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USSF and US soccer leagues have serious questions to answer

chuck-blazer

With the world’s attention on Canada and the Women’s World Cup, discussion of the FIFA scandal has begun to fade in the United States. This could not have come at a better time for the USSF and the professional leagues in the United States. As my colleague Simon Evans discussed late last week, the silence from some quarters in the American soccer community has been deafening. But fundamental questions must be asked of authorities in the United States.

The United States is not in the same position as England or other countries particularly from UEFA that have been outside the FIFA circle of power through the years. Sunil Gulati’s belated endorsement of Prince Ali for FIFA President ten days ago might have positioned the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) on the side of reformers, but reality is the US has been situated as a leading FIFA nation with lots of influence within the global soccer community for the better part of two decades.

That is why it’s disappointing but not surprising that large elements of the FIFA scandal took place on American soil and that it was US law enforcement authorities that blew open the scandal. Chuck Blazer, a former FIFA Executive Committee member who is the central figure in the scandal, spent years as a confidante of Sepp Blatter while maintaining close relationships with Gulati, MLS Commissioner Don Garber and just about everyone else of stature in the sport. His relationship via CONCACAF to Traffic Sports, the driving force behind the creation of the second-tier North American Soccer League (NASL), has been well-documented through the DOJ’s indictments.

One significant issue has to be the level of alleged corruption around the CONCACAF Gold Cup tournaments held in the United States between 1996 and 2003 as well the 2013 and 2015 events. In each of those cases Traffic Sports, be it through a Miami-based company it part owned INTERFOREVER Sports or acting on its own, was involved in alleged misconduct around the tournament. But where was the USSF while this was going on, with a major continental competition being held on American soil?

In the mid 2000’s, NBC Sports had secured the English-language TV rights to the 2010 and 2014 World Cups. But the rights in fact ended up being given to ESPN and Univision. Allegedly Blazer played a key role in urging FIFA to reverse its decision with regards to the TV rights in the American market. If this is true, MLS and ESPN were direct beneficiaries of Blazer’s access to FIFA’s power hierarchy.

Meanwhile, each professional league sanctioned in the United States by the USSF has a peculiar ownership arrangement that does not match international norms. Major League Soccer’s single-entity structure has been widely critiqued and criticized on both sides of the Atlantic. While MLS’ success as a league cannot be questioned, the way competition and ownership is structured does appear at first glance to fall foul of FIFA’s own statutes.

But MLS is not the only league based in the United States with a bizarre arrangement. NASL has allowed a sports marketing company, Traffic Sports, to essentially fund the league in return for maintaining the majority of Class B ownership stock and a veto power over certain matters. The third-tier USL is owned by an outside corporation, NuRock, that sells franchises to club owners. The league’s finances are autonomous of the participating clubs.

While it can be strongly argued that the United States sports market is different than the rest of the world and thus exceptions must be made for the US’ benefit in the structuring of professional leagues, one must wonder if the influence Blazer accumulated through the years with FIFA created a situation where the world governing body turned a blind eye to the way leagues in the US were organized.

Based on the sheer volume of alleged corruption that took place on American soil, US Soccer needs to own up to what it knew and when it knew it. Questions need to be asked by the media directly to US Soccer and to each professional league in the country. Until we get clarification from the powers that be, a dark cloud will continue to sit over the beautiful game in this country.

 

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24 Comments

24 Comments

  1. Neal

    June 9, 2015 at 11:45 am

    “In the mid 2000′s, NBC Sports had secured the English-language TV rights to the 2010 and 2014 World Cups. But the rights in fact ended up being given to ESPN and Univision. Allegedly Blazer played a key role in urging FIFA to reverse its decision with regards to the TV rights in the American market. If this is true, MLS and ESPN were direct beneficiaries of Blazer’s access to FIFA’s power hierarchy.”

    This is sloppy. How did MLS benefit from ESPN getting the rights? In general, there’s no connection between MLS and the scandal other than “Don Garber had a close relationship with Chuck Blazer.” There’s nothing suspicious about single-entity – it’s what the owners want to do, and they’re the ones funding the league.

    • yespage

      June 9, 2015 at 11:57 am

      A good catch. MLS would seem to be outside the sphere of the World Cup.

      • yespage

        June 9, 2015 at 11:58 am

        Of course, the author probably wants MLS in on this scandal, seeing how the NASL appears to be a huge part of it.

