or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Trust Jim Kavanaugh
First of all, I shouldn’t really say “We” support the #MLS4TheLou campaign. It’s impossible for one person to speak for the entire membership of the St. Louligans, and some of our members either don’t want or care about MLS. The majority of people in the group that I talk to support the effort for various reasons, but chief among them is always Jim Kavanaugh. If you don’t know Jim, you should. Not only is he the CEO of World Wide Technology, a multi-billion dollar company based in St. Louis and a minority owner of the St. Louis Blues, he’s also the key to the effort to bring MLS to St. Louis. He was a part of the previous group trying to bring a team to town and it was Jim that the Taylor family reached out to in order to get the ball rolling again. MLS knows Jim Kavanaugh and wants him involved in any group that owns a team here.
But it’s not just because he’s a successful businessman. Jim Kavanaugh has soccer in his blood. He went to St. Louis University on a soccer scholarship. He played for the US Men’s National Team in the Pan Am games and the 1984 Olympics. He was drafted into the Major Indoor Soccer League and played for the St. Louis Steamers. In 2012, he took a leadership role with St. Louis Scott Gallagher Soccer Club which eventually led to him pursuing and getting a USL franchise, Saint Louis FC, which began play in 2015. Technically, Scott Gallagher and STLFC are non-profits and don’t have an owner, but it was Jim and some of his friends that have supported the venture financially. Without them this wouldn’t have happened. Jim’s leadership as CEO for WWT & Saint Louis FC is a guiding force for both organizations.
I met Jim in 2014. The Louligans had been around since 2010 and the ill-fated NASL team AC STL. After that team folded we attended various soccer games and events around town. A few Scott Gallagher people reached out to talk about their plans to bring a USL franchise to town and wanted the St. Louligans to be a part of it. After a few meetings with people involved with the new team at various levels I was introduced to Tom Strunk (CFO of STLFC) and Jim Kavanaugh. You never know what to expect when you’re meeting the owner of a big company- are they carving out 5 minutes to say “hi” because someone told them they had to do it? Do they really care about what you think? Are they just making the rounds? Jim? He wanted to talk about soccer. We spent probably 30 minutes talking about the USMNT and English soccer. He wanted to know how many people were in our group and what we wanted out of our new team. He told me to never hesitate to get in touch with him or Tom if we thought something wasn’t right or could be done better. He told an assistant to give him a few more minutes with me before he went to talk with other, more important, people. In short- he was a real person. A soccer fan. #OneOfUs
Since that day, I’ve talked to Jim dozens of times at games, tailgate parties, watch parties, other soccer events and by electronic messages after a big win or a tough loss. We’re friends. And it’s not just me because I’m one of the “leaders” of the St. Louligans. It’s not uncommon to see him and Tom hanging out at games or events talking to other fans. Not like “ooh- there’s the owner, be on your best behavior”, more like “hey there’s Jim and Tom talking to fans- I wonder if they know who they’re talking to?” Many times they don’t: I’ve gone up to people and asked if they knew who that guy was that bought them a beer and then laughed when they told me they were bitching about the team or the coach to “that guy”. He gets it, he’s a fan. Yes, he’s an important fan and he gets stuff done that regular fans can’t; but he listens to regular fans and implements their suggestions to make our club better. World Wide Technology is rated by Fortune Magazine & Glassdoor as one of the best places to work every year. He treats Saint Louis FC the same way. From the very beginning he wanted STLFC to be authentic and that message has been conveyed to everyone at the club. And the respect he’s given to the fans has been repaid with a fierce loyalty.
We’ve heard the stories from other supporters groups that have transitioned from USL or NASL to MLS. We know things will change. We won’t be able to do some of the things that we do at this level. There’s more scrutiny on the fans at the top level and some of our SiLLiness may have to be curtailed. We’ll have to get more organized and official, but if Jim Kavanaugh is involved we know he’ll be setting the right tone at the top. We’ve seen other front offices in MLS turn on their fans and try to stamp out things that don’t fit their model of what a team should be- but we’ve also seen other teams with the right leadership respect their fans and invite them to be a part of what they’re building. Jim has always said that this isn’t his team- it’s OUR TEAM. I have no reason to believe that ethos will change whatever league we find ourselves in.
The Taylor family being a part of the ownership is pure bonus. I’ve only spent a little bit of time with Carolyn Kindle-Betz before a game but you could tell she was taking it all in and appreciating how soccer is different from other sports- how the fans are a part of the experience. People were coming up to her and asking real questions and talking to her about what it means to them to see active and involved owners and showing that this is a relationship. Jim Kavanaugh wouldn’t be involved with people that didn’t see things this way. The Taylors and Kavanaughs can be the Busch family for this generation. Yes, they own very successful companies headquartered in St. Louis. Yes, they employ thousands of people. Yes, they give back (look at any charity event in the city of St. Louis and I defy you to find one that doesn’t have the WWT and/or Enterprise logos on the sponsors page). And just like the Busch’s made the Cardinals a cornerstone and a point of pride for our city- the Taylors and Kavanaughs will do the same with an MLS team in St. Louis.
And speaking of philanthropy: Jim Kavanaugh and Tom Strunk both step up to the plate big time even when no one is looking. Over the last 4 years the St. Louligans have raised close to $75,000 for various charities at soccer games & tailgate parties. Jim and Tom have personally donated over $30,000 of that total. Because they want us to be successful. They want everyone around them to be successful and they want to make our city successful. Imagine what we could all do with a bigger platform to work from.
I don’t know if MLS will grant us an expansion franchise. I thought we were sure to get one back in 2009, so don’t look to me for prognostication. But what I do know is that IF we get a team and Jim Kavanaugh is involved, I’ll support it. If we don’t get a franchise I’ll still be at Soccer Park supporting Saint Louis FC and Jim Kavanaugh will be there with us having a beer and a good time cheering for OUR TEAM.
Even if we do get an MLS franchise, it’s still a few years away. No reason to sit around twiddling your thumbs- come support Saint Louis FC with us in the meantime. Season Tickets are available now at www.saintlouisfc.com. Supporting the team we have now is the best way to show MLS you support Jim Kavanaugh & #MLS4TheLou.