USL Pro: Exclusive Q&A with New Pittsburgh Riverhounds President Richard Nightingale

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Pittsburgh Riverhounds and Highmark Stadium president Richard Nightingale meets the media during his introductory press conference in Dec. 2014. Nightingale brings soccer passion and extensive branding experience to the position. (Credit: Riverhounds Media)

The Pittsburgh Riverhounds officially entered a new era in December with the introduction of new leadership in team president Richard Nightingale and head coach Mark Steffens.

Those two join franchise mainstays Jason Kutney and Niko Katic as the Hounds continue to work at carving out their own space in the Pittsburgh sports culture. The Hounds recently released their 2015 schedule, which begins with the home opener on March 28.

Nightingale, an Englishman who brings decades of sports marketing and branding experience to his new gig, graciously agreed to spare 30 minutes of his time during a recent morning at Highmark Stadium to talk about his vision for the Hounds.

The following is a transcription of our chat:

City of Champions: I know you talked a little bit about this at the introductory press conference, but if you could, expand on the combination of circumstances that brought you where you are right now.

Richard Nightingale: I got to know (USL CEO) Alec Papadakis while working with Nike and Umbro. I was working in the U.K. in the retail business and some other projects about 2 1/2 years and commuting from the U.S., but the commute got to be too much for me, going to Oregon. I was doing some consulting on the social media side for the Dallas Cowboys and Boston Red Sox, part of the whole digital revolution that’s going on.

Then I got a call from Alec asking if I’d be interested in getting back in soccer and running a sports franchise. I said, ‘Sure, who wouldn’t?’ I had a phone call with (Riverhounds owner) Tuffy Shallenberger, flew out here, we met, saw the operation and had a chat about his vision. Spoke with John Paul, CEO of Allegheny Health Network, just to see what he had to say as a major sponsor. Went home and I made the decision to come and take this on. I really had no doubts after talking to Tuffy and John, and Alec as well.

I just saw it as a great opportunity and was filled with optimism about digging in. Looking forward to the pro season obviously, but there are different facets to work with, from the youth academy to the stadium…such an iconic venue. When you pull it all together it’s just a good place to be in a good time.

CoC: Let’s talk about Pittsburgh first. How has the city treated you so far and what have you explored?

RN: Well I’m living downtown, moved into the Pennsylvanian. I’m a public transport guy. I’ve been walking around, I’ve been to a couple hockey games. The Pens have lost twice when I’ve been there so I’m not sure I’m a good charm. (Laughs)

I love the city. I think it’s comparable to what’s happening in Portland, Oregon. There’s so much going on downtown, whether its loft (apartments) or buildings being developed. I just think there’s a great vibe to it and I’ve found the people to be great. I’m really looking forward to walking down here in the summer, too.

CoC: What about this facility in particular? You already brought that up, but it’s pretty intriguing.

RN: I think anytime you can have a backdrop when you have an event it’s incredible. As I said in the press conference, first and foremost I’m a fan, and I can’t wait to experience (this) in the evening, whether it’s for a soccer game or a concert. I guess it’s our responsibility to make it the best event experience that we can. That’s the mandate, to make it like a magnet so people want to flock here and people put it on their calendars to be here.

CoC: What in particular excites you about marrying Pittsburgh with pro soccer more than it has been in the past?

RN: I think you’ve got 44,000 players in western Pennsylvania, and it’s such a good sports town where people enjoy being outside. We just have a great responsibility, coming out of the World Cup in Brazil, and what’s going on with MLS and U.S. Soccer. This is part and parcel with the soccer revolution that continues.

The thing we have is the whole pyramid. You have our PDL (Premier Development League) team, we’ve obviously got a great (youth) academy, and then you’ve got the pinnacle of it all, which is the pro team. It’s a one-stop shop for soccer, and we want to offer it to everyone.

CoC: What have you seen so far that might be a challenge to making the Riverhounds a bigger part of the Pittsburgh culture?

RN: I think a lot of people are territorial when you look at the youth clubs. We want to embrace everybody, but you’ve got your fiefdoms here and there. I want everybody to enjoy the experience of coming to a pro soccer game. This facility is open to anybody and everybody who wants to use it. You don’t have to be part of the Riverhounds club to play here. I would open it up to any team that wants it, should it be available.

The Riverhounds is the club that I manage, but I think we have to have better dialog with other clubs, with PA West, and do a better job that we probably have in the past.