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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Toca Football Scores Partnership With Major League Soccer

Costa Mesa-based Toca Football Inc., which in the past year became the largest indoor soccer center operator in North America, hopes to take soccer fans out of the stands and off their couches, and back onto the pitch.

“We believe there are four to five billion soccer fans around the world,” Toca CEO Yoshi Maruyama told the Business Journal during a recent tour of the company’s headquarters.

“But over time, they begin to age out, and their only way to engage in the sport that they love and grew up with is through fandom.

“We’re trying to flip that paradigm upside down.”

The soccer upstart, which is branching out into more entertainment-focused venues, recently received a significant brand boost through its 10-year partnership with Major League Soccer (MLS).

The deal placed the 28-team league among the top five shareholders for Toca, which has raised over $100 million since its 2016 founding, company officials said.

The partnership goes beyond integrating both companies’ offerings at Toca’s training centers and MLS’ stadium events. The deal also establishes joint ventures between the companies to develop training programs using Toca technology, including its data-capture and analytics software.

Both companies, as part of the agreement, will work to create branded games for Toca Social—the company’s Topgolf-inspired concept for a soccer-focused entertainment destination.

Doubling Footprint

Toca has seen rapid growth over the past few years—in size and in revenue.

The recent soccer hype for the approaching World Cup in Qatar, and the 2026 edition to take place in the United States, has been a “tailwind” for the company’s operations, Maruyama said.

Another boon to the brand is the growing popularity of soccer among the youth population.

“It’s one of the few sports where you’re seeing a lot of people shifting away from different sports into soccer,” Maruyama said.

The growing soccer buzz comes as Toca has more than doubled its footprint over the past year to 29 indoor training facilities in North America, which range in size from 10,000 to over 90,000 square feet.

The company expects to reach 40 locations by the end of the year, Maruyama said. Its plan is to double its location count every year until the company totals around 200 to 300 facilities in North America, according to officials.

Revenue for Toca has also doubled to tripled over the past few years, although officials declined to disclose exact figures.

Streamlining Training

Unlike traditional soccer training facilities, Toca’s indoor soccer centers offer an automated training experience. The technology, dubbed the Toca Touch Trainer, aims to improve a player’s response time and handling of the soccer ball.

Soccer “is not just about how fast you can run or how far you can kick the ball,” Toca founder and Board Member Eddie Lewis—a two-time U.S. World Cup team member—told the Business Journal. “It’s really about how quickly can you make these decisions [to pass, run and kick].

“That’s an enormous asset to be able to take out onto the field,” he added. “And frankly, there’s nowhere else you can practice that.”

Toca’s system guides trainees to kick soccer balls into goal boxes or “smart targets.” The targets track and log the training data for participants to view on an app.

“We record like 25 different data points for every single ball,” Lewis said. “We can tell you how accurate you are with your passes—and your speed of play.”

The program takes inspiration from Lewis’ pro soccer days—when he trained with a tennis ball to hone his accuracy—using a ball that’s roughly half the size of a standard soccer ball.

Toca’s other lines of revenue include Toca Strikers, a soccer training program in the morning for kids ages 2 to 6, and a leagues business in the evening. The company reports that tens of thousands of customers attend its sites annually.

One-on-one training at Toca starts at $65 a session. The company’s seasonal soccer camps at its Costa Mesa center cost around $99, while adult and youth open play cost $10 and $15 per person, respectively. Prices for camps and open play vary by location, company officials said.

Notable Investors

MLS isn’t the only notable investor that joined Toca’s roster this year.

Another big name that recently invested in the company is England national team striker and captain Harry Kane. Financial terms of his investment were undisclosed.

“I invested in Toca because I wholeheartedly believe in the company,” Kane, whose national team plays the U.S. in the World Cup on Black Friday, said in a statement. “Toca offers unmatched technologies which help players improve and immersive entertainment experiences which are fun for everyone. I am delighted to support Toca’s global expansion and share its vision for the future of soccer.”

The company’s first Toca Social location is in London.

Toca is backed by Topgolf’s lead investor WestRiver Group of Seattle, along with Laguna Beach-based RNS Capital Partners and affiliated family office investors.

Funding Plans

Toca is looking to kick off another financing round next year. The funds, officials say, will further fuel the company’s growth and help it acquire new sports centers.

On top of its big-name investors, Toca’s board is stacked with men and women who are influential leaders in the sports industry.

The company’s board members include U.S. women’s soccer national champion Abby Wambach; National Women’s Soccer League’s first CMO, Julie Haddon; and Lululemon Athletica Inc. (Nasdaq: LULU) President Celeste Burgoyne.

All three women are “three incredibly high achieving and accomplished female executives who embrace our mission, which is to make sure that soccer remains a sport for both boys and girls, men and women alike,” Maruyama said.

“And that’s proven in our centers.”

About 50% of Toca’s customers are women, according to officials.

Former Topgolf Executive Chairman and CEO Erik Anderson, who also serves as the chief executive of WestRiver Group, co-leads Toca’s board with Wambach.

Entertainment Venue Growth

While training is Toca Football Inc.’s “bread and butter,” the company is embracing other concepts that make soccer more accessible.

Toca Social, described by the company as the world’s first soccer entertainment and dining venue, launched this year in London at The O2.

The 30,000-square-foot venue features a variety of interactive soccer-based games, as well as food and drink options. It also includes a DJ booth, three bars and a Willy Wonka-themed dessert room.

The concept, which uses the Toca Touch Trainer, allows older soccer fans to continue engaging in the sport through limited physical exertion, officials said.

“One of the challenges of soccer is that you end up spending a lot of time in running—in any 90-minute game, people touch the ball about 90 seconds on average. And over time, people begin to age out of that—the rigor of soccer just becomes too challenging,” Toca CEO Yoshi Maruyama said.

“We’ve taken a lot of that running out of the game, and yet kept core parts of handling and touching the ball and kicking the ball in place … so people can remain engaged in the sport they love” regardless of their skill level or physical limitations, he said.

Two more Toca Social U.K. locations are expected to open in Edinburgh and Birmingham next year. The company is also looking to set up a Toca Social in Dallas. Officials say that Toca is about to announce two partnerships that will assist the expansion of the entertainment concept in Europe and in North America, with dozens of locations.

—Kaitlin Aquino

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