Philadelphia Inquirer: “Gabby Roe is a ‘Maestroe’ of pushing fringe sports into the spotlight”
Written By: Phil Anastasia
On the flight home from Rio de Janeiro, Gabby Roe wasn’t thinking about becoming one of the catalysts for an underground revolution in the sports world. He was thinking about soccer, and the beach, and the California sun, and how they might blend together to create something cool and catchy.
“I literally drew up a business plan on a napkin on the airplane,” Roe said of his ideas for formalizing the sport of beach soccer, the bare-footed, sand-splashed cousin of the world’s most popular sport.
Since helping to develop beach soccer into an international phenomenon recognized and administered by the Federation of International Football Association (FIFA), Roe has turned his attention to discovering, organizing, and promoting other sports on the fringes of the mainstream.
He describes his Wayne-based company, Maestroe Sports and Entertainment, as a “growth engine for high-growth sports in various stages of their development.”
Roe’s company works with emerging sports, such as break dancing, now known as “Breaking,” which recently was approved to make its debut at the Olympic Games in Paris in 2024.
Maestroe also counts among its clients representatives of sports such as cornhole — the beanbag game that’s become a popular programming choice on ESPN — as well as curling, axe throwing, ultimate Frisbee, professional flag football, and something called PurInstinct, a soccer-basketball-football hybrid that markets itself a “the world’s most athletic sport.”
Roe, who grew up in Gladwyne in Montgomery County, was a three-sport star at Episcopal Academy in the mid-1980s. He excelled in soccer, won the Prep Schools national title in wrestling at 159 pounds, and earned a lacrosse scholarship to the University of Virginia.
He played a few seasons in the mid-1990s with the Philadelphia Wings, regarding himself as a “grinder” for a team that captured a couple of National Lacrosse League indoor championships. His helmet-ejecting hit on Buffalo star Johnny Tavares became something of a YouTube sensation, with 587,000 views.
“Back then, lacrosse was a niche sport,” Roe said of his high school days. “It was different. It inspired me, and that’s something I take with me when I think of these other sports.”
The 51-year-old Roe remains a lacrosse fanatic, never missing a college Final Four. He helped launch Major League Lacrosse, serving as the outdoor league’s executive director from 1999-2001. He also spent several years as a chief executive with AVP, the professional beach volleyball circuit.
But his focus these days is on lower-profile sports that usually originate at the grassroots level, such as cornhole — which some historians date to the 14th century — break dancing, and axe throwing”
“Every one of these sports are in different stages of their development,” Roe said. “We don’t take credit for these sports’ popularity. We just try to help them grow.”
Maestroe, an eight-person company formed in 2013, helped the Pro Breaking Tour with sponsorship sales with businesses such as Monster Energy Drinks, Tiger Balm, Uber, and Chipotle. Those deals generated commercial revenue for the sport, which raised its profile, which contributed to its recognition as an Olympic sport.
“I don’t want to say we were involved in it becoming an Olympic sport,” Roe said. “There were a lot of different groups involved a lot more than we were. But it’s still exciting and rewarding to think we played a small role in helping along the way.”
Maestroe works to develop sponsorships and establish venues for the American Cornhole League as well as the American Ultimate Disc League (AUDL).
“Gabby and Maestroe have done an incredible job helping our league move into the national spotlight,” AUDL’s vice president Tim DeByl said in an email.
For USA Curling, Maestroe has helped secure sponsors such as Jagermeister. With the International Axe Throwing Federation (IATF), the company is assisting in creating the Titans of Axe Throwing Tour, a 10-event professional tour set for this summer at sites across North America.“We do everything from helping to secure sponsors to arranging for venues, working on television deals, working on player contracts, arranging for insurance,” Roe said. “We try to learn from other sports, apply things we’ve learned about break dancing to axe throwing, from axe throwing to cornhole.
“Cornhole started as a tailgate sport. Axe throwing was more driven by the ownership of the venues. It’s like the old-school bowling alleys, where the expansion of competition was driven by the owners setting up tournaments.”
PurInstinct is a sport started by former Canadian basketball star Dominique Soucy. Maestroe is working with Soucy to develop a global growth strategy and business plan for the fast-paced, noncontact sport.
“After years of going through this alone, it has been a blessing to be part of a larger team to bounce ideas and to understand better the American culture so we can be ready to launch at a major scale (as soon as the borders and parks open up),” Soucy said in an email.
Beach soccer remains a passion for Roe. He remembers being involved at an event in Hermosa Beach, Calif., two days before the 1994 World Cup final between Brazil and Italy at the Rose Bowl, when Brazilian star Romario skipped practice to play on the sand.
These days Maestroe is involved in an initiative with Beach Soccer Worldwide — the organization formerly known as the Beach Soccer Company that Roe helped found, purchased, and then sold to Joan Cusco — to have beach soccer teams representing major club teams in a global competition.
“Maestroe is supporting BSWW on its newest baby, a clubs world tour,” Cusco, BSWW’s president, said in an email from Barcelona.
For Roe, the project traces back to that visit to Rio de Janeiro in the early 1990s, when he and his business partner were watching Brazilians play beach soccer.
“Like many great things in life, this happened by chance,” Roe said. “We both went, ‘Huh. This is kind of cool.’ I was living in California at the time. Beach volleyball was big. I thought, ‘This is the world’s most popular sport. If we can add some California color, we could really have something.’”