Kay Bradley on the soccer field
Kay Bradley ’04 playing soccer for Amherst College

Since 2016, Kay Bradley ’04 has been the Brand Director for U.S. Soccer, where her goal is to capture the passion sweeping across America and make soccer the preeminent sport in the country. This summer, the U.S. Women’s National Team’s highly-publicized win in the World Cup—and the international attention paid to it—gave Bradley the extraordinary opportunity to play a role in converting casual enthusiasts to die-hard fans of U.S. Soccer. Success in the sport is something she has experienced firsthand: At Amherst, she was as a four-year member of the College’s women’s team and co-captain of the squad that won the 2004 NESCAC championship. Craig Kaufman, Amherst’s director of athletics communications, spoke with Bradley about her work as she was still riding high from the Women’s National Team’s victory and a ticker-tape parade honoring the squad on the streets of New York City’s legendary Canyon of Heroes.

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CK: Where were you when the Women’s National Team won the World Cup?

KB: I was at the viewing party in Chicago [home of the headquarters of U.S. Soccer] when the final whistle blew. The passion and energy were contagious. Surrounded by our fans and my colleagues filled me with a feeling of excitement and a sense that we had accomplished something unprecedented both on and off the field. Within minutes, we had turned our attention to how best to capture the excitement and energy around the moment. It wasn’t until the ticker-tape parade that I really had the opportunity to reflect and take it all in. 

CK: How did it feel being a part of that celebration?

KB: Riding on the float was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It was moving to be part of such a rich tradition in American culture and inspiring to be surrounded by the hundreds of thousands of people who came out in support of women’s soccer. I felt equal parts pride and awe to see the individual faces of all the young girls lining the streets and knowing that their perception of what women can achieve will forever be altered for the better as a result of this team’s accomplishments. It’s extremely gratifying to think that in some small way, I played a part in that. 

Kay bradley at the ticker tape parade for the USA women's soccer team in NYC
Kay Bradley enjoying the ticker-tape parade in New York City celebrating the US Women's National Team's victory

CK: What are your objectives at U.S. Soccer?

KB: My role is to create a strong brand that helps grow the game in the U.S., and also connects our existing fans to soccer in deeper, more meaningful ways. We want to give our fans the most unique and memorable experiences to fuel their passion and maintain their interest in soccer, not just for today but for the long term and for future generations.

Kay Bradley CK: How have you juggled the opportunity to promote success like the 2019 Women’s World Cup victory with other, more controversial issues, like the White House visits and the equal pay lawsuit?

KB: My job is to ensure that the brand represents core values of U.S. Soccer, and included in those core values are diversity, inclusivity and equality. It’s critical that we are aligned with the women’s team and with our fan base on all of those things. One of our core values is that we are undeniably American. I think that the players have a platform to express themselves, and they can utilize it and wield it however they would like.

CK: When the men’s national team didn’t qualify for the 2018 World Cup, was it a challenge or more of an opportunity for a fresh start?

KB: Immediately after that happened, we went out and did some work to understand what the fans were thinking and feeling, and we found that our most ardent fans still were optimistic. We had to capture that and demonstrate that the young, new, energetic players and the new coach and GM have the ability to change where the team is headed. We’ve launched a campaign called “The Future is US,” which shines the spotlight on some of those new up-and-coming players that you’ve already started to see take center stage for the men's national team.

CK: Do you see soccer equaling or exceeding some of the other professional sports in this country?

KB: Yes, we believe our mission is achievable: that, at some point in the future, soccer’s going to become the number-one sport. We’re getting more diverse and more globally minded, and I believe that soccer is ripe to grow quickly in the coming years.

CK: What drew you to Amherst?

KB: My dad [Ed Bradley Jr. ’67] and my sister [Sarah Bradley Tracy ’97] both played for Amherst, and I used to come on weekends to watch my sister play, and on homecomings. To be a part of that community, to listen to a bunch of old men sing the fight song out of tune, there’s something really special about that.

Amherst influenced how I can think critically and strategically. I work in a really complex field, and Amherst gave me the tools to deal with ambiguity and complexity and to make decisions without 100 percent of the information. The ability to lead teams and have confidence in them and in myself: those are all amazing things that a liberal arts education can give you and gave me.

CK: What are your favorite memories from being on the Amherst women's soccer team?

KB:  Those four-hour bus rides from Amherst to Maine are really a microcosm of the whole team dynamic. You have the music and dancing and inside jokes, even the unofficial seat assignments. I think back on those moments of all of us in that space together and the diverse personalities all coming together to make that team and that family.

CK: Did you know that you wanted to continue to work in soccer, or use your psychology degree?

KB: I had an affinity for social psychology, which drew me into advertising. I was interested in how to affect culture and influence behaviors. I worked in account management for a major advertising agency in Boston and then did consumer insights and brand planning. When I decided that I wanted to explore beyond agency roles, I knew I wanted an organization that was mission-driven and that I personally was really passionate about. That’s what led me to thinking about sports and soccer in particular and eventually to this role at U.S. Soccer in 2016.

Kay Bradley during a panel discussion

CK: What lessons did you learn from your time with Amherst women’s soccer?

KB: My experience playing soccer at Amherst really shaped a lot of who I've become. After starting as a first-year, I lost playing time and had to transform my role on the team to focus on making my teammates better, whether that was cheering for them or pushing them in practice.

At the same time, I was motivated in the offseason to do whatever I could to earn back that spot. When I’m faced with challenges now, I often reflect back on that experience and how that relentless pursuit of a goal is essential to being able to realize it.

My father used to go to all my soccer games at Amherst and in high school, driving all the way from Maine, even when I wasn’t playing a single minute. “It’s really important for me to support you as much when we’re celebrating your accomplishments as when you’re facing challenges,” he told me.

That expression of support has shaped me personally as a wife, as a mom, as a family member, but also as a mentor, to be able to support people in the workplace that are going through challenging times.