FC Buffalo Interview #1 – Nick Mendola
Before last Saturday’s 2-0 victory over the NJ Blaze, I sat down with FC Buffalo’s Nick Mendola. Nick is a co-owner of the team and also their director of public relations and partnerships. Nick’s been involved with soccer since high school and when the opportunity came to buy a team of his own, he snapped it up along with his friends.
Black & Blue & Gold – Does your increasing recognizability as a radio personality and the face of the team aide in your work with FC Buffalo as the partnership manager and PR guy?
Nick Mendola – Yea, I mean, it’s been beneficial to be sure but what kinda keeps you in check with both soccer and an independent radio station, most of the radio stations in this area are part of a conglomerate and I’m still coming from an underdog position. People might know who I am and they might be more interested in something because I’m involved, which is awesome and I find that hard to believe, but there’s always gonna be a battle to be won and that’s kinda what you live for.
How’d you go about choosing Papa Jake’s and Spot as primary sponsors for the team?
Well, Spot was easy and eventually so was Papa Jake’s, but in a glut of Starbucks and other coffee places they (Spot Coffee) are thriving as a Buffalo-based business. They have some ownership groups in Canada, but they are doing their thing for Buffalo, so that was big. With Papa Jake’s, it was just finding a bar that was relatively close to All High (Stadium at Bennett High School) but also embraced us. They said, “Here’s your money; we trust you’re gonna bring people back. Now let’s have some beer.” It was really just as simple as that. We care very much about Buffalo-based businesses. I’m not saying that if Eurosport came and offered us a million dollars, we’d say no, but we wanted to stay with Western New York as closely as possible.
Choosing local sponsors shows a commitment to the team’s roots. How do you think the fanbase will respond to the organization’s loyalty to the region?
Well, I hope they like it, but I think the bigger thing for us will come down the line because next year or the year after that, hopefully we’re in a spot that people are recognizing that we could have chosen someone else. I think for now, people are saying, “Oh, clearly, they went to local places.” But in ten, fifteen, or twenty years, we’re an MLS team and everyone else may have Mazda on the front of their jerseys and we have Spot Coffee, that’s when we want people to recognize that we made that choice to stay local.
Speaking of the organization being involved in the region, what are FC Buffalo’s long-term goals in the community?
Well, we’re partnering with Buffalo Public Schools and we’re trying to apply for a Pepsi Refresh Everything grant to get soccer balls to almost every kid we can in the city. There’s no reason, the same way we are for hockey, that Buffalo can’t be an American hub for soccer. Even though people can’t play year ’round if you think about it, they can hone their skills indoor on a smaller field which forces you to think quicker. My favorite two sports are soccer and hockey, and not even in that order. I’ve been playing hockey since I was three; if I would’ve been playing soccer since I was three, with athletic as I am, I probably could’ve went to college for free. I’m not saying I would have been that good, but there are kids out there who aren’t even getting that chance.
Do you think the club’s international flavor on the roster will have an impact on the marketability of the team to the city’s growing international population?
Yea I do; I mean, just telling them that the team’s the real deal. I met a kid at Pilot Field during the Strasburg game the other day, and we were just talking back and forth and it took me fifteen minutes for him to understand that these are elite players instead of just some men’s league team that we’re publicizing. So that was a big deal for us. We just need to meet those guys and we’re a real deal soccer team. Once people start embracing that we mean it, it’ll work out that way.
Speaking of international flavor, tell me about FC Buffalo’s planned get-togethers at Papa Jake’s to watch USMNT’s matches.
For the longest time we’d go to a coffee shop because it’s one of the only places you could go, so why not help a bar become that place?
Give me some of your insight into the World Cup this year.
Well, I dunno what sorta insight I have, but I can tell you that I think it’s an exciting one for it to be happening in South Africa. It’s huge. There were people saying that once they were granted the World Cup, if it didn’t go through, that they’d be done. That, literally, the country would almost fall on each other because of the strides they were making. If you could think of America when we were a growing society, had we lost the Spanish-American War;I’ve read something equating it to that. It’s a big year for South Africa and it’s a big year for soccer. I’m reading a book right now called Feet of the Chameleon on African football, and it’s stunning how political leaders use the sport to help them come together.
So this year’s World Cup will be interesting. The traditional powers are always interesting, you know – Germany or France. But they’re not really as stand-out as they used to be, so the USA can make a run or Serbia can make a run, but in the end I think it’ll be Brazil or Holland.
Do you have any dark horses picked out?
I like Serbia, just having (Nemanja) Vidic around is huge. The United States. Portugal’s probably considered a dark horse, but they have Cristiano Ronaldo so they wouldn’t be considered a dark horse, but they should be.
Care to talk about your show on WECK 1230AM and some upcoming guests?
We’re just gonna keep bringing in interesting guests the best way we can. We had Grant Wahl from Sports Illustrated on to talk about the World Cup. We’re gonna have Phil Housely on soon to talk about the US (2011 World Junior Championship) team. You know, whatever’s interesting to me. It doesn’t have to be a sports guy, and I just hope I can find an outlet to entertain people.
Lastly, tell me a little bit about your band and what you guys have planned
My band’s called Tuco. It’s pretty much bar rock. It’s not frilly – it’s just a bunch of guys who got together to cover Neil Young and Bob Seger and Motorhead songs in the basement and thought “Let’s try playing some more and playing our own stuff.” We don’t make any illusions about being rock stars. We’re just playing out stuff.
FC Buffalo’s on the road until June 19th when they host the Pocono Snow at All High Stadium. Tickets are $5 an adult and $10 a family with veterans admitted free with their military ID. Tuco is playing a show at the Mohawk Place opening up for Marah on June 9th at 8PM. Tickets for that are $10 and are available at Ticketmaster. You can catch The Late Nick Mendola on weeknights on WECK 1230AM.
If you’re interested in showing your support for the United States men’s national team in an original way, why not check out local company twoeightnine design’s latest offering based on 2010’s kit.