    • Christopher Harris

      June 9, 2015 at 12:09 pm

      Garber wanted ESPN to win the TV rights to the 2010 and 2014 World Cups because he knew that ESPN would help promote MLS during the tournaments, and ESPN would be the ideal partner. At the time, NBC had no “skin in the game” with MLS and had no reason or interest to cross promote MLS.

      Behind NBC’s back, Garber used Blazer to convince FIFA to go with ESPN and Univision instead for the World Cup 2010 and 2014 rights.

  2. Kei

    June 8, 2015 at 1:55 pm

    “Questions need to be asked by the media directly to US Soccer and to each professional league in the country.”

    And there lies the rub — who in the American soccer media is willing to ask these questions? If any journalist is going to take on that task, it would be someone who doesn’t fear losing access to press row. Good luck finding one outside of the MLS/SUM sphere of influence.

    • Flyvanescence

      June 8, 2015 at 5:31 pm

      Theyre all brown-noses. Pansies the lot of them.

      • Joe

        June 9, 2015 at 8:05 am

        The “lot” of them…yay more faux brit euro douchery!! There are plenty of good soccer writers in the US. You are just a euro wana be hippie that is clueless on the American game. Move to England.

        • Kei

          June 9, 2015 at 8:54 am

          With fans like you Joe, why would any reasonable soccer fan want to get a clue on the American game?

          • Joe

            June 9, 2015 at 10:06 am

            Let me help you. Soccer is a joke in this country. You can point to any number you want and its still laughed at in all major sports conversations. One of the biggest jokes are these “euro football” fans who turn there nose to the American game while talking like they are from Great Britian. Its not taken seriously and never will be as long as you posers are the people at the forefront. Enjoy your parents basements.

            • Kei

              June 9, 2015 at 10:19 am

              You seem upset, beloved.

        • jtm371

          June 9, 2015 at 9:21 am

          You forgot your staple phrase EUROSNOB. By the way your post sucks.

    • CTBlues

      June 8, 2015 at 8:31 pm

      Someone from NBC should ask since they don’t have any rights from SUM.

      • Flyvanescence

        June 8, 2015 at 8:56 pm

        Our boy Kyle Martino? 🙂

        Lads come a long way workin with Rebecca and the Robbies.

        • jtm371

          June 8, 2015 at 9:08 pm

          Still not a fan of Martini boy. Must be the Fox hangover. 🙂

  3. CTBlues

    June 8, 2015 at 1:30 pm

    It would be awesome if the “reformed” FIFA came in and said oh, Canada has a professional division one league now Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver have to leave MLS and Edmonton and Ottawa have to leave NASL and the first division in the US can only a maximum of 20 teams.

    • jtm371

      June 8, 2015 at 3:07 pm

      Agree but will never happen.

    • TJ

      June 8, 2015 at 6:10 pm

      Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver can never leave MLS because MLS owns those brands now. And FIFA will never be reformed.

      And why would you make MLS only have 20 teams? It can support a lot more. We are not tiny like European countries. Trying to kill off soccer in the U.S.

      • CTBlues

        June 8, 2015 at 8:30 pm

        If Canada has a stable first division they shouldn’t have teams playing in the US and if FIFA comes in and says those teams can’t be in MLS anymore or they are no longer sanctioned teams and their players can’t compete in FIFA competitions what would those brands be worth squat.

        Limiting the number of teams in the top flight helps with the quality of teams in the top flight and helps fill out the lower divisions.

        • Gazza

          June 9, 2015 at 1:26 am

          Who is going to pay TFC, VWFC and Montreal the $1 billion it will take to move them out of MLS? And that $1B is the minimum.

          • CTBlues

            June 9, 2015 at 8:00 am

            MLS gets 3 news teams and whatever the expansion fee is at the time from those new teams and I’m sure the Canadian league and MLS could come to an agreement that isn’t as outlandish as $3b.

            • John O'Donnell

              June 15, 2015 at 11:32 am

              You do realize that those three teams would just relocate to the US, right?

      • Flyvanescence

        June 8, 2015 at 8:59 pm

        MLS can support a lot more? The quality of play is atrocious, half the stadiums are half empty at best, and tv ratings are rock bottom. Adding more teams makes it even more diluted.

        • John O'Donnell

          June 15, 2015 at 11:34 am

          You have no idea what you’re talking about. Get a clue and do some research.

  4. EDub

    June 8, 2015 at 1:27 pm

    Agree … the silence from USSF has been deafening.

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