RICHMOND, Va. — Back in 1992, the Davidson men’s soccer team made an improbable run to the NCAA Final Four, led by Richmond native Rob Ukrop.
Last year, that group gathered for a 25th reunion and had such a good time being back together, one of them suggested a group business venture.
As luck would have it, Ukrop, in his role as a member of the board of the Kickers, was realizing the organization was in need of private investment to help out the Pro team move forward and be more competitive. The marriage was soon made between the two.
“I just floated it out there ‘Why don’t we buy a pro team?’ knowing it (buying the Kickers) might be in play,” Ukrop explained. “Immediately, a couple of guys jumped on board”.
That group, 22 Holdings, will now become the majority owner of the Kickers Pro team, which has struggled on the field in the past couple of years and recently announced they would be dropping down in competition to USL's Third Division.
Tuesday's announcement will hopefully be a shot in the arm for the Pro team in terms of organization, resources and staffing.
"The Youth organization did an incredible job (of running the Pro team)," Ukrop explained. "We have fantastic attendance. But we don't have enough staff."
The new Pro team staff will be more focused on "driving the economics" of fielding a professional soccer team, from stadium naming rights, to ticketing, to promotions. Whereas before, Kickers staffers were wearing multiple hats to satisfy the needs of both a pro team and a youth organization, the new structure will have more people dedicated to one or the other.
Part of that dedication to the Pro team will fall under the club's new President, Matt Spear, a teammate of Ukrop's on that 1992 Final Four Davidson roster. Spear left his job as the head coach of Davidson to head up this new venture, drawing from years of experience both on and off the field.
"I have a passion for the sport," Spear said. "I think sometimes new ideas and initiatives from the outside can be really good. Some really good people have built this up to where it is now, but the game and the business is always changing."
In his opening comments, Spear referenced both VCU and the Flying Squirrels as having game experiences and community influences the Kickers hope to replicate. The Kickers season begins on March 30th, and Spear has plans to host 8,000 fans on opening night.
"We want them to come hang out with us for a full day," Spear said. "Not just for a soccer game. We want to be championship oriented from day one. That's being the best version of yourself every single day."