One v One With Zack Goldman

One of the things that makes soccer such a rich and vibrant sport and community is the people that are involved in it. Over the years, we have been fortunate to have met some of them along the way. We want to share the stories of these great people and highlight their work, their passion and their connection to the sport. 

First up is Zack Goldman. Zack has an incredible story, he is a forward thinking person within the sport and he gets to do incredible work with some of his best friends. Not a bad gig!

Here is Zack Goldman:

Tell us about the early years of Zack Goldman:

I was born in LA, but my family traveled a lot when I was a kid. Wherever I went, I found I was able to use football as a means of connecting and communicating with others, particularly in places where I didn’t speak the language. So, while I have amazing memories of playing organized soccer growing up, I can safely say my most fulfilling youth sports experiences actually came during chance, light-hearted kickabouts with strangers—some of whom then become dear friends.

I was completely obsessed with the sport growing up, but I never imagined I would work in it. My path unexpectedly began in college, when my brother and I spent a strange but wonderful summer as the Directors of Operations at the Pali Blues, the local (sadly now-defunct) women’s team where the likes of Alex Morgan, Tobin Heath, and many other USWNT legends began their careers. On so many levels, this was an incredible experience that I was lucky to have.

I then moved to English football’s lower divisions, joining the media and communications staff at Oxford United while getting my master’s degree and playing college soccer in the area. While I’d lived in England before, and frequented my local lower-league club (Brentford FC), my time at Oxford United reignited a passion for community development and grassroots marketing in football. This was a true family club with top-notch professionals who genuinely loved the club they worked for, and their passion was contagious. To this day, I can say I am a massive Oxford United fan because of the club's terrific community spirit, inside and outside of the office.

Unfortunately, a visa debacle (shoutout Theresa May) sent me back to the United States, where I ended up as a producer/editor for the NFL. This was a very different kind of football job, to say the least. I didn’t know anything about the sport, really, but I couldn’t have asked for a better place to develop a broader understanding of the sports media landscape. After two seasons at the league, I walked away firmly believing that there’s a lot global football can learn from the NFL when it comes to commercial strategy, fan development, and digital innovation.

After the NFL, I worked for Liverpool Football Club in international development while also undertaking the Football Industries MBA at the University of Liverpool. My research primarily consisted of global marketing strategy for European football clubs, and I was able to put a lot of my fieldwork into practice thanks to the club's open-minded and innovative character.

I left Liverpool last fall to start a company called Common Goal (commongoal.co) with my friends Eric Beard, Nathen McVittie, and Maxi Rodriguez, but much of our work continues to be creative and strategic services for football clubs, both domestic and abroad.

Tell us a bit more about Common Goal and the work that you guys are doing there:

Common Goal is our company, which is equal parts creative agency, marketing firm, and consultancy group. We endeavor to help ambitious companies lead by example and challenge convention in their fields—not just to create good content.

Our work at Common Goal mostly consists of projects in sports, entertainment, and the nonprofit world. While we’re a small core team, we have an army of talented designers, photographers, filmmakers, and strategists who help us in various freelance capacities, as the work calls for it.

Within the soccer realm, we provide creative, strategic, and business development services to brands, teams, players, leagues, and media networks across the globe. As a result, we typically end up doing a lot of different things at once. One day we might be developing a brand campaign, the next day working on a club’s new crest, and the next helping with a European team’s pre-season tour plans. Overall, it’s a bit hard to describe what we do in a tidy way, but we enjoy staying busy and not limiting ourselves to a single side of the industry.

While we keep a lot of our involvement in projects quite under the radar, some recent things we’ve been fortunate enough to help with include the adidas Tango League and the Avery Dennison Toffee League—a weird, creative co-ed soccer competition we helped set up with our friends in Portland. These projects look, feel, and act quite different, but they both represent the tremendous character and potential of local soccer and street football—two foundational forms of the game that I believe are too often overlooked in America.

A lot of people would be familiar with another project you guys work on - can you tell us about your Where is Football project?

Where Is Football is a project born out of a desire to celebrate the world’s love for the world’s game. Soccer touches virtually every part of this planet, and there’s tremendous variety in terms of how we play, watch, and discuss the sport. Our aim with Where Is Football was to demonstrate the sport’s capacity to connect our world by showcasing its incredible diversity.

The genesis of the project was really a bunch of friends who similarly saw football as fuel for artistic expression and as a way to engage with other cultures. We all ran a site together called A Football Report—which Eric founded in 2009 with his brother, Jordi, and our friend Dominic Vieira—and we came up with this hashtag as a way for people to show what soccer is like in their backyard or on their travels. Since the sport is pretty much everywhere, we figured we'd get some cool stuff back.

