The Precipice of Global Soccer Education

By offering Management of Global Soccer course, GW is at the forefront of comprehensively teaching the inner workings of the world’s most popular game.

June 25, 2024

Global Management of Soccer class

GW alumni Kevin Clark (r) and Scott Rezendes (at the monitor) are co-teaching Management of Global Soccer this summer and bring in guest speakers such as VfB Stuttgart executive Koija Dickmann. (Lily Speredelozzi/GW Today)

In 2004, just 2% of Americans listed soccer as their favorite sport. By 2022, that number eclipsed 8% as a younger demographic continues to flock to a game culturally revered in European, South American and African nations.

Seeing this trend—especially among college-aged students—in the United States, Master’s in Sport Management Program Director Lisa Delpy Neirotti shared a vision with GW alumnus Scott Rezendes, M.B.A. ’08, the CEO of a D.C.-based scouting network called The Soccer Syndicate.

That bold idea? Leverage the university’s international presence to make GW the precipice of global soccer education in the United States. And to work they went.

In fall 2022, timed with the men’s World Cup in Qatar, GW offered an inaugural Management of Global Soccer as a course for graduate students. Co-taught by Rezendes and fellow GW alumnus Kevin Clark, B.B.A. ’10, M.S. ’11, the class (listed as Tourism Studies 6280) is in its second iteration this summer as the Euros, Copa America and the men’s and women’s Olympics soccer mega tournaments take place before the start of the fall semester.  

Learning outcomes for the course include being able to discern the scope of the global soccer landscape; evaluate how individual member associations co-exist within their confederations; scrutinize the managing and marketing of regional and global competitions; analyze the player transfer process that includes labor relations and youth developments; and distinguish the differences of league and operating models globally, among others.

Essentially, it’s a course about all the moving parts off the pitch that makes the game such a cultural hallmark.

“I think the benefit of this class is that it’s meant to be comprehensive, whether you are talking about analytics, marketing, broadcasting or whatever it may be,” said Clark, who is the director of security for Washington’s men’s pro soccer team, D.C. United. “I say that because anyone can go to a statistics course and kind of get the raw mathematics of what we're talking about, but specifically for soccer, you've got to know what you're talking about in the game as a whole.”

There are so many nuances to the world’s game that make a class like this so valuable to graduate students who may be breaking into the field—metaphorically speaking, of course. The course has been timed with major tournaments so students can see what they are learning play out in real time.

The class on Tuesday, June 18, for instance, was the first meeting since French star Kylian Mbappé, widely regarded as both the best and most exciting player in the world, broke his nose in France’s opening round contest in the Euros.

They discussed what the injury meant for networks such as FOX counting on Mbappé’s presence for viewership and how marketers would have to pivot if he were ruled out for substantial time.

In the same class, they also discussed the implications of the National Women’s Soccer League’s Washington Spirit selling out their most recent match at Audi Field. It was a milestone for the women’s club, but as discussed in class, challenges stemmed from the record crowd such as longer lines at concession and crowded concourses, all important things to note if the Spirit continue to attract 20,000 supporters per game.

“I think the biggest thing for me is getting to know global soccer in a more specific, personal way,” said graduate student Ellie Haydamack, who is working as a coordinator of global soccer at a sports agency in D.C.

The class is mostly discussion based with a plethora of guest speakers from within the industry to, as Haydamack said, personalize the course. Guest speakers have included a soccer writer from Yahoo Sports, a head executive at VfB Stuttgart of the German Bundesliga, a representative from the U.S. Soccer Foundation and executives from MLS and NWSL teams. The class also went on a tour of Audi Field earlier in the summer.

“We try to really bring the class to them meet them where their interests are,” Rezendes said. “I do think it's hitting on a lot of the present-day issues in the game.”

There are two assignments in this iteration of the course. The class split into three groups, each representing one of this summer’s big three tournaments—the Euros, Copa America and Olympics soccer, and investigated the operations of their assigned competition. Students were also tasked with writing a paper on the evolution of a club team of their choosing, a fun endeavor for many.

“Being able to learn the history of the club and the trajectory they went on up and down for over 120-plus years was just really interesting,” said graduate student Eli Cole, who chose to do his project on Nottingham Forest, currently of the English Premier League. “I learned a lot about their ownership group and their investors. I really learned a lot about that club, and I’m sure I would have with any club I would have written about.”

The soaring popularity of the game has no signs of slowing down. Soccer fans are younger and more diverse than general sports fans in the United States, according to Morning Consult. In this 2022 study, more than half (54%) of the respondents who identified as soccer fans were under the age of 45, compared to the NBA (51%), NFL (46%) and Major League Baseball (43%). Major League Soccer just inked a 10-year, $2.5 billion global rights deal with Apple, and the NWSL recently secured a landmark four-year media distribution contract across CBS, ESPN, Amazon Prime and Scripps Sports.

This all comes at a time as major tournaments across the globe are reaching record viewership—more than 1.5 billion (yes, billion) people watched the 2022 men’s World Cup Final between Lionel Messi’s Argentina and Mbappé’s France. With the United States, Mexico and Canada set to host the 2026 World Cup, the time to mold great young soccer minds has never been greater. The goal at GW, who sent graduate students with Neirotti to the last men’s World Cup, is to continue offering this graduate course in each of the next two summers in its continued quest to be the precipice of global soccer education.

“There is just sort of an implied reciprocity in the soccer world of looking after one another and continue to find ways to grow the game,” Clark said. “Kind of a rising tide lifts all boats type of situation.”