Some Obnoxious Comments

Notes on Beau Dure’s “The NASL and the periodic restatement of facts on promotion/relegation”

Update: I have removed the “whole essay response” of the original because I didn’t think about the financial effect it could have on Beau Dure. I have replaced it with useful summaries with the exception of 156 words, a little over 10% of the original document, easily falling under fair use guidelines.

Update #2: the author has apparently responded in his comment section. I am doing the same.

Recently, I was having a back-and-forth with Beau Dure on Twitter about the recent Dan Loney fiasco, due to some of my ASF compatriots and fellow soccer fanatics discussing his article, to which I suggested a more formal debate. This led to the back-and-forth, ending with Mr. Dure asking that I actually read his article. Upon confirming that I had, I informed him that if I did re-read it as requested, I would be adding comment to it.

Mission accomplished. Beau Dure’s article is in bold italics. My response isn’t.

Concerning Dan Loney’s article: The blog post basically argued that the Commissioner was crazy and attempted to take apart his ideas to prove that claim. I’ve responded directly to those arguments here.

Dure continued with a discussion of the Twitter arguments, mixing in pro/rel supporters of all stripes, and somehow adding in the NSA. In all of this… I’m curious as to why it is assumed that nobody would have a financial interest in pro/rel in the author’s thinking, as the risk versus the gain financially fuels most of soccer around the world.

Further discussion of the Twitter debate, to which I’ll simply respond: I was no longer involved after I put up the article and the criticism began; I got cursed out and blocked by Loney, so I missed his epic victory. I was aware that Ted Westervelt was involved, primarily because Loney claimed while blocking me that he would argue with Ted, but not ‘the sockpuppets’. Way to build dialogue.

B.D. basically divides pro/rel supporters into people with money who don’t see p/r for the forseeable future and lunatics. While there may be some who fit in these categories, I offer the author an alternative–

1) There may be some who see pro/rel as intrinsic to the future of the business of soccer in America
2) There are capitalized people who may be interested in what such an American system brings to the table
3) There are people who want pro/rel no matter what as well as people who are scared to death it will mess up the status quo.

On the 1993 Division I Bids: There are always going to be ridiculous bids on a new project. But let’s be serious. There were three bids. The MPLS bid (later MLS) was the one headed by the USSF President. It was really not a shocker who won.

On the other hand, the bid to which you refer (League One America) planned to build mid-size soccer stadia as part of larger commercial real estate developments, which MLS adopted as a strategy with a number of stadia. So there’s that.

B.D’s point two is about how the league fell to three owners in 2002 and was organizationally dysfunctional. Because of this, owners who have sunk tens of millions into MLS will never support p/r. This is interesting, because it shows that history never quite works out as you expect. Six years after the founding of MLS, it was down to three owners. The assumption that USSF would force MLS to do anything is silly as it stands anyway. It’s headed by an MLS employee who happens to also be an NFL employee for the same locality.

That said, many pro/rel fans don’t even include MLS in the equation (see below).

B.D.’s point three is about owners who cannot afford their current division “self-relegating”, a misleading term as there is no mechanism to promote or relegate in the USSF structure: There’s also the fourth-tier NPSL, but that’s neither here nor there at the moment for my argument. The point is that ownership is a risk. And business is a risk. That is, truly, much more obvious in lower division soccer because MLS simply insulates its risk. And when you do that, you ultimately stagnate in business. Any business owner will tell you that– once you have no incentive to improve (including profitability), you usually don’t.

Argument that such a divisional shift could not occur in say, three months due to cost, assuming annual promotion and relegation. Let’s be fair. Some teams D4 and below don’t have much of a front office. But a lot do. One thing that needs to be established further is the professional nature of the second and third divisions. That is evolving rapidly. Our discussions on a quality gap may mean nothing in five years. I can’t see much difference on the field. The biggest restrictor to joining MLS is basically $50-100 million dollars. That’s it. You don’t need a stadium or even a team to join. Just ask Sheik Mansour and Brian Cashman.

