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It’s Not Magic: Lessons in Soccer

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Sixth Street Co-founder and Partner Vijay Mohan sat down in our San Francisco office with two accomplished executives in the professional soccer world for a conversation about the power of accessibility in sports and how it can influence communities.

On this episode of It’s Not Magic, Vijay guest hosted a discussion with Ed Foster-Simeon, President & CEO of the U.S. Soccer Foundation, and Danielle Slaton, a former USWNT player and co-founding member of Bay FC.

During the discussion, Danielle and Ed shared their career journeys at the highest level of soccer, the opportunities and challenges the game has presented both professionally and personally, and the type of legacy they hope to leave behind through their work. Although the conversation focused on soccer, it was clear that they were discussing something much bigger than just a game.

This conversation is sure to leave you feeling inspired and eagerly anticipating the rest of the season.

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Episode Transcript:

David Stiepleman: Hi, everybody. Welcome back to It's Not Magic, our podcast from Sixth Street. We invite influential leaders and founders to get to the core of how they're creating innovative solutions to stand out in their industries. Today, we're not only welcoming two incredibly accomplished guests in the professional soccer world, but also a fantastic guest host, my partner, Vijay Mohan, who's a co-founder and partner at Sixth Street, and as you'll hear, a delightful human. Vijay sat down with our two guests at Sixth Street's new San Francisco offices during Black History Month to discuss sports and the importance of accessibility in sports, and how sports can influence communities for the good.

Ed Foster-Simeon: And I say this often, there are three universal languages in this world, math, music, and soccer. Because no matter where you go in the world, you can communicate through those three mediums and people of different languages, different backgrounds, different life experience. You bring them together through soccer, and they can find a way to play, coordinate, organize, and be effective working together through soccer.

David Stiepleman: That's our first guest, Ed Foster-Simeon, President, and CEO of the U.S. Soccer Foundation and a good friend of ours. And our second guest is also a good friend, Danielle Slaton, co-founding member of our National Women's Soccer League, Bay Area Club, Bay FC. Sixth Street is the majority investor in Bay FC, and the team kicked off at season on March 17th in L.A., and we had our home opener Saturday at PayPal Park in San Jose. In our sports investing, we talk a lot about the appeal and power of sports, and a lot of that, of course, is because sports can foster, strengthen, and build community – and I think that came through really well here. This conversation was ostensibly about soccer, but it clearly was about something bigger than just the game. You'll hear about Danielle and Ed's career journeys at the highest level of the sport, the opportunities and obstacles the game has provided them as they've grown as people and as professionals, and the types of legacies each aspires to leave behind in their work. I think you'll enjoy it.

Vijay Mohan: Thank you all for being here live in the room. Thank you for being here on Zoom. We got a lot to cover. We're gonna talk about the business and sport of soccer, very relevant to folks here. Talk about career paths and how do you navigate and find opportunities in varied career paths. Then in soccer specifically, talk about access and the impact that soccer can have on our communities. Before doing that, some quick introductions. I'm gonna start with Ed Foster-Simeon. He's been a champion of soccer and the impact it could have on social good for over three decades on the local, state and national level. He's currently CEO and president of the U.S. Soccer Foundation, a position. he took on in 2008 after serving on the board since 2004. Prior to that, he had a 25 year career as a journalist, 15 of those years as deputy managing editor of USA Today covering D.C. politics and some international topics. He started his career in the Navy. He won numerous awards including the Virginia Hall of Hall of Fame for soccer. He's a trustee of the NAACP Foundation. Many other accolades. Danielle.

Danielle Slaton: Let's just brush his shoulder off a little bit.

Vijay Mohan: Yeah. I met Ed recently. Danielle has known Ed for over 10 years. She serves on the board of the U.S. Soccer Foundation. Danielle knows, obviously many of the people here, given her work as co-founder of Bay FC. She's played soccer at every level, starting when she was five years old, through college, professionally, both here and in France. She's won a championship here in the U.S. Played for our national team, played at the Olympics, won multiple medals. And then she's spent some time as a coach at Northwestern, transitioned over to the education field, looking at a few different topics, including player development. Of course she's working with us now, with Bay FC, which we will talk about. So with those introductions out of the way, Danielle, if we can start with you, the kind of our vehicle to talk about things today is gonna be soccer. And so you've been involved with the game since you were a kid. When did you realize that for you, soccer would be more than an extracurricular activity? It would be a central piece of your life.

Danielle Slaton: It was probably pretty late for me, to be honest. It was my sophomore year of college. I grew up in an era when there wasn't professional women's soccer. You didn't grow up dreaming to be a pro women's soccer player. I got involved in AYSO recreational soccer when I was five years old, literally because I was breaking things in my parents' house and they were like, what starts next? Soccer started on Tuesday, and that's how I started playing soccer. I was the only girl on an all boys team for many years, but it really wasn't until, probably the ‘99 World Cup that I realized that soccer had a presence in the United States, soccer had a presence globally. And then I was part of the youth national team. And so that's really when I thought, hey, maybe I could make a thing of it. I was a pre-med science major, until I had to do physics, and I realized that soccer could be my thing. And so I quickly switched majors, and that's all she wrote.

Vijay Mohan: Ed, soccer wasn't your first passion, and you got into it via your kids. Maybe you can tell that, that story. And then when did you know that soccer would become a passion for you?

