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Xavier Magazine | May 29, 2017

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Selling Soccer

Felix Winternitz

Russ Findlay walks around the hallways of his offices every day, a Sierra Mist held firmly in his grip. To him, the soft drink is more than a caffeine boost. It’s like a baby he’s brought into the world.

The 1994 MBA grad spent almost a decade with beverage behemoth PepsiCo, where he oversaw a billion (with a B) dollar branding effort for the launch of the Sierra Mist soft drink. “When you bring a brand to life,” he says, “you always have a soft spot for it.”

So don’t be surprised to see him dribbling a soccer ball around those same offices in the near future. In January, Findlay was tagged by Major League Soccer to become its first-ever chief marketing officer, responsible for running the organization’s marketing, branding and consumer initiatives as well as the group’s commercial subsidiary, Soccer United Marketing.

How did this switch from soda to soccer come about? “I worked at PepsiCo, a major soccer sponsor, before coming here, so I knew Don Garber and some of the people that work here,” he says. “I’m a certified U.S. Soccer referee, an active player and, most importantly, I am a consumer-focused brand builder, a market-eer.”

The path from Musketeer to market-eer has been something of a natural progression, beginning at home. “I learned how to sell in my mom’s bookstore, basically,” he says. He took those sales skills and applied them to rolling out Pepsi Max and the SoBe Mr. Green soft drink labels. While working on advertising and media strategy for these brands and others, he oversaw numerous Super Bowl ad campaigns, two of which won national awards.

Now the goal is applying those skills to soccer. Heading into its 16th season of existence, Major League Soccer is expanding, adding about three clubs per year. Overall, MLS fan attendance cracked the 4 million mark for the first time last year, meaning there’ll be lots of home-team jerseys, jackets, scarves and soccer balls to move.

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