B.D.’s Point #4. “Promotion/relegation developed in other countries when they had too many teams for one division.”

Sometimes.

Point #4 continued; P/R works because of the storied history of certain clubs and large number of them. Which can never happen if the clubs aren’t independent.

B.D’s point five alleges that many supporters have an issue with soccer history, concluding “Seems to have something to do with trying to make people think nothing existed before MLS.” Well, I’ll answer.

MLS marketing is kind of like dealing with street evangelists of this or that odd religion one would pick up on the street. They have a standard sales pitch for the regular guy who knows nothing (the “casual” fan) and then a more nuanced pitch for the guy who knows some more (the “religious fan”).

To the casual fan, the one who starts by watching on TV, there is a lot of talk of a “young league”, or “phenomenal growth in 15/16/17 years”. This isn’t an accident, but pre-written TV dialogue. It is designed to give the impression that American soccer has just been invented and is thriving.

To an older fan or a more knowledgeable one, there is loads of talk on MLS and affiliated websites of the past (which never seems to go past the NASL, it seems) of how MLS is committed to never making the mistakes of the past (I call BS on that, by the way; with the exception of the cap, MLS is now currently making ALL the mistakes of the old NASL). The propaganda shifts. Now we’ve gone from inventing soccer to rescuing soccer.

Thank you so much, MLS!

B.D argues that MLS has NASL team names in it. That was never by MLS’ choice but soccer fans (edit: till finally after the Sounders fiasco. MLS intrusion reared its head again most recently with the Timbers logo). The Earthquakes were named “back to the original” because no one was attending the “San Jose Clash” games. The Sounders bought their way in and MLS still tried to rename them. Even some in the MetroStars, when the contemporary literature is reviewed, attempted to get the Cosmos name and were rebuffed by– guess who?– MLS.

This is a classic case of the MLS front office taking credit in retrospect for what in fact was the obstinacy of soccer supporters.

B.D notes US Soccer devoting resources to its centennial, and something about Clinton and Whitewater. I find it interesting that for all the expenditures, little has been done to promote the centennial US Open Cup on its own website. Of course, promotion for the ultimate “Pros vs Joes” tournament, our own FA Cup, has apparently been left to the fanatical zealots, who in turn attract more zealots to American soccer’s best kept secret.

B.D noting he’s fat and has a Fall River Marksmen shirt. I can agree with the fat thing, as I can’t wear many things I’d like. But I probably wouldn’t admit to being from Fall River if I was. 😉

B.D notes Soccer historians did what NASL 1.0– preserve soccer’s legacy. I actually agree with Beau here. The NASL at the time didn’t do that at all. It is a shame, honestly. Unfortunately, this was a pattern that MLS officially repeated.

B.D notes it some more with names. I agree we needed those efforts as well; I didn’t read this article.

I have to quote this: “The main lesson that can be drawn from those histories: Soccer has had a couple of opportunities to gain a firm foothold in the USA, and it fell apart through in-fighting over petty crap. Kind of like we could end up doing now if we try to upend 20 years of progress in pro soccer.”

And here is the ultimate status quo argument: It could all come crashing down!

But it’s not a valid argument. It is an argument advanced by MLS since its inception. It made its way into Fraser vs Major League Soccer, and even the court didn’t buy it: “The USSF decided as early as 1988 to sanction only one Division I professional league. The concern was that sanctioning rival leagues would dilute revenues, drive up costs, and thereby dim the long-term prospects for Division I soccer in the U.S. Indeed, MLS contends no other country has sanctioned more than one Division I league within its borders, although arrangements in other countries could be variously described.”

The simple reality is that competition has shown to be good for soccer, not bad for it. And this is why many pro/rel supporters are “open system” supporters, which, as Dure correctly points out, MLS owners who have paid in big are not going to be in favor of.

Most open system supporters, however, are willing to instead ignore MLS because of that and focus solely on the other divisions.

B.D’s point six is that there is no proof p/r will help the game, cites FFP and the Bundesliga.

