by Beau Dure @duresport,
State soccer associations are the backbone of U.S. Soccer, tasked with growing the game at the grassroots. Other USSF entities, from organizations focused on elite youth players to the pro leagues, rely on that grassroots work to develop the next generation of players, coaches, referees and even supporters.
So when states speak up to say they feel alienated within the federation, it’s something to take seriously. The question is how to address that alienation without alienating everyone else from sponsors to supporters. And, not least, national team athletes.
That’s the fault line that’s been exposed in Carlos Cordeiro’s effort to reclaim the USSF presidency from Cindy Parlow Cone. And while the settlement of the women’s national team’s lawsuit has given Cone and current federation leadership a much-needed PR boost, it might not win over any state associations that have firmly lined up in the Cordeiro camp.
And if you’re wondering whether Cone’s supporters (elite players, business partners, media) or Cordeiro’s supporters (state associations) are out of touch, the answer is both. And neither. People outside U.S. Soccer have never understood that the federation’s role is much greater than hiring coaches and 46 players to win the men’s and women’s World Cups. People inside U.S. Soccer don’t realize the PR and legal quagmires that Cordeiro created or exacerbated that may have cost the federation, tangibly and intangibly, tens of millions of dollars.
Most state association leaders have the common sense to avoid the PR nightmare of directly criticizing the U.S. women's national team settlement -- pending the not-insubstantial task of completing a CBA. But from the perspective of a state association, is that settlement a long-overdue statement for equality or just $24 million that will be going not to scholarships or facilities but into the pockets of those who had each claimed more than $470,000 in the fiscal year ending March 2020 and more than $250,000 the next year, the latter of which included a long idle period due to COVID?
Cone’s supporters can counter by saying she and her team limited the damage of the players’ suit. For one thing, that money will be paid out over four years. Also, the “legal” line item (paid to non-employees, not the in-house lawyers) on the federation’s 990 forms jumped from a typical $3 million in past years to nearly $19 million in FY 2020 and $9.7 million the next year, and while the federation still faces some lower-profile lawsuits from the NASL and Relevent Sports, that number will surely drop by a few million a year. And finally, Cone and Co., steered the federation through COVID pretty well. (See a year-by-year breakdown if you want to play with the numbers yourself.)
But, state associations may argue, why were the cuts so drastic? The five-year plan enacted pre-Cordeiro called for the federation to spend its assets down from $168 million to $50 million by March 2023, and that final number was ratcheted down to $42 million in the face of the legal bills. The updated March 2023 projection from the Annual General Meeting book: $102 million!
“Higher event revenue from Men’s FIFA World Cup Qualifying, slower return to programming due to COVID-19, and cost saving measures in FY’22 are the major drivers,” the AGM book says.
Getting more specific info than that is more difficult this year thanks to a change in how the AGM book lays out the budget. With a new financial reporting system in place, the budget presentation was far less granular than in the past. The federation held a Q&A via Zoom on Tuesday evening, and members and media asked specific questions about registration figures (flat), the Open Cup (breaking even, though spending and revenue are down a bit from nearly $1.5m pre-COVID) and referee programs.
The last was particularly unsettling for many members. On the surface, the budget in the AGM book was startling -- $2.6m in revenue against $895,000 in expenses, raising the question of why the federation would want to profit on a core development area. Federation staff raised the point that referee training is done in part through web services whose costs are rolled up into other line items, but questions about PRO further muddied the waters.
Granted, it’s often difficult to parse out numbers and neatly assign them to one entity or another. The men are projected to lose $13.6m in FY2023. The women are slated to lose $10.7m, and youth national teams are expected to lose a total of $14.3m. That alone accounts for the federation’s overall projected loss of $30.6m, not including the WNT settlement and any pay raises that may come out of new collective bargaining agreements. On the other hand, you could attribute a lot of the $60m-plus in sponsor and commercial income to the national teams. On the other other hand, you could attribute a lot of the Sport Development and Sport Performance spending to the national teams.
In any case, the state associations have plenty of valid concerns. But they’ve made one crucial error: Instead of reaching out to someone, anyone, who could have lent their concerns a fresh ear without disrupting the federation’s goodwill with the public and sponsors, they chose Cordeiro.
Make no mistake -- sponsors and supporters are where the federation makes the money to fund anything else. If they’re not on board, everything could end up on the chopping block.
The states have made a case to have their concerns raised to a higher priority. They have not made the case for Carlos Cordeiro.