Thursday, August 20, 2015

1 Month Through the United States - Celebrating The Past, Creating the Future

My month long journey through the United States has come to an end.

I’m currently on my United Airlines flight that just departed from Newark on its way directly to Delhi. My eyes and ears remain alert while I type as I’m waiting for the passengers to start a riot since we were just informed by the flight attendant that the in-flight video service for our 13+ hour flight will not be available because of technical reasons.

Over the past month I was in New York, Denver for the MLS All-Star Game and up and down the coast of California.  My professional objectives were focused on sharing updates on the exponentially growing Indian football landscape and exploring business opportunities with industry contacts, establishing relationships with University sports management programs across the country and expanding my own network.  Personally, my objective was simple: spend quality time with family and friends. I’m happy to say that I achieved all of my objectives.  

I always have the intention to update this blog during my trip but that never happens as my days tend to start early and run late, as I intentionally immerse myself into a sea of meetings, social events, long drives through traffic and time with family. So now I sit here trying to figure out how to summarize my experience while still lingering from the always emotional good-bye scene with my parents at the airport.

Anyway, I will summarize my trip by listing out a few of the key highlights from each leg of the journey in no particular order:

New York

  • Having the opportunity to present my professional journey and information on the Indian sports landscape to MLS and New York City FC interns at the MLS League Office
  • Spending the evening at the New Jersey home of my first boss, mentor and SUM/MLS VP of Global Sponsorship, David Wright, just a few days after he announced his resignation after 15+ years growing soccer in the US
  • The impromptu MLS reunion in a Manhattan pub led one of my favorite people I worked with at MLS, former VP of Special Events Geoffrey Hayes
  • Watching New York City FC beat Orland City FC in a Yankees Stadium luxury suite with some of my best friends – not to mention seeing a David Villa hat-trick, Pirlo’s first match in MLS and Kaka on the pitch
  • Spending the day in my favorite park in the world with some of my favorite people in the world – Prospect Park, Brooklyn
  • Attending the Beyond Sport United summit at the Prudential Centre in New Jersey and networking with some of the top executives and development NGOs in the country
    Would start my NYC mornings every day with a run across the Brooklyn Bridge 
MLS reunion #1 at an Empanada joint in the lower east side
MLS reunion #2 at a pub in mid-town
Enjoying Prospect Park in Brooklyn with some of my best friends
Annual dinner with Takehiko Nakamura to keep chipping away at our dreams
Presenting my story and the Indian sports landscape to MLS and New York City FC interns at the MLS League Office
In a Yankees Stadium suite with friends watching New York City FC vs Orlando City
With my one of my best friends Courtney at Brooklyn Crab

Denver
  • Having the opportunity to spend time with US Soccer President Sunil Gulati to share my India experiences and receive his always appreciated wisdom
  • Watching the MLS All-Stars beat Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 in a packed Dick’s Sporting Goods Park with 2 of my college roommates
  • Seeing first-hand how far MLS has grown in Denver since the league hosted the 2007 MLS All-Star game in the same city – now people truly care
  • Eating the best BBQ I’ve had in a long time with Seat Geek executive and close friend Nihar Singhal
  • Catching up with so many friends in the industry – remembering how much I’m still a part of the US soccer family
Celebrating 20 years of MLS in Denver
Watching the MLS All-Star Game with UCSB college roommates
California
  • Taking my parents to watch the LA Galaxy beat Seattle Sounders 3-1 from a StubHub Centre suite – Keane, Gerrard and Dos Santos were all on the pitch
  • Sharing my thoughts on MLS fan engagement strategy with the staff of LAFC – the newest MLS team set to begin play in 2018
  • Serving as a guest lecturer for the San Diego State Sports Management program
  • Positive meetings with the LA Galaxy and other LA contacts about possibilities in India
  • Road-tripping with my family up to Pismo Beach, San Luis Obispo and Monterey
  • Stubhub Centre before LA Galaxy vs Seattle Sounders match
Tailgating with family before the LA Galaxy vs Seattle Sounders match
With cousins on the 18th hole of Pebble Beach
Hanging in Pismo Beach with family
Serving as guest lecturer at San Diego State University 
Looking back now, I’m clear that it was a positive, productive, enjoyable and slightly exhausting excursion through the country I called home for 30 years.  Outside of realizing how cool my family is and how much I enjoy spending time with them, one of the biggest insights which surfaced from my experience was that Major League Soccer is now relevant in the United States, an extraordinary achievement for everyone involved with the league.   

I feel blessed that I get to travel back to the US on what seems like a month long Indian sport evangelical tour. Although I’ve been living in India for almost 6 years now and it feels more like home than ever before, there are certain moments when I go into self-enquiry about what I’d want to do if I ever moved back west.  The fact that nothing comes to my mind is a sign that I’m meant to be in the East for now dreaming, creating, innovating and, at times, fighting to ensure the sport grows in a sustainable an impactful way.

Oh and no one really threw a fit for the in-flight TVs not working thanks to the uber emphatic United Airlines flight attendants.  My faith in humanity is growing stronger by the day....

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