Football, fύtbol or footy, the Beautiful Game or the World’s Game; it doesn’t matter how you talk about it, as long as you talk about it.
Between the many bars flying flags from far-off lands, the huddled masses of expats trading morning coffees for pregame libations and the countless office dwellers transfixed by digital livestreams, soccer has once again become all but unavoidable as the 2018 World Cup hits its full stride.
For most Americans, the month-long, quadrennial event is enough to scratch their itch for the pitch — British slang for a soccer field — but for football junkies, it’s just the tip of the iceberg and a little bit of knowledge on the subject can pay literal dividends.
Just ask Max Dobens, Douglas Elliman’s head of its Brooklyn regional sales team, who turned a simple conversation about soccer into tens of millions of dollars in sales.
A decade or so ago, while kicking the ball around with his son, Sean, at Brooklyn Technical High School, Dobens was approached by another player who’d spotted his son’s Brazil national team jersey.
As it turned out, the man was not only a Brazil fan, but also the director of the high-net worth desk at JPMorgan and he was in the market for a new place to live. So were his co-workers.
“I wasn’t networking, I was just being Max and doing Max stuff, being genuine and playing soccer with my son,” Dobens said. “I ended up selling, like, $40 million in real estate over the next couple years to that guy and his wife and people he worked with at JPMorgan.”
Football fortune hit Dobens again while attending the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. While there, he and his two sons delivered pajamas to an orphanage in Cape Town. Word of their good deeds made it back to the States and caught the attention of a New York admirer who reached out to Dobens.
“He said to call him when I got back because he was looking to buy something,” he recalled. “It ended up being a $2.5 million dollar deal.”
Though he played youth soccer, Dobens wasn’t passionate about the sport growing up. He came to love the game after enrolling at Michigan State University where, despite an injury that derailed his chances of making the varsity squad, he became an avid intramural goalkeeper. At 54, he still plays regularly.
Along with the on-field connections, Dobens said his knowledge of the game has helped him forge fast connections with clients, especially those from countries where the sport is more prominent.
The same is true for Andres Emilio Soto, a broker for Keller Williams and a lifelong Colombia soccer fan, who has used the sport to build relationships and his brand.
In his home borough of Queens, Soto has had ample opportunity to talk soccer on the job as immigrants from more than a few football-crazed countries have long flocked to the most diverse county in the country.
“Talking football with anyone [from] outside the United States is usually a guaranteed icebreaker,” Soto said, adding that he’s found rental apartments for several teammates he’s had while playing in various city leagues.
In 2015, Soto found a new outlet for his fύtbol fanaticism when he launched a podcast for the newly-formed Major League Soccer team, NYCFC. The show, “NYCFC Nation,” has amassed more than 200,000 followers on Twitter and Soto now runs an accompanying website about the team with a staff of 10 writers who are credentialed to cover home games at Yankee Stadium.
Knowing he’s a licensed broker, fans of the podcast have reached out to Soto seeking advice on the housing market. Though this has yet to lead to a transaction, it’s a way to get his name out there. Also, the podcast has put him in contact with a soccer-based non-profit in the South Bronx, for which he’s trying to track down a commercial property to be used as a headquarters.
“Soccer, or any sport in general, is yet another great way to meet new people, expand your network and passively remind them through conversation and post-game drinks at the bar that I’m in real estate and work with a top team in the city,” he said.
For Warburg Realty broker Svetlana Choi, this World Cup has a little more significance than previous tournaments. Earlier this year, she was granted a Croatian citizenship, something she’d pursued in the hopes of connecting to her family’s roots. Choi’s father, a native Croatian, and her mother, half Croatian-half Serbian, emigrated to the U.S. from the former Yugoslavia. She’d visited the country multiple times, as recently as 2015, and kept in contact with family there, but after her father died in 2016, she felt compelled to solidify her connection to her family’s homeland.
Croatia’s opening round match against Nigeria was the first time Choi was able to watch alongside her fellow countrymen. At Saints Cyril & Methodius Catholic Church on 41st Street, red-and-white-clad Croats burst into raucous applause when their beloved Blazers took down the Super Eagles 1-0.
“It was a lot of fun and the minute they got their first goal there was a roar that was absolutely deafening,” Choi said. “After the game, there were these older men singing soccer songs and I texted my relatives to tell them all about it.”
Although the World Cup pits rival countries against one another, it’s not all about nationality, as Triplemint’s Barbara Satine can attest. A Brooklyn native of Haitian descent, Satine is the vice president of an all-female fan club for Germany’s FC Bayern soccer club as well as an avid supporter of the German national team.
Satine said her love of soccer, which began in 2014, has helped foster business relationships with fellow fans in various industries around the world. Well-attended watch parties for Bayern and Germany have also proved fertile ground for talking shop.
“During the last World Cup, 3.5 billion people watched. That’s half the world’s population,” she said. “Through the fan club, I’ve connected with women from England and Ireland, Sri Lanka and Sweden. It’s a great sport and a lot of people know it, so it’s absolutely a great way to network.”