scorecardresearch Skip to main content
Sports Business

The people behind the star-studded The Soccer Tournament beginning this week? Of course they’re from Boston.

The man behind The Soccer Tournament is Jon Mugar, son of the late philanthropist responsible for the Boston Pops’s Fourth of July celebration on the Esplanade.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Leave it to a couple of Boston guys to figure out that a million-bucks, winner-take-all tournament is as much of a draw with soccer players as it is with basketball players.

Boston-based TBT Enterprises is behind this weekend’s nationally televised “The Soccer Tournament” in Cary, N.C., where 32 teams studded with an eclectic array of known and unknown soccer talents will scramble to come out on top in a fast-paced seven-on-seven tourney that’s guaranteed to end with the winning goal instead of an expiring clock.

“We’ve always felt the million-dollar, open-to-all, winner-take-all concept applies to every sport, not just basketball,” said Jon Mugar, founder and CEO of TBT Enterprises. “We always thought of different ways to bring it to other sports but with this group’s interests, and then a connection with [former US national team star] Clint Dempsey to be able to help shape the rules and shape the event, it became very appealing to us.”

Mugar and childhood friend Dan Friel, co-founder and executive vice president of teams and general counsel, created “The Basketball Tournament” nearly a decade ago. They’ve seen the event grow into an ESPN-broadcast 64-team knockout tournament featuring the same $1 million lure for the winning team’s personnel.


For TST, an idea suggested to them by a group of three University of Virginia soccer alums, the set-up will be World Cup-like, with group play beginning Thursday, June 1, followed by a knockout bracket the next three days for the remaining 16 teams. Peacock will live-stream 27 matches in all, including the final 15 games, with the June 4 championship match also broadcast on CNBC, then rebroadcast on NBC a week later.

The 30,000 tickets available for the event have nearly sold out, said Mugar. Fans will enjoy a festival-like atmosphere, with the almost pro forma beer gardens that pop up at so many outdoor events, plus plentiful food, beverage, and autograph options.


That Mugar is associated with producing a sizable fan-friendly event should not come as a surprise. He’s the son of the late David Mugar, the philanthropist responsible for making the Boston Pops’s Fourth of July celebration on the Esplanade a fireworks-fueled American tradition.

“I feel like in a weird way it’s what I know, just from shadowing him and being around that event since I was 5 years old,” said Mugar. “It’s all, after a certain point, troubleshooting and planning and coordinating.

“I think it is either genetic, or it has been pounded into me in my upbringing.”

When it comes to drawing a global audience, TST’s timing is near-perfect.

With the overseas and international soccer calendar ending this month for nearly all teams, a few well-known clubs will assemble at the same WakeMed Soccer Park where the Boston College women’s lacrosse team played the national championship final this past weekend.

There will be the Ryan Reynolds- and Rob McElhenney-owned Wrexham Red Dragons, freshly promoted to the English Football League; the Premier League’s West Ham United and Wolverhampton; Germany’s Borussia Dortmund (featuring social media influencer Noah Beck); Italy’s Como 1907 featuring Cesc Fàbregas; Mexico’s Necaxa, and Israel’s Hapoel Tel Aviv FC.

Women's soccer legend Mia Hamm will coach the only all-female squad in the 32-team tournament.Katharine Lotze/Getty

A handful of women are sprinkled among 31 rosters, but there is one all-female squad, US Women, coached by Mia Hamm and featuring Stephanie McCaffrey, Kristine Lilly, and Heather O’Reilly.


Former US men’s stars Landon Donovan will play for Sneaky Fox FC and DaMarcus Beasley will coach Conrad & Beasley United.

Soccer will be played, but it won’t look like the game you’re used to.

The matches will be played on 65-by-45-yard fields. Slide tackling is forbidden. Substitutions can be made on the fly, hockey-style. Two 20-minute halves will be played before the “Target Score Time” finale, when one goal will be added to the score of whoever’s in the lead to create the target score. When the goal that reaches the target score is made, it’s game over. There’s no game clock in that final period, but after every five minutes of play, one player will be lopped off each team’s on-field roster until that winning goal is scored.

Dempsey, said Friel, was instrumental in shaping the tournament’s unique rules and format, including the substitution rule.

“Clint basically said, ‘I think this is going to be way better because you’re not going to have time-wasting with people coming on and off the field trying to drag out the clock,’ ” said Friel.

“Clint takes a very American perspective to it. Goal-scoring is important, he wants to see that happen, and not dealing with time-wasting and the kind of stuff that can happen sometimes in soccer that to some extent Americans rightly get frustrated by.”

The 10th TBT, featuring 64 teams, is scheduled for July and August.

Mugar is hopeful TST will be back for its first sequel next year. He took note of the substantial interest the inaugural tourney has generated without any promotion, considering “we don’t know how to market, we’ve never had a marketing budget, we sort of put everything into this million-dollar prize, into our teams and players.”


It’s working.

“Soccer, obviously, is the most popular game in the world,” said Mugar. “We had 450 teams apply for the 32 spots and had enormous international interest, including a lot of inquiries about expansion for next year. We just haven’t figured that out yet. We’ll figure that out.”

What's next for the Celtics after series collapse
Sports reporter Nicole Yang breaks down the Celtics' collapse in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals and looks forward to the offseason.

Michael Silverman can be reached at