loudly, sing louder and let’s all together cut the number of what experts say will take us 50 years to build down to 15.
AP: Thanks for all your time Jason. Don't forget to follow American Pyramid on Facebook and Twitter to get all the latest updates on interviews and op-eds, along with fun little bits of soccer information on the regular. Leave your comments below with any questions you'd like asked in up coming interviews, and if I can get enough of them, maybe I'll do a whole interview based on just your questions, regardless of what they might be! Until next time, get out there and grow the game.