US Soccer Culture and Investment

In the last few weeks major news was made in the soccer and sporting scene in America.

  1. Rochester Rhinos, reigning USL champs, and ownership were taken over by USL due to a number of reasons.
  2. Atlanta Silverbacks were taken over by NASL in 2014 (or so) and officially put on “hiatus”by NASL due to failing to find new ownership. Couple this with Atlanta United coming to MLS in 2017.
  3. Rayo OKC were an announced NASL franchise in Oklahoma City. The same city that has had a USL team for two seasons in the OKC Energy.
  4. San Antonio Scorpions close doors and look to sell franchise rights. San Antonio Spurs NBA ownership buys USL franchise and starts USL San Antonio at the same time.
  5. Phoenix Suns owner, Robert Sarver, and Steve Nash buy 2nd division Spanish side Mallorca for $21 million.
  6. Then, not soccer, St. Louis Rams were announced to relocate to Los Angeles for the 2016 season and the San Diego Chargers have a waiting period for their possible move there in 2017.

It’s amazing to see this many soccer ordeals happen in such a short amount of time. I’m sure there’s more, but this is just a glimpse of the issues plaguing American soccer (and sports).

Here’s my take on it…

This has nothing to do with USSF (completely), Jurgen Klinsmann, or MLS. This is an indictment of the soccer culture in America. Why do we have issues 1-5? There’s just not enough emphasis FROM soccer people for the game.

Sure, it’s easy to say (especially on Twitter), that if America and USSF had promotion and relegation, we wouldn’t have the issues in minor league soccer. Oh, but we would! The Austin Aztex, a once-powerful PDL club, moved USL in 2015 and are now on hiatus after one season. Why? They had lost over $1m on a $2m operating budget! Rochester Rhinos ownership said he was losing “hundreds of thousands of dollars” yearly in operation costs.

Clearly there’s an investment issue. And that points the fingers at Sarver/Nash and others. Look at this list:

  • Mallorca – $21 million
  • Liverpool – $433 million
  • Manchester United – $1.5 billion
  • AS Roma – $400 million
  • Aston Villa – $90 million
  • Arsenal – $1 billion
  • Sunderland – $86 million
  • Millwall – $7 million
  • Hammarby – 49% ownership, unknown value
  • Le Havre – $10 million

These are international clubs owned by Americans. Throw into that mix Donald Trump (rumored to buy a club in Colombia), George Altirs (5% stake in MSV Duisburg), Candy Crush/Andy Appleby (bought/sold, respectively, Derby County FC), and Sarver again (once rumored to buy Rangers). I’m sure there’s more.

That’s major money invested in international soccer, not domestic. Why? Where’s our soccer culture? Why invest millions (or billions) abroad when so much can be done in the US to impact the game. Some say the American market is saturated and over-priced. Hard to negate that since an MLS fee is $100 million for a club, not counting all the operating costs. Hard to negate that since NASL requires a $40 million bankroll before they’d even consider an owner.

My opinion, soccer culture isn’t present in soccer people. We need more “soccer” in our soccer people. That goes from top-down (Gulati to the babies) and bottom-up (babies to Gulati). I’ve lived in 4 states now and been around many soccer people. Guess what, even they weren’t into soccer like it needs to be IF we want the US to be successful in the world’s game. To me, most soccer people treat soccer as a hobby or recreation activity. It’s not lived and breathed.

You hear it all the time, I don’t want to watch MLS because the quality isn’t like EPL or La Liga. It never will be either if we don’t invest in it and make it our culture. As an aspiring young player and now coach, MLS (NASL and USL) is a requirement for me. Why? I have more possibility in getting me or a player to those levels than I do internationally. At the same time, I see those levels and I know what needs to be done to get there OR to make it better. I don’t reduce my EPL intake, I just increase my domestic intake.

One needs to be a student of the game and see what is required all around to make it better. As a college coach, I recruit players all the time who think they are a certain level. Guess what, they’ve never BEEN TO THAT LEVEL before. What makes you think you can play X-level when you’ve never seen them play before? You’ve never seen them train before. You have no idea what that level requires.

That said, how can we expect filthy-rich owners to invest in domestic soccer if we don’t invest in it ourselves? I lived 2 hours away from Columbus Crew Stadium for 2 years…I drove to games and sat in less than 50% filled stadium. Columbus is 15th most populated city in the US and they could barely get 12,000 fans to the stadium. I’ve been to 2-3 Colorado Rapids matches, empty stadium. In 2013, Columbus was bought/sold for $68 million, stadium included.

Compare the Columbus Crew price with lowly Aston Villa — $68 million to $90 million. Know what EPL has? $40 million revenue sharing due to media rights. That figure goes to every team, every year. What does MLS have? They have roughly $90 million per year — then split that up with 20+ teams. Each MLS team gets roughly $4 million per year for media. Ouch. Where’s the return of investment?

But, why should it be better? The 2015 MLS Cup saw a 38% decline in viewership. Roughly 1.1 million tuned in to watch the game. Columbus hosted Portland. Add their combined statistical areas together and you get: 5.3 million people. The championship game saw roughly 20% of the combined populations of each city watch the game. That may be alright…but then factor in the US having 318 million and we have 0.003% of the population watching the game on television. OUCH! Where’s the culture at?

Oh, we want to say, “MLS schedules the game on a weekend and competes with NFL and college football.” So? True soccer fans will tune in and watch. NFL and college football do not hinder the passion of a soccer culture. Literally, 0.003% watched the CHAMPIONSHIP!

What does it take to make America have a soccer culture? I’m not sure that can truly be had. But, what does it take to make American soccer people to have a soccer culture? Why do soccer people care more about other aspects (college football/basketball, NFL, NBA, NASCAR, etc.), yet complain of the state of American soccer?

Throw in every aspect of American soccer you believe hinders its development:

  • Club fees/youth soccer structure
  • High school soccer
  • College soccer
  • #ProRelforUSA
  • [insert your hindrance]

These will only change if the culture changes within the soccer community. Club fees will only change when soccer is more ingrained. Play more recreationally. Families coach kids. Invest in their development NOT winning. High school and college soccer will only change when there’s investment in making it change. College soccer is a top-5 money losing sport in NCAA, why should that change when it is a loser? One soccer program I know has a Net Revenue of -$841,495 — a Division I men’s soccer program (add in the women’s program’s -$1,139,744 and get almost costing an athletic department $2 million per year). With those figures, why would college soccer change for the better?

You name it. It needs to change. It will only change if we get soccer in more soccer people. Do what you can for love of the game. Give back for love of the game. Get invested in the game domestically. That’s what will grow the game here. That is what will make US soccer turn around. Yes, we could use help from USSF and MLS, but without it at our level…there’s no incentive to do more from them. I’m sure MLS would love greater media revenue, that won’t happen if 0.003% of the population is tuning into the championship.

Want soccer to succeed in America…what are you going to do about it?

The last thing I want to see is a St. Louis Rams-happening in American soccer…again.



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