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Christie Nelson Playing the Middle for PFL International Challenge

By Tim Sheldon

02/18/2015

Christie Nelson is Chief Marketing Officer for USA Futsal, and her father, Donnie Nelson, is General Manager and Director of Basketball Operations for the NBA Dallas Mavericks and chief investor in the Professional Futsal League.

She has a vested interest in both USA Futsal and the PFL, and as such has become one of the key figures in moving futsal to an unprecedented level in the U.S.

christienelson.png (387571 bytes)"With my dad being the top investor, it's kind of hard not to be involved," Nelson said. "I want everything there to go well. I want everything there to be success, just as I want USA Futsal to be successful. I think they go hand in hand."

She sees a number of key figures coming together to create the PFL International Challenge and bring the PFL into existence. Two of those are Keith Tozer, U.S. Futsal Coach and Commissioner of the PFL, and Rob Andrews, President of USA Futsal. And then of course there's Donnie Nelson.

"That's kind of how we developed the PFL International Challenge, with Rob being able to bring FC Barcelona, having that connection, and then Keith having connections with Mexico and his U.S. National Team," Christie Nelson said. "It was kind of like the perfect fit. The final piece of the puzzle was international, across the pond, so we finally got Barcelona and the dates approved. And Rob has been great all along the way. He has been a really great asset for the PFL as well. Just as much as he helps the PFL, the PFL can help him in the same way."

(Photo: Christie Nelson.)

Like many of the prime movers in this modern emergence of futsal, Nelson has not been connected with the game very long.

"My first experience with it was when Keith Tozer had the U.S. vs. France in Milwaukee (June 12-14, 2014). I got invited to go out there. I didn't know one thing about futsal when I went over there and kind of fell in love with it in a weird way. I grew up with basketball, so it kind of has that smaller feel and is fast-paced. All of the stuff that I love watching."

Nelson met Andrews at the Milwaukee matches and was hired to work for USA Futsal two months later.

"I was of course falling in love with futsal when I was in Milwaukee, and I thought it was a great opportunity, and I kind of just took it. And now we're here helping launch a professional league. It's definitely escalated in a really quick way. It's a great opportunity, and I love every second of it."

Nelson's first tournament with USA Futsal was the World Futsal Championships at the ESPN Wide World of Sports inside the Walt Disney World Resort, August 7-10, 2014.

"Disney was incredible and amazing," she recalled. "I was so shocked by the turnout, and of course you can't go wrong with being in Disney World. It was an incredible experience for teams, coaches, parents, everything. It was all first class. They had the best of the best teams. Nine countries were represented, so the international component to me was huge.

"I love all of the international components. There were teams from Australia and Brazil, and you could see the best of the best. It's kind of a competitive niche that futsal has in their pocket."

And now Nelson is in Dallas helping coordinate the PFL International Challenge, wearing her other hat.

"I've been kind of blessed," she said. "From watching from the stands in Milwaukee to sitting here in Dallas working on the PFL Internatiional Challenge. We are less than a month out, and it's been a pretty incredible experience."

Nelson will be there to great FC Barcelona when they arrive on the 9th.

"They will be arriving that Monday before, and Friday the 13th is the first game. We'll kind of show them around Dallas and make sure they have a great time. And then they leave Sunday. It will be kind of a week-long vacation/tournament for them."

Nelson will help escort Barca B to youth events and assist PFL President Michael Hitchcock with coordinating other cooperative arrangements with Dallas soccer entities.

"We've talked with City Futsal, so they'll definitely be doing a camp," Nelson said. "Barcelona will for sure be doing something. We're looking at partnering with FC Dallas. They have a game Saturday night, and we have a matinee game at 2 p.m., so we're looking at a joint ticket there. Just doing as much coverage and exposure that we can that week. We'll also have fun, but it's a work hard kind of thing."

Another NBA link will be the Los Mavs Festival, staged each year by the Dallas Mavericks.

"They have the Festival every year, and so on that Sunday it worked out perfectly," Nelson said. "It's an Hispanic-based day, and we have Mexico coming in. So we're going to partner with the Mavericks. A free event for the public. You come in, and the first thing that you see is Mexico vs. USA. It will be a really fun event."

Without naming names, Nelson says she has seen interest in the International Challenge and more inquiries coming in from NBA owners about the PFL.

"It's interesting because you've got the futsal court which is pretty much the same size as the basketball court, and a lot of NBA owners kind of correlate them. It will be interesting to see what everybody thinks about futsal."

She noted the logistical similarity of the two sports, saying that is one of the reasons futsal caught her eye.

"They have some of the same plays and strategic moves, and all of that stuff comes from basketball, so futsal is kind of especially for owners and other people that own venues that have minor league teams," she said. "Like we have here with the Texas Legends at the Dr. Pepper Arena in Frisco. And that's perfect for their venue, and for owners to have more content with futsal, it's all kind of a perfect story plot, and it all works."

She said Donnie Nelson developed his strong interest in futsal and became the lead investor in the Professional Futsal League after hearing Christie report back from Milwaukee.

"He was the one who sent me over to Milwaukee," she said, "to check out what this futsal thing was. So I came back from Milwaukee with rave reviews. Loved it so much. And so he saw the potential just as much as I did. And we both just really said let's do this, why not? There's no turning back now. We're going for it. It's been great. Fun working with my dad. He's the best ... So now we're in the futsal world."

Nelson said Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban knows about futsal without being too connected.

"He knows that my dad is involved, but I don't think he wants to get involved as far as I know. But there are other NBA greats who are interested, like Steve Nash, and even Dirk Nowitzki  grew up with soccer in Germany, so there are definitely players that are very interested. And that all kind of drives the brand recognition and all that stuff. Especially from NBA owners we're had some interest there, as well. It's been pretty exciting to see the same spark that my dad and I have with other people."

Nelson declined to name any other NBA clubs who may connect with the PFL.

"I don't think I'm allowed to say, but there is one who is very interested in two franchises on the West Coast. And then there is also New York and Miami. Those might not be NBA franchises but D League owners, as well."

USA Futsal President Rob Andrews said he is very pleased with the effort Nelson has made coordinating with Barcelona.

"Christie has done a phenomenal job in putting together their itinerary," he said. "We're going to bring some other teams from other countries. Brazilians, Australians, Japanese, Russians, Portuguese. It doesn't matter. They're all going to be excited after hearing about the treatment the Barcelona team got.

"More groups will pass on the kind of work that Christie is doing, laying the ground work to make sure they have a spectacular time and go home raving about the experience they had here."

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