First off, FFP is voluntary. Secondly, Germany has always been a model for efficient development. Both those things said, the Bundesliga is in fact a league run model, which might make Don Garber’s mouth water at the idea but doesn’t exactly do it for the rest of us.

B.D argues that soccer owners hate risk and don’t want the leagues “kicked down the pyramid”.

Leagues in an open system don’t lose revenue by moving down the pyramid (that’s established by the federation) but by the loss of profitable teams. That said, Dure is correct in that soccer owners in the USA have become focused on minimizing risk. We have MLS to thank for that, as well as disincentivizing potential risk-taking owners from even bothering with American soccer. The financial loss from that is incalculable, and yet no one is even talking about that until now with the rise of the Cosmos and NASL.

B.D. apparently disappointed that the Cosmos didnt overspend like last time and quotes an anonymous source “that the NASL is operating with ‘less risk, lower operating costs.’” That’s a “scoop”? Here. I’ll save you the trouble and out the person. That’s every single one of our owners, our commissioner and probably everyone in the NASL front office. Of course it’s less risk– it’s less money! It’s not a cartel where the teams are league-owned and controlled, and clubs can find their own ways to meet D2 and league regulations, as well as increase their own bottom line. They aren’t just making money off the real estate, but the game itself. THAT incentivizes investment. MLS doesn’t release its numbers, but does admit it’s losing money. By contrast, the NASL commissioner basically explained where profitability is achieved in terms of attendance and sales alone– and here’s the kicker– they can achieve that with attendance levels the USL had years ago in those areas.

Be successful there and that leaves a potential $10M investor with a choice.

Would he rather be part of a purchasing group to purchase a stake in a league and never really have ownership of his team, effectively a partial stock owner, in the hope that he’ll make money on a real good real estate purchase and that the locality pays for its development?

Or would he rather own a top-flight soccer team outright?

I think we all know the answer. And that’s what the Cosmos have brought to the table through the NASL.

B.D notes MLS has lots of cash for youth academies and Clint Dempsey.

And I say: bully for them!

B.D. assumes p/r would not help develop superclubs, and that the unlikely best-case scenario is that NASL gets on equal footing with MLS and gets merged. Well, that’s not the best-case scenario for NASL, to be honest. The best-case scenario, since we’re all fantasizing anyway, is that the NASL teams in MLS come back, attendance overtakes that of MLS, a huge TV deal, and the league buys off MLS’ assets, splitting them across the current ownership and turning the teams into actual clubs.

But neither of these scenarios are on the table, and are irrelevant.

B.D. talks again about “taking over US Soccer” and terrorizing innocent clubs. B.D. for some reason has talked about “taking over US Soccer” twice or thrice now. I am curious as to what he means. Does he fear pro/rel fans’ll take Sunil Gulati hostage?

B.D then asks for obnoxious comments. Asking for obnoxious comments is definitely a way to get them….

B.D then encourages people to watch lots of soccer noting that when people were over 25 they remember when American soccer sucked. If you’re over 35, you remember when soccer was bigger in America still than much of what D1 is today. And I’ll be watching the Cosmos….

I’ll quote the ending: “Simply put: There’s never been a better time to be a soccer fan in North America. And it’s all been done without telling people who step up to risk their money that they need to take risks that are even less likely to pay off than the ones they’re already taking.”

And imagine what we could do if we finally encouraged risk and stopped playing it safe with talent. Imagine if we stopped insulating investment. Imagine if we stopped saying “this is the best we can do” and focused instead on what could be.

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One thought on “Some Obnoxious Comments

  1. Responding to the author’s response to this in the comments (retaining his numbering)

    1. I like Ted, but an activist’s an activist. Activists make some people angry. He’s doing what he does. He’s also a liberal apparently, so I obviously can’t agree with him on everything. That said, I did nothing to Loney to deserve that response, having never addressed him directly. I tweeted that the Commissioner wants progress and that Loney then labelled him as insane. But that’s actually what happened. As for the soccer wars, maybe we need a little soccer war! Times have changed, and soccer is everywhere. And it isn’t all (or even mostly) MLS soccer. The most popular teams in the country appear to be Manchester United and Xolos. So stop worrying.

