Toronto FC’s Gregory van der Wiel is a sartorialist, man-about-town, and the latest to join the ranks of athlete-entrepreneur elites
New to the city, the soccer player has wasted no time in getting familiar with the local landscape – and business opportunities to explore.
Interview by Noah Goad; photography by Kourosh Keshiri; styling by Joanne Jin; hair and makeup by Kennie Medard
If life is a highway, most athletes tend to stay on a straight path, hardly veering off course in search of new adventures. Slowly, that has started to change as the role of the sportsperson has evolved to become a multi-hyphenate of titles that include entrepreneur, artist, philanthropist, and more. Take a look at the Los Angeles Lakers’ newest star, LeBron James, who, off the court, has built LeBron Inc. into a prolific business, developing partnerships with Beats Electronics, rapper Jay Z, and American investor Warren Buffett, and most recently announced the opening of his I Promise school for at-risk youth in Akron, Ohio.
The next wave of entrepreneurial athletes are flooding in, and one of its most promising members is Toronto FC’s new defender, Gregory van der Wiel. Hailing from the Netherlands, he recently made the move to Toronto back in February of 2018 to play soccer in North America, and hasn’t wasted a minute in familiarizing himself with the local landscape. While undoubtedly talented on the field, it’s van der Wiel’s interests outside of the arena that set him apart from his teammates. For the 30-year-old soccer player, cultivating a strong personal brand (which includes a newly-launched website and curated social media presence that has amassed over 878,000 followers on Instagram alone) has all been a strategic part of a larger picture meant to catalyze the growth of his business ventures and investments. Part of an entrepreneurial generation keenly aware of the power that these social platforms afford, the soccer player has been busy curating a brand that takes a holistic approach in showcasing his many interests: sports, business, technology, fashion, music, and more.
On a particularly balmy summer day, van der Wiel strides into Toronto’s Soho House with his business partner, Funs Jacobs, and family in tow. Sitting down to chat, he shows no signs of the typical hallmarks that often ravage the faces of new parents, calmy nestling himself into a corner booth looking cool, rested, and collected.
“Nowadays, building a brand is more important than ever,” he says. “Most of the athletes or soccer players in Europe don’t express themselves properly. There are so many restrictions there, and I was done with that.” He continues, “I just want to show people the person that I am, and share the interests that I have in business and tech.”
That passion for pursuing opportunities off the field eventually led to the formation of Block Party, a platform that serves to connect and inspire like-minded individuals and companies via investment and network support. With co-founder Jacobs, the duo aims to unearth rare gems that set the bar high and have the potential to move industries forward. Of the ventures on their roster, the most promising – or at least, most exciting – opportunity lies in Hardt, a Hyperloop development company based out of the Netherlands that aims to tackle major socio-economic and environmental issues and completely transform the way people travel and conduct business.
“The most important thing is that we look for people. We believe in great people,” says Jacobs. “If we find [someone] with the right attitude, we’ll look at ways to work something out. If it’s early [in development], we’ll help until there’s a company that we can invest in. We want to help companies in their early stages, the ones that have a dream or an idea, but don’t know how to pursue them.”
As he settles into a new team (and city), van der Wiel’s arrival comes at an opportune time. Fresh off a championship win, Toronto FC is at one of its strongest moments in the team’s history, and Toronto’s tech and entrepreneurial industries continue to thrive at a lightning pace. As far as he’s concerned, van der Wiel is not only an athlete, but also a father and businessman that wants to make his mark and help others on their way to the top. His advice?
“Talk with people who really know their industry; the more, the better. If you really want to be involved, there are enough people out there who would like to help. Us, included.”
Photographed on location at Toronto’s Kimpton Saint George.