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Bend it Like Braden

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  • | 9:45 p.m. July 16, 2009
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Braden Chandler, 24 • MVP Sports Arena

Braden Chandler has big business dreams for soccer, a global sport that has struggled commercially in the United States.

So in Chandler's battle to score a soccer success — indoors and in Florida, no less — he's leaning on one particular ally: Tenacity.

Chandler, after all, strolled onto the grounds of the IMG Academies in Bradenton when he was 18 years old to meet with the directors of the U.S. Under-17 Men's national soccer team that trained there. Chandler, a Manatee County native who began working as early as first grade by selling school supplies to other students, went all entrepreneur on the soccer executives.

“I went out there and asked them what I can do,” says Chandler. “I was willing to work for free.”

That initiative led to a job as an assistant equipment manager with the team. And that led to a series of bigger jobs, including moving to Salt Lake City in 2005 to work as the head equipment man for Real Salt Lake, a Major League

Soccer (MLS) team. That job that actually paid Chandler, both in money and in experience.

Now Chandler is back in his hometown, selling soccer. He is the co-owner of MVP Arena Sports, an indoor sports facility inside the Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex in northern Manatee County. Chandler leases the space from the arena's owners, Sarasota businessman Marvin Kaplan and state Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton.

It's a move that brings Chandler back to the sport's core challenge: Taking it mainstream and turning it into a thriving business. “I've always had the entrepreneurial mindset,” says Chandler, who doubles as the boy's varsity soccer coach at Braden River High School in east Manatee County. “I've always had the drive and desire to run my own business.”

Chandler bills the indoor soccer field as the largest in Florida. He has set up a series of leagues, games and training clinics there, including adult competitions and games for toddlers. Chandler says about 500 adults and 200 children and teenagers use the field each week.

But Chandler realizes other potential customers might not share his soccer passion. So he recently opened up MVP to other sports, including flag football, dodgeball and cheerleading. He even has been using the field and space for indoor paintball games and competitions.

“It's not your typical soccer facility,” says Chandler. “It's a lot of sports rolled into one.”

Chandler declined to release revenue figures, only to say that the business is breaking even. He says adult soccer league enrollment, where he makes a majority of his revenues, has been holding steady during the recession.

In the meantime, he's hoping to grow the business during the downturn through an aggressive marketing campaign that includes buying ads for radio, TV and newspapers.

“The biggest thing right now is getting our name established,” says Chandler. “There are still a lot of people who don't know we're here.”


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