Super Soccer Stars, Born In Manhattan, Has Arrived in Westchester
An entrepreneur turned after-school soccer programs into big business—and continues his success in the county.
You most likely haven’t thought “big business potential” watching kids kick around a soccer ball. Gustavo Szulansky didn’t necessarily think that either when he launched Super Soccer Stars in 2000. But that didn’t stop him from growing the program into a $10 million, 500-employee operation serving 100,000 children across six states.
The Argentinian-born Szulansky started the program after coaching his 7-year-old son’s team. “I would ask the kids what position they would like to play, and got blank stares back,” says the former programming director for CBS’s Spanish network. Seeing room for a program that would introduce the skills and culture of soccer at an early age, Szulansky started an afterschool program in Manhattan—two classes (one for 3 to 4 year olds, the other 4 to 5 years olds) with 12 kids each. “I didn’t want it to be like so many other schools,” he says. “It had to be a brand with the same message and experience, whether it was taken in Westchester or in Boston.”
A year later, Super Soccer Stars was in three different locations, and due to word of mouth (which still accounts for 90 percent of the program’s growth), began to quickly spread to surrounding areas. Now, the program stretches to six states—New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Florida, and California—and offers six different programs: the after-school program, goal-keeping program, Super Soccer Stars Premier (an advanced program for players ages 5 and older), Kick & Play (for toddlers 12 to 24 months), Game Time (55-minute game to complement classes), and SHINE (a soccer program for kids with special needs).
In 2007, Supper Soccer Stars made its way into the Westchester market, one of its first forays into the suburbs. “I’ll never forget the initial tour into Westchester,” says Szulansky. “There didn’t seem to be anything going on in terms of early childhood soccer development. It’s not like we had to fight against competition.” Despite the lack of competition, though, it wasn’t exactly the easiest transition from the denseness of NYC to the spread-out county. “In Manhattan, we can offer classes every four or six blocks,” he says. “In Westchester, we had to take into account driving distances—it was probably the first marketing we ever did.”
Starting in just three Westchester locations—Briarcliff, Pleasantville, and Mount Kisco—the program has blossomed in the county, now serving roughly 1,200 kids per season across more than 30 locations. That makes it, according to Szulansky, a third-tier market, just behind the New York City, Boston, Miami, and Los Angeles. “There’s definitely more to tap into and we’re just doing it little by little,” says Super Soccer Star’s Westchester Regional Coordinator Nicole Costa. “Once your name is out there, it spreads like wildfire.” With afterschool programs in more than 20 schools and a couple of partnerships with local organizations, the program has carved out a niche in the early developmental classes for 2 to 5 year olds, says Costa, who points to their low child-to-coach ratio and a curriculum that breeds passion in the sport for the program’s success.
During this World Cup year, the program will likely see a bump in kids participating due to more exposure to the sport. “In 2000, it wasn’t that easy to watch soccer on TV—that has changed a lot; kids are more exposed to it now,” says Szulanksy, for whom soccer comes as second nature. “If you are born in a soccer-crazy country like Argentina, that comes in your blood.”