Ed Foster-Simeon: Yeah, so I grew up playing, stickball and basketball in Brooklyn. And I, I didn't know anything about soccer until my sons started playing. I have four kids, three boys and a girl. At four years old, I didn't want my son playing American football even at that time, and signed him up for soccer because, as Danielle said, there was a lot of energy being burned, kids running up and down, and I thought that's a good place for him to be. And I served as a volunteer because at the time, they said, if you want your kid to play, if you don't coach, there won't be a team. And I didn't know anything about coaching, and they said, well, we'll show you. I lasted for one season and quickly realized that I'm an administrator,

Ed Foster-Simeon: I am not a coach. And so I quickly shifted to team manager and became a club president. And in that process of working with young people in the community and seeing the impact of the game on my own children, it really is what stimulated my deeply held belief in the power of this game as a transformative force in life. I shared with you earlier that I, look at my own oldest son, and school was a challenge for him. For whatever reason, he had a hard time with school. And we live in a community where AP and all that stuff is what kids are doing, and that wasn't his thing. And soccer was the one thing that he had that gave him a sense of confidence in himself, the ability to accomplish difficult things, challenges and perseverance and learning, and the power that it had in his life to keep him on track, and keep him going in the right direction, I just can't overstate the power that it had in my own family's life.

Vijay Mohan: And we'll talk more about carrying that on into different communities. So let's talk about career paths. So we talk a lot here about being both intentional in terms of charting out a career path, but also being open to opportunity, and kind of flexible. And you've had a very varied career. If it is at all possible to talk about juxtaposing a career in journalism to what you've found in a career in sports philanthropy. What's different? What have you learned? What lessons translate from one to the other?

Ed Foster-Simeon: So, journalism was an excellent grounding for me in terms of understanding of the world and critical thinking. How to think about the world, how to understand what's happening, how to ask the right questions, became essential to being a journalist. And so that experience, but there's not a one-to-one correlation because it's two different worlds, in many respects. I used to think that nonprofit work was easy street. You go into nonprofits and boy, everything is easy. It's the hardest work I've ever done in my life because you're actually trying to promote and sell a mission and impact, and the beneficiaries are not the people that you're asking to fund the project. They're not the direct beneficiaries. So it, it was a great learning for me to be able to transition into a mission oriented kind of frame of mind and work where it's the mission that matters more than anything. It's not about professional accolades or any of those things, awards. It's really about what impact can you have in community. And I will say that soccer actually influenced my journalism career to a greater extent, because when I traveled abroad, that I knew something about soccer when I traveled, would change the whole dynamic of my business conversations with people that I knew about Arsenal, that I knew about Manchester United, that I knew about Liverpool, that I knew about these teams.

Ed Foster-Simeon: Suddenly, I'm having different kinds of conversations with folks. I'm not just another yank. I am someone that actually understands their game. And I say this often, there are three universal languages in this world, math, music, and soccer, because no matter where you go in the world, you can communicate through those three mediums, and people of different languages, different backgrounds, different life experience – you bring them together through soccer, and they can find a way to play, coordinate, organize and be effective working together through soccer.

Danielle Slaton: And Ed is an amazing storyteller, which I don't know if he gets that from journalism, but like, the stories he tells about the work that the foundation does is amazing. And anyway, I'll make you give your pitch later.

Vijay Mohan: I may ask you to ask him a question about a story that you remember, but quickly on you on career paths. You've had a bunch of different experiences. Can you, can you walk through your thought process in terms of balancing intentionality and then opportunity?

Danielle Slaton: Yeah. I would say that probably the most pivotal point for me was really my transition out of soccer. I wasn't just a girl who played soccer. I was a soccer player. And when my career ended to injury I lost a little bit of myself. I lost a little bit of my identity, and I didn't know who in the world I was without soccer. And so I think I quickly jumped to coaching because quite frankly, I didn't know what else to do. And I knew that I knew soccer, so great, I can coach, I can teach this thing, but after a while, I realized that I had just kind of, I don't know that I grieved the loss of my sport. And I don't know that I transitioned well. I don't think we talked about mental health in the same way we do with athletes now. I think I was probably a little bit depressed. It was the first time I ever saw a therapist to figure out what I wanted to be next. And I remember kind of laying around and, and being upset and I was listening to a graduation speech, and they said, find your passion and you'll never work a day in your life. And I was like, found it, don't get to do it anymore. Now what the hell am I supposed to do?

Danielle Slaton: And so I remember being really like, kind of frustrated and didn't know what to do. And finally, after probably, like one too many bowls of popcorn on the couch, my boyfriend then, husband now said, “do you know what you do, Danielle? You just choose, you just pick something and you walk through the door,” and he goes, “and if you don't like what's in the room, you turn your a** around and you walk back out, and then you walk in another door. But what you need to find is the door. And the door actually might be in the room, in the extra room, in the extra room, but you just gotta walk through the door.” And so what I started to do at that time was, I was interested in flowers. I always grew up in California. And so I was like, I called a florist and I said, I will scrub your buckets.

