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FC Schalke 04 and Kick It 3v3 Aim to Develop Youth Soccer Talent in Atlanta

The German Club and American grassroots soccer tournament tour will host a youth tournament in Atlanta this month — aiding the sport’s growth in the States.

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Soccer in Atlanta is hotter than ever. In turn, the city’s booming energy around the sport caught the attention of German soccer club FC Schalke 04, sparking it to plan a series of youth soccer events this month in partnership with Kick It 3v3.

Earlier this year, Schalke announced a partnership with Kick It, the largest grassroots soccer tournament tour in the U.S. As a part of that, it has committed itself to connecting with and developing American youth talent. The next step in the partnership will take it to Atlanta, a fast-growing soccer hotbed and a city where Kick It has been growing its presence as well.

The events, which will take place December 15 and 16 at LakePoint Sports Complex, will include youth soccer clinics, mascot tours and contests, amongst a larger Kick It tournament. In working to fulfill its goal of youth development, Schalke will send coaches to the city for the weekend to oversee two youth clinics during the Kick It competition.

“With one of Schalke’s main focuses being youth development, this upcoming Kick It 3v3 tournament in Atlanta is our first foray into scouting new and promising talent at this level in America,” said Alexander Jobst, member of the Managing Board for Schalke.

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Schalke has an impressive history developing youth talent and is known for its “Knappenschmiede” youth academy, which has produced a number of world-class players, including American star and Kick It alum Weston McKennie, who plays for Schalke and the U.S. Men’s National Team. Through its partnership with Kick It, it is helping develop the next generation of American players and finding creative ways to connect with the country’s growing soccer community.

“Our global partnership with Schalke continues to drive unique, innovative experiences for soccer players and communities across the country,” said Matt Novogratz, CEO of Kick It.

In addition to providing an opportunity for young players in Atlanta to develop their soccer skills, Schalke will work to instill the club’s values of confidence, helpfulness, supportiveness, a strong character, focus, fairness, honesty and passion into the athletes as well.

Over the course of the weekend, the German club’s coaches will select a Kick It youth team that embodies those values to travel to Gelsenkirchen, Germany, for a behind-the-scenes tour and tickets to watch a Schalke home match at its home stadium, VELTINS-Arena.

“We’re excited about taking this step with Kick It to bring the power and tradition of Schalke to Atlanta,” said Jobst.

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In a bit of lighthearted fun, Schalke will unleash its mascot, Erwin, at the tournament and around the city over the weekend to visit iconic locations within Atlanta and search for other mascots residing in the strong sports city.

There has been a growing trend of European clubs trying to connect with the American soccer community and develop a fan base. Schalke plays in the Bundesliga, a league with a growing U.S. presence that is currently home to several young, talented American players.

Opportunities like this, with an impressionable young audience, will allow Schalke to develop a personal connection with the club, aiding its long-term growth in the States.

Lucy is a contributing writer for Front Office Sports. A storyteller and brand strategist, she has worked in the sports industry for organizations including the United States Olympic Committee, IMG/WME and the Miami Open, the University of Miami Athletic Department, Florida Panthers, and Minnesota Twins. She spent 2016 living in Colombia where she accomplished a life-long goal of becoming fluent in Spanish while working for the Ministerio de Educación Nacional. Lucy is a graduate of the University of Miami. She can be reached at lucy@frntofficesport.com.

Community Relations

Dodgers Foundation Hopes to Bolster RBI Program Through Coaching Investment

The Dodgers Foundation have taken their community initiatives to the next level through $1 million investment in Up2Us Sports.

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Photo Courtesy: Up2Us Sports

Seemingly every MLB team has initiatives in place to foster youth baseball and softball development in their local communities. The Los Angeles Dodgers are taking that a step further, however, by ramping up investment on a coaching level.

The Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation announced a three-year, $1 million investment in Up2Us Sports, a nationwide coach-training organization that pushes youth development and mentoring with special trauma training to better prepare coaches to be positive influences in the lives of children, regardless of sport.

The investment is the latest piece of the Dodgers Foundation Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program, which is now in its sixth season. The program provides support to youth baseball and softball teams, ranging from equipment and uniforms to training and health resources.

READ MORE: Major League Baseball Increases Sponsorship Support for Little League

Already, the program has expanded a rapid rate. This week, it broke ground on its 51st youth field as part of a commitment to build 75 before 2033, the 75th anniversary of the Dodgers’ move to the West Coast. Its enrollment has also ballooned from 2,000 youth players in the program’s first year to more than 10,500 at 85 locations this season.

The latter posed a key hurdle of how to improve the program and increase its coverage on the ground with reliable coaches, Dodgers Foundation CEO Nichol Whiteman said.

