Archive for February, 2011
I’ll be broadcasting the Class 4A Division II basketball championships this morning on www.aia365.com and KAZG-AM 1440. The girls’ game (at 10am MT, Noon ET) features defending state champion Chandler Seton Catholic against Thunderbird (you can see that game here) and the boys’ game (scheduled for Noon MT, 2pm ET) matches #1 seed Tucson Amphitheater against Tempe (you can see that one here). KAZG doesn’t stream its audio online, unfortunately, but if you could have listened, you could watch, I guess.
It was 15 years ago today – February 22, 1996 – that the Continental Indoor Soccer League announced an expansion franchise for Indianapolis, Indiana that eventually became known as the Twisters. I was fortunate enough to be the team’s radio announcer for the two summers that it played in the CISL, and am considering producing a documentary on the team’s short but interesting history.
You can see several video highlights from the Twisters’ two seasons on my YouTube channel, and I’m finishing the process of digitizing as many of the original radio broadcasts as still exist. Look for those as the summer goes on.
The latest installment of The Things We Do For Love features a look at my broadcast position for five games of this past weekend’s President’s Day Invitational youth hockey tournament.
Trust me: it’s even less fun than you might think calling five kids’ games from a corner of the rink at floor level starting at 6:50 am would be. But we got through it (thanks to the always-awesome Malik Robinson) and by the fifth game it was almost okay.
This weekend, things will get quite a bit better, as I’ll be calling the boys and girls 4A-II state basketball championships on www.aia365.com and KAZG-AM 1440 on Saturday. It’ll be in a real arena with a partner and multiple cameras and all that good stuff.
Ever since the news Monday that the five US-based North American Soccer League teams won’t be eligible to play in this year’s Lamar Hunt US Open Cup competition, the blogosphere has been in an uproar. Those who haven’t been hopping mad have been espousing conspiracy theories or suggesting Open Cup exclusion was either a way to push the sanctioning vote through (which happened, narrowly) or punishment for causing this whole mess in the first place.
I’ve been thinking about these things, starting from the position that USSF’s official explanation – that there wasn’t time to work the NASL teams into the Cup format this year – was disingenuous. US Soccer hasn’t released the Open Cup format until late April or early May in each of the last two years and, to my knowledge, MLS hasn’t yet announced how it’ll determine its competitors, so the “Sorry, we were so efficient this year that we actually had this all planned out well ahead of time, maybe next year” excuse didn’t ring true. (To be fair, USSF announced the 2007 USOC format on January 29, so there is precedent). Since then, I’ve been told by two people closer to the situation than I am that USSF actually does have the thing worked out and the explanation is true. So maybe Occam’s Razor is in play here. In which case, I was totally wrong on that and my tweet about it probably started more of a brouhaha than it should have.
If that explanation doesn’t ring true to you, though, then we’re down to “USSF has it out for the NASL and wants it to fail,” “USSF is punishing the NASL for dragging everybody into this whole unpleasantness” or, my particular favorite, “MLS is afraid of playing NASL teams in the Open Cup because of the potential embarrassment if they lose.” I can’t think of another possibility. But let’s look at them one at a time after the jump.
The US Soccer Federation and North American Soccer League are holding a joint teleconference at 3pm ET to discuss USSF’s provisional sanctioning of the NASL as a Division II league for 2011. Follow the proceedings here.
Keep in mind I’ll be listening, writing and (probably) snarking all at the same time, so I may not be as “real time” as someone tweeting. But it should be worth it.
(Hold music. I’m told our moderator this afternoon will be Neil Buethe. Good luck, Neil. We’re all counting on you.)
Waiting for #USSFConferenceCallIsLateBecause to start trending on Twitter.
Here we go….(this will all be paraphrased, I’m sure USSF will have a transcript eventually).
Gulati: Thanks for joining us on short notice. We were pleased to admit the NASL on a provisional basis. It’s a difficult environment on many levels, but we’re excited that Aaron and his colleagues have put together a group of investors, so congratulations to them.
Davidson: We’re very happy and excited, this has been a very cooperative journey with the Federation. Very grateful, looking forward to working with them so we have a second division not only for 2011 but for years to come.
Richard Alder, San Antonio Express-News: Looking ahead to 2012, how important with Montreal leaving that San Antonio be in place with 2012?
Gulati (I think): We have no reason to believe that won’t be the case. We fully anticipate they’ll be part of the NASL in 2012.
