Pittsburgh and Kristiansand seemingly share precious few attributes.

The southernmost city on Norway’s Skagerrak strait coast, Kristiansand is a haven for beach-going tourists in the region and a busy port for cruise ships visiting the Nordic nation. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, has mostly shed its industrial backbone of yesteryear in favor of its emergence as a bustling, Appalachian tech hub and model for American Rust Belt cities on the upswing.

There is one major way the cities are linked, however, and it is providing a perfect fit for Roger Loughney and David Grim.

As residents of Sewickley, Loughney and Grim are only too well acquainted with the region’s love affair with its black-and-gold-clad professional sports franchises.

As of June 27, the ownership group led by Loughney and Grim officially took control of Kristiansand’s professional soccer franchise, Idrettsklubben Start — or IK Start — as it is known colloquially in its native country.

 “The club is black and yellow,” said Grim of the uniforms worn by IK Start since the franchise’s inception in 1905. “We love that commonality with them.”

IK Start currently competes in Norwegian football league system’s First Division, which is below the country’s professional Elite Division.

It has only been over the past few months that IK Start’s new owners have learned just how attached Kristiansand’s local fans are to their hometown team.

The new IK Start leadership team may have completed its purchase of the franchise for 40 million Norwegian Krone, or roughly $4 million, just a couple of weeks ago, but Loughney and Grim have made several visits to Kristiansand over the past several months.

Loughney said he is impressed by the passion of IK Start’s fan base. He added one of the conditions for becoming a part of his ownership group is to mirror that sort of love for the team and game.

“It’s friends and family,” Loughney said. “One of the stipulations in our operating agreement, in our disclosure forms, is that the investors have to be in a tight social network.

“You’re not just out pitching this project to whomever.”

Makeup of the deal

Loughney, 45, is a grandson of former Pittsburgh Mayor Joseph M. Barr and is a native of Edgewood. He now lives in Sewickley with his wife, Jessica, and their children Emily (11), Owen (10) and Liam (8).

A self-employed business owner in the medical devices field, Loughney said he also has interests in several properties around businesses around the city.

Grim, 34, said he works in public relations for PPG. A native of Boalsburg and graduate of State College High School, he now resides in Sewickley with his wife, Amy, and their children Millie (5) and Ainsley (2).

Loughney said he owns a nearly 50% stake in IK Start, while Grim and former Sewickley resident Jean Bley each own about 25% of the club. He added the ownership group also includes six other investors currently, but IK Start could eventually be operated by as many as 12 to 15 people.

“I hope to just have a really awesome adventure with my investors and our group who are on board for being part of something that’s pretty wild,” Loughney said. “Obviously, there is a financial side of it that would be fantastic to come to some point in the future where this thing has a tremendous amount of value and we can realize that value.

“For most of the people, it’s just an opportunity that it’s so unique, it’s so interesting that they’re like, ‘I wonder what this would be like,’” he added. “It’s like a very expensive version of fantasy football.”

Loughney said his ownership group initially announced its intentions to purchase IK Start at the club’s annual ownership meeting in Kristiansand in March.

“Dave and Jean are pure excitement all the way through,” Loughney said. “I bounce very quickly back and forth between excitement and anxiety and sometimes simultaneously.”

IK Start’s group of 950 dues-paying members then voted to approve the sale by a margin of 82% on June 18, Grim said.

Roger Loughney, left, and Dave Grim walk on the Sparebanken Sør Arena pitch in Kristiansand, Norway. The Sewickley residents lead the ownership group of professional Norwegian soccer franchise IK Start. (Courtesy of Erling Hægeland)

“I think it’s hard to understand for people that don’t follow soccer in the U.S., but anywhere else in the world, it’s more than just a sport,” he said. “It’s more than just a club. It’s very integrated into the daily lives and the culture of the community.”

Loughney said of the initial $4 million raised, $600,000 is planned to go toward losses incurred by the club. He added up to $2.5 million is set to be invested in the club to update its operations, while the rest of the funds will go toward various capital projects.

“It’s an opportunity because it hasn’t been executed to the level it should,” Grim said. “That’s why this is an opportunity for us to come in and help. We received over 80% of the vote to enter into this agreement from the members of this club. We were provided, I would say, a resounding mandate that this was the direction that this community wanted to go. We need to harness that passion to attain the objectives and the success that we think the club and the community deserves.”

Future of IK Start

Loughney said as a fan of Pittsburgh’s professional sports teams he hasn’t had to look far for inspiration as to his plans for the future of IK Start.

“On their side, on IK Start’s side, why have they been failing?” Loughney said. “It’s because they just concentrate on soccer product, which is obviously A-No. 1, but it’s so helter-skelter, they’ve not had the long-term development strategy.”

Loughney said he plans to implement pregame, in-game and postgame entertainment and activities similar to ones employed by the Pittsburgh Pirates and Penguins. He said he also is looking to update IK Start’s fan engagement through social media and community activities similar to those utilized by Pittsburgh’s professional sports franchises.

“I’m a fan,” Loughney said. “I go to Penguins games, Steelers games and Pirates games and Riverhounds games and I look to see what I as a consumer find exciting and interesting about their processes. I love all the stuff. I love bobble heads. I love T-shirts. They love my hot dog cannon idea. They can’t wait to have a hot dog cannon.”

Loughney said IK Start players could soon be making visits to season-ticket holders’ homes, which is similar to the trips made across Western Pennsylvania by Penguins players.

“I look at the Pirates and the Riverhounds and the Penguins specifically on the creative things they try to do to create that ownership, that fan ownership,” he said. “How do you feel about the club?”

Loughney and Grim are also focused on bettering their franchise’s on-field product.

IK Start currently sits in 14th place in the Norwegian First Division’s 16-team league.

Grim said the team is focused on avoiding relegation to the second division, while also employing strategies to someday have IK Start promoted back to the Elite Division.

“The short term is we need to ensure we have some of the proper staffing in place for the remainder of the season and moving forward,” Grim said. “Currently, it’s a rather short-staffed club.”

On Saturday, IK Start named Mick Priest the club’s new sporting director, which is a position similar to a general manager in North American professional sports.

Priest is a veteran coach and scout, who was formerly camp coach and head scout for the Americas with English Premier League franchise Brentford. He was also previously the head coach of Manchester United’s 14U team and was an assistant and interim head coach with IK Start.

“We were fortunate to bring in someone with great experience, that can bring some of those best practices to a club like ours who needs to kind of step it up,” Grim said.

The close connection between Priest and Loughney was important in his hiring.

The Loughney family hosted Priest when he was a young coach with the Great Britain Buckeye Soccer Camp in the late 80s.

Loughney said Priest initially brought the idea of becoming involved with owning IK Start to his attention.

“This is incredible,” Loughney said. “I never thought about this.”

Beginning the rebuild

What is certainly now on the minds of IK Start’s ownership group is the prospect of being part of a successful rebuild of its franchise.

What we’ve experienced every time we’ve been there is a community that is yearning for a club of the past that was a place that was a second home to take family to meet friends to have fun and that’s been a challenge lately,” Grim said. “They’ve been searching for how to get back to that time.

“We understand the gravity of that responsibility in this partnership,” he added. “I think that’s also what makes it so exciting. We have the opportunity to awaken the sleeping giant that is this club.”

John is a copy editor and page designer at the Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at jsanta@unionprogress.com.

John Santa

John is a copy editor and page designer at the Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at jsanta@unionprogress.com.