Danielle Slaton: I want to learn all about what you do, and I can make you a mean wedding bouquet and boutonniere, by the way if anybody needs anyone, anybody needs to get married. I became a fitness and a rowing and spinning instructor because I knew I was interested in that, and that's how I got into television. I started at the Big 10 Network for the first time. And I think through television, I slowly found my way back to my love for soccer. Because when I was injured and I left it, I didn't want anything to do with the game anymore, but I think those doors eventually, like the door to television led me back to California, which led me back to Bay FC. And so it was like the door beyond the door, beyond the door. And so I think being open to just giving myself the freedom to try things that I loved, but then also being really intentional about listening to myself and what resonated with me and what didn't. And I wasn't doing something just because I was supposed to, or I had to, but because I truly wanted to do it or was curious about it, is what made me find my way back to soccer and kind of ultimately what led me here.

Vijay Mohan: We talk a lot about manufacturing luck here, being curious, working hard, trying things, and you kind of found your path through that. So thanks.

Ed Foster-Simeon: Can I just build on that just a bit though, because I think what Danielle said about the various doors, sometimes you don't know what the door is, you don't even know that you're walking through a door. I chose to volunteer. I was a newspaper man, a journalist, but I volunteered in youth soccer. I had no idea that one day, that volunteering, that volunteerism would lead to me becoming the CEO of the U.S. Soccer Foundation. So the doors come in many forms and fashions, and, not by expanding my network outside of journalism, and by meeting people in the soccer space as a volunteer, it opened up an opportunity that I didn't even know existed for myself. And so it's very interesting where you find the door. Sometimes the door is through some activity or some decisions, the people you choose to engage with. In newspapering, for example, I don't know what it's like in your industry, but in newspapering, it's a very insular space. People go to parties with each other, journalists hang out with each other, that's all they talk to. But I learned more on the touchline of a soccer match, talking to families and friends and people that you meet about what was really going on and what people were really thinking about, because it was another window that, that I could have access to.

Vijay Mohan: Curiosity, genuinely listening and then keeping your radar open.

Ed Foster-Simeon: Yes.

Vijay Mohan: Maybe you can continue on there. Can you talk about the U.S. Soccer Foundation. Maybe the origin story from the last time that we had the World Cup played here? And then I may ask you to contextualize this moment right now where we have a bunch of international matches coming here the next few years.

Ed Foster-Simeon: Wow. How much time do we have?

Vijay Mohan: That'll be about 15 seconds. Yeah, that's easy.

Ed Foster-Simeon: So the origin story of the U.S. Soccer Foundation is the 1994 World Cup, which is still the most widely attended World Cup in the history of World Cups. And the president of U.S. Soccer, the governing body of soccer in the United States, the U.S. Soccer Federation, was a man named Alan Rothenberg, who is the founder of the U.S. Soccer Foundation. He took the excess proceeds. Nobody expected the World Cup to make money. They thought it might be a colossal failure in fact, and it made some excess proceeds, and he used it to create the foundation as an independent entity outside of the traditional U.S. soccer structure. Because at that time, U.S. Soccer wasn't as financially strong, and he was concerned that the resources would just kind of evaporate. And our first mission was to grow the game of soccer in the United States. One of the records,

Vijay Mohan: The mission of the, of the foundation,

Ed Foster-Simeon: of the foundation was to grow the game of soccer in the United States. We helped Major League Soccer get started. We helped every iteration of the Women's leagues that have existed in the United States right up until NWSL. Helped them get off the ground. We helped with funding to support the 1999 World Cup coming to the United States. And then we invested in programs and field building activities in all 50 states. If you have kids who play on soccer fields around the country, we may have invested in some of those fields to make that possible. In 2008, when I became CEO, first task was, okay, what is the business strategy? What is the plan, how we want to go about this work? And so we did an analysis of the landscape, and it turned out that with the foundation's help, and the help of many, many others in this space, the game had grown phenomenally in the United States.

Ed Foster-Simeon: It had gone from a sport that not many people knew that much about, to a very popular sport. In fact, one of the most popular among youth in the country. But when we looked closer, we realized that most of the participants were from middle class suburban households, households with the means, the disposable income to participate in what has come to be known as the pay to play model. You want to play soccer, you pay a registration fee, and you get the opportunity to play. So when we saw that, we realized that the next wave of growth in this country would be for those children who are growing up in less fortunate circumstances, those children growing up in low income households and poverty households. So when I came to the board to talk about this issue and the direction that we wanted to go, I pointed out that you really couldn't just roll a ball out into these communities.

Ed Foster-Simeon: And, because we wanted kids to play soccer, that these young people were facing numerous challenges, in their environment, safety, all kinds of issues that many other children are not experienced. So we made a commitment that not only were we introduce the children to the sport of soccer, but we would leverage it as a tool to advance their health and youth development outcomes. I shared earlier, one of the things that I've learned is that youth coaches are among the most influential people in a child's life. Children go to school because they have to. We make them. They come running and laughing to their coaches because they want to learn from them, and they have fun learning from them. And so our basic premise became how do we leverage that position of influence in an intentional way that improves life skills, development, health outcomes, all the things that will help young people, to become productive members of society.

Ed Foster-Simeon: There are plenty of statistics out there that will tell you that while we all dream of becoming a pro athlete like Danielle, less than 1% of us have the talent and the good fortune and all the things to fall into the right place for that to actually become true, to become a paid professional athlete. So what's the payoff? The payoff of the other 99% are all the things you learn through that experience of participating in sport. You learn accountability to other people. You learn teamwork, you learn perseverance, you learn grit. You learn things that, when you go to work one day, how to be on a team, how to support a goal and a mission, and play your part in doing those things. And one of the things that we've learned is that when children don't have access to sport, and to our game in particular, that they're missing an incredibly important learning platform. It's not just running games. It is a learning platform. And the U.S. Soccer Foundation is about increasing participation in the game, in under-resourced communities, but also leveraging that as an opportunity to help lift up those children and help them develop the critical life skills that will help them become productive members of society.

