If all goes according to plan, for a couple hours on July 15, The Club at Flying Horse will be humming with conversation — some in English, some in German.
The networking event will be the culmination of a cultural exchange centered on the world’s most popular sport, finalizing a week of soccer and ambassadorship meant to build bridges and broaden the city’s international exposure.
On July 9, Mainz 05, a division 1 Bundesliga team, the highest level in German soccer, will arrive in Colorado Springs for a week of youth soccer camps, training and two international friendlies — or exhibition matches for the uninitiated.
The weeklong event is the project of Funding One’s Freedom, a social enterprise created by brothers and Littleton natives Justin and Jason Rose. Justin now lives much of the year in Frankfurt, Germany, where he works as a corporate communications consultant. One of his clients is the Deutsche Fussball Liga, the German soccer equivalent of the National Football League.
He conceived the Colorado Cup as a way to connect both American and German athletes, as well as each nation’s business communities, while giving his home state a chance to shine.
“Soccer was always a big part of my life,” said Rose, who played collegiate soccer at Clemson University in South Carolina before succumbing to injuries. “I grew up wanting to play professionally, and I took some German in high school. Seeing myself in Germany was a goal. Instead of playing in the Bundesliga, now I work with them and play with the old guys.”
Rose wanted to bring Germany’s pride to Colorado and began collaborations with city organizations last year to make it so.
Mainz 05 players, their families, coaches and team personnel, as well as German media, are scheduled to arrive next month, and youth training camps will begin July 11, according to Rose. The team will be staying at The Club at Flying Horse, with some players venturing to Vail for smaller scale soccer camps. The club will also practice one to two times daily at the Air Force Academy, and those practices are open to the public, Rose said.
On July 12, Mainz 05 will take on the Colorado Switchbacks at Switchbacks Stadium. That game will be broadcast on Comcast to viewers in Colorado and Utah, and will be viewable on United Soccer League’s YouTube channel, which can be accessed worldwide.
Hosting a world-class club will boost the Switchbacks’ brand, allowing them to capture the interest of younger fans and potential players who could see the exhibition game as innovative within the USL, Rose said.
“The USL playing a Bundesliga team means players, and future players will want to play for this team because it’s doing great things,” he said.
The next evening, July 13, Mainz 05 will play Club Leones Negros de la Universidad de Guadalajara, a professional Mexican team within the country’s Ascenso MX league. That game will take place at the Air Force Academy’s soccer complex and will be broadcast on ESPN3 and ESPN Deportes.
Finally, the week will end with the networking event at The Club at Flying Horse, where event sponsors, players and invited members of the business community can discuss soccer, international marketing opportunities and the game’s broader impact on transcontinental commerce.
Beyond the U.S. border, soccer is a connector of cultures and business, Rose said.
“In Germany, if you want to do business, you do it through the Bundesliga and through soccer,” he said. “That’s how business has been done. If you have a suite at the stadium, you can go 360 days a year and work. It’s embedded in business just like golf and football is in America.”
Stateside, where soccer is slowly gaining in popularity, educating the citizenry about the game and the opportunities it creates has been one of Rose’s biggest challenges, he said.
As such, Rose has been working with the Colorado Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance to help get the word out.
“I don’t think the community really understands the full impact of having a USL pro soccer club here,” said Cheryl McCullough, director of sports and special events with the CVB, which worked closely with the Switchbacks when they decided to locate in the Springs.
“In Germany, soccer is huge and in our community it’s growing. Now we can showcase that. This is a great opportunity to partner internationally. It’s been an interesting year putting this together.”
The Colorado Soccer Association claims about 80,000 members, and McCullough pointed to the success of youth soccer and the Pride organization in Colorado Springs.
“Youth sports and soccer continues to grow in the community,” she said. “It’s not a niche; it’s a great economic driver.”
For instance, Pride’s annual one-week soccer tournament in August brings in more than 100 teams, McCullough said, with an economic impact of about $1 million.
Tammy Fields, senior vice president of economic development with the RBA, also assisted with the Colorado Cup during the past year. Since it’s the event’s first year — and it revolves around one of the country’s more obscure pastimes — she said getting sponsor buy-in was difficult, despite a sizeable donation from the state’s tourism office.
“I think it was a little more challenging than we first thought,” she said.
“There was an education process about what [Rose] was trying to do and how to get involvement from the local community and sponsors. We worked to introduce him to people who could help promote it and get this off the ground.”
The city faces a big challenge when recruiting, she said.
“Some areas in Texas, for instance, collect a sales tax that goes into a pot to incentivize events,” Fields said. “Some offer reductions on hotel room rates. With the Springs being more conservative, we don’t do anything like that.”
The city’s taxes on auto rentals and lodging, a combined 3 percent, go to market the region through the CVB and help support some local events, but the tax rate is among the lowest in the nation, she said.
The international exposure this event will provide, however, should boost the region’s sports image and economy, Fields said.
The Mainz 05 players, from 14 nations, will act as “walking billboards” for Colorado Springs when they return to Germany and their hometowns, Rose said. And while the exposure is appreciated, it’s not exactly what the RBA hoped for when it named the sports economy as one of its target sectors six years ago. The CVB attends trade shows to attract sporting events to the city, she said.
“Finding the financial support to bring in events that would increase sales tax revenue to the community has been difficult,” Fields said.
For more info on the Colorado Cup, to include tickets and sponsorships, visit coloradocup2016.com.