Whether it’s succeeding in the boardroom or the soccer pitch, it’s safe to say that Cindy Spera has done it all. Prior to her arrival in the NPSL, the self-proclaimed “numbers girl” spent time at prestigious financial institutions such as Chase and Morgan Stanley.
Spera found herself at the Chase Manhattan Bank in the Real Estate Portfolio Group before transitioning to Morgan Stanley from 1997 to 2013. She went on to become the COO of Morgan Stanley Global Operations where she oversaw an annual budget of $4.2 billion.
Although she was successful in the business world, the former executive “always tried to stay close to soccer.”
Spera enjoyed a decorated playing career that began at Cornell University where she was part of the women’s soccer program from 1988 through 1991. She captured an Ivy League Rookie of the Year title (1988) and an All-Ivy League First Team award (1991). Her career continued as she went on to play in the W-League and in the Women’s Premier Soccer League (WPSL).
It was here where Spera volunteered in the league and met league commissioner Jerry Zanelli. She later became the commissioner of WPSL’s Northeast region, and later became the Director of Operations for the NPSL. In mid-April Spera was promoted to Managing Director, taking over for former director Jef Thiffault.
Ms. Spera recently sat down with ISN’s Ralph Schudel to share her thoughts on her new position, upcoming plans for the NPSL, and thoughts on the state of soccer in the United States.
Below is the interview with NPSL Managing Director Cindy Spera:
ISN: Congratulations on your new position. What are some of your initial impressions as you settle in?
Cindy Spera: Oh it’s great. I was close to it being the director of operations for the NPSL. I saw a little of what Jef Thiffault did, and I really appreciate his guidance through the transition. A lot of my job consists of dealing with non-operational things like sponsorships, managing non-operational issues with teams, and expansion. It’s gonna be a big nut, but it’s exciting times in soccer right now.
ISN: What are some initiatives the NPSL will focus on during the 2018 season?
Spera: We are focused on media and promotions. We want to expand our presence and be more accessible to fans across the country. That’s one thing that Gary Moody our director has done a lot of work with and he has some good plans going forward. We’re also looking at different products that the NPSL can offer their teams. The league is also interested in expansion and our keeping an eye on our hot spots for growth.
ISN: What sets the NPSL apart from USL and MLS?
Spera: The great thing about the NPSL is its very membership focused. Our members are very involved with the operation of the league. Sometimes in other leagues you are just handed your schedule and there’s not a lot of flexibility. Whereas our conferences make their own schedule and as long as it fits into the parameters that the league dictates, they are free to carry on and have more control.
We do some other things that I think are differentiators for us.
For example, we host the NPSL Showcase. We showcase our players and give them an opportunity they may have not previously had. The showcase is supported by the league. A lot of these combine events are a pay-to-play type thing and it eliminates players that don’t have the financial means to participate. In our case the players are nominated by their coaches to participate.
Another thing we did is that we started a TV show called “This Week in the NPSL.” It’s a weekly show that we will be starting again on May 1st, it showcases teams in our league. Teams submit their videos and highlights with a sheet describing what’s happening and then we run it like a TV show. We encourage teams to participate in the program at least one time.
ISN: You are aware of the contentious election for the seat of U.S. Soccer President, what would be the first item on your agenda if you were elected?
Spera: I would address the pay-to-play model at the youth level. There’s a lot of really great clubs out there. Some of them are development academies and some are not. They have great teams, great coaches, but parents are willing to pay for that and sometimes I think we leave kids behind that have a lot of potential. If there was a way to make soccer more available for everyone based on ability and potential more so then economic factors.
ISN: What can fans expect during a typical gameday in the NPSL?
Spera: We have minimum standards in the league. We try to encourage a professionally run game and program. Each experience varies. Some markets are growing markets and some teams are growing businesses. Like anything else, some teams are established businesses that have really figured things out.
For the NPSL, it’s grassroots soccer. In most markets it’s your local players that live in the area or are spending the summer in the area. I think for families they can relate to that, and I think that what the NPSL can offer, it’s very close to home. A lot of our teams are involved in their communities, they run camps, and are associated with different charities. The expectation should be good, friendly, safe, and fun experience where you can support local people in your community.