    2. Well, they are the people you describe who’d I describe as FIFA-compliance types who want USSF to change to a pro/rel system immediately. It’s a nice idea but most of us know that just ain’t happening. Sorry to say, MLS is doing a dandy job of killing stadium deals by pulling stuff like Red Bull Arena on municipalities.

    3. I don’t have much more than $2 in my account, so. 🙂 That said, we still all knew the winner was going to be Rothenburg.

    4. REALLY? A D-5 annual cost is around $5K. D-4 around $30K. D-3 and up, the prices jump quite a bit. Not so high they couldn’t be incentivized with a cash prize, but once we’re talking MLS we are talking about jumping $30-40 million at the minimum. Beckham has a “steal deal” at $25 million. You can’t just jump into MLS. And the biggest problem is that if you take MLS out of the picture, pro/rel doesn’t just become possible, it looks downright easy.
    5. I just don’t see MLS as big as you do. Sure, it has money– its investment model guarantees it– but it is barely reported in news, and has not captured the public interest. When your biggest catch and news story is a domestic national player who left MLS for Europe the second he could put the cleats on, that means you’re not visible on the national scene. And it didn’t rescue top-flight soccer because FIFA refused to sanction a D1 league for years. And I’m not getting into the whole “did USSF and FIFA conspire to kill the NASL with the WC bid thing” either. Soccer doesn’t need rescuing.
    6. But it’s the 100th Open Cup! That’s sound-bite friendly. A huge missed opportunity.
    7. I was only kidding. Fall River is a beautiful town.
    8. The Court decided that because there were no actual clubs and MLS controlled everything, that MLS hadn’t conspired against itself and that it *created a market which wasn’t previously there*, so it found in favor of MLS. This is an important point, because it also means– since it isn’t a monopoly, *anyone can challenge D1*.
    9. I didn’t say I didn’t like the Bundesliga. In truth I don’t care about the Bundesliga, because I don’t follow much outside of North and South America. But efficiency is part of the German cultural ethic, which is why half of Europe can’t pay its bills but Germany can. I don’t think you can import that here. We’d mess it all up.

    10. Well, who knows how many over the 17 years or so? But NASL is three years old, and more ownership groups came in this year alone, so I wouldn’t be so quick to judge. As for the Cosmos, Senna and Roversio aren’t “washed up MLS players”, nor was Carlos Mendes, which, for his talent was also a deeply symbolic choice for New York fans. Their first games have demonstrated depth and strategy– as for the rest its mostly a young squad, so I don’t know what you are talking about, honestly. As for costs, what business owner doesn’t try to maximize his return on investment? I live in New York. We love the Cosmos. We never took to Red Bull mostly and killed off the Metrostars die-hards with that purchase. We aren’t going to take to an imported team.

    And that’s why our D2 team filled the stadium, will likely have a strong year, and have some fun in the US Open Cup. Don’t count out the Cosmos two games in! Let us have three!
    11. I wasn’t talking about Chivas, but that’s a good case in point, because you do not buy ownership of a team; rather, you buy ownership share in MLS. There is a difference. As for the placement: I assume an investor with $10 Million is smart enough to plan that out.
    12. That’s an assumption based on MLS doing precisely that.
    13. Times have changed. The Cosmos are smarter now; NASL is smarter now. Soccer can be successful and profitable without descending into relative mediocrity, which– and you can point to Dempsey all you want– is endemic to a number of MLS teams.
    14. Really? Like NYCFC? Like MLS Miami (which it appears they’re backing away from)? That might have been true in some places, but I think MLS sees the writing on the wall and is trying to engage NASL in a pissing contest. It’s funny to a degree, and then annoying to another degree.

    To close you wrote: “If it eventually leads to so many soccer clubs in solid shape so that we can have a traditional pyramid, great. If that’s the future, I’m certainly not scared of it.” I would simply say unlimiting the business model guarantees no less.

    Like

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