As the Seattle Sounders FC has risen to prominence among the city’s professional sports teams, Major League Soccer has done so with co-owners, investors, and a loyal following. devoted fans from the tech community.
A new minor league team in the city’s Ballard neighborhood is hoping to follow a similar path to success.
Ballard FC officially launched on Wednesday, announcing the creation of a neighborhood-based semi-pro football team that will begin playing next summer in USL League Two. The co-founders have roots in Ballard and professional football, and some of the investors are tech professionals who got their start with $195,000 in funding.
Group created by Sam Zisette, a 2012 Ballard High School graduate who played football at the University of Puget Sound and professionally for the Tacoma Stars; Lamar Neagle, Federal Way, Wash., native who has been playing professionally for 10 years, including some with the Sounders; and Chris Kaimmer, a 2005 Ballard High School graduate who attended Yale and has worked extensively building soccer-focused startups.
Zisette told GeekWire he had been working on the idea for a local team for about three years. He connected with Neagle, who he played with at Tacoma, and they began to develop a plan, which was further tempered when the business-savvy Kaimmer joined.
Like the Sounders did, with senior ownership group including, among others, longtime technology investor and entrepreneur Adrian Hanauer, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, Ballard FC has attracted a coalition of supporters like-minded.
“All of our backing investors are football lovers,” said Zisette. “And they share our vision of football and community and why they are a perfect partnership.”
Bryce Smith among those investors.
Founder and CEO of Seattle-based startup Energy LevelTen has been in football for a long time.
“The day before I completely broke down, I was playing in college,” says Smith, who played at Davidson College in North Carolina. “Sometimes you can love it too much. Now I can live vicariously through my local football team. ”
Smith is a board member of Richmond (Va.) Kickers, a USL Tier One brand. He wanted to bring some of that experience to a local team in the neighborhood he loved.
Smith said Ballard had long been his favorite haunt and recalled that when he moved to Seattle in the late 1990s, he spent “eight nights a week at the Tractor Tavern.”
He now snaps photos of Ballard FC fans and associates hanging at Reuben’s Brews, the team’s title sponsor, before or after a game across the Ballard Bridge at Interbay Stadium, a venue The football venue is the home ground of the Seattle Pacific University teams and has 1,000 seats.
Other investors include Van Katzman, a startup advisor and investor; Andy Dale of Montlake Capital, LLC; Mike Myers of BlackFishLaw; Cameron Hewes of BMO Financial Group; and several others are active in the startup and tech ecosystem in Seattle, according to Smith.
Even as he works to build a clean energy technology company raised $62 million, Smith sees the value in building something at the local level.
“The technology that we build or invest in is supposed to break down walls or facilitate communication across the globe,” Smith said. “At the same time, people still crave community. And that’s clearly what this Ballard FC project is all about. It’s about building something we can be proud of in our neighborhood and walking out the front door and in. “
The opportunity to participate begins as soon as Wednesday when Ballard FC launches a website where soon-to-be fans can deposit $22 on season ticket or purchase equipment such as shirts and scarves. ONE launch party is scheduled for December 9 at the Reuben’s Taproom in Ballard, where the team’s home jersey will be revealed.
The inaugural season will begin in May 2022 with a team of unpaid players that includes top university athletes, former professional players and rising young stars. The summer season will feature eight home games, and Ballard FC will play against Northwest Division rivals, all located in Oregon.
Zisette, who used to have experience working with the Sounders, called the MLS club a great inspiration for Ballard FC. They had some intimate communication and the Sounders were very supportive.
The belief is that fans who have been drawn to the Sounders and what football has to offer in Seattle will find that connection on a local level in Ballard.
“I don’t think many of us could have imagined that the Sounders would have such rapid success, not just on the field but actually off the pitch, they’ve become such a fabric,” Smith said. of the whole community. “And I think the outlook for the community to adopt Ballard FC is pretty much the same.”