Brian Quarstad, Inside Minnesota Soccer: On restrictions – or requirements that have been placed that must be met within a year on single team, single ownership. Is Minnesota subject to that?
Gulati: We haven’t put a provision on that. We will sit down and work with them on that, no timetable for that.
Quarstad: Would Minnesota be subject to that, though?
Gulati: We would like to see individual investment groups for all eight teams or however many they have.
Ridge Mahoney, Soccer America: Can you give us your perspective, Aaron, in light of Sunil’s comments, what will you do to maintain competitive integrity going forward?
Davidson: We’ve been very clear all along that it was out of necessity that Traffic had to invest in additional teams to make this all work. We are very cognizant that the sport is the most important thing. In the markets that we’ve actually stepped into – Atlanta and Carolina – they have local operator/investors that are absolutely independent from Traffic. Those teams and Minnesota will retain integrity.
Mahoney: Will this be the year they’ll have to hit standards in attendance and things to prove viability?
Gulati: It’s not for the Federation to say that attendance should be A, B or C or that sponsorship or player costs should be X, Y or Z. If it’s stable, then there will be increased interest. That’s what’s happened in MLS and what Aaron and NASL leadership are hoping will happen with the NASL.
Davidson: No one is under the impression that all of our teams are going to be profitable right away. We want to show we’re headed in the right direction.
Fred Dryer: What are your primary first year goals?
Davidson: The job didn’t start today, most of our teams have been playing for a while. This year is all about focusing on the nuts and bolts and make sure the teams are happy with the direction we’re going so we can build a plan going forward. To run a league where our teams make it through this year and have a stable platform to grow in their markets.
Simon Evans: Last year the Federation got quite involved in the temporary structure. This year, are you stepping back and letting them run themselves? And, Aaron, what will you do differently? Do you have deals with television, sponsors, or is it going to be pretty similar to 2010?
Gulati: This is a more natural situation. Last year was a temporary intervention by the Federation. Neither side last year met the standards, and we would administer the league and admit clubs. So we ran that directly. It’s not something we wanted to do long-term. I’m glad we were able to step back. This year, USL and the NASL will run their own leagues and have relationships with the Federation.
Davidson: Number one priority is to stop the churn rate and to maintain eight teams on a year-to-year basis so you can keep track of teams and a platform for them to grow. We’ve had so much churn at the second-division level that has created a huge difficulty of following the game at the second-division level. The owners own and govern the league and are buying into the NASL brand and you’ll see us promoting it a lot more proudly. The fans will be able to follow their teams and the league.
Neil Morris, Independent Weekly: Are the five US-based NASL team eligible for the US Open Cup?
Gulati: No, because it’s simply too late to include them. The timing doesn’t work. There is no place in the structure, they’re not going to be included.
John Boschini, Soccer By Ives: How important is a second division to MLS and the National Team?
Gulati: It can be very important on both counts. If we want to see American soccer grow and having additional outlets for fans, may be very different cities than MLS or at a different level. Having both the NASL and USL playing is a big plus, it covers a bigger area. I don’t think it’s directly the feeder system for the National Team, but it’s more opportunities. There are American players playing on those teams.
(I should note here that this call hasn’t been particularly enlightening, except for the Open Cup thing.)
Jeremiah from SB Nation: In the past we’ve had pseudo financial promotion of teams going from the second division into MLS and I’m wondering if that’s something USSF prefers? For Aaron, how sustainable is that going forward?
Gulati: I think the model is just completely different than a European or South American model where teams can just come in and work their way up. None of the four teams came into the USL with the primary goal of moving up to MLS, it certainly worked out that way. I think it’s helpful to have staff and administration in place to already be established in the market is a plus. I think in all four cases, the fact local ownership has been there can only be a positive. But that’s going to be a different model from many other teams that have joined or will join MLS? In theory it can be repeated, but it’s not a coincidence nor was it planned that those four teams for any number of years. But in a whole bunch of other places it wouldn’t be practical. The international teams are in a unique situation yet again.
Buethe: Thank you all for joining the call today.
That’s it, boys and girls. Well, that was particularly non-noteworthy, except for the part about the Open Cup, so the very few of you who care about the USOC will go off and have your conspiracy theories about it. For me, I am not sure I buy the explanation that February 14 was “too late” to include the NASL teams in the Open Cup format for 2011 when last year the Open Cup format wasn’t released until May 5. Maybe the NASL just didn’t want to deal with it? I don’t know. But this year’s Open Cup just got a whole lot less interesting.
