After Carlos Cordeiro’s election win this past weekend as US Soccer Federation (USSF) President, the general sense is that Cordeiro’s management style will be different than his predecessor Sunil Gulati and that he will attempt to find a more consensus-based approach to issues. But in terms of general policies and positions, he doesn’t differ from Gulati very much except in one notable place — the role of Soccer United Marketing (SUM) as the media partner of US Soccer.
SUM, which is owned by MLS and was created specifically to allow the league to enter the sports marketing and media business at a time of critical need financially, has now become an estimated $2 billion-valued company that bundles money from partners to fuel MLS’ finances. SUM handles the Mexican Federation’s marketing and media rights in the United States and has since 2003, had a virtually uncontested, no-bid contract type relationship with the USSF.
For years, it has been argued by this website and other critics of US Soccer that SUM drains resources from the USSF and puts them in the hands of MLS owners. The joint television deal SUM negotiated for English-language rights to both the USSF properties and MLS over the period from 2015 to 2022 with FOX and ESPN has a $500 million value.
Despite having access to the USSF annual budgets (these are public documents), the money received by the Federation for the TV rights package from SUM isn’t apparent because it is rolled into a larger line item related to sponsorships. But educated analysis by many has led to the conclusion that the Federation is being severely shortchanged its fair share of television dollars.
For example, in calendar year 2017, an estimated 65% of English-language viewers for programs covered by the SUM media deal were watching US Men’s (USMNT) or Women’s National (USWNT) team matches covered by the package. But the general consensus is that the USSF only receives somewhere between 20% and 33% of the revenue from this deal on a yearly basis. While Gulati has argued in the past that having a steady, reliable check coming into the USSF every year allows the Federation to plan effectively and not worry about the volatility of the market, it’s pretty clear the rights for the men’s and women’s national team are worth far more than they are currently yielding. In fact, the SUM arrangement might be considered a clever way of USSF providing a subsidy to Major League Soccer that is not being provided to second division men’s league USL or any amateur or adult league in the country.