Vijay Mohan: Danielle, you've been on the board for over 10 years, on this work. What's, what stuck with you in terms of the mission?

Danielle Slaton: Oh, goodness. I truly believe, like deep in my soul, I believe that if we can change the world's game, we can change the world. And that goes to access. If we can provide access for more kids and more people to have opportunity in this game, and to teach them the valuable lessons that it can teach us, the world will be better. If we can give people the knowledge, and democratize the knowledge and the resources that exist but are not funneled evenly and distributed evenly, we can progress and move forward. I think about it too, in the sense of being part of Bay FC and why it's been so important to be a part of that is because if we can change the way that women are valued in the game, we are gonna change the way that women are valued in the world.

Danielle Slaton: It is not charity to give to women's sports. It is good damn business. And it is not only that, I think it will help us progress as a society, as a global community going forward. It's interesting, Equal Pay Day is coming up in March on the 12th. And I know that soccer has the ability to change the world because I feel like I've lived it, I've experienced it. But, on Equal Pay Day, there's always an uptick in Google searches. Everyone's looking at it. Whenever there's a big Supreme Court case or whatever, there's an uptick in equal pay searches on Google. The final of the 2018 Women's World Cup, which I was in the stands, and the United States won two to zero over the Netherlands, and the chant at the end of the game was not U-S-A-U-S-A, it literally was equal pay, equal pay.

Danielle Slaton: And one of the highest days in Google searches – for equal pay, was on the final of the 2019 Women's World Cup. So if you're telling me that soccer can't change the world, let's just look at the data. That's good data to me. And so I think that part of the mission that we have at Bay FC, that we have with the U.S. Soccer Foundation is to continue to bend the arc of history towards equity and towards access. And so, to me, every time I ask someone to contribute to the foundation, every time I will ask you all to come to a Bay FC game and buy a ticket like that is what you are doing. You are not just having a beer to me. You are helping us progress, and you are helping us move massive, massively important social things forward, with your investment.

Vijay Mohan: I think we gotta talk about the Bay FC now. Okay. So, obviously we're incredibly proud to have worked with you on leading the largest in institutional investment into professional women's soccer. I've heard you talk about a fateful plane ride. I've heard you talk about the origin story a bit. In terms of the very beginning of Bay FC when it was a twinkle in your eye. Maybe tell a bit of the origin story Bay FC and then we'll kind of get it into the moment where we are.

Danielle Slaton: Yeah, so Bay FC really was born out of the announcement that Angel City made in 2020. Myself, and my other co-founders, Aly Wagner, Leslie Osborne, and Brandi Chastain, who by the way, we all live within like two miles of each other. Like, I can go on my three mile run and run by all of their houses. And when the Angel City announcement happened, it was a lot of our former teammates who had played for the US Women's National team, but who had ties to Los Angeles? So, Julie Foudy, Shannon Boxx, Abby Wambach, and honestly, the first reaction was like, what the hell? How did we not know about this? Like, and why can't we be a part? Like, we feel like we had a little FOMO and missed out. Leslie was the one who really kind of rallied the troops and brought us together.

Danielle Slaton: But she was like, if they're doing it LA we can do it up here. And that's truly like when it started, it started during the pandemic when we all probably had way too much time to think about things. And that's where the slow steps came towards building this vision, towards looking to find early investors, and that ultimately led us to Sixth Street, which there's obviously been a tremendous amount of momentum in the last year or so as we launched our brand, and as games are just a couple of weeks away. But this has been something that we have been working on since 2020 and it will have almost been four years now.

Vijay Mohan: Great. So, I'm gonna get back to the moment in time for Bay FC, but before doing that, moment in time for U.S. soccer, with the World Cup in 2026 and we have basically a large event every year, the next three, hopefully four years. Can you talk about that, the opportunity in front of us as a sport and the opportunity for the foundation?

Ed Foster-Simeon: We talk about this in terms of a generational opportunity that's in front of us. The fact that we have Copa America coming this summer. We have the FIFA Club Championship coming the following year, followed by the World Cup the next year. The possibility of a Women's World Cup in 2027, Olympics in California. That confluence of events will not occur again for another three decades. So it's an extraordinary window of opportunity. More attention will be on the game, more interest will be in the game. More people will want to be engaged in the game. And for the U.S. Soccer Foundation, we see this as soccer's having a moment. Soccer's having a moment in the United States. It really should be a moment for millions of other children to have that same access to the game as well, and that's what we're committed to. This window, it would be a crime to squander it. It should lift up NWSL, it should lift up every aspect of the game. At the same time, we are working with host cities around the country to really think about the legacy of the World Cup being expanding access and opportunity to ensure that those young people, those youth, those families that are in less fortunate circumstances, actually have access and opportunity to enjoy the many benefits of the game going forward.

Vijay Mohan: So what lessons do you take from the last kind of cycle and apply them over the next handful of years here to make sure that we're maximizing on that opportunity?

