After more than seven seasons in MLS, Kelly Gray retired in 2009. Gray was part of the Project-40 program and was the 5th overall draft pick in the 2002 MLS Superdraft. After a number of years in Chicago, he also played in San Jose, Houston, Los Angeles and Colorado. Following his retirement, Gray has been involved in a number of business ventures, including coaching. Less than six weeks ago, he went live with www.thesocialfootballer.com, a social networking site intended for soccer fans to connect with each other. Gray was kind enough to answer a few questions about his site, and about how athletes in MLS prepare for their lives after soccer. He provides some interesting insights into what efforts the league puts into preparing players for retirement and discusses the Project-40 program (the predeccesor to Generation Adidas program). Thanks to Kelly Gray.
Footiebusiness.com: You recently started a new website: http://www.thesocialfootballer.com. What is the purpose of the site? Who is your intended audience? What was your motivation behind starting the site? How long has it been live?
Kelly Gray: The purpose of The Social Footballer is to provide a place for football (soccer) fans to connect with each other. I have a lot of friends on facebook, but not all of them are soccer fans, so when I post things about soccer and the footballer lifestyle people tend to get annoyed. I simply wanted to create a place where people can share everything about the beautiful game. The site was started on November 1, 2010 and has seen good growth in its first month.
FB: What efforts are you making to promote the site? Are you running ads? How has the site been growing?
KG: In order to promote the site I have focused on 2 areas. Since I didn’t have much of an advertising budget I decided to reach out to many of the players that I know and see if they would help me promote it by “tweeting” about it. The second avenue that I attacked was to email many of the soccer bloggers around the country and see if they would help me launch the site by writing a blog post or sending a “tweet” to all of their followers. So far I have had a much better response from the players that I contacted, but I am hoping that the bloggers that I emailed will come through in the end.
I have monetized the site by adding a banner ad along the footer of the site. It is important to me to have the site be focused on the people and the community and less on how to make money. I subscribe to the philosophy that if the people enjoy the community, monetary solutions will present themselves.
FB: In the time since you retired, you have been involved in a number of ventures, including coaching, writing and more. Is this how you envisioned your post playing career? What steps did you take while you were playing to prepare for life after soccer?
KG: I am an entrepreneur at heart and always saw my post-playing career as something that I would have to work hard to build into a business. I have always been a techie and wanted to do something in the web space for a long time. It wasn’t until I retired that I found the focus needed to get something built and running.
In order to prepare for a life post soccer I had do a number of things. I realized that soccer doesn’t last forever and that this sport, in America, doesn’t pay like it does in Europe. I was going to have to work after soccer. When I realized this the first thing I did was finish my degree. Secondly I started taking meetings with people who worked in a number of different fields that I was interested in. Being a techie in the Silicon Valley really helped me explore a number of different avenues. I met with people from every industry and job title that I could. From all of that I realized two things. The first was that I really like the freedom that working for yourself allows, and the second was that I would be stupid to not capitalize on all of the soccer knowledge and connections that I amassed through out my career.
FB: You first signed with MLS as a Project 40 player. How did that program prepare you for living the life of a professional athlete?
KG: The project 40 program was great in the sense that it provided the funds to be able to complete my degree, but that was about it. They didn’t really have any affect on my day to day life as a professional. I think if anything helped me prepare for that life it was my college team and the way with which it was run. It was an extremely professional environment every day.
FB: What steps do the league/teams/players union take to prepare the players for life as a professional athlete? Are programs offered that discuss life after retirement? Are resources made available to the players to ease the transition into a second career?
KG: MLS doesn’t do to many things to help players prepare for life as a professional athlete. Again, it is different in other sports because players are making millions of dollars. When you are only making 60 grand it isn’t as important to teach players about how to protect themselves. Players have to do that on their own so they can survive on that measly salary. As far as I know there are no programs offered to discuss life after soccer by either the union or the league and the only resources that are available are made so by the Union and are focused mainly on coaching.
Thanks to Kelly Gray. Again, the website is http://www.thesocialfootballer.com