“We always knew we wanted to develop deep relationships with the agencies on the ground,” Whiteman said. “The challenge we were presented was how do we take the coaches we’re training and provide them with another to level to make sure they’re trained for situations of any kind and how do we put more bodies on the ground.”

Up2Us Sports solves that issue. The organization provides “trauma-informed strategies” in 30-plus-hour coaching curriculum to help coaches — often young adults — better mentor and coach children from troubled home environments. Other key aspects of the training focus on developing positive relationships with players, establishing a safe space and developing an understanding of healthy competition.

Overall, the organization has trained more than 2,300 coaches nationwide. According to Whiteman, the new partnership calls for training an additional 250 coaches — 90 specific to the Dodgers’ efforts — to help foster sports accessibility throughout Greater Los Angeles.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts believes the greater investment in coaches is critical, both on and off the diamond.

“Being a coach extends far beyond the field,” Roberts said. “You’re a role model, a mentor and someone who can make a difference in a young person’s life and help keep them on the right path. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the guidance, advice and tough love from coaches throughout my baseball career, and I’m grateful to have had such impactful mentors in my life.”

Up2Us Sports has more than 40 sports represented nationwide at any given time, said Paul Caccamo, Up2Us Sports’ Founder and CEO. Its other official partners include the Baltimore Ravens, Chicago White Sox and Miami Heat. The Dodgers Foundation is the first regional partner in Los Angeles for Up2Us Sports.

“We’re excited to be a trailblazer in this community, and this is a Dodger town, so to be an affiliate is so important, and it’s a reflection of our shared values and vision to impact the community,” Caccamo said.

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The Dodgers Foundation and Up2Us Sports will evaluate their partnership following the three-year commitment, Whiteman said, to check the accomplishments and outcomes. No matter where the partnership ultimately leads, though, Whiteman says the Dodgers share Up2Us Sports’ goal of increasing sports opportunities in disadvantaged areas.

“Providing access to baseball, or any sport, gives kids an opportunity to learn life lessons and be a part of something where they can develop work ethic, teamwork and leadership skills,” Whiteman said. “Sports do transform lives, especially in low-income communities. If it’s not part of their routine, and sports are becoming increasingly elite, they’re missing out on those crucial life lessons.

“We need more for an overall impact, not just on the children, but on society.”

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Community Relations

26 x 26 Targets Unprecedented Philanthropy for 2026 World Cup

There has never been a World Cup quite like 2026. The 26 x 26 initiative is aiming for something equally ambitious in low- and moderate-income communities.

Mike Piellucci

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Photo Credit: Tim Groothuis/Witters Sport via USA TODAY Sports

There has never been a World Cup quite like 2026, in which the United States, Mexico and Canada will tri-host sports’ most prestigious tournament. So it’s only fitting, then, that a group of partners ranging from nonprofits to sports broadcasters to soccer fans are collaborating for a philanthropic endeavor so ambitious that it will require seven years of planning to reach fruition.

The 26 x 26 initiative aims to construct 26 soccer fields in under-resourced communities across the three host nations in time for the start of the 2026 World Cup. 16 of those fields will be installed in the tournament’s host cities, while the other 10 will be placed in select cities throughout the United States.

The project is a joint collaboration between several partners across the globe Lionsraw, Local Intiatives Support Coalition (LISC), streetfootballworld, UNICEF and The American Outlaws. Its scope may be unprecedented.

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“For me, it’s always been about the opportunity here to really change the landscape in a fundamental way through a World Cup in the sense that the profile of the game itself, but also how that can be leveraged for social impact,” said Mike Geddes, managing director of streetfootballworld USA. “I don’t think there’s ever been an opportunity quite like this to create change at the scale.”

The idea traces its roots to a conversation between Lionsraw, a nonprofit focused on “recruiting and enabling [soccer] fans around the world to invest in transforming the most needy communities, to create chances for change for disadvantaged children,” and The American Outlaws, the unofficial supporters group of the United States men’s and women’s national soccer teams. Lionsraw had the idea to build a series of football fields one-by-one across the country and needed help to do so. The American Outlaws, who boast more than 200 chapters nationwide, had plenty of volunteers interested in helping a good cause.

“We have the manpower and willpower to take care of projects like that and to help sustain any sort of program as they move forward in the future,” says American Outlaws Founder Justin Brunken. “Because most of our chapters and these local communities, they’re looking for something to do to give back.”

More partners were recruited as the idea gained steam. streetfootballworld, a global network of about 170 nonprofit organizations, was tapped to coordinate logistics. It was a natural extension of their previous work, which includes collaborating with FIFA on social justice initiatives in the 2010, 2014 and 2018 World Cups as well as UEFA for the European Championships.