Ed Foster-Simeon: It's all about intentionality. None of it happens happenstance. The focus of the foundation has always been zeroed in on something very specific that we want to accomplish. Post ‘94, we had made a commitment to stand up a men's professional league, and the foundation played a role in ensuring that that happened, and support the growth of the game. I think the intentionality is what really matters most, deciding what is it that we want to accomplish. We have a very clear vision about providing play spaces in under-resourced communities, so children have easy access to a safe place to play this game right in the neighborhood where they live. That a million children on an annual basis in under-resourced communities have free access to participate in this game. To be able to play a role in solving some of the most pressing issues that face our country, and particularly among young people in under-resourced communities, keeping kids in school, engaged in school, out of trouble -

Ed Foster-Simeon: Sport is a way to do that. I think we undervalue and underestimate the power of sport in society. The Justice Department, when we've done some work with them, they will tell you that the hours between 3:00 and 6:00 PM are the most dangerous time in the United States of America for children. The time between when they get out of school and the time before most of their parents get home from work. That window of time, children's idle hands, idle hands of the devil's playground. You know, that old expression. Children think of crazy things to do when they don't have things to do. So making sure that they have access to sporting opportunities, opportunities to be engaged, not only with a sport, but with a caring adult, a trained coach-mentor who is there to support their overall development. Not only teach them how to kick a ball, but talking to them about the importance of staying in school, staying out of trouble. All those things that will matter long term.

Vijay Mohan: And maybe, Danielle, you can pick this up. In addition to your role as co-founder, you've taken on a new role at Bay FC. Maybe you can touch upon that role and the intersection with what Ed's talking about here.

Danielle Slaton: Yeah, I mean, part of my charge is to get our Bay FC Foundation up and running, and figure out how we can continue to make an impact in the world. I think that the work that the U.S. Soccer Foundation is doing with regards to safe places to play, and creating access is something that is pivotal and one of the pillars at Bay FC that we have. We're focused tremendously on access and leadership. Two of those things line up very closely with the work that the foundation is doing. So, I think that there is a lot of overlap. I think to Ed's point, the ecosystem needs to invest right now. We're gonna come out of the World Cup in 2026, and everybody's gonna be jazzed about the enthusiasm and this, that, and the other.

Danielle Slaton: But if we don't build the infrastructure now, if we don't invest in the pieces now, that momentum will not be able to be capitalized upon in 2026 and beyond. And so, that's part of the work that Bay FC has to do, it's responsibility in the small professional space that we have. That's the responsibility that the NWSL has as league. It's the responsibility that the Federation has as a governing body, as well as the work that the foundation is doing. So I think all of us have to invest in our little pieces if we are truly to make the impact and have the legacy that we want to have coming out of the World Cup.

Ed Foster-Simeon: Can I just build on that? Because I think that – the World Cup is, the actual World Cup is gonna be a smashing success. I have no doubt about that. I mean, there's never been one that's failed. It's the world's greatest large sporting event, expands a month of activities and games. That's gonna be a success. But if all we have is a great party – and a great fun time in the stands, and there's nothing that benefits the communities that are hosting the game, there's nothing that leaves an enduring legacy, then what have we really accomplished, right? Municipalities and government, everyone is investing to make sure that this event comes off smartly. But to me, the real payoff will be what is the enduring legacy that lasts? It could be or be around girls and access and opportunity in under-resourced communities.

Ed Foster-Simeon: It's about really thinking about harnessing that momentum in an intentional way to drive positive change. Because you don't get an opportunity like that very often where corporations are all wanting to be involved. The public will want to be involved because we all get excited when a big event is coming. So how do we harness that? And that's the focus, just as Danielle was sharing about how Bay FC is thinking about it, it’s how the foundation is thinking about it. It's like, no, we have to be intentional about making the right things happen so that once the final whistle of the final game is blown, that there is something that endures and lasts just as the U.S. Soccer Foundation has endured since 1994.

Vijay Mohan: What would success be for you in five years? For the sport and then the foundation here in the U.S.?

Ed Foster-Simeon: For me, and for the U.S. Soccer Foundation, success would be maximum access for young people in under-resourced communities. The pay to play model is not going anywhere, and it shouldn't. I'm of the camp that believes that when folks have the means and the resources to provide opportunities for their children, they shouldn't be denied that. Why would you deny anyone that opportunity? The real work is five years post World Cup. What have we done for those children who don't have the good fortune of birth circumstance to have those resources available to them? How do we ensure that they are getting those same benefits, from participation in play and in organized sport that will help them be successful in life? Because we underestimate sport, we think of it too often as just fun and games, or who won the trophy. And we underestimate the value, the other learnings that occur in that process. Teamwork, perseverance, leadership, when to follow all these things that are learned behaviors when you get to opportunity. So we have to maximize that, and that's what I think success would look like, five years from now, five years after the World Cup, is that more children who don't have access now would have access and benefit from that access to participate.

Danielle Slaton: Can I add on that? So it's Black History Month, so I'm gonna take a little detour on this conversation, but we'll come back to it. Ed keeps talking about like all of these tools that sport can provide. I feel like I'm living, breathing example of that. I've learned all of these wonderful things that I can take with me today in my life every day. Who cares that I can kick a soccer ball 40 yards. But the fact that I can sit here and speak articulately and be a part of a team and communicate, and all those things are tremendously helpful to me. Being black in America, being a black woman in America, the best example that I can give of what, like my experience has been like, is an example of when, my first son was born, and he was born in 2020, like a couple of weeks before the world shutdown.