As for the rest, everybody said all the right (and expected) things. The NASL wants to be stable, they’re effusive in their praise for the Federation and the Federation wants a stable second division. Nothing you didn’t know before last week. Nothing about what they looked at, what the concerns were that forced the removal of sanctioning in the first place.
Thanks for joining us. Take care of your waiters and waitresses.
Inside Minnesota Soccer reports USSF narrowly approved a one-year provisional sanctioning for the new North American Soccer League as a Division II outfit for 2011, with a set of standards they’ll have to meet to be fully sanctioned for 2012.
Details should be in an official announcement later today, but presumably the standards include “hire your second employee.”
I’ve said this would be the prudent way to go. Denying sanctioning outright would have been messy for all concerned, with displaced players, the possibility of a rogue league and potential lawsuits. And providing clear direction with a year to meet the standards gives everybody a road map to follow that’s the first step toward cleaning up the second division mess.
Now the onus is on the NASL. Let’s see what ya got.
If you’re like me, the schedule on MLS’ website is too broken up to be of any use to me. So if you’re like me, please to enjoy this (perhaps) slightly easier to deal with schedule table.
|8||Sat||3/19/11||Kansas City||at||Chivas USA||10:30||7:30|
|9||Sat||3/19/11||Salt Lake||at||San Jose||10:30||7:30|
|10||Sun||3/20/11||N. England||at||Los Angeles||8:00||5:00||Galavision|
|15||Sat||3/26/11||DC United||at||N. England||4:30||4:30|
|17||Sat||3/26/11||Los Angeles||at||Salt Lake||9:00||7:00|
|31||Sat||4/9/11||Los Angeles||at||DC United||7:30||7:30|
|32||Sat||4/9/11||Salt Lake||at||N. England||7:30||7:30|
|44||Sat||4/16/11||San Jose||at||New York||7:30||7:30|
|48||Thu||4/21/11||New York||at||DC United||8:00||8:00||ESPN2|
|50||Sat||4/23/11||Chivas USA||at||San Jose||4:00||1:00||Telefutura|
|53||Sat||4/23/11||Kansas City||at||N. England||7:30||7:30|
|60||Sat||4/30/11||Kansas City||at||New York||7:30||7:30|
|63||Sat||4/30/11||N. England||at||Chivas USA||10:30||7:30|
|68||Sat||5/7/11||Chivas USA||at||Salt Lake||4:00||2:00||Telefutura|
|75||Sat||5/7/11||New York||at||Los Angeles||11:00||8:00||ESPN2|
|84||Sat||5/14/11||Kansas City||at||Los Angeles||10:30||7:30|
|87||Sun||5/15/11||Chivas USA||at||New York||7:00||7:00||Galavision|
|90||Sat||5/21/11||Los Angeles||at||Chivas USA||10:00||7:00||ESPN2|
|93||Sat||5/21/11||N. England||at||San Jose||10:30||7:30|
|102||Sat||5/28/11||Los Angeles||at||N. England||8:00||8:00||Galavision|
|115||Sat||6/4/11||DC United||at||Los Angeles||10:30||7:30|
|121||Sat||6/11/11||San Jose||at||DC United||7:30||7:30|
|122||Sat||6/11/11||N. England||at||New York||7:30||7:30|
|134||Sat||6/18/11||San Jose||at||Kansas City||8:30||7:30|
|136||Sat||6/18/11||DC United||at||Salt Lake||9:00||7:00|
|147||Sat||6/25/11||Los Angeles||at||San Jose||10:30||7:30|
|155||Sat||7/2/11||New York||at||San Jose||10:30||7:30||ESPN2|
|158||Mon||7/4/11||N. England||at||Salt Lake||8:30||6:30||ESPN2|
|163||Wed||7/6/11||San Jose||at||Chivas USA||10:30||7:30|
|164||Sat||7/9/11||Chivas USA||at||Kansas City||7:30||6:30||Galavision|
|165||Sat||7/9/11||DC United||at||New York||7:30||7:30|
|179||Sat||7/16/11||New York||at||Chivas USA||10:30||7:30||Galavision|
|180||Wed||7/20/11||N. England||at||DC United||7:30||7:30|
|189||Sat||7/23/11||San Jose||at||Salt Lake||10:00||8:00|
|Wed||7/27/11||All-Star Game at New York||8:30||8:30||ESPN|
|195||Sat||7/30/11||N. England||at||Kansas City||8:30||7:30|
|197||Sat||7/30/11||DC United||at||San Jose||10:30||7:30|
|200||Wed||8/3/11||San Jose||at||N. England||7:30||7:30|
|201||Wed||8/3/11||Salt Lake||at||Kansas City||8:30||7:30|
|205||Sat||8/6/11||Chivas USA||at||N. England||7:30||7:30|
|209||Sat||8/6/11||New York||at||Salt Lake||9:00||7:00|
|219||Sat||8/13/11||Los Angeles||at||Kansas City||8:30||7:30|
