Among soccer-crazed Seattleites, the hottest ticket in town isn’t at a Sounders game when LA Galaxy comes to town. It’s a “Copa Golazo” in a converted BMW dealership with a 75-foot by 25-foot indoor soccer field fashioned out painted carpet. A typical event brings in hundreds of soccer fans who show up after hours to compete in fast-paced three-on-three matches and bounce to tunes from an in-house DJ. “It’s like a night club, but soccer is the dance floor,” says Richard Tait, co-founder of Golazo, the natural energy and sports drink company that hosts these parties in its Capitol Hill headquarters.
It’s also an ideal venue for promoting a brand tailored specifically for soccer enthusiasts. Golazo (pronounced Go-lah-zo) is a Spanish term that means “super goal.” Given the sheer size of the energy and sports market, scoring just a small piece of this category could be a big win for the 11-employee startup. UK-based food and drink consultancy Zenith International expects global sales to ring in at $40 billion in 2012, and the industry is poised to grow another 35% by 2016.
Even in this ocean of sports drinks, Tait believes Golazo has the potential to become a household name. “If you’re going up against titans like Gatorade or Red Bull, you need to have something to differentiate yourself,” says Tait, 48, who spent a decade at as an “intrapraneur” at Microsoft before co-creating the board game Cranium in 1998. After Hasbro bought the board game for $77.5 million and a brief stint consulting with Starbucks, Tait found inspiration for his next big idea. He was looking out of his office window in 2008 when soccer fans poured into nearby CenturyLink Field to watch Mexico and China face off.
That’s when Tait, a soccer player since age 4, made up his mind to build a consumer brand focused on fútbolers. He called his long-time friend, and fellow entrepreneur and “soccer nut” Alex Rosenast, whose resume includes tour manager for Pearl Jam, co-owner of legendary Seattle club RKCNDY and, more recently, co-owner of Garage Billiards and Bowl. “We’ve always had a mutual respect for each other and talked about going into business together,” says Tait.
Around that time they noticed that other soccer players were mixing popular sports drinks and energy drinks to quench their thirst and get a caffeine kick. The potion was not only loaded with artificial ingredients, “it tasted terrible,” says Tait.Over the course of the next year, the Tait and Rosenast started mixing their own brew of energy drink in Tait’s office kitchen using dozens of combinations natural ingredients and a store-bought carbonation machine. They invited focus groups to test their creations and eventually brought in flavor and nutrition experts to help fine tune their recipe. When their first flavor was ready for public consumption, they took the drink to the soccer fields and arenas. The drink – which has about half the calories and sugar of traditional energy drinks – was well received even before they put a soccer ball on the logo. “But when they saw the ball on the can, soccer players knew it was for them,” says Tait.
In late 2010, the company began mass-producing their first energy drink, Mango-Limón, and selling it at soccer fields and stadiums. In March 2011, Golazo All Natural Sports Energy debuted on AmazonFresh and within four weeks, it became the online grocer’s best-selling energy drink. The brand went national via Amazon.com last July and sold out within 24 hours. It’s now distributed in more than 900 stores in the Pacific Northwest, including Quality Food Centers, Whole Foods Market and Fiesta Foods, a Washington-based grocery chain that specializes in the Hispanic market.
This February, the company launched its line of Golazo All Natural Sports Hydration drinks, which are made with potassium-rich coconut water and organic agave syrup as a sweetener and, unlike the energy drink, contain no caffeine or carbonation.
“If you talk to people who play soccer, they know about Golazo,” says Bill Dolsen, president of Yakima, Wash.-based The Dolsen Companies, which owns an independent Coca Cola bottling company that began distributing Golazo last summer. It’s now selling the drinks in about 600 convenience stores and 1,000 vending machines in the region.
That comes as no surprise to Tait. “We’re tapping into three big emerging trends,” he says. First, there’s the sheer popularity of soccer both globally and in the United States, where participation in youth soccer has doubled since 1990. Next is the growth of the Hispanic population, a group that has an affinity for soccer and energy drinks. Finally, there is the push for natural foods. Tait and Rosenast believe athletes, soccer moms and health-conscious consumers will choose their drinks, which contain no artificial or genetically-modified ingredients.
Meanwhile, the company has gotten buy-in from an influential group. Last June the company raised $3.7 million in an initial round of funding from a dozen investors, including Starbucks’ Howard Schultz, the owner of the Inter Milan Football Club in Italy and the head of Spain’s largest restaurant chain.
Despite attracting global attention, Golazo is focused on growing its brand from the turf up by spending most of its marketing dollars on social media, events, videos and free samples. Over the course of the past year, the company has given out some 30,000 gallons of its product and put on a dozen Copa Golazos.Word has spread beyond the Northwest, and Golazo’s Facebook page has been flooded with inquiries about when the drinks will be available in the rest of the country. While the company does plan to expand into California before the end of the year, Tait and Rosenast are growing the business with the same philosophy that soccer coaches preach to their players. “We’re being very deliberate and patient,” says Tait.