Danielle Slaton:
And I was so excited to be a mom, and this was like wonderful. And after 36 hours of labor, I had two thoughts. My first thought was, oh my gosh, I am so glad that's over and happy he is here and he is healthy. And my second thought, which still like makes me kind of sad to think about, but my second thought was, thank God his skin isn't as dark as mine because it will keep him safer than anything I could ever say or do or teach him. And one of the things that I learned in sport was very quickly how to like, compartmentalize and to control what you can control and to be able to change a negative thought into a positive thought. And I remember in that moment being like, oh, well, I do this all the time. And I can compartmentalize this kind of negative down thought in this wonderful, joyous moment.

Danielle Slaton: And I learned that in sport. But I also think that if we can truly like do some of the things that Ed is talking about, that that thought doesn't even have to exist for him or the next generation of people because they don't live in a world where that's reality anymore. And so to me, when I think about how important it is to do this work and how important it is, the legacy of this World Cup and what we can build out of it, it's not only to give kids the tools to be able to survive or to thrive in these circumstances that might be a little bit more challenging, but so that they don't even have to live in a world where some of these societal issues continue to linger. And so, when I think of the work that we do with the foundation and the important work we have to do with Bay FC, it is so nobody ever has to have that thought anymore, and that the next generation can be so much more well equipped and doesn't have to exist in a society where things like that come into your mind when your kid is born.

Ed Foster-Simeon: Can I just build on that a little bit? Because that thought of what you're saying about a different future for our kids. And one of the things that – you've seen this. Kids from different nationalities, different languages, different backgrounds through the sport of soccer. They find a way to communicate, they find a way to organize, they find a way to have fun with one another, and they find joy in one another. And so there's so many ways that sport, we think of it as, I was the president of a club. Almost every coach, all they cared about was whether they were gonna win the state cup or win the league, or whatever it was. And they weren't thinking about, as much as they should, about what is my role in shaping young lives? How do I build an environment that is kind of a positive and a learning environment for young people? And I think that in this window of time we have a way to bring people together through a sport, a global sport, a truly global sport, and bring people together in ways that in the past we've not been as successful in doing.

Vijay Mohan: Thanks for sharing that. Kind of staying on that theme a bit, maybe a tangible example of, it could be a story from your work, but, the impact you've seen, from what the Soccer Foundation has done on, a community, on a person. And I'd love to weave in the thousand mini pitch efforts that you all are leading. We at Sixth Street are working with you on that, and with the Bay FC, maybe an example of impact from there.

Ed Foster-Simeon: Well, the impact of the work goes from mini pitches to programming to coach-mentors. And now I can give you a couple of different examples. In South Central Los Angeles, a very gang infested neighborhood of Los Angeles. We put in a field a place called Algin Sutton Park. Not a mini pitch, but an actual full size synthetic turf field. This park is at the intersection of where three to four rival gangs, their territories, intersect at this park. It was not a safe place to be, but by putting this pitch in and the program we work with, they're called the Brotherhood Crusade. They've been in South Central Los Angeles for 50 years working in the community. They talked about how the community, basically, this became a safe space where there was no more gang trouble around this park anymore.

Ed Foster-Simeon: Why? Because the gang members' children were playing in the program in the park. And it was a safe space in that community. So something as simple as creating a space that created an opportunity to be used differently and thought about differently by the community has been transformative in this particular neighborhood. We're talking about a neighborhood where violence is real, where children see death, they see real violence. And this space has now become a different kind of space just through the power of soccer. Without coaches. I'll tell you the story. One of the coach-mentors that we have showed up, this again, is in South Central, showed up for, to set up for practice. We work with, in our Soccer for Success program kids, six through 12 years old.

Ed Foster-Simeon: A little girl was waiting for him when he showed up to set up, and she grabbed him by the hand and asked him to come into the school with her. And it turned out that it was parent– teachers’ night, and she didn't have anybody there for her and she wanted her coach to know that she was doing well in school. Now, that doesn't sound like soccer. My soccer aficionado friends would say, Ed, what does that got to do with anything? The power of a coach in that young person's life, that that coach meant that much in her life, that she wanted him to know in the absence of her parents to be in the classroom with her, to hear from her teachers. These are things that matter. That means that that coach is having a real influence in a young person's life, and who knows where that goes. So at the end of the day, this is about more than just fun and games.

Danielle Slaton: I think to add on to that too, I feel like sometimes people feel intimidated. Like, well, I'm not a coach. Like, I don't know about coaching. Or I don't know how to get into it, but I'll tell a funny story about a teammate of mine. So I'm 20 years old, in the Olympics in Sydney. And the women had just won the ‘99 World Cup and I was the only college player; I was a teenager on this team. And I will never forget this because Mia Hamm took the time to, one comment, like maybe changed the course of my career. And so I say that, and I share that with you all because it doesn't necessarily need to be a coach. Like any of us can have an impact on someone in a significant way.

