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Greenville Business Magazine

Former Swamp Rabbit president helps bring a new pro soccer club to town

Dec 07, 2018 10:12AM ● By Kathleen Maris
By Kathleen Maris

Three years ago, Chris Lewis rebranded and transformed Greenville’s hockey team, creating the Swamp Rabbits we know and love today.

Now, in collaboration with Erwin Creates, Lewis will build upon that success to introduce Greenville County’s first pro soccer team: Greenville Triumph.

“I think Greenville is a great minor-pro market,” says Lewis, president of Greenville Triumph SC and Greenville Pro Soccer. “It’s obviously a very solid college athletics market. I think that the market size itself is great and the demographics and the growth and progressiveness of our community in terms of the entrepreneurship and the things that are going on here. So I think it sets up very well for soccer.”

The opportunity came about while working on the sale of the Swamp Rabbits. Joe Erwin of Erwin Creates approached Lewis with the idea of starting a pro soccer club and asked him to become a consultant once he had completed the sale. After the sale, Lewis consulted with Erwin Creates for about two months, and they launched Greenville Triumph SC in March 2018.

The launch was great timing for Lewis, who knew that he would remain in Greenville regardless of what came after the Swamp Rabbits. “[My family’s] intent was to stay in Greenville,” he says. “And if that meant that I had to get out of sports, then that was going to be the decision. We weren’t moving. We built a life here. We love the quality of life here; our family life is tremendous here. So if that meant I had to become a civilian, to get a ‘real job,’ then so be it.

“It kind of comes full circle for me because my first true love in sports was soccer,” he adds. “It was an opportunity not only to stay in sports but stay in pro sports in Greenville, and it was an opportunity first and foremost to stay in Greenville, so it worked out great.”

The Erwin Creates ownership group became the third member of the United Soccer League’s Division III (USL D3), which was announced in April 2017. The men’s league will commence play in March 2019.

In the meantime, Lewis, Erwin Creates, and Triumph head coach John Harkes are working on building a venue, a training facility, and, most importantly, a team.

“Our league, I think, is going to be a very competitive league,” Lewis says. “There are going to be MLS [Major League Soccer] teams that are putting players in our league that they’re hoping are going to play in MLS someday. So as an independent club, we need to make sure that we’re competitive—and we want to be competitive right away. So that means John’s having conversations with folks in Europe and South America and Africa—all over the place. We’ll have a very diverse group of players on the squad.”

This diversity will be welcome in Greenville County, where the community has already demonstrated a remarkable ability to reinvent itself from its mill town roots into a city open to international companies and entrepreneurs. Lewis, and the Triumph team as a whole, sought to capture that accomplishment and pride in the team’s name and logo. With the Blue Ridge Mountains in the background, the logo’s T stands tall to tell Greenville’s story. Like the Upstate, the logo went through numerous renditions and revisions and received feedback and assistance from the community.

Lewis expresses the importance of the logo and the name as a representation of Greenville County as a whole. Greenville’s success story is a triumph; the soccer team, in its triumph, will add to Greenville’s fame.

“This is a club that was formed with the intent of it being a community asset,” Lewis says. “This is an opportunity for us to create a vehicle where the entire Upstate can come together to have some civic pride and community pride in a team that goes out and battles for 90-plus minutes out on the pitch and represents our area—and not just Greenville proper but Greenville County and the 10 counties that make up the Upstate. And we’re excited about building something that the community can be proud of, that we can be proud of, and that at the end of the day, and probably most importantly, gives back to the community and becomes another reason why Greenville is the great place that it is to live.”