Update, October 18, 2023: According to a report by WFAA, TOCA has scrapped plans to develop a TOCA Social venue at the Design District location mentioned in this story. Alex Harman, president of TOCA Social at TOCA Football, told WFAA “the project was more complex than originally thought.” However, Harman told the station that TOCA “is still eyeing Dallas” for its first-ever U.S. TOCA Social venue and as of late August was narrowing in on an alternate location.
Dallas may be a football town, but soccer lovers live here too—from FC Dallas fans to pub goers gripping a Guinness during a Premier League game. They’ll all have a new place to gather early next year—and they may have lots of company—because TOCA Social is coming to the Dallas Design District.
TOCA Social is “the world’s first interactive and socially competitive soccer entertainment experience,” the company says.
So far, the only other TOCA Social venue is at London’s live entertainment and retail destination, The O2. Since opening last August, it’s attracted stars from top English football clubs as well as celebs, influencers, and even cast members from “Ted Lasso.”
Like its English cousin, the Design District location will offer “world-class” cuisine, bars with sweeping views, and immersive target-game “TOCA boxes.” In the Dallas location’s 34 TOCA boxes, groups will be able to eat, drink, and take turns fielding and kicking soccer balls at gamified video-screens.
Why TOCA Social chose Dallas
TOCA is a soccer term that comes from the Spanish word for “touch.” It means having a good touch on the ball, especially your first touch in a play. So why did the company touch down in Dallas for its first U.S. venue?
Zach Shor, SVP of TOCA Social U.S., told Dallas Innovates the answer is simple: “Dallas is the real deal.”
Formerly COO of Topgolf International, Shor spent seven years at Topgolf and most recently was head of innovation at Grapevine-based GameStop.
“It’s pretty undeniable to everybody that Dallas is becoming an entertainment hub, a sport hub, a tech and growth hub,” he said. “We have a bunch of other entertainment concepts that are based here. We really wanted to be a part of that story and continue to push that narrative for the city.”
Three-level, 56,000-square-foot venue
The venue’s three-level, industrial-style building will be built atop an existing warehouse at 1313 Riverfront Blvd. near downtown. Many may recognize it from its Tin Man water tower, which will be retained.
“We’re reinforcing the ground floor so we can go up two stories,” Shor said. “We’ll have this really amazing marriage of adaptive reuse and a new build on the top two floors.”
The Dallas venue is slated to open in early 2023.
Its first level will hold 27 TOCA boxes, along with the main bar and a dessert bar called Sweet Finish—which will offer desserts and specialty dessert cocktails in a design scheme like “Willy Wonka meets Snoop Dogg.”
Second floor’s ‘bonkers’ view aims to be a magnet for corporate events
The venue’s second floor will have seven TOCA boxes and a “really amazing, 5,000-square-foot outdoor patio with bonkers views of downtown,” Shor said.
The second floor is likely to be the center of a lot of corporate events, he added: “The space is more intimate. You could rent all seven of those boxes and essentially do a full-floor buyout” with 200 guests.
Third-floor ‘experience bar’
The third floor will be purely a climate-controlled bar, with accordion glass doors that open in good weather. It will offer what Shor calls “the best place to have a view of downtown with a great cocktail in your hand in the city of Dallas.”
Immersive soccer game play
Each TOCA box can be rented by a group of up to 12, much like a Topgolf bay, with an area for friends to eat and drink behind a black-walled game room. The square black hole seen in the video wall above is the Touch Trainer, which launches balls toward the kicker.
“That’s part of our IP. It’s something we own and build. We’re the only ones who have it,” Shor said. “It can launch the ball I believe 120 degrees, from side to side and up and down. It can elevate the ball, roll it on the ground, and you’re kicking the ball back at the screen.”
A lot of tech in that black hole
“We’ve got cameras that are embedded in the bulkhead of the box,” Shor said. “Those are 240-frames-per-second cameras that are capturing everything going on in that box. It’s not designed into the game right now, but we can tell what foot you’re using to kick the ball, and if you pick up the ball and throw it. These are things we’re looking at maybe incorporating into future games.”
One of the four games currently offered pits players versus players. Each player’s face will appear on the screen, with four lives per player. The goal is to kick the ball into the other players’ faces to bring their lives to zero, before they can hit yours.
“It’s a really fun, socially competitive experience from a gaming perspective,” Shor says.
TOCA Social is exploring the possibility of future games that could turn the video wall into a lifelike goal “with your favorite goalie” guarding the net. “There are a lot of really fun things that we can do that we’re thinking through,” Shor said.
Soccer skills not required
One thing you won’t need at TOCA Social is soccer skill. After all, Shor says, almost anybody can kick a ball. And unlike golf, no equipment or complicated swing techniques are needed. It’s just you, your foot, and the ball.
U.K.-based Michelin-trained chef
The food and beverage experience at TOCA Social aims to be its own attraction, Shor says.
“One of the reasons we love the Design District is the proximity to the [offices downtown]. We want to be a great lunch spot. You come in and have lunch, maybe you kick a ball around for a while and maybe you don’t, and that’s okay. But we want the F&B experience to stand on its own.”
“Our chef is U.K.-based,” he added. “He’s Michelin trained. He’s put out a really incredible venue over there, and we’ll do the same here.”
Parent company had $40M raise in 2021, also owns tech-focused soccer training centers
TOCA Social’s parent company, Costa Mesa, California-based TOCA Football, currently operates 15 TOCA Sport soccer training centers in the U.S. and Canada, including one in Mansfield, a suburb south of Arlington.
The company completed a $40 million Series E capital raise last year. The Design District venue is part of the company’s aggressive growth plan rolling out in the next two years. By the end of 2023, TOCA aims to operate over 50 TOCA Sport soccer training centers and five TOCA Social soccer entertainment venues—making it the world’s largest tech-enabled soccer experience company.
“TOCA experiences are all about enjoying soccer regardless of your skill level and TOCA Social takes that a step further by offering a fun, social environment in addition to gamifying soccer in a new and casual way,” said Erik Anderson, TOCA co-chairman and founder and CEO of WestRiver Group, in a statement. “We’ve seen great success with TOCA Social in the U.K. and look forward to keeping that momentum going here in the United States.”
The company was founded by Eddie Lewis, a two-time U.S. World Cup and former MLS and English Premier League midfielder. The company says Lewis developed much its proprietary, user-centric tech and training experiences.
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