Saturday, July 5, 2014

SALT LAKE CITY - A business designed to spread the game

    Cam Cameron had already thought of starting his own business in his undergrad years at the University of Michigan, which he attended on a soccer scholarship.  Coming out of college, he thought about trying to go into MLS, but the low pay for rookies, grueling travel schedule, and aspects of the stereotypical player lifestyle (such as going out on the town with your teammates) deterred him from choosing that path, especially after he got married a week after graduating from Michigan in December, 2010.  Instead, Cam moved out to Salt Lake City with his wife to get his MBA at the University of Utah while working a full-time job to pay the bills.

    In his second year of the MBA program, Cam started taking entrepreneurship classes, in which panels of entrepreneurs were brought in to guide students on how to start their own business.  These classes gave him the courage to believe he could do this, despite the risks.  Specifically, Cam wanted to start a business that would add value to the game of soccer and help make the sport he loves more accessible.  Soccer allowed him to attend college and travel all over the world to play.  But he knows that not everyone is as fortunate.

    Cam hoped that through his company, Just Play Cleats, he could make soccer equipment more affordable and thus help soccer grow in the USA and around the world.  Many a time Cam had seen a player left behind, despite great talent, because of the costs of playing.  Cam looked at the most basic yet most expensive piece of equipment: cleats.

    Top-of-the-line cleats from the big brands can cost over $200 per pair, sometimes as much as $275.  This is simply out of reach for many people.  Cam wanted to create a shoe with a similar feel to the top brands that at the same time would be much more affordable, making good shoes more available.

    According to Cam, top-quality cleats are extremely important for safety, and performance.  While the difference in quality isn’t as big a deal for those who play at low levels, once a child hits 9 or 10 and starts playing “seriously” (select or school soccer), a good pair of cleats is essential.  Not only will good cleats survive intense training much better than a cheaper pair, but they are also lighter, hold their shape better, and have a much more solid stud configuration (as opposed to the rubber studs on low-quality cleats which wear down easily).  This means that they feel more comfortable, allow the player to maximize their athleticism, and better protect players from injuries like rolled ankles.

    Michigan provided Cam with top quality cleats during his time at the university, so he already knew the feel that the expensive cleats gave players.  This allowed him to tweak the established cleat designs to address whatever problems he experienced.  He was also able to send them to his friends in MLS to try out, and after many rounds of revisions he eventually came out with the final product this past January.

    However, this is no mere business venture (although that is certainly a large part of it).  As Cam constantly stated during our meeting, he wanted Just Play Cleats to be a way to actively contribute to the soccer community.

    First and foremost, Cam has tried to contribute by increasing the affordability of soccer.  He told me about a mother of three sons with whom he had spoken, all of whom play soccer and all of whom wanted brand-name cleats.  One of her sons was growing so fast that she had to buy him three new pairs per year at enormous cost.  With ventures like Cam’s Just Play Cleats, it becomes a lot easier for families (especially with many young children) to afford good cleats, thus allowing more to play and develop their skills in their youth.

    Cam’s attempts to improve soccer’s availability haven’t stopped at selling more affordable cleats; he says that forming his own company has given him the opportunity to donate equipment and time to help those who want to play.  He spoke about traveling to  the Caribbean island of Anguilla, where he and the rest of the Just Play Cleats crew met up with the president of the Anguilla Football association, Ramond Guishard, to donate 30 pairs of cleats to players in need.  While there, Cam was also asked to lead a training session for the Anguilla Women’s National Team, since he had experience with high-level college training sessions that had never been available to these women.

    Just Play Cleats has also contributed to Utah’s soccer community by working with Balance House LLC (a program that promotes recovery from alcoholism and drug addiction) to provide cleats for their Utah refugee soccer league.  Utah has around 40,000 refugees from all over the world, and they have created a refugee league to give all of them something to bring them together.  However, the players are severely lacking in equipment, to the point where those getting subbed off have to give their cleats to the player replacing them. Cam was able to work with Balance House to reduce the price of his cleats by over 50%, so they were able to provide over 100 pairs to those who needed them throughout the league.

    All in all, Cam reflected that while it has been a lot of hard work, but it has been a lot of fun, and the thought of having an impact on the game he loves makes it all worth it.  “I’d just love to see soccer grow,” he said. “It would be great to have some small impact on that.”

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