Bob Funk Jr. is perhaps best known as the owner of Oklahoma City’s Energy FC. Before that, Funk Jr. was the owner of another minor league sports team, the now-defunct OKC Barons. Additionally, Funk Jr. also serves as the owner of Prodigal, a “full service sports and entertainment agency.”
Here, the businessman explains his optimism for soccer’s success in the metro, the positive influence his wife has had on his life, and why, if worse ever came to worst, he would make a good goalie.
Q: What makes you most proud to own the OKC Energy soccer team?
A: The sport of soccer has a quality that is unifying. I like the opportunity to unify different cultures and people in Oklahoma City under one sports banner.
Q: How do you seek to raise interest in soccer with Oklahoma being so immersed in traditionally American sports?
A: It’s already happening. The promotion and advancement of US men’s and women’s national teams in the World Cup has certainly contributed to the popularity of soccer in our country. That popularity allows people to embrace soccer as an American sport that draws interest more than once every four years. They’re tuning in to watch, and that shows, as the ratings for soccer programming increase year after year. We only have to look to our own city for evidence of this trend.
Q: It seems like the Energy are drawing a few more fans than the OKC Barons hockey team did. You and your company, Prodigal, owned the Barons as well. What went wrong with the Barons in OKC and how is the Energy doing by comparison?
A: Over 100,000 people in Oklahoma City play soccer. Including the youth hockey and adult recreational hockey, there are about 1,500 people playing hockey. The Barons-hockey fan base in Oklahoma City is fiercely loyal, [but] the overall attention and recognition of the sport of soccer is bigger than it is for hockey.
Q: You also hold a position within your father’s company, Express Employment Professionals. Tell us a little about your dad. How are you guys similar and how are you different?
A: My dad loves people. He really enjoys helping other entrepreneurs become successful. That’s why he franchised his business. Like any father-son pair, we have our similarities and differences, but in the end we are both probably more alike than we would even like to admit. We treat our companies and the people like family. We both enjoy seeing others grow and succeed; and we both enjoy leading people toward a common goal.
If we have any major differences, I would say they are more generational and due to age than to personality. I am more aggressive in nature in how I approach situations, where he is more contemplative. I look to collaborate more, whereas Bob Sr. is self-made and prefers to shoulder more burden. Overall, I like to say I got the best traits of him and my mother.
Q: Your wife heads up the Oklahoma City Police Department’s victim services office. How has her work shaped your perspective of OKC and the world?
A: Let me start by saying first, there is no better person on this earth than my wife. While I won’t take the opportunity in this forum, I could write pages about the greatness that is Kim Garrett. She has challenged me personally and challenged my world view from the first day we met. She daily dedicates her life to assisting victims of crime. She helps them in their time of crisis and great need. Her selfless dedication is an every day reminder to me that people are what really matters.
Kim is responsible for opening my eyes to the very poignant concept that violence against women is not a “women’s issue,” it’s a MEN’S ISSUE. All over the world, heinous acts of violence are being perpetrated against women and children. The vast majority of these crimes are committed by men. And while the percentage of males who commit these crimes is small compared to the overall male population, we as a culture contribute to the issue every day by not addressing the root issue, which is the objectification of women. Kim turned that light on for me, and I now am very much an activist for prevention and intervention efforts with young men. Simply said, Kim has made and continues to make me a better human being.
Q: You are also involved with the charitable organization Fields & Futures, which seeks to improve athletic facilities for Oklahoma City Public Schools. Did that start with an agreement to renovate Taft Stadium for the Energy? What kind of difference can it make for a school to have new athletic fields?
A: The Fields & Futures program is such an amazing program. The co-owner of the team Tim McLaughlin and his wife Liz are the driving force behind the program. On the surface, the investment is sound. We donate $2 of every ticket sold for Energy FC to this program. Through the regular season, we donated in excess of $100,000 to the program.
The effort to renovate Taft Stadium is part of the MAPS program, but the goals are the same. Oklahoma City Public Schools wanted and needed a premier athletic facility for their teams. Participating in a sport leads to so much improvement in the welfare of the students at OKCPS. Kids that participate in sports are more likely to graduate and to be more involved in their schooling process.
The benefits of having a fantastic facility like Taft Stadium for the student athletes to play, coupled with the improved field conditions at schools within the OKCPS district, will contribute to more physically and mentally fit students as they continue their schooling and progress into jobs and everyday life.
Q: The Energy has players from all over the world. Who is the most interesting player you’ve met and why?
A: It’s not just the players that come from all over the world, but our coaching staff has strong international ties, including: Denmark, Cameroon, Wales, Scotland, England and Mexico. I like all of our players and staff.
If I had to pick the most interesting it would be our head coach Jimmy Nielsen. He’s a rock star in the soccer world. His experiences of how he got into the pro game from his native Denmark, his journey in the pro ranks to Sporting KC and, eventually, [to] our head coach is amazing. His personality, his drive to win, the way he inspires his players and his desire to be the best he can be and put the best product on the field is second to none.
When I say he’s a rock star in the soccer world, I mean it. When interviewing Jimmy for the job, we went to Tampa. Standing in the lobby of this hotel, the number of people that recognized Jimmy and wanted to take a picture with him was amazing. He’s also been known to see kids playing soccer in a neighborhood near his home, stop off and play soccer with the kids. He’s that good of a person.
Q: If a rash of injuries befell the Energy this postseason and the coach said, “Bob, we’re out of bodies so lace up your cleats,” what position would you play and how well would you play it?
A: Goalie. I’m tall, I have long arms, huge mitts and I don’t have to run. I wouldn’t be very good, but it would be better than me playing in the field.