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Saturday, Apr 20, 2024

Charly USA Kicks Off Soccer Partnership

Charly USA, an athletic apparel maker originally founded in León, Mexico, established its headquarters in Orange County five years ago with only Managing Director Jason Wells and his computer to begin setting up distribution channels in U.S. markets.

The firm started selling its soccer jerseys, cleats, gear and other apparel in specialty shops in 2019; by this year it has expanded its reach to around 3,000 stores domestically.

Charly USA is set to grow even larger with its newest partnership, becoming the official apparel and footwear partner of the United Soccer League (USL).

The deal, announced this month, marks the first U.S. professional soccer league partnership for the company.

The 45-person Charly USA team, housed in a 15,000-square-foot Irvine office, has entered a multiyear deal with the USL to not only provide uniforms and gear for the league’s teams but also sell licensed merchandise across its 3,000 points of distribution in the U.S.

The USL is the second division of the country’s hierarchy of the sport, below Major League Soccer.

In addition to the main 24-team USL league, which includes Irvine’s Orange County Soccer Club, the USL also has several other affiliated leagues, encompassing nearly 200 teams, which Charly USA can begin to work with on a team-by-team basis as part of the partnership.

Brand Heat

Wells, who was hired to lead the U.S. division of Charly in 2018, said he had heard that the USL’s partnership with Germany-based Puma was coming to an end in 2023, and worked for the past year and a half to sign the deal.

“You can’t have a conversation about professional soccer without talking about our brand right now,” Wells told the Business Journal.

Charly has been focused on “building brand heat” for the past five years, from collaborations with the Call of Duty videogame to special collections themed after Lucha Libre wrestling and the Mexican holiday Day of the Dead.

Signing with the USL’s San Diego Loyal soccer club in 2021 was likely the most significant step toward this deal, according to Wells.

He said “the phones started to ring” after signing with the San Diego team, whose founders include U.S. soccer great Landon Donovan.

Revenue has grown more than 100% year-over-year the last four years, according to officials, who declined to specify their current revenue figures.

Charly’s core product is its custom kits that allow any partner or team to work directly with the company to design the desired product for retail release.

“We collaborate from day one of concept design to delivery to the consumer,” Wells said of the kits, which are Charly’s greatest advantage compared to its competitors, he said.

“San Diego Loyal proved that Charly could live beyond Mexico.”

Charly has an optimistic goal to become the No. 3 apparel brand in U.S. soccer in the next five years, among the likes of Nike and Adidas.

“There is a time and place for someone new to come in and be disruptive, and the USL is a great vehicle for us to do that,” Wells said.

Multiy­­ear Scale

Charly’s U.S. operations include a 500,000-square-foot distribution center in San Diego, where its domestic orders are fulfilled.

Its Irvine headquarters was established due to neighboring airports giving it easy access to the firm’s currently Leòn-based Mexican parent company, which is the official apparel partner of Mexico’s main soccer league, Liga MX, and also oversees six different Mexican pro soccer teams, including the nearby Club Tijuana Xolos.

Charly’s partnership with the USL officially starts in January, with new products anticipated to launch in March.

Charly will also start as the official partner for two teams, Oakland Roots and Soul SC, with another team to be announced next month.

Wells noted that many of the teams in USL are still under contract with other firms, which gives Charly the ability to scale within the USL over the next several years. Charly expects to have north of 12 soccer partners by 2025.

“Over 300,000 athletes could potentially be wearing our gear,” Wells said of the multiyear timeline.

Charly will continue distributing through its top-tier sporting goods, online and specialty channels with no plans to enter other big-box retailers. Wells noted that Charly’s in-store presence is the strongest among consumers.

“Brick and mortar is the greatest vehicle to give fans access to their teams,” he said.
Wells added that Charly’s job is now to elevate the future product line.

“People are looking for something fresh,” Wells said. “The USL partnership is a great opportunity to shock the market.”

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Sonia Chung
Sonia Chung
Sonia Chung joined the Orange County Business Journal in 2021 as their Marketing Creative Director. In her role she creates all visual content as it relates to the marketing needs for the sales and events teams. Her responsibilities include the creation of marketing materials for six annual corporate events, weekly print advertisements, sales flyers in correspondence to the editorial calendar, social media graphics, PowerPoint presentation decks, e-blasts, and maintains the online presence for Orange County Business Journal’s corporate events.

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