Syracuse Strong: Press Coverage with Team President Khalid Bey

ATLANTA, GEORGIA - FEBRUARY 03: A general view during Super Bowl LIII between the Los Angeles Rams and the New England Patriots at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on February 03, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GEORGIA - FEBRUARY 03: A general view during Super Bowl LIII between the Los Angeles Rams and the New England Patriots at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on February 03, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) /
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A question I get all the time is who controls the recruiting of the Strong? According to Khalid, it’s a true separation of church and state. The Syracuse coaching staff handle the recruiting and Khalid Bey and the board handles the business side of things.

"“The coaches are in charge of the recruiting and anything involving the players. The board handles the business side of things. We made an agreement with the coaches, a separation of church and state. We stay away from football operations and allow them to do their jobs and we do our jobs. Primarily coach Watkins handles that and he specifically headed the recruitment of our new quarterback Jason Boltus.”"

An interesting part of this process is the continuity from a year-to-year basis for the Strong. With these players not being paid, it adds a unique dynamic to retain them.

"“When you get a taste you want to stay here. It’s not hard to convince people to stay with a winning program. Even besides the winning, it is the atmosphere that we’ve created. Prior to us here in the salt city, there really hasn’t been a receptive atmosphere for minor league football locally. We draw the biggest crowds in the northeast for minor league football.”"

Something that has always been stuck in my craw is the narrative that the northeast isn’t a fertile recruiting ground. People say all the real talent is down south, but if you look at the Strong’s success this past season you might change your mind:

"“I think what we accomplished last year absolutely destroys the narrative that there’s no talent up here in the northeast. It’s funny back a few years ago we were the No. 1 team in the nation and a reporter asked me about the talent pool. Prior to us being No. 1, Brooklyn was and that makes sense because they have 2.6 million people, but Syracuse? 144,000 and change? The question was where do you get the talent from? My response was I think the colleges are getting it wrong. Clearly, there’s a ton of talent here and probably 95 percent of this talent comes from city schools and the surrounding suburb schools. A lot of home grown talent, to be able to compete to do what we’ve done, it says a lot about the talent and the coaches.”"

Which feeds into the original mission statement of the Strong. While putting an entertaining product on the field is one of the organization’s tasks, the true message is providing a platform for players and coaches:

"“Leroy Collins, former Washington Redskins player, and Coach Gorman started this team. Their idea was to create a different atmosphere that minor league football hasn’t been accustomed to. At that time they referred to us as semi-pro, we moved away from that term because it has negative connotations, so we chose “minor league” to rebrand. So to create an entertaining product was certainly a mission but also creating a launching pad for players. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing is out of reach and that this is a platform for these guys to perform do what they love to do. I think there’s a large portion of this roster that has the talent to play in the AFL, CFL, XFL (if it ends up coming together). If we can create an opportunity where players or coaches can get paid ultimately for what they do, get an opportunity because of what they accomplished here that’s ideal.”"

Speaking of the entertaining product on the field, it takes a lot of moving parts to make gameday, well gameday:

  • All the field equipment is brought over weekly from the Strong office.
  • The tarp has to be double checked.
  • The field has to be set.
  • DJ has to get all his equipment up to the booth.
    • Which feeds the PA system and the commentator area.
  • The scoreboard for the referees has to be organized and set up.
  • The concession staff hits the grocery stores every Saturday morning for a home game.
    • All the normal food and drinks are available: hamburgers, hot dogs, ice cold drinks like Gatorade, water, and soda.

But what separates the Strong and everyone else is the team refuses to get complacent, whether that’s on the field or off the field. Syracuse tries new food gimmicks like Lemonade Slushies to attract customers and increase sales.

Constantly the team is re-branding with food, drinks, social media, and weekly videos.

"“Until we outgrow this field, we ain’t doing nothing. The Valley Sports Complex can fit 1,000 people, we have yet to have 1,000 people at a game. So if we can get 1,000 people for 3 or 4 games in a row, then we know we’ve broken the mold. Our initial operational goal is to get a consistent 500-600 people game in and game out. The next goal after that is 1,000 people so we’re forced to get a bigger location or the city is forced to roll in some more bleachers. These are things we have already discussed with the city.”"

Before we get out of here, Khalid answers some rapid-fire questions on all things:

Khalid on top of being Team President, we’ve heard you’re an accomplished author?

"“I’ve written eight books. The most recent book I’ve released is a compilation of three previous books that I thought would go well together. It’s called The Longest Chord and it’s a compilation of The Key to Character, NOW, and Love Under Will. I’ve written about Government, sharing my opinions on it. I wrote the first one almost 20 years ago.”"

EIGHT BOOKS?! How did that happen?

"“You know it’s funny I call the first one a mistake because it wasn’t my intent to write a book. I created an outline and I started taking notes and I’m like I can probably sell this. So I packaged it in some corny looking packaging and bought some cheap binding and I started to sell it and people bought it. With that, I took the money I got and re-packaged it and made it look even better and it started to sell more. After that first book, I never thought I’d write a second one and so on. Now we’re at eight books and I can’t believe it. I’ve had one in my mind the last two years and I let stories simmer in my head before I write them and then I’ll knock it out in short order.”"

Speaking of government, we also hear you’re a politician of sorts?

"“I prefer the term public servant. I’ve been in government approaching eight years now. At the crux of everything I do is empowering people to find and understand their own value. I don’t think anything is out of reach. People can do anything they choose to do. I always make the argument don’t seek to gain at the expense of another person. You don’t need too, there’s a lot of space for an opportunity out there.”"

Sounds like you’re ready for a presidential run? 

"“(immediate laughter) Not a chance. I don’t want to go to DC. I don’t think I’m interested in all of that, there’s a lot of technicalities. Syracuse and New York State are more than good enough for me.”"

What are your goals for the Strong?

"“Last season I literally told these guys to bring me four trophies and we won five last year. This year we want four championships again. We also want to hit that 500-600 people consistently here per game. That’s the goal we want and that gives us a great cushion for the end of the season and to market the team. When you talk about marketing 20 percent of your budget is marketing. But you have to have enough money to pay 20 percent of it, otherwise, you just aren’t reaching a big enough audience. We want to get that crowd without effort and if we can reach the point where we have 400+ people here without trying then we can get 1,000. We play for the postseason which means we always travel somewhere, and the organization always covers the hotel room cost. So we have to have a certain amount of money in the bank by the end of the season.”"

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We’ll end on this nugget if the Strong do reach a level where they outgrow the Valley Sports Complex, Team President Khalid Bey says the team already has plans for the future:

"“Yes, we’re hoping there’s a new football field that would be somewhere else. It would be a shared field, but our name would be on it and our colors would be on it. Best case scenario is where we grow enough so that when the field is ready to go we go over to it. That’s an exciting opportunity for the future. If we outgrow this place before that field is available, then the only places we could go to are Sunnycrest (we like Valley Sports Complex better), it’s more intimate. Another possibility is to explore an interesting place on the hill that has approached us before about using their outside turfs. Maybe we can revisit that idea, it’ll cost us more money but if we go there more people and more sponsors.”"