These Brothers Transformed a High School Project Into the Largest Online Soccer Retailer of All Time. Here's What the World Cup Means for Business Now.
When Mike and Brendan Moylan co-founded their business in 1984, now Soccer.com, they had to convince their brand partners that people cared about the sport. A lot has changed since then.
Today, brothers Mike and Brendan Moylan are the co-founders behind the largest online soccer retailer in the world: Soccer.com.
As billions of viewers across the globe tune in to watch the World Cup, it might be hard to remember a time when professional soccer wasn't readily available on televisions, cellphones, iPads and more.
But Brendan Moylan tells Entrepreneur that in 1984, when he and his brother launched their direct-to-consumer company formerly known as Eurosport, soccer games weren't broadcast with the regularity they are now — which proved challenging from a business perspective.
"There were probably only two or three days a year that there was actually a game on TV," Moylan says. "We had to go out to our brand partners and get them on board with why soccer mattered, [convince them] that there was a marketplace for these products."
Moylan's brother Mike got the inspiration for the business from working part-time at a mail-order swim-gear company. Mike's idea, which served as the basis for his senior project in high school, was to build a similar community to sell soccer apparel to — a natural development, considering Mike and Brendan were two of six soccer-playing siblings.
"The early catalog had as much product as it did content about soccer," Moylan says. "You couldn't find anything about soccer from a news perspective. So really those catalogs became [about] educating people [and] publishing articles, features."
With help from their father, who'd grown up in a family business himself and believed there were a lot of valuable lessons to be learned, the Moylan brothers launched their catalog Eurosport. In 1994, just one year after the World Wide Web went public, the Moylans registered their Soccer.com domain.
"The ability for someone to go online today and learn about anything to do with soccer has really changed our approach to how we inspire our customers."
The Moylans maintained the Eurosport masthead until the early 2000s, at which point they converted everything to Soccer.com.
A lot has changed in the intervening years alongside advancing technology and increased accessibility. At the peak of Eurosport's catalog business, the company mailed roughly 15 million catalogs per year; now, that figure sits in the low millions.
"The content we now provide around the product has changed," Moylan explains. "The pieces that we would do in the catalog were more timeless — [not based on] current events. But the ability for someone to go online today and learn about anything to do with soccer has really changed our approach to how we inspire our customers."
Additionally, Moylan says the shift to digital has allowed the company to work with its youth club partners more effectively to promote youth players and what they're doing in their local communities.
The Moylans are also taking advantage of all available sales channels: some print, grassroots events, on-site retail, live shopping online and, of course, the ever-widening landscape of social media. Finding ways to remain relevant to the company's target consumer is essential in an increasingly crowded online retail space, Moylan says.
Another tough-to-navigate challenge? Consumers' expectations of speed. "In everything — not just operationally," Moylan explains, "but certainly that is an important factor. So how do we continue to get faster and faster? [Meeting] the consumer's expectation or desire is critical."
"The U.S. is a very unique market compared to other markets when it comes to the World Cup."
As one might expect, getting ready for the world's biggest professional soccer event, one that only comes around every four years, is no small task for a major online soccer retailer. Soccer.com has to carefully prepare its inventory ahead of the World Cup — and it does, striving to carry merchandise that represents all 32 teams that qualify.
"The U.S. is a very unique market compared to other markets when it comes to the World Cup because we're a country of immigrants," Moylan says. "For a lot of people, we're selling the U.S. replica, but we're also selling them the replica [soccer jersey] from where their family came from, or where potentially they came from. So there's a real interest not only in how the U.S. team does, but also in how other teams from where your family emigrated from [do] as well."
And, as with preparing for any event, part of the challenge lies in making sure there's the right amount of product. When it comes to the World Cup, that requires weighing each team's chances.
"When a team underperforms, it can be a challenge because you probably have more product than you wanted," Moylan explains. "And when a team overperforms, it's disappointing because you run out of product earlier than expected. So there's a lot of complexity to being successful in a tournament like this."
Though the Moylans' company has undergone a drastic transformation since its early days and the advent of the internet as we know it, some things have remained unchanged over the years.
"Fundamentally, we're still looking to inform, inspire and innovate," Moylan says.
And the key to making it through so many decades of change? Beyond "having a smart brother you can work for," Moylan quips, it also pays to keep your eyes on the goal.
"It's block and tackle," Moylan says. "At the end of the day, you have to know who your customers are and be really focused on that. There are so many things that distract people that seem like shortcuts or bigger opportunities, but where we have been successful as an organization is really trying to stay focused and not get outside of our lanes."
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