Danielle Slaton: And so we were in Melbourne ahead of our first game, and Mia said, “Hey, I'm going to get my eyebrows waxed. Does anyone wanna go?” Never gotten my eyebrows waxed up until this point, so I didn't know what to do about it, but I was like, okay, I guess apparently this is something that women do and I need to fit in with the team. And I'm nervous because I'm the only young one here. So I was like, oh, cool, of course, like, yeah, I'll go, and turned around like, and nobody else decided to go. So I was like, oh, now it's just me and Mia, like, what am I gonna do? I'm so nervous. So she's like, okay, don't worry. I'll make an appointment and we'll go. So we go to the spa and I like watch her,

Danielle Slaton: 'cause I'm like, okay, what do you do? Like, I don't know, men don't worry. You don't do anything. You just lay there and they wax your eyebrows. It's very simple. But she got her eyebrows waxed first. And then I laid down and got my eyebrows waxed, and I sat up, and of course, probably the esthetician was like, had realized I'd never had my eyebrows waxed before. And I sat up and she was like, “oh, you're tough. You didn't even flinch once.” And without missing a beat, Mia's like, “[dismissive exhale], I could have told you she was tough. I play with her every day.” And you guys, I was like, “oh my God, Mia Hamm thinks I'm tough.” But like, literally six months before she was a poster on my wall, like that's who I looked up to. And so I share that story to just remind all of us, and maybe to remind myself too, like, we don't need to be a coach or have a formal role to have an impact. It can sometimes just be like taking the time to acknowledge or to drag someone along, or to have a little comment like that. And I am telling you that comment changed my Olympics. She probably doesn't even remember that it happened. She probably doesn't even know. I will never forget it until the day I die that Mia Hamm thinks I'm tough. And so I just share that just to remind us all that that's the kind of impact that we can have, whether it's in these big ways that you gave an example of, or just even a small way like that.

Vijay Mohan: The right validation from the right person at the right time can have a huge impact. I'm gonna switch gears a bit. Can you think back to your career. Can you think about what was one of the more rewarding moments, in your career as a journalist and then in your current career as a sports philanthropist?

Ed Foster-Simeon: I'm gonna combine something from my journalism career related to my soccer experience. So part of being a journalist is a lot of times you're really dealing with horrible stuff. And when Columbine happened, I was the editor in charge and flew out to Colorado with a team of reporters to do the coverage of the tragedy of Columbine. And it was like really, really depressing. Very, very, very, very sad. And when I flew home, I was driving from the airport and I decided that instead of going straight home, I was gonna go down to the fields that our soccer club used for training after school. And we were doing, for the first time free trainings with top licensed coaches, but providing it free to all kids, no matter what team they were on or whether they could afford to pay or anything.

Ed Foster-Simeon: And when I pulled into the parking lot, there were hundreds of kids all out there laughing, running, sweating, trying, doing things. And it made me cry. It made me cry because they had this space in sport that was safe, it was fun, it was nurturing, and it was so much different from what I had just experienced of what it could be for them and the role that sport plays in our communities, in our families, in our neighborhoods. That connection as a journalist, it, it dawned on me, I've talked most of the time here about kids, and the benefit for kids, but I haven't talked at all about social cohesion, about how standing on the touchline watching our kids, we meet neighbors, people that we would never probably meet. We get to know one another. We learn things about our community just through the participation of our families and our children in sport.

Vijay Mohan: One of the few unifying forces still out there.

Ed Foster-Simeon: Totally. I mean, how many neighborhoods do people not even know their neighbors? But at the touchline you meet people that you come to find out you have more in common than you have indifferent. For me personally, one of my best friends of the last 30 years, I'm a kid from Brooklyn, played stickball and basketball. He grew up in coal country, red-haired, pale freckle-faced guy from southwest corner of Virginia. And we became really close and dear friends through soccer, standing on a touch line. We couldn't be more different than chalk and cheese, but through that connection around the pitch. So the unifying power of sport in society, I think about that from a sports philanthropy side, but I also think it from as a journalist about wow, like these things, this can have a powerful effect on society. It can make a difference in areas that we all care about, but we don't know the solutions. And this is the problem. We all are overwhelmed by the scale of problems. How do we solve poverty? How do we solve crime? How do we solve this? Nobody knows what to do. And sometimes it's the simplest solutions. Something as simple as creating space for a sport, for community, for youth development in the guise of play, that can be transformative on so many levels.

Vijay Mohan: If you could just build upon that advice for us at Sixth Street in terms of having impact in our communities.

Ed Foster-Simeon: That’s for me?

Ed Foster-Simeon: First, you have to believe in the power to have an impact in communities. If you believe in that, and it's part of your ethos of your organization, there's no limit to what you can do. The work that you're doing with Bay FC, you’re already impacting the community through Bay FC just by the presence of a women's professional team in the Bay Area now, that is now setting an example and an opportunity for young girls and women throughout this area to see the possibilities that they might not have otherwise seen. I think how you approach your philanthropy, I would think about it, and what is the impact that you want to have? If you want to have authentic, true, meaningful impact, there's so many ways that you can do that through sport, through soccer in particular,

Ed Foster-Simeon: that is not just a show. We can all get the press release in the headline of something that we did. But to have true authentic impact means that you have to engage at the community level and really engage people where they live. We talked about this a little earlier. Soccer teams in Europe and other parts of the world, those teams get relegated out of the top division. They kind of slide down the table. Their fans are upset, but they never abandon them. Never. Because the team is not only a soccer team or a football team, it is doing things in the community in a way that stitches them together like this. So no matter what happens, they're not abandoning that team because there is a true relationship. It's not a strictly economic relationship, it's not strictly a business relationship. It is an investment in the community that endures whatever happens with the ups and downs of a sports team.

