PAPILLON, Neb. – Union Omaha is, on the face of it, a soccer club.
But for Union CEO Gary Green, what a sports club should mean to its community goes far beyond the field.
So, when the League One expansion franchise had its inaugural jerseys ready to launch, and no primary jersey sponsor, Green and his team came up with an innovative idea that spoke to the heart of what they want Los Buhos to represent.
“Nebraska Medicine has been one of the leaders in quarantine research ever since the Ebola outbreak in 2014,” said Green. “We thought, what can we do to give back to the community and at the same time be able to push our jerseys out there? We approached them and said, ‘Look, this is our prime real estate and we want to give it to you, and we want to give it to CHI [Health].’
“It just felt right with what was going on in the world and the country and this spirit of giving and community. While we didn’t get value in dollars, producing goodwill as a community organization is just as valuable and worthwhile.”
Last week’s official unveiling of the uniforms – which was accompanied by the donation of 45,000 masks by Green to local hospitals, and the donation of nearly $250,000 in funds and assets by the overall organization to help build awareness and to support those on the frontline of fighting COVID-19 – mirrored the way Green and his colleagues have made the Omaha Storm Chasers an integral part of the community.
As Green himself says, “You can’t just be community-based when it’s convenient for your business. You have to do it all the time no matter what the circumstances are.”
It’s a big reason why Union Omaha made the leap last week, building on the positive momentum that had seen the club sell the most season-tickets of any League One club prior to the suspension of the 2020 campaign. When your organization is led by a model of integrity and authenticity, it’s clear that fans will follow.
Union Omaha featured its staff members as well as players as it unveiled its new jerseys last week. | Photo courtesy Union Omaha
“We’ve always tried to have a fan-first mentality with baseball, so it just spilled over into soccer,” said Green. “After travelling around the country personally and meeting with different ownership groups and seeing how they did things with their supporters, the supporters are the lightning rod for the vibe and the energy in the stadium. We very early on recognized that and wanted to help grow that group as much as possible, and just really price our tickets in a way that it was affordable for everybody.”
Green’s aim was not just to bring another sports club to Omaha, but one that would resonate wholly with a community that has embraced the collegiate soccer success at Creighton University and the University of Nebraska Omaha. His travels around the country to meet ownership and take in games at clubs as varied as the New York Red Bulls, Sporting Kansas City, Phoenix Rising FC, Loudoun United FC and Forward Madison FC were well documented on his own social media accounts, and gave Los Buhos fans a feeling of confidence that their club was going to set its own high standards.
Hey @OmahaParliament - @PHXRisingFC supporters and players celebrating gets me even more excited for @Union_Omaha in 2020. Looking forward to creating our own culture together in our own original way that is uniquely Omaha soccer! pic.twitter.com/wMmqmdXcRB— Gary Green (@UnionChasersCEO) October 19, 2019
“If you’re going to be authentic, you can’t just use the words, you’ve got to act on it, and I feel like we’ve been an organization of strong words and stronger actions,” said Green. “The words without the actions don’t come across as transparent and authentic.”
Actions like last week’s donations to Nebraska Medicine and CHI Health certainly drove home that point. It also caught the imagination of media beyond Omaha. On Sunday, Union’s initiative was spotlighted by Rob Stone during Fox Sports’ new show Fox Indoor Soccer, while also achieving notable coverage elsewhere across the media landscape.
For Green, seeing the positive message the club has sent out be picked up and carried forward has maybe been the most gratifying part of the whole experience.
“I always take great pleasure when things are down and there’s negativity in the world right now with COVID-19, it feels gratifying to be able to produce some positive content and some positive feelings while everybody’s in this unknown territory,” he said. “I would have loved to have had that with an opening home game on April 25, but to be able to shine and step up while the rest of the country is looking for something good, it feels really good to be something that creates a good feeling with everything else that’s going on in the country.”