Matt Sebek speaks to the Sports Analytics club about the development of the new Major League Soccer team coming to St. Louis.
St. Louis City Soccer Club’s chief experience officer Matt Sebek was a guest speaker for Webster University’s Sports Analytics club. Sebek was able to give some insight on the development of the new St. Louis Major League Soccer (MLS) team at the event held on March 22 over Zoom.
Sebek grew up in St. Louis, attending St. Louis University High (SLUH). He played soccer and baseball there before graduating and attending the University of Evansville. At Evansville, Sebek received a Bachelors of Science in mathematics and computer science and also played four years of soccer. He has now been a vital part in the upbringing of a professional soccer team in his home city of St. Louis.
Sebek said he didn’t think he would be working in sports for his professional career. He said he has been incredibly lucky and fortunate to be a part of this journey with St. Louis City SC.
“I took a lot of the experience that I had around digital and consulting and spent a lot of time working with restaurant and retail brands,” Sebek said. “I somehow found myself at this opportunity which combines all of my professional and personal passions.”
As a chief experience officer, Sebek is actually the first person to hold this title for any MLS team. According to Sebek, the experience officer is in charge of any fan-to-organization interactions. This involves retail, digital outlets along with social media and marketing. He is also in charge of the app and website and a lot of other channel management. His job is to make sure the fans are having a good experience with the organization.
Under Sebek’s leadership, the franchise has already set records for season ticket deposits and merchandise sales among the MLS. He said in his two years with the club, they just built on the soccer history in St. Louis and demand for a professional soccer team.
“It’s incredible to see the role soccer plays in people’s lives,” Sebek said. “We have this rich history [in St. Louis] of people wanting a Major League Soccer team here. To feel that level of pride and feel like they were a part of the journey and seeing how happy they are is pretty awesome.”
Sebek also adds the level of pride for the city of St. Louis during this project has not been felt in a long time.
“The brightness of our future is better than our past and our best days are not behind us,” Sebek said. “That’s what gets me excited, not as a fan of the game but as a fan of the city and the role the team will play in that.”
He said the biggest challenge with engaging a brand new fan base to a new professional team was doing it in the middle of a global pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic altered consumer behavior a lot with everyone being at home more and less engaging, according to Sebek.
Sebek said we have conditioned ourselves to do things which are convenient and on our terms during the pandemic. He adds how sporting events and going to huge stadiums don’t act as such.
St. Louis City SC will be playing its games in the new Centene Stadium currently under construction in downtown St. Louis. The field will sit 40 feet below street level, allowing for a closer view of the action and seating 22,500 fans. It has entrances on all sides of the stadium with the main entrance being 250 feet from Union Station.
“The level of detail and polish will not go unnoticed,” Sebek said. “It feels like it has been a part of the neighborhood forever. A lot of energy went into that design and architectural space. It is very open and [touristy]. If you are inside, you can see elements of the city outside. If you are outside, there are sidelines where you can see into the stadium. You can see the green grass.”
Sebek has also been involved in introducing the fans to the team. He said soccer is not like other sports where you look at the athletes as individuals. Rather, you have to get to know the team as a whole.
According to Sebek, it will come down to St. Louis fans buying into the philosophy of the team.
“In other sports, you are selling names on the back of jerseys,” Sebek said. “We have a lot of new fans and it’s an experience where you might not recognize names on the back of jerseys. We are really excited about educating St. Louis that it’s about the work ethic of the team.”
The Centene Stadium will open later in 2022 and the first MLS will be held in March of 2023. MLS has also added a new league called “Next Pro.” It is a professional development league which will feed into the professional league. The first ever “Next Pro” game is being held in St. Louis on March 25 at Saint Louis University. The game will be held at 7 p.m.
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Kaelin Triggs (he/him) is the sports editor for the Journal. He is a journalism major pursuing a career in sports writing. He also runs for Webster's track and cross country team, and he enjoys playing piano and hanging out with friends and family.