Yoshi Maruyama has spent most of his career in roller coasters and other amusement park entertainment. Now the CEO of TOCA Football, a football-focused sports and entertainment company, wants people to enjoy the world’s most popular sport.
The Costa Mesa, California-based company plans to launch TOCA Social, “the world’s first football entertainment venue” to provide football-themed entertainment and immersive gaming in a social environment with food and drink.
“We believe that the line between sports and entertainment has really blurred. No one is going to watch a sport just to be a spectator, they want immersive experiences,” said Maruyama, a 25-year veteran of Universal’s themed entertainment. Studios Parks & Resorts and DreamWorks Animation, tells me in an interview.
“Our mission is to reinvent the football experience and the pleasure of playing football or soccer for everyone, regardless of their ability.”
It’s an intriguing move for the startup, which has so far focused on football training centers in North America. TOCA currently owns 14 centers and has 18 branches under the TOCA Sport division.
The company was founded in 2014 by the two-time US World Cup and the former England Premier League
The training centers use proprietary creations that use technologies such as augmented reality to focus on fun individual training that gives players maximum touches on the ball.
That technology will be used for immersive gaming experiences at TOCA Social locations. Construction of the first site, on a 30,000 square meter site at The O2 in London, is expected to be completed this summer.
While families are welcome and there will be some experiences for children, the main target audience is 18-35 year olds.
“These are people who want to get together after work and have a beer, eat good food and enjoy each other’s company. We’re creating an environment where they can come together, surrounded by a gamified football experience,” said Maruyama.
“We believe TOCA Social will appeal to both men and women and be a very gender-specific environment.”
The middle of a pandemic may not seem like the right time to launch a concept focused on socializing. But Maruyama is optimistic, saying that any financial impact on the company is “reasonably well controlled.”
The company’s training centers have all reopened and are reporting higher year-over-year sales, while TOCA grew the workforce to more than 300 during the pandemic.
For this next expansion phase, TOCA, which has raised $ 65 million from investors to date, is working with a “major investment bank” to find additional capital.
The company is already supported by board members, including current and past executives from companies such as Lululemon and eBay. US Soccer Hall of Famer Abby Wambach also recently joined the board.
TOCA’s Co-Chairman Erik Anderson is also the CEO of investment firm West River Group. WRG invests in TOCA and Topgolf, a technology-based golf entertainment experience. Top golf, which has challenges including hitting golf balls with microchips against gigantic targets, attracts more than 20 million guests annually to more than 60 locations in the US and four other countries. In October it was taken over by golf giant Callaway
TOCA relies on a social football environment of similar appeal.
While there are four billion football fans worldwide and that market continues to grow, actual participation in the sport is relatively limited. And we believe there is a huge opportunity here to make football a sport that everyone can enjoy and participate in. lifelong, ”says Maruyama.
“Our plan is to have several hundred TOCA centers, be it TOCA Social or TOCA Sport, in North America and Western Europe for the foreseeable future.
“I think people are hungry for experiences that really focus on the sport of soccer and football. And I believe there is a tremendous opportunity for us to keep growing.”
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