NYFEST Founder Dylan Leiner: Soccer and Entertainment Build Bridges for a Good Cause

Each April, dozens of teams and hundreds of players from all walks of media and advertising meet in New York City to take the pitch at Brooklyn Bridge Park's Pier 5 for a full day of a spirited five-a-side soccer competition.

In the media center of the world and a fast-emerging global capital for the sport, the tourney is a striking representation of the extraordinary connection between soccer and the creative community.

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The flagship event, NYFEST, a five-a-side industry soccer tournament held in association with Tribeca Film Festival returns Saturday, April 21 with spectating and special activities and exhibitors for fans of all ages. The event supports organizations that champion youth development in sport, education and the arts. To date, thousands of dollars for NYFEST charity affiliates have been raised via tournament registration.

"Personally, I'm more excited than ever about NYFEST18,” said Pat Kelly, NYFEST Board Member. “We have so many amazing partners, new and returning, that are going to provide an amazing atmosphere this Saturday at Brooklyn Bridge Park.” He added a special shoutout to Doug Gatanis, from Upper90, who coordinates the jerseys and printing. “With the great forecast ahead, we are looking to have record numbers."

This year, NYFEST supports organizations such as Grassroot Soccer, an adolescent health organization that leverages the power of soccer to educate, inspire, and mobilize youth in developing countries to overcome their greatest health challenges, live healthier, more productive lives, and be agents for change in their communities. The tournament also benefits Play Study Win, the official soccer organization for the NYC Dept. of Education’s CHAMPS program—responsible for coaching almost 10,000 children from urban and inner-city areas in the Beautiful Game.

Dylan Leiner, Executive VP of Acquisition and Production at Sony Pictures Classic, is the man responsible for such initiative. Born in London, raised in Los Angeles and based in New York, Leiner is passionate about foreign cultures, contemporary art, design, and architecture and—of course—soccer. We sat with him ahead of Saturday’s event to know more about this awesome initiative.

WHOSAY: How did the idea of NYFEST come to life?
Dylan Leiner: I’d been playing regularly for nearly a decade in film industry soccer games (Europe v World United) that take place during festivals and markets in Cannes, Milan, Los Angeles and other cities, which then lead me to an industry 5 aside in London in which I participated for 3 years. Knowing that I couldn’t go to London every year to play soccer with my friends in the British film industry, I decided to create a similar event here in NYC. Our goal was always to bring together the film and soccer worlds for a day of fun outside the board and screening rooms and do it all for charity. The fact that the event has evolved as it has to encompass the wider entertainment industry is just fantastic.

WS: What has been your favorite NYFEST moment over the years? Best goal?
DL: Standing in the torrential downpour that had lasted all day in our first event in 2011 and watching as 400+ people slipped and slid, soaking wet with smiles on their faces despite the ridiculousness of the weather. When it came time for the celebrity game, the clouds literally parted letting in the sun and we watched as soccer great Tab Ramos sent a beautiful ball across the field where tennis legend John McEnroe headed in the first ever NYFEST celeb game goal.  It was spectacular. None of us could believe it.

WS: Why a soccer tournament, besides that it’s the best sport in the world?
DL: There’s a universality to both entertainment and soccer and the passion that people have for both. Neither depends on language or background and they’re both great connectors for people. They build bridges. That’s what we’ve always wanted with NYFEST.

WS: Who have been some of the most fun industry people to collaborate with on this initiative?
DL: To begin, Tribeca has been just a dream. They were founded as a community event to bring people together so right from the beginning they got what we were doing and have been amazing partners of the event since its inception. And the fact that so many well-known people from Ethan Hawke to Claudio Reyna to John Oliver to Trevor Noah to Ndamukong Suh, Anderson Silva, Jimmy Conrad, Tony Sanneh, Alessandro Nivola, Anatol Yusef, Michael Rappaport and so many other well-known entertainment and sports figures have come out to be part of the event just means the world to us and the kids we’ve supported.

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WS: How has NYFEST helped underprivileged children since its beginnings?
DL: In three principal ways:1) fundraising for specific programs,  2) participation in our event which promotes teamwork and exposes kids to their role models and 3) the establishment of a new program that teaches storytelling through filmmaking to NYC middle-schoolers; it's called the Young Filmmakers Initiative (YFI)

WS: What do you hope to accomplish with this year’s tournament?
DL: Recognize and celebrate the diversity and internationalism of New York City; raise money for and bring awareness to our charitable partners, connect people from film and soccer outside of professional environments and most of all have fun.

NYFEST 2018 kicks off on Saturday, April 21 at 8:40 am ET at Brooklyn Bridge Park Pier 5 in New York City.