|226||Sat||8/20/11||New York||at||N. England||7:30||7:30|
|231||Sat||8/20/11||San Jose||at||Los Angeles||10:30||7:30|
|233||Sun||8/21/11||DC United||at||Kansas City||7:00||6:00||Galavision|
|241||Sat||8/27/11||Salt Lake||at||Chivas USA||10:30||7:30|
|242||Sun||8/28/11||Los Angeles||at||New York||7:00||7:00||ESPN2|
|250||Sat||9/10/11||DC United||at||Chivas USA||10:30||7:30|
|260||Sat||9/17/11||Kansas City||at||Salt Lake||9:00||7:00|
|263||Wed||9/21/11||Chivas USA||at||DC United||7:30||7:30|
|264||Wed||9/21/11||Salt Lake||at||New York||7:30||7:30|
|268||Sat||9/24/11||Salt Lake||at||DC United||7:30||7:30|
|282||Sat||10/1/11||Salt Lake||at||Los Angeles||10:30||7:30|
|283||Sat||10/1/11||Kansas City||at||San Jose||10:30||7:30|
|291||Sat||10/15/11||New York||at||Kansas City||4:00||3:00||Telefutura|
|297||Sun||10/16/11||Chivas USA||at||Los Angeles||9:00||6:00||ESPN|
|301||Sat||10/22/11||Kansas City||at||DC United||7:30||7:30|
This story in Durham’s Independent Weekly is a must-read if you’ve ever wondered what life is really like in the business of minor-league soccer. (Honestly, this paper and its Triangle Offense blog have done great work throughout this whole USL/NASL kerfuffle: actual, you know, reporting.)
Almost anyone who’s ever worked in soccer in this country can recognize the arc of this story: good intentions and optimism are almost invariably followed by poor decision-making based on inexperience, revenues and expenses going in opposite directions, management panicking, staff turnover and the whole thing collapsing, leaving fans and partners feeling burned.
Every single team I have worked for has followed this exact same script.
I probably don’t lead the league in having worked for failed expansion soccer franchises, but I’ve seen this story time and time again. Every single time someone’s going to start a soccer team, they say all the right things, say they’re going to do this and that and the other, and it’s all good for a season (if you’re lucky – I’ve seen management panic when Opening Night didn’t sell out and the stuff hit the fan shortly thereafter) or so before the inevitable decline and collapse.
If you’ve worked in this game in this country for any length of time, you can probably change the names in Neil Morris’ piece to those of owners, GMs and marketing people you’ve worked with (or been yourself, perhaps) and the story still rings true.
Make no mistake about this: this phenomenon is not exclusive to USL, it’s not exclusive to the NASL, it’s not exclusive to indoor soccer or the PDL or (probably) even to soccer. But it’s very much the nature of the beast when it comes to this sport in this country.
The people who run the various leagues quite often have the best of intentions, but they’re dealing with market forces and the reality of human behavior (and, sometimes, a lack of human self-awareness) that make these things almost inevitable. And, yes, some of this goes on at the MLS level as well, but an MLS franchise isn’t going to fold (not anymore) and has enough money to cover up a lot of these issues for a while, or to get a new stadium built that obscures the blemishes for a time. Those teams are quite literally too big to fail.
That’s not the case in the minors, where, by my unofficial count, 80 of the 123 teams that have played at the Division II and/or Division III level since 1996 have folded. Fans in the Raleigh-Durham area can be glad theirs isn’t one of them.
Ah, the life of a bigshot sports announcer. Analyst Chet Gole and I were fortunate enough to call a really good high school basketball game last night between Boulder Creek and Deer Valley on AIA365.com. The surroundings were kind of spartan, but we were thrilled to have the opportunity and hopefully will get to do more games together in the future. If you’re so inclined, you can see the game here.
(Thanks to the always-gracious Andy Mead of YCJ Photo for the image.)