The project started on instagram, where we have an amazing community that uses a hashtag (#whereisfootball) to submit their own shots from around the world. To date, we have over 25,000 submissions on there, and we've featured nearly 1000 on our account (@whereisfootball). But we found quite quickly that there was an appetite to see longer-form features that combine football and travel photography with a bit more storytelling and sociological depth, so that’s when we started whereisfootball.com as well.
While Eric, Nathen, Maxi, and I run the editorial side of things, a huge team has been involved from the beginning there. Our friend Kendall Henderson, a brilliant designer, developed our visual identity. Dominic and Jordi have been big influences on our content strategy. Tons of our very kind and creative friends have gone out of their way to shoot photos, pen features, and spread the word—and we couldn’t be more grateful to have them aboard.

 

Overall, Where Is Football is separate from our agency, Common Goal, but the project’s core principles speak to what we want our broader work in the sport to be known for. We want to tell stories that matter. We want to contribute to a more diverse, fair, open-minded, and accessible football community. We want to bring people together by bringing them closer to the reasons they fell in love with the sport. We want to redirect the spotlight a bit from the games we're all watching on TV and shine some on the soccer happening in your backyard. And we want to convey that football is more than a game, but a language, an art, and a way of understanding ourselves.

 

If we aren’t doing those things, then we aren’t doing our job.

If you could pick one game to see live in person, anywhere in the world, where would it be and who would be playing?

Man, that’s a tough one.

I’d have to say that seeing a Superclásico in Buenos Aires would be a dream come true. I’ve got friends on both sides of the Boca-River divide, so that could get me into a bit of trouble depending on which stadium I went to for it, but it’d be an unbelievable treat.

What do you think is the biggest story happening in soccer right now?

A great question, and one I’m not sure I know how to answer well.

There are a lot of things that I find extremely troubling in the sport that I think need to be addressed with far greater urgency, care, and precision. I’m sorry to make a list, but for starters, things like: The insane levels of racism, sexism, ableism and homophobia in the sport; the World Cup in Qatar; the rampant corruption that exists at all levels of the game; the doping and match fixing that the sport’s stakeholders regularly turn a blind eye toward … the list goes on.

All of those are huge stories that I don’t think we have a large enough spotlight on, even if they all get the occasional bit of coverage. I think we’re quick to fatigue when discussing the worst things about football, and that means we seldom generate enough sustained and targeted outrage to lead to productive action against them.

Football, unfortunately, isn’t really a democracy in most cases—and so a capacity for change resides in only a handful of tactics that substantially hurt the reputations and wallets of those bad executives, administrators, and companies who are responsible for the worst parts of our sport. I think the media can, and should, play a much bigger part in catalyzing change by mobilizing fans (and sponsors) against the unsavory sides of soccer.

What player would you most like to see in MLS?

I’d love to see Zlatan in the near future. He’s amazing to watch. He’d say some outrageous things. He’d probably freak out walking through American cities without most people knowing who he is. I’m all for it.

What’s one of your favorite experiences that soccer has provided for you?

Honestly, it’s hard to single one out. So many of my greatest memories and friendships have been forged through football.

One memory that I’ll cherish forever happened just before Christmas in 2015. Eric Beard and I visited Nathen McVittie in Leicester, where he was working for the local football club that would soon become world-famous.

It was still early enough in the season where nobody dared say it out loud, but the town was just starting to believe something truly miraculous could happen.

Anyway, we spent the week together brainstorming on projects (including the company that is now Common Goal) and on our last night together, we went to see Leicester City host defending champions Chelsea, who were still foundering in the lower-half of the table.

It was a cold night under the lights, with really terrible Christmas jumpers on sale—my absolute favorite set of conditions for a match in England—and Leicester ended up defeating Chelsea in front of what is still one of the best crowds I’ve ever seen at a match. I’ll never forget hearing Leicester fans almost apologetically declare that they could actually win the Premier League if they kept this up. It was an amazing time to see people believe in what they felt was an impossible dream.

I still think the Leicester City title run is the greatest club football season I’ll ever witness, and to get to see such a special turning point with my closest friends—one of whom ended up a Premier League champion—was really a dream come true.

When did you fall in love with soccer?

 

August 17th 1996.

 

I had just turned six years old, and was in London with my family.

My late uncle, a Spurs fan, had agreed to take me to a football match for my birthday, but the only club he could score a ticket to on the day was Arsenal.

He hated Arsenal, but he loved me, and so we went to Highbury to watch them take on West Ham in their Premier League opener that year.

Arsenal won, 2-0. The day is pretty hazy, but a few details stand out quite crisply: Going through the massive turnstiles, the first view of an emerald pitch, Bergkamp’s powerful penalty for the second goal, the walk back to the tube station afterward, and my uncle—against all of his instincts—reluctantly buying me an Arsenal scarf as a birthday present. He would attempt to correct this mistake in subsequent years by getting me a Spurs kit for every Chanukah of my childhood, but the scarf remains my most prized possession.

I can remember almost none of the match, but it’s absolutely the moment I was hooked on the sport. I’d been to a World Cup ‘94 match that I barely remembered, as well as a few indoor soccer matches and a couple MLS games, but the trip to Highbury was the moment I fell in love.