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It’s the best of times and the worst of times for the “beautiful game.” On the pitch, international soccer is in the midst of a renaissance. The United