“What the state has to offer for a professional system is unmatched in the league. We want to be a force in the American soccer landscape.” – Team President Brett Luy
Rhode Island Football Club (RIFC) has had great buzz since the team was announced in 2022. Breaking a United Soccer League (USL) record by selling 3,700 season tickets (since they went on sale in November 2022) proved that Rhode Islanders are hungry for a professional soccer team. With the team still in its infancy, founders and co-chairmen Brett Johnson and RI native and former MLS player Michael Parkhurst know that much work still needs to be done before its inaugural season in 2024, but they have already made great progress in getting the ball rolling and ingraining themselves in the community.
“There’s no better sport in the world to unite a community and ignite passion than soccer, and Rhode Island is one of the greatest markets on the planet without a professional team,” Johnson says on the team website. “Opportunities don’t get much better than that, and I’m blessed to be involved with some amazing soccer teams around the world, but there is no opportunity that I’m more committed to than bringing men’s professional soccer to Rhode Island.”
Brett Luy, newly named Club President, says that he spent some time in the state during his younger days either playing or visiting family. He views RI as a tight-knit community in which he feels he could thrive. He and Johnson worked together with Phoenix Rising. They had an excellent rapport that continued while Luy worked as an executive at USL. Johnson told him about the positive impact that RIFC would have on the community, which helped Luy decide to take the job.
“Sports connect people in some of the most positive ways and can be a catalyst for positive change throughout the community,” Luy says. “The clubs that connect with their fanbases are the ones most involved in their community. I want us to be a [part of the] fabric of the community, [the] stadium and team to be assets. We have the ingredients to be successful. We want to be a club for all of RI. We want that to be the North Star for everything we do.”
Luy understands the connection the community had to the Pawtucket Red Sox and the void that has been left since they moved to Worcester in 2021. He feels that RIFC can heal that wound and become a beloved professional summer sport for the area. He has been overwhelmed with the response that the team has received thus far.
“The response has been special and we look forward to renewing that faith,” Luy exclaims, adding that they have already hosted successful toy drives, visited with local youth clubs and worked with Project Goal. “It’s up to us to make sure we keep up that positive momentum. We want to make sure that we involve people in the process and listen to their concerns.”
RIFC has made it a priority to listen to its fanbase and support local businesses. They hired Half Street Strategic Consulting for public relations and Nail to help develop their branding and identity, including naming the team and creating the crest. Luy says that the crest was created after spending months collecting input from fans, which is something that they plan to continue to do going forward to ensure a positive and collaborative fan experience.
“We want this to be a club for RI and the fan experience to be one that they’re craving,” Luy says. “We want to create the best fan atmosphere that we can. We want to make sure that we’re best-in-class in experience, from when they hit the parking lot: great food with local vendors (to a degree). I want to make sure that we’re being collaborative with our fans.”
It is important to RIFC to be an asset off the field and successful on the field. Even though they’re an expansion team, they vow to compete for the USL trophy immediately and bring home as much hardware as possible. They will be able to start signing players once they’re a part of FIFA’s registration system, in June 2023. They recently announced the hiring of coach/general manager Khano Smith and welcomed former Boston Celtic Daniel Theis to the ownership group. They plan to have other top-level staff hired before June, to assist in building the on-field team. Luy says that they have a few strong candidates in mind but want to take their time to ensure they’re hiring the right people for the right reasons.
While the players on the field will become the known stars, the front office team is equally important for long-term success and impact on the community. Luy adds that the hiring of Stadium General Manager Paul Byrne and Chief Revenue Officer Vicky Lynch is an excellent starting point.
The team will be looking to hire 30-40 people. Luy notes that having a great work culture is incredibly important to him. He wants employees to be chomping at the bit to go to work because it suits their personal and professional needs. He intends to be a flagship club and ecosystem that other teams mimic.
“Winning is not the only metric to success,” Luy says. “We want to get the best possible team members in the front office to set the key goals and benchmarks we’re going to measure ourselves against. We want to be a flagship club in not just USL but American soccer.”
With the first match still a year away, RIFC will use that time to build its brand and become a beacon in the community. They will be focusing on engagement opportunities in the coming months. Major announcements, including season ticket packages and a jersey reveal are to come soon.
Bridging both sides of the Seekonk River from Tidewater St to Division St in Pawtucket.