How to Turn a Football Academy into a Professional Club: Interview with Chris Ewing

We spoke with Chris Ewing, founder of Edusport Academy and Caledonian Braves F.C., and a graduate of the Sport Marketing and Sponsorship program at Johan Cruyff Institute, about his experience and how to turn a football academy into a professional club

Chris Ewing describes himself as ‘born in Glasgow but reborn in Paris.’ After playing for Motherwell in Scotland and studying in the United States, Ewing made a life-changing decision: he moved to France with just forty pounds and no knowledge of the French language. His exposure to French culture inspired him to integrate football, travel, and language learning. Later, his experience as a player would drive him to lead a club. Today, his career includes the founding of Edusport Academy and Caledonian Braves F.C., a football academy that turned into a professional club.[/thevelop_dropcap]

Edusport Academy started as a football learning center for international students, where students live in Scotland for a year to improve their English and football skills. Years later, this concept evolved into something more ambitious: a professional football club. Emerging from the football academy, Caledonian Braves F.C. competes in the Lowland Football League, the fifth level of the Scottish football league system. A standout feature of this football club is its innovative business model, which combines technology with crowdfunding involving over 900 people from 30 different countries.

How to Turn a Football Academy into a Professional Club: Interview with Chris Ewing - Johan Cruyff Institute

Chris Ewing, alongside Mariel Koerhuis, General Manager of Johan Cruyff Institute, and Albert Capellas, Managing Director of Cruyff Football.

Could you share what inspired you to undertake a project combining sports, education, and travel abroad?

The most important thing for me was that I realized quickly that I probably wasn’t good enough to become a high-level professional footballer. I often say that I was a very good footballer until I signed professionally with Motherwell in Scotland and then realized that it would be very difficult for me to make a living solely as a professional footballer. Years later, I had the opportunity for a scholarship at a university in New York. It was then that I realized, through my own experience when I went to America as a student-athlete, that any project that combines sports, education, and travel would be very valuable. This idea led me to create Edusport Academy in 2011.

The concept of Edusport Academy is innovative, merging football with English language learning and cultural exchange. How did you face the challenge of establishing such a novel idea in the Scottish football landscape?

It was challenging. I had the idea because France is quite known for having good young talents, and good young footballers, but probably not so known for having a good level of English. So, I thought if we could combine football education and travel, bringing young French people to Glasgow, it would be an innovative and beneficial concept. At that time, in 2011, there weren’t many private football academies, and I had no real experience. I remember going to Starbucks, having a coffee, having a little notebook, and thinking, what do you need for a football academy? A football field, coaches, education. I went back to Glasgow and did a lot of research. It was like a puzzle; I had to piece together the different parts. Once you have the academy, the most challenging part begins: you have to attract players.

“The first year of Edusport Academy was in 2011, and we had 18 students who enrolled in the academy, and 18 young French students who came from France to Glasgow for a year”

What were the biggest challenges you encountered in the process of turning a football academy into a professional club?

Once we established Edusport Academy in 2011, we played many friendly matches. And after that, maybe two or three years later, I thought it would be really good if, instead of just playing friendly matches against professional clubs, we could play in a real league. We applied to enter the South of Scotland League. And I remember we went to the association and had to present ourselves and explain what Edusport Academy was. I remember thinking there was no way they would let us into the league. But they eventually did. So, we went from being a private football academy to having the opportunity to be a real football club. And after that, we had to get membership from the Scottish Football Association (SFA). Initially, they denied us because they didn’t like the business model. So, I had to write a letter to the CEO to explain why, according to the SFA statutes, we were entitled to full membership. After that, they allowed us to be real members of the association.

“We got the club license and became a real football club. But we had to start looking for a different business model”

One of the highlights of Caledonian Braves F.C. is its business model, based on technology and crowdfunding to create an international community. How was this innovative business model conceived and implemented?

We put a lot of emphasis on creating content. We have a good presence on social media, we create a lot of behind-the-scenes content, which ultimately is the club’s identity. Basically, Caledonian Braves is a club ahead of its time, and innovative. It’s almost a disruptor in Scottish football. One of the things I believe is most important is the idea of having owners all around the world. We recently shared the project on a platform called WeFunder, which allows crowdfunding for equity. We have over 850 owners from 30 countries, including many in America. There are owners from 48 of the 50 states in North America.

“We have a diverse ownership community, including people working in the NBA and NFL, as well as musicians. This diversity and the cool concept of having so many people from all over the world who have bought into this small club is the foundation of Caledonian Braves F.C.’s identity”

You recently completed a program at Johan Cruyff Institute. How was your educational experience, and what professional tools did you acquire?

I think the platform was excellent. Among other things, it allowed me to continue my education while running a football club and an academy. It was fantastic. The experience has helped me become a better leader and manager, especially in marketing. Both the club and the academy rely heavily on digital marketing, so it was one of the most important learnings from the course. Football is a very competitive industry, and I think it’s important for young students and players to plan for an alternative career, whether they make it to the highest level or not.

Can you tell us about the partnership between Edusport and Johan Cruyff Institute, and what results do you expect from this institutional link?

The partnership we have with Johan Cruyff Institute allows us to offer high-quality courses to our students. This way, they are also prepared for a career outside of professional sports. This is fantastic, and we are looking forward to growing this agreement.

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