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Q & A with Peter Wilt on the Launch of the Chicago Riot

Chicago soccer legend Peter Wilt will hold a press conference Tuesday, October 26 at 2:00 PM at the Odeum Expo Center to announce the creation of Major Indoor Soccer League's newest team, the Chicago Riot.  Peter was gracious enough to cut away from his team building to answer some questions over the phone.  Question 1 is answered below and Questions 2-9 are after the break.

1.    Peter, what is your current role with the Chicago Riot?  Do you have any other soccer related roles with other leagues or teams?

-I am the President/CEO/Owner of the new Chicago Riot Major Indoor Soccer League (MISL) club.  I was previously associated with the Milwaukee Wave of the MISL as President/CEO.  I am no longer associated with the Wave, although they do keep an office there for me.  I am also part owner of the Chicago Red Stars of the Women’s Professional Soccer league (WPS) and hold the role of alternate governor for the Board of Directors for the Red Stars.


2.    I read the off-season plan you compiled for the Milwaukee Wave.  It was quite extensive and very in depth.  Have you come up with a similar plan for the Chicago Riot?  If so, how does it differ from the plan for the Wave, considering the Riot is a new team to the MISL?

-The plan for the Riot is different.  It’s essentially a plan all condensed into 31 days, the Riot will be a very different business model than the Wave is.  We have a small staff, fewer resources, and we will need to work with what we have.  To reflect this, we will have a grass-roots type of plan, where there will be a lot of promotion by the staff and club itself.  We will be doing online promotions, 1 on 1 selling/promotion, as well as promotions with the soccer community itself.  Our club will be out and about in the community, so our visibility level will be very high.

-Additionally, the Riot is different from the Wave in how we will build the image of the team, and the meaning behind the team.  I consider the Riot kind of like the Bad News Bears of indoor soccer.  In fact, the name Riot intentionally references some of the toughest times in Chicago history.  Specifically, it symbolizes the Lager Beer Riot of 1855, the Haymarket Square Riot, and other altercations that have occurred in the history of Chicago.  While all of these events were tragic, they also helped lead Chicago to better conditions for which each Riot occurred.  So the Riot name also helps embody the progress that was made in the wake of these events

-We also want the Riot name to represent the passion and experience that fans and the team itself will experience.  Our goal is to have this type of atmosphere develop around the team itself, to truly make the Riot not just an event to attend, but an experience and a family to become a part of.

3.    How do you plan to apply your MISL experience with the Wave to the Chicago market and the Riot?

-I will apply all I have learned from my past experience, including the Wave, the Red Stars, and the Fire.  It’s all about connecting with your audience 1 on 1.  We need to not only get them to the games, but also give them reasons to come back to games.  We will do this in various ways, including making it easy to meet Riot players and getting players involved and out in the community.

-The Riot is a little different because there is not a large advertising budget available.  Again, we will take a grass-roots approach to build our fan base since large sums of money are not available to help.  This is a more intimate approach, which we think fans will appreciate.  For example, when I was with the Minnesota Thunder, the entire front office consisted of 2 people, including myself.  So not only did we perform those roles, but we also were doing marketing, support, sales, etc.  

-In the case of the Thunder, and also with the Riot, we will have employees helping out to perform all the necessary roles we will need.  They will be out in the community, helping with the fans, and doing anything else we will need to support the Riot.  I think that employees, especially ones that help out that are not on the team payroll, is really impressive to the fans and the community, and really helps to build the fanbase.  Again, since our advertising budget is very small, we will being using cheaper forms of mass advertising, such as Twitter, as other forms of social media like Facebook.  In fact, our Twitter account, which we just started, already has more followers than some of the current MISL clubs in the league.

-In coming up with our plan for the Riot, we have estimated that we will need to sell around 1,500 tickets per game to break even.  Season tickets will start as low as $69, and single game tickets will start as low as $10.  Concession prices will be very reasonable as well.  We did something unique with our fans that most other clubs don’t do.  We asked our Twitter followers to give us their ideas for ticket prices.  We used this data to come up with final pricing, so our fans could have their voice heard and have a say in final ticket pricing.  Parking will also be completely free.

