Soccer Nation Sitdown: Jason Gerlach of NC Battalion (Part 1)


Soccer Nation Sitdown: Jason Gerlach of NC Battalion (Part 1)

Jason Gerlach has a deep passion for the game of soccer. Earlier this year, he jumped at the opportunity to be involved with the game in an ownership

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Jason Gerlach has a deep passion for the game of soccer. Earlier this year, he jumped at the opportunity to be involved with the game in an ownership capacity. As a co-owner of North County Battalion, (the San Diego based NPSL side that won a playoff match and reached the last 16 in their inaugural season) Gerlach has found a perfect outlet to channel his love for the beautiful game and his knowledge of finance.

We wanted to learn more about the man, as well as his soccer and educational background, and hear his thoughts on a variety of issues in the local and national soccer scenes. 

Soccer Nation: “Jason, thanks for being with us. First off, tell us how you fell in love with soccer?”

Jason Gerlach: “I was born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in the 1970’s and 80’s.  They had a surprisingly strong soccer community and culture back then, in large part due to the strong European ethnic influences in the city (German, Polish, Serbian, Croatian, etc.) and there was a scrappy little club called the Milwaukee Kickers (that’s still around today) that by the mid-1970’s had organized a pretty compelling youth program.  My parents got wind of it somehow and signed me up around the age of 6 or so.  I took to the game quickly, enjoyed playing, and would spend the better part of the next 25 years playing in one form or another.

I had some great coaches growing up who would take us to games at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee (coached by the legendary Bob Gansler who would later go on to coach the U.S. Men’s National Team) and games at Bavarian Field (to watch the Milwaukee Bavarians – to this day still one of the city’s most formidable clubs). 

Bob Gansler, pictured here in 1990,helped guide the U.S. to their first World Cup in 40 years

Bob Gansler, pictured here in 1990, helped guide the U.S. to their first World Cup in 40 years

My Dad would help me tune into “Soccer Made In Germany” on our tiny little black and white television.  Over time, through interactions like this, I just came to appreciate the game more and more.  I attended Rufus King High School beginning in 1985 which at the time was a highly regarded and ranked soccer program with some outstanding players, several of whom would go on to play top-level college soccer and one of whom played pro for about 15 years.  I was named a co-captain of that team my senior year (to this day one of the great honors of my life) and while we never achieved our goal of a state championship, we played hard, had fun, and won a lot of memorable matches. 

I had an offer to play Division III soccer but opted instead to attend Cornell University in upstate New York where thankfully, I focused primarily on academics and not soccer (though I played in a lot of fierce intramural and club battles).  I continued to dabble in club and recreational soccer through my late 20’s until my knees forced me off the field for good.  Soon after that, my two children (Sydney – 14 and Daniel – 12) were born and as soon as they could walk, I was getting them to kick a soccer ball around. 

(Hosted by the legendary Toby Charles on PBS and airing from 1976-1988, Soccer Made in Germany was the first exposure to top flight European football for thousands of American fans.)

Soccer Nation: “You’re a Cornell graduate, and also hold a Master’s Degree from the University of Wisconsin. However, your education didn’t stop there. Tell us where your studies took you after UW.” 

Jason Gerlach: “I’ve continued to keep my mind sharp by completing graduate certificate programs at both The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard Business School in more recent years.  In my mind, I’ll never be done learning and I do not rule out more graduate studies at some point.”

Soccer Nation: As a Wisconsin native, how did you come to live in San Diego?
Jason Gerlach: A business opportunity and my wife’s family connections brought me here in 2007 after a 7 year stay in San Francisco prior to that and a 3 year stay in Boston prior to that.  My kids are lucky enough to have two grandparents here, several aunts and uncles, and numerous cousins which has been a blessing in many ways as they’ve grown up.
Soccer Nation: Talk about your relationship with the sporting scene of San Diego. How have you seen the sporting scene of San Diego change since your arrival in the city?
Jason Gerlach: I’ve always loved the sporting aspect of the San Diego Area.  With the great weather and the active lifestyle culture, San Diegans always seem to be doing something whether its soccer, golf, triathlons, or otherwise.  At the youth level, this culture of athletics is particularly strong and as a parent, I’ve been ensconced in it since I arrived here in 2007. 
My daughter has been extremely active in both karate and horseback riding (I couldn’t make soccer stick with her unfortunately) for years now and my son has played just about everything – soccer, baseball, basketball, flag football, golf and more over the past 9 years. 
If there’s been any change that I’ve noticed it’s in the intensity of this culture and this change is not necessarily for the better.  Kids are starting things younger, being asked to focus sooner, and in many cases seemingly put on a path to injury and burnout at far too young an age.  I understand the mindset behind this but I’m not sure the desired ends justify the means.
Soccer Nation: Why did you invest in NC Battalion?
Jason Gerlach: You could call it a passion project.  I’ve always loved sports and have been interested in the business of sports. I always wanted to be involved in the sports business at some level.  In my legal career I had done some work on some sport-related matters and a few opportunities to invest in sport-related businesses had come across my desk over the past several years.  When I learned about NC Battalion and had a chance to meet with Club Founder Jason Barbato and hear, see and feel his passion, I was sold quickly and proposed a strategic partnership between NC Battalion and my firm, Sunrise Capital Partners that I think has been a great success thus far.
The Men in Black: NC Battalion players Tim Roty and Nelson Pizarro celebrate the final goal in their team's 5-3 NPSL playoff victory over Deportivo Coras on July 9th.

The Men in Black: NC Battalion players Tim Roty and Nelson Pizarro celebrate the final goal in their team’s 5-3 NPSL playoff victory over Deportivo Coras on July 9th.

Soccer Nation: Tell us more about this NC Battalion fall season that you and co-owner Jason Barbato have put together. 
Jason Gerlach: The fall season is all about helping our players stay bonded, stay fit and further develop their games both as individuals and as a collective unit.  In addition, it’s about keeping our brand out there in the crowded public sports domain and giving our phenomenal fan base an opportunity to come out and see some great soccer action and interact with NC Battalion players and staff in a meaningful way.  We think it will be a lot of fun and a great launching pad for 2017 and NPSL season 2 for NC Battalion. 
Stay tuned to Soccer Nation for Part II of our interview with NC Battalion Co-Owner Jason Gerlach. 
Update: Part II can be found here