MLS and Toca Football announce 10-year partnership

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Toca Football’s founding thesis was retired men’s national team football player Eddie Lewis’ achievement to further encourage touchdown training and other fundamental practices. The long-term hope was to catalyze youth development in the country.

Eight years after its inception, Toca Football is now an integral part of the American football infrastructure as part of a new 10-year partnership with Major League Soccer. Toca will integrate MLS content into its training centers, and the two will collaborate on a curriculum using Toca’s patented training technologies and experiences for inclusion in Toca Social, its entertainment venue.

The deal was made through MLS Emerging Ventures, the league’s strategic partnership. MLS becomes a shareholder of Toca, under similar agreements with Sorare, Fanatics and SeatGeek.

“MLS really reinforces our position at Toca as an integral part of the sport of football, especially in North America, and so we felt that not just a business relationship, but an ownership relationship made sense,” said Toca Football CEO Yoshi Maruyama. “Our missions are so aligned that having them as a significant stakeholder and shareholder in our business made perfect sense for Toca.”

Toca’s plans for the future

Toca Football aims for ambitious growth. It has raised $105m, including a recent investment from Tottenham Hotspur star and England national captain Harry Kane. With 28 North American facilities, is already the largest indoor soccer operator on the continent. Former Topgolf CEO Erik Anderson co-chairs Toca’s board of directors, which also includes USWNT legend Abby Wambach and NWSL CMO Julie Haddon.

Maruyama says they could hit 40 by the end of the year and over 250 in the next 5-10 years. Overall revenue is up 150% year over year, largely due to expansion, but individual centers are seeing an average increase of 30%, he says. This is all done with a stated goal of going public by 2024 or 2025.

“There are real footballers at the helm who really understand the game,” said Chris Schlosser, senior vice president of MLS Emerging Ventures. “That’s why it appeals to us: they’ve really created something that’s based on really pure or precise technical principles, and then everything else just falls into place. And then at Erik and Yoshi, you have two guys who have real experience in scaling fan or customer experience businesses.

Prior to joining Toca in 2019, Maruyama worked the past quarter century in entertainment, leading global business development for Universal Parks & Resorts, then serving as head of location-based entertainment for DreamWorks and board director. SeaWorld Board of Directors.

“I’ve spent the last 25 years in the theme park industry, and when you talk to consumers about why people come back and love the theme park experience, in many ways, it is the children who want to experience the films. They want to become Harry Potter or they want to engage with Harry Potter which is both immersive and interactive,” says Maruyama, explaining that the goal is “to provide great family experiences, trying to connect emotionally with our guests, with our product. And when Erik told me about this idea, and I studied football, I said: “Oh my God, football is an even more popular intellectual property than Harry Potter in the world, isn’t- isn’t it?”

social toca

There are two sides to the Toca business: the most competitive training facilities are the predominant sector for now, but Toca Social is the new place for interactive entertainment centered around catering and football. First launched in London, Toca has plans for Social to expand to two other UK locations – Birmingham and Edinburgh – and later North America.

There is this gaping, missing hole in the football industry that you have teams and leagues that focus on fandom and viewership. And then you have manufacturers, the Nikes and Adidas all over the world that make cleats or other things to supply. But there’s no one in the middle there who focuses squarely on the experiences.

“We’re taking a bit of inspiration from the Topgolf model,” says Maruyama, explaining the need to be “painfully customer-focused in everything we do” at Toca. “We try to create special moments for people. It’s a theme park mindset, but it’s not about, “Are you scoring?” You don’t score? But it’s, ‘Are you creating an amazing moment? Do you have a moment you can share on social media or enjoy with family and friends? »

What drives people to leave the sport, he notes, is the competitive culture filled with overbearing parents and coaches and its rigor, with players running for 90 minutes to touch the ball in average 90 seconds. The same technology Lewis developed to improve performance can also be leveraged to create more enjoyable social experiences.

Toca-MLS integrations for youth football, more

Just as the Colorado Rapids already have a partnership with Toca for their youth soccer club, other MLS clubs could follow suit, with Maruyama calling expansion into squad markets a “priority.” The league recently made youth football a focal point, having launched the MLS Next academy league and also teaming up with grassroots coaching app Mojo. But there are also opportunities for fan engagement, with components of the Toca experience – sporting or social – to be adapted into an MLS team stadium.

“Toca is interesting in that I think it really hits on two key demos for us,” says Schlosser. “First, young kids who could eventually get into an academy program or just become an MLS fan – both are really positive for us – but then, second, they also have people who are in their centers just playing mixed or five-a-side football. on the football side, young adults. It’s also a very interesting demographic that fits very well with who we talk to right now and who we want to talk to every day.

MLS Emerging Ventures SVP Chris Schlosser tells SportTechie that Toca is helping hit a key demo of young players who can enroll in an academy program or simply become an MLS fan.

When Toca acquires a new football facility, the first order of business is IT integration. Data captured from its performance technologies is stored in a central warehouse, says Maryuama. As more successful players train at their facilities – he says 40% of the U.S. Women’s National Team are alumni – then this data set will have increasing value in setting standards that can help guide individual players as well as college recruiters and professional scouts.

“I thought, as did Erik, that there was this gaping, missing hole in the football industry, which is you have teams and leagues that focus on fandom and viewership. . And then you have manufacturers, the Nikes and Adidas all over the world that make cleats or other things to supply. But there’s no one in the middle there who is focused squarely on experiments,” Maruyama says.

“Imagine kids and families in an immersive environment where they can play games alongside or with amazing professional players from MLS teams; it’s just a dream come true. And in many ways, it’s about gamifying or creating a video game-like environment in which individuals can play with their favorite pros. And I’m really excited to be able to offer this because it’s an experience that no one has offered so far.

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