New Brunswick United Football Club looks and feels like a soccer team, right down to its logo: A crest that you would expect to find emblazoned on any football club's jerseys. You could be forgiven for thinking the duo who founded the brand, Jad Kaado and Dan Macheret, were preparing to launch a soccer team in the Hub City. But you would be wrong.
New Brunswick United Football Club (NBUFC) is actually an apparel company built around love for soccer and the arts. Its namesake and design plays on long-standing styles prevalent among soccer organizations, because football, a tightly bound community that celebrates active fan bases, brings people together. Forming a community around shared interests is the essence behind branding and bringing disparate communities together is the bedrock of NBUFC's mission.
"It's true that this is a 'fake' soccer team but also a clothing brand, technically speaking," said Macheret, co-founder of NBUFC. "But to us, especially, it's so much more. It's a way to build community. New Brunswick is a place where people come from all different parts of the country and the world. From the beginning, we kind of imagined this as a clothing brand but also a community built around watching the sport we love and supporting local artists."
So how is NBUFC successfully building a brand around a soccer team that, frankly, doesn't exist? Kaado and Macheret told Business News Daily that it takes equal parts communication, partnerships, events and fostering a positive, welcoming environment.
Branding the soccer team that wasn't
A brand is supposed to communicate to an audience clearly and unambiguously what is an organization's identity. In this case, NBUFC's brand might seem confusing but, in fact, is intended to convey that the company is much more than an apparel merchant. One of the brand's go-to slogans, "Central Jersey Exists," is an embodiment of this sense of community building.
"We are an organization that is both specifically a brand and also an organization for soccer fans to meet up [with] during events, socialize and get the chance to form a community around soccer in an area comprised of different fans from all different walks of life," said Kaado, co-founder of NBUFC.
"We're trying to start a community that will be long-lasting beyond us and that bridges the disconnect between different communities in New Brunswick using soccer, music and comedy," Kaado added. "We're using our events and partnerships with local businesses to showcase young artists and local soccer players, as well as build our own brand."
New Brunswick, known affectionately to residents as "the Hub City," is centrally located in New Jersey and extremely diverse, sometimes leading to pockets of isolated communities. Kaado and Macheret envision NBUFC as a way to elevate the things that bind New Brunswick residents together, namely soccer and a vibrant local music scene.
"New Brunswick has a famous basement music scene and, unfortunately, it can be hard for those artists to find a place to play," said Macheret. "So, bringing those two worlds together is what we're trying to accomplish."
The international community already has an immense love for football, and New Brunswick is a hot-spot for immigrant communities. Kaado is a first-generation resident whose family emigrated from Lebanon, while Macheret's family came to the city from the Soviet Union, so providing a welcoming atmosphere for immigrants and long-time residents alike is a huge responsibility for their brand, they said.
Taking a cue from the successful growth of the similar Asbury Park Football Club, launched by Shawn Francis in 2014, the duo decided that marrying their love of football and the arts under a brand that puts their hometown in the spotlight was a creative way to do just that. Of course, any brand that has New Brunswick at its core requires partnerships with local businesses and organizations to thrive; those partnerships have been central to NBUFC's initial events.
"When we started talking about having match viewings and live music at events, we immediately needed a venue," Macheret said. Local bar and restaurant Barca City was a natural fit because it was already plugged into the wider football community and well-suited for hosting events.
The next step was finding acts to perform during watch parties, which NBUFC located through the help of the local arts organization Embrace DIY Productions, which already organized shows at Barca City and other venues throughout New Brunswick. At a recent event, where NBUFC hosted a watch party of the World Cup matchup between the U.S. Women's National Team and Sweden, all these elements came together in a celebration of what makes the Hub City a great place to work and live.
"At that event, I'd say maybe only half the people who were there were hardcore soccer fans," Macheret said. "The other half came out because a friend told them about it. One of the most effective ways to build a network is through people speaking to their friends."
"One thing Dan and I have noticed is that people generate an interest in soccer when they're here, even if they're not generally interested in it," said Kaado. Creating a welcoming space where there is more to do than just watch soccer makes it accessible and fun for everyone. It's an easy format to bring a range of people together regardless of interests, Kaado said.
Leveraging community to build a successful business
As NBUFC builds the community around its brand, it also has to conduct its apparel business. Leveraging that community to drive sales of branded merchandise is a way to not only derive revenue from its efforts but also give supporters a tangible way to express their participation in the community.
"Staying in contact is a big part of it," Kaado said. "More events is the immediate step, but it's about staying in touch with the people we've been communicating with."
To do so, NBUFC captures email and contact information from people at events. They use these points of contact to inform their audience of upcoming watch parties, market their merchandise and promote partner brands in the city. For example, NBUFC has been able to raise awareness about the nearby professional women's team in Sky Blue FC, which a lot of attendees uninitiated in the world of pro soccer didn't recognize existed.
"A lot of people didn't even know there is a women's pro team right in their own backyard," Macheret said. "Having this welcoming atmosphere where people feel comfortable, and they're smiling and laughing … feeling that passion about soccer and music helps us connect on a human level. We can keep people engaged and using some of those connections [to elevate the sport and our partners.]"
In this way, NBUFC prides itself not just on building its own brand and growing its business but also creating a judgment-free environment that contributes to something much bigger than itself.
Elevating the brand after creating a strong foundation
NBUFC has built a brand around a community of shared values and interests, but that is just the beginning. Capitalizing on the foothold it has gained to elevate the brand, the sport and the arts that surround it requires building on the momentum its generated.
"We're beginning with our own supporters and seeing what they want from us," Kaado said. "We want to promote more professional and local soccer games. We want to promote Sky Blue FC in the women's pro league. And, of course, we want to be sure we're reflective of the community we're in."
Whether it's asserting that "Central Jersey Exists" or giving local New Brunswick soccer fans a banner to unite under, NBUFC wants to use the community its brand has helped build not just for business ends but also to foster and further a culture that is already central to international football.
"My experience with soccer and supporter culture has been influential on me," Macheret said. "It's a different way of viewing the sport; it's active participation in the atmosphere of the game, rather than passively sitting back and watching. That was transformative for me and translates to a lot of areas in life. You can't just sit back and passively watch; you've got to get involved in your community."
The next big event NBUFC has on its agenda is a watch party at Barca City for the Women's World Cup finals on July 7. It's a full day of soccer, organized with the support of Cloud 9 Supporters Club, kicking off with the Women's World Cup finals at 11 am, followed by the New York Red Bulls matchup at 2 pm, the COPA America final at 4 pm and a screening of the men's Gold Cup finals at 9 pm. Live music will be performed between the games all day. It's precisely the kind of community celebration that Kaado and Macheret set out to establish when they launched NBUFC.
Brand building is about messaging and creating a sense of loyalty
At its core, branding for any business is about establishing a message and identity and then creating a sense of loyalty among the target audience. For NBUFC, this means music, football and community, but identifying what it means for your brand is the key to successfully establishing an identity. Whether you offer a consumer-facing product or business-to-business services, understanding your audience's needs and wants will help you craft an effective message.
Sticking to that message and deploying it on the right channels – the channels where your audience is already active – will help to amplify your brand and your business. Every successful company is built around a strong brand, an immediate recognition of your values and what you offer to your audience.
Turning inward to consider what it is that drives you and your business is the best way to promote your brand and gain a loyal following. For NBUFC, this method has been an indispensable and inextricable part of their business model; establishing a community is the end goal of creating a strong brand and disseminating its message.