Danielle Slaton: I mean, when you talk to folks in England and they're like, “the Raiders move to Las Vegas?” The concept of moving a team outside of the community is literally baffling to them. Like, it makes no sense. Because to your point, like the community and the sports team is so intricately linked that the idea of divorcing this is impossible.

Ed Foster-Simeon: You can't do it. It can't be done. So if you're thinking about it through Bay FC, really thinking about how to connect with community in an authentic way, in a way that shows true care, and true belief in the power of the community.

Vijay Mohan: Great. One question for you, Danielle, as we're wrapping up here. You talked a bit about it being Black History Month, you touched on legacy a little bit. We have with us here two of the most senior black Americans in professional soccer. And can you talk about the legacy and how you think about leaving behind a legacy for the next generation with your work?

Danielle Slaton: If I'm being honest, I don't know that I think about it too much. I just think about doing the work. I think I was always taught to put more on the table than you take off. And I just enjoy the work. I enjoy just bending the arc of history a little bit more in the sport of soccer. And so I think to me, I think as I am continuing to gain experience and navigate my way through this sports business world, I think I'm learning to find my voice. I'm learning to gain confidence. Like when I'm sitting at the table, like we're in these commercial real estate calls and I'm like, oh, Danielle, you better say something here.

Danielle Slaton: Like, have an opinion. You have an opinion. Use your voice. That's why you're here. And so I joke that, every conversation I have is with myself and sometimes they involve other people. So I have a little of those self-conversations before I get on my Sixth Street calls. But, I think to me, the legacy, if anything, that I hope to have is just that I hope that we look across the landscape at some point, and that everybody who wants a voice has the opportunity to be able to provide it. Everybody who wants to play the game or has access to the game can do that. And so I think I have a real responsibility to make sure I show up, whether it's on TV or meetings or in boardrooms or whatever, so that people coming up behind me and who look and talk like me, feel like they can do that too.

Danielle Slaton: I know that we had this saying on the national team that the elevator to the top is broken, and the only way to get there is to take the stairs and you take the stairs one step at a time. However, I wouldn't mind sending the elevator back down for the next generation if I need to and if I can. And so when I, when I think about legacy, if I think about it at all, it's really about just doing the work and proving to the world by my existence and by my impact that it is possible.

Ed Foster-Simeon: Can I build on that thought? Because I think it's an important one. We haven't talked a lot about it, but there's not enough people that look like me and Danielle in leadership, in soccer, in this country. And largely I think it's because the game, at least in my youth experience and in the experience that I'm familiar with today, is that the game wasn't introduced into those communities. I have had actually, people say to me, “oh, black kids don't want to play soccer, they only want to play basketball or football.” And I'm like, kids are kids. You put a ball out and you say you get more in that net than they get in that net, and any kid anywhere will play. It's just that the game hasn't been introduced. So one legacy that I hope to see is that as we go forward, the excitement around the World Cup will bring more talent, more African American talent, more black talent into the soccer ecosystem, right into leadership positions, to be able to add that dimension, that voice into some of the decision making that goes on in the sport.

Ed Foster-Simeon: And I don't say that in a negative way, I just say that as adding to the diversity of the sport to make it reflect more of the country, would be a benefit to the game.

Vijay Mohan: Last question. We have a bunch of investors in the room here. What do you think is one thing that will surprise investors in the business of sports investing over the next five years?

Ed Foster-Simeon: Well, maybe it won't surprise them. It shouldn't. The wave of interest in the United States of America from soccer as a business opportunity will be shocking. If you think about soccer as a global game, there's literally no place else left to grow except the United States, China and India. Every place else, you're maxed out in Europe. There's no more growing of soccer in Europe. So there's gonna be a wave of interest in coming to this country. Folks will be coming and trying to get a share of this market going forward. And I think that that is just gonna grow and accelerate the growth of the game in this country.

Vijay Mohan: Great. I think we'll leave it there. Thank you all for the time. Thank you for the conversation. Appreciate it.

David Stiepleman: That was Ed Foster Simeon, president and CEO of the U.S. Soccer Foundation. And Danielle Slaton, co-founder of Bay FC and former US Women's National Team Player, speaking at Sixth Streets' Black History Month Roundtable on February 27th, 2024, on what success looks like for them, and what legacies they aspire to leave behind for the next generation through their work. For Ed, that's maximizing access to sports for young people in under-resourced communities. He believes teamwork, perseverance, and leadership follow all the other learned behaviors that occur for children when they get the opportunity to participate in organized sports. And for Danielle, it's not only about teaching kids how to use sports to thrive and survive in sometimes challenging environments, but also working so that the next generation doesn't have to live in a world where such issues persist. And thanks of course to my partner, BJ Mohan, for hosting and driving a meaningful discussion. And to Ed and Danielle for this honest and moving conversation. You've been listening to, 'It's Not Magic,’ a Sixth Street podcast. The views expressed in this podcast are not necessarily those of Sixth Street and Sixth Street is not providing any investing, financial, economic, legal, accounting, or tax advice or recommendations in this podcast. Please see additional disclosures on our website for more details.

AUM presented as of 12/31/2023 and excludes assets and commitments of certain vehicles established by Sixth Street for the purpose of facilitating third party co-invest opportunities. Calculation of assets under management differs from the calculation of regulatory assets under management and may differ from the calculations of other investment managers.