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Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Kathy Carter has her eye on the ball

By Whitney Holtzman

espnW: Soccer United Marketing, commonly referred to as Major League Soccer's marketing arm, holds the rights to MLS, all men's and women's national team games and to the Mexican national team games played in the U.S. As the president of SUM, what are your daily duties and responsibilities?

Kathy Carter: I oversee all of the revenue streams for the sport of soccer in North America. That includes sponsorships, consumer products and digital ad sales. We handle the majority of the revenue stream, except for ticket sales. SUM was created to make it easier for companies to get involved in the game of soccer.

espnW: Were companies having difficulty effectively marketing their products?

KC: There are so many leagues around the world. If you haven't grown up in the game of soccer, it can be confusing to know who owns the rights to all of the games and all of the different properties. Companies were having trouble aligning their products with the appropriate teams and leagues, hence the creation of Soccer United Marketing.

espnW: What's the first thing you do when you get to your desk in the morning?

KC: The first thing I do in the morning is to stop and get a cup of coffee from the coffee cart guy. People know that until that cup is gone, just be nice to me. I try to nurse it until noon.

espnW: Major League Soccer further expanded this year, adding Vancouver and Portland to the league. Montreal will be joining as the 19th team for the 2012 season. What city is next to get a team and how many teams do you hope to eventually have in the league?

KC: We've fairly widely reported that we're active in New York for a second team, and that would be a great 20th team. In the event we can't pull it together in New York, we're looking at a variety of different markets. We have a lot of places in our country that can handle soccer teams. We're looking for the right markets and the right situation, including good ownership and an ideal stadium situation. We're not necessarily aiming for a particular number of teams.

espnW: Seattle has more than 32,000 season-ticket holders, Vancouver has about 16,500 and Portland has approximately 12,500. What's in the water in the Pacific Northwest that's caused the area to become such a hotbed of soccer?

KC: We point to [Canada] as one of the great stories that's happening in Major League Soccer. Toronto has sold out close to every game since they've come into the league. There's something very special going on up there. We believe that in Seattle and Portland, the location of a stadium in an urban center has been very good. Those teams also have smart owners who are doing the right thing. It's been a lot of fun being a part of it. It's such a different experience when you go to a game up there.

espnW: You were a goalie on William & Mary's women's soccer team just a few years after Jon Stewart played on the men's team there. Have you ever scrimmaged against him, and if so, did he ever try to tell a joke to distract you from scoring a goal on him?

KC: Sadly, it was more than a just a few years. However, I have met Jon in a couple different situations, and he's a great supporter of William & Mary, but our paths never crossed at school.

espnW: How do you think your experience as a collegiate soccer player has helped you in your current position with MLS?

KC: I think for any woman coming through business that's had the benefit of playing a sport at any level, you learn the idea of teamwork and all the great lessons that come from playing sports. There are so many correlations between sports and business. I'm also the beneficiary of having opportunities. I was a Title IX baby. I was given every opportunity to play and was never told no.

espnW: What would've happened if you'd grown up in an era without Title IX?

KC: Fortunately, I don't have an answer for that. But as the world has evolved, people have really started to support women's sports, which is great. The Women's World Cup in Germany showed us that the level and quality of play is increasing on a worldwide level.

espnW: You were with MLS in 1996 when the league launched, first serving as the vice president of corporate marketing up until 1999. What's the biggest change you've seen in the league since its inception?

KC: Diversification of ownership, expansion (from 10 clubs in 2004 to 18 in 2011 and 19 next year), stadiums (10 stadiums have been built or renovated for soccer since 2005), TV partnerships and the influx of new corporate partners. There's no end to the list I could give you.

espnW: You're the U.S. representative on FIFA's Committee for Women's Football and the FIFA Women's World Cup. What were your thoughts on this year's final between Japan and the USA?

KC: Great disappointment that we didn't take the victory, but as time and distance give you perspective, you start to realize that the tournament was unbelievable. Even though the U.S. didn't win, it was great story for Japan.

espnW: You were on the 1994 World Cup USA organizing committee. What goes into planning a World Cup that people may not realize?

KC: It makes me sound so old that I was involved in soccer back in 1994.

espnW: We'll just let people know you were 12 when you were on the committee.

KC: OK, perfect. There was so much planning that went into it, but it was a really great way for me to get started in the business.

espnW: Soccer seems to grip the country when it comes to World Cup play, but what needs to be done to grow the sport in the U.S.?

KC: The sport is growing at an unbelievable pace in North America. The men's World Cup is a great artificial stimulus package for soccer. What's good for soccer is good for all of soccer. We believe that a rising tide lifts all boats.