Saturday, January 22, 2011

Hispanic Creativity - How to get additional space for a soccer complex

Last week I was thinking about Hispanic’s creativity and on how to make the point about Hispanics being creative problem solvers in a more tangible manner. I decided that I would look around and showcase some Hispanics who are doing just that. While trying to figure out who to reach out to in order to tell his or her story I remembered a conversation I had with Tab Ramos a few months ago at an MTV3’s event in Los Angeles.
Tab Ramos is best known for his role as a former US National Soccer team player and for being the first player signed with MLS. Tab also participated in the US Olympic team and played in Spain for Real Betis and for UANL Tigres in Mexico. He retired in 2002 and was inducted to the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2005. But Tab is not just an accomplished athlete; he is also an entrepreneur and a caring individual interested in helping children grow as individuals and reach their maximum potential.
I reached out to Tab to pick up where we left off in LA regarding a project he was working on and got a hold of him as he was coming back from a National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) convention in Baltimore.
EL – Hi Tab, Happy New Year! I hope things are well with you. I’m writing a blog about Hispanic’s and the way they go about solving problems creatively and I remembered a conversation you and I had last year about the indoor / outdoor soccer complex you were trying to build.
TR – Happy New Year to you! That’s right. That is a project I have been working on for the past 3 years.
EL – How is that coming along?
TR – It continues to move forward slowly and to some degree it has morphed a little bit from the original project due to the challenges I faced while trying to make it happen.
EL – Challenges! Great segue way. You are an entrepreneur and as such I imagine you deal with challenges every day. What kind of challenges you face on an average day?
TR – There are all kinds of challenges in running a 50,000sf multisport facility, a 22 team national development soccer academy, personally coaching one of the 22 teams, serve as assistant coach and main scout for the USA under 20 National Team and manage multiple appearances for some major companies such as Pepsi Cola and, as you know, Subway Restaurants. I also run practices for a couple of the academy teams on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 7pm to 9pm.
EL – Wow! I knew you did lots of things but never imagined you did that many. So which challenges you deem the most critical to address in your business.
TR – It runs the gamut from parental concerns for individual players in a variety of recreational sports, to facilities issues, to personnel management issues, to legal issues, and so on. The parental concern issues can be the most time consuming because they require personal interaction with each particular individual and although they are handled by each individual sport’s manager they are all reviewed by me. The facilities issues are amongst the most important. They could range from maintenance of the bar, the hockey rink, the soccer and football turf, the concession stand, the party room, meeting rooms, offices, parking, etc. On the subject of personnel management, it is very important that I have meetings with my managers to evaluate their work and their production, review the programs they have in place and introduce new ones that can produce higher revenue and higher profits. I also discuss with my management team our advertising budget and see where it has been effective and where it has not. And lastly, my other daily challenge related to personnel comes from our National Development Academy Club (NJSA 04). It has over 20 teams who travel nationally so the schedule for each team is a challenge in itself. We also card players, keep track of their progress and ensure their parents are pleased with their children’s development. I have to hire and keep track of all the coaches and program directors as well as clinic directors and keep in touch with all the major Division 1 College Programs to be able to place our players into the Universities that best fit their skills on the soccer field and in the classroom.
EL – All of that on an average day.
TR – Yes.
EL – And then you have to add your project to that list!
TR – That’s right.
EL – Can you tell us what this project is all about?
TR – Sure. For the last 3 years I have been trying to build an indoor / outdoor soccer complex. Our soccer academy (NJSA 04) has grown so much that we have completely outgrown facilities available to us.
EL – What was the challenge you had to deal with?
TR – The recession. Initially the most difficult part of the project was finding a major sponsor to help us. After speaking with many major corporations we realized that in these economic times it would be difficult to be able to find the 5 Million plus required to build what we needed.
EL – How did you go about addressing the challenge?
TR – We first approached corporations and asked them to invest $2.5M for a 50% ownership of the facility plus naming rights and sponsorship mentions in all promotional materials for 15 years. At the end of the 15 years the corporation would still own 50% of the facility and would have right of first refusal to continue owning the naming rights to the facility plus could choose to continue being a sponsor. Unfortunately due to the country’s financial situation we were not successful in finding the right investor to partner with. This forced us to look for alternative solutions to our need for additional space which lead us to modify the original concept and decided to build an outdoors facility that could be used during the winter months by covering one of the soccer fields with a bubble.
EL - Were you able to execute the concept?
TR – Not yet. We have found a 20 acre parcel of flat tree-free land that is perfect but we have spent the last year and a half negotiating with the owner and with the township as we would only buy the land contingent on getting all permits and approvals for the turf soccer fields and lights.
EL – So what is the outcome going to be? Do you think you will be able to resolve this situation any time soon?
TR – As I said we are still negotiating but in the meantime we have found another solution to the problem. One that is a medium term solution while we work on the more permanent one.
EL - So first the indoor / outdoor complex was too expensive and you were not able to find investors. This prompted you to change the original concept and it morphed into an outdoor complex that could be winterized by implementing a bubble during the cold, snowy months. Now, since the outdoor complex concept is taking some time to execute you have found a third albeit temporary solution. Is the new solution you mentioned a third concept?
TR – I think is similar to the second concept except we don’t have to build anything and is only temporary. During our meetings with the township’s Mayor, Clerk, Attorney, Director of Recreation Department, etc. we were able to negotiate taking over a 5 year lease of a 5 field complex with 3 lit fields that the township is currently struggling to support due to budget cuts. It comes with several restrictions but we believe that this lease will hold us over until we are able to get all the approvals and move forward on our 20 acre parcel of land. It also buys us more time to find the right sponsor and build the type of facility we need to host the huge number of teams we will have as well as run all the additional programs we are hoping to add.
EL – That’s awesome. Can you share what those additional programs are?
TR – Yes! We are looking at inner city programs, Special Olympics, international exchange, etc.
EL – What would you say is critical for people to do in order to address and solve problems like the ones you encountered in this project?
TR – I would say that it is very important to be extremely patient, persistent and prompt. I can’t think of anything but the “Rome was not built in a day” saying. All phases of a project can be on completely different time frames. Also people need to build good relationships with other people. The person you met briefly at the beginning of a process may be the one that eventually helps you find the solution to your problem. The 5 year lease we signed with the township originated with an idea the Mayor pitch to us. He knew how hard we had worked for the last 3 years to build something. We have been good to the township and its kids and we stand for the right things. I believe the township will be fully behind us when all the pieces are in place to take the next step.
EL – Hispanics are very much relationship driven individuals and I know firsthand that you are very much a person who likes building relationships. Would you say your upbringing has played a role in the way you approach your everyday challenges?
TR – Definitely! My upbringing plays a major role in my everyday life. For instance I always remember what my dad used to say: “Al que madruga Dios lo ayuda”. I am always very early at work! Also as you mentioned above I am very much a person who likes building relationships. I believe in people more that I believe in the power they may have. I believe that people who are smart and who care will always be successful. I always want them on my team. My parents believed that education was very important and that stayed with me. Education is always the single most important investment anyone can make and it’s with you forever. I never took my athletic ability for granted and realized that at some point it would end. My education will still be with me long after my athletic ability is gone.
When I left Tab he was planning a business trip to Nebraska. I have known him for a few of years and I can vouch for his work ethic. I’m sure he makes his dad proud! I can also say that he is not just an athlete but also a great human being who is truly interested in making a difference in the lives of the kids he trains in his multisport facility. Lastly he is a Hispanic entrepreneur who has and continues to solve problems creatively.
If anyone has any question for Tab, just post them and I will forward them to him.

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