“Soccer is a very unique force in the world in terms of how it can be used as a medium to address social challenges,” said Mike Geddes, managing director of streetfootballworld USA. “We thought it was just such a fantastic kind of visionary idea and it was so clean focused on the needs of the local communities.”

LISC, meanwhile, will serve as the backbone organization that handles the fundraising and implementation of the facilities. The organization has more than two decades of experience bringing high-quality recreational spaces to low- or moderate-income neighborhoods, highlighted by a 20-year partnership with the NFL that has built or refurbished more than 330 football fields in cities throughout the country. According to LISC president and CEO Maurice Jones, the organization was “delighted” at the chance to incorporate soccer into their mission.

“It’s our opportunity to leverage a big international event to benefit communities all across the country who don’t have equitable access to, in this case, fields on which to play the game of soccer — and, most importantly, to learn what comes from that,” he says.

A group of ambassadors has already signed on, too, including former MLS stars Landon Donovan and Dwyane DeRosario as well as media personalities like FOX Sports’ Rob Stone and beIN Sports’ Kay Murray.

Now, it’s time to raise funds. The collective has already begun to approach financiers and, according to Lionsraw’s Ben Astin, the 26 x 26 project manager, have set a goal of raising $12 million in initial capital and formally issuing an RFP by the end of 2020 or the start of 2021. If it gets funded, he says, “we’re not going to wait until like two years before the World Cup or a year before the World Cup – we’re going to start building pretty much straight away.”

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There’s no point in wasting time, they figure, when communities could be served sooner and better than they have before. To that end, Jones says LISC already vetting local partners “who have skin in the game;” namely, a willingness to maintain the fields long after the World Cup has passed.

None of the respective funding parties are naïve to the road ahead of them. All of them, however, understand the stakes.

“This one is really exciting for us because the game of soccer is one of the fastest-growing sports in the country,” Jones says. “The ability to leverage it to make sure that folks in every community has a chance to become part of the game, to learn the game, to own the game, to have infrastructure for the game is critical.”

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How the Sacramento Kings Raised Over $100,000 for Wildfire Relief

The Sacramento Kings organization is lending a helping hand to their community and home state in the wake of catastrophe.

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Earlier in the month, one of the most destructive wildfires in the history of California began burning in the northern part of the state. Known as the Camp Fire, the blaze has killed at least 85 people, burned through well over 150,000 acres, and destroyed the homes of tens of thousands of residents.

While the American Red Cross and other relief organizations are set to work rebuilding parts of the state and aiding the displaced and injured, the NBA’s Sacramento Kings saw an opportunity to help the people of their hometown and the surrounding area.

On November 13, the staffers of the Sacramento Kings and the Stockton Kings — Sacramento’s G League affiliate — spent the entire day getting in touch with Kings fans and stakeholders asking for donations that would go to the American Red Cross.

Several of the Kings’ sponsors offered to match donations made of up to $25,000. By the end of that day, the Kings had raised $75,000 for the cause.

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Fast forward one week later, and the Kings announced another unique way of donating through partner Milagro Tequila. For every rebound the Kings grabbed in that game, Milagro would donate $300 to the American Red Cross. By the end of the night from the rebounds and additional donations, Milagro had donated $15,000 for the cause.

“Kings fans have truly embodied the ‘Do Good’ motto, stepping up to help others in need and again proving why they are known as the best fans in the NBA,” said Kings President of Business Operations John Rinehart. “We are proud to come together with the support of season-ticket members and fans to help our fellow communities in need.”

“All donations are gratefully accepted and will be used appropriately to assist those affected by this disaster,” said American Red Cross spokesman Stephen Walsh.

When natural disasters strike, it’s important to find ways to bring people together. For one, this is simply the right thing to do. Second, it’s a straightforward way to build a wealth of goodwill among fans and the local, national, and global community. Over the years, the Sacramento Kings have done a remarkable job of this.

In August, the Kings also donated an additional $30,000 sum to the American Red Cross for the relief of other wildfires that have ravaged the state of California this year. The team also made significant donations to support relief efforts after Hurricane Harvey. Public relations professionals from across the country have taken note of this.

“The efforts by the Kings organization to raise $75,000 for wildfire recovery is remarkable,” said Lauren Teague, an analyst at Convince and Convert and an expert in reputation management. “While the fires and the impact of them are devastating to the entire state of California, the organization deserves applause for rallying their fans and corporate partners to collectively make an impact.”

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“There’s an opportunity for them to tell the stories of those impacted as the season and the recovery efforts continue,” Teague added. “Fans can continue donating through the Kings’ online ticketing system. I’m sure this is the beginning, not the end, of how the team and their fans, players and sponsors will be intertwined with the fires all season long.”

You can donate to the American Red Cross and help the continuing recovery efforts in Northern California by visiting this link.

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