-We will be holding a press conference on Tuesday, October 26th, where much of this info will be talked about.

4.    What unique challenges do you think the Chicago market will pose for the Riot?

-By far, the biggest difference from the other MISL clubs is market size.  Chicago is such a large market compared to some of the other clubs.  And we can’t afford traditional means of advertising to reach this large market.  Additionally, we won’t have the media support that the bigger Chicago teams will enjoy, so this reinforces the idea that we will create our own attention to get people interested in the team.  If you take the Milwaukee Wave for example, they are huge in terms of relevance according to market size.  So this will definitely be the biggest challenge the Chicago market poses for the Riot.  We have over 7 million fans in the Chicagoland area to draw from, so we feel very fortunate about that.

5.    What are your short-term goals for the Riot (1-2 years)?

-One of our main short-term goals is to sell an average of 1,500 tickets per game.  We would like to average $14 per ticket sold, and get at least $60,000 in sponsorship fees.

-Our biggest goal is to win the MISL championship every year!

6.    What are your long-term goals (3-5 years)?

-I see the Riot as somewhat of an experiment due to market size.  One of our long term goals is to show the MISL that teams can be very successful in big markets with small budgets.  We hope to show other cities that may be interested in a team that they don’t have to spend large amounts of money to be a part of the MISL.

-I think, in the long-term, we will fall somewhere in between.  By this I mean we will spend less than a team like Milwaukee, but we will end up spending more than we originally planned in Chicago.

-If we can achieve our long-term goals, I think this will be amazing in terms of growth for the MISL.  Many cities are interested in a team as we speak, and if we can show them a team can be successful in a big place with a small budget, we may be able to greatly expand out numbers.  Interested cities include Harrisburg Wichita, St. Louis, Dallas, Monterrey (Mexico), and even Mexico City.  In fact, Monterrey currently has an MISL club, but they won’t be playing this year due to the fact that the owner of the club is trying to recover from a hurricane that tragically destroyed his business.

7.  The Riot will play their home games in the Odeum Expo Center in Villa Park, IL.  Can you tell me a little about the venue, and how you think it will benefit the Riot to play there?

- The venue is a small, intimate location.  Two to three thousand people per game will fill the venue up.  We think this fits right in with the Chicago Riot, as it will create a great atmosphere by selling out a small venue like the Odeum.  I feel this will fit our identity better than having a bigger venue with many more empty seats.  Various other soccer leagues already play at the Odeum, so we can also market the Riot to these other leagues as well, that already have established fanbases.

-Additionally, I feel the venue is in a great, centralized location that is very easy to get to.  It’s in the Western suburbs, and I think fans will be very surprised by how nice the venue is.  It even contains 5 luxury boxes, and has a VIP room that fans can use before and after games.

8.    I see that the Riot website will be up and running very soon.  Are there any surprises or special features you would like to talk about?

-We think it looks very sharp.  In fact, Tom Dunmore got a sneak peek recently, and he thought it is more polished and sharp than the MLS website.  It will be very attractive, have a Twitter feed, and will include webcasts for both home and away games!
-We also feel our website will do a much better job of interacting with fans than most other professional websites.  It will be transparent, fan-centric, and I will be available personally to the fans.  In addition to getting feedback on ticket prices from fans, we are even asking fans to help design the Riot logo.  

9.    Peter, I would like to thank you for your time.  This is a tremendous opportunity to learn about the Riot.  Is there anything else you would like to add?

-Ryan, I appreciate the interview and getting a chance to speak with you.  I would like to close by again reinforcing the close relationship we will have with our fans, and the sort of atmosphere and experience the Riot will create for them.  At the end of the day, I report to the fans, they are essentially my boss.  If the fans aren’t happy, I am out of a job and there is no Chicago Riot.  Taking care of our fans is our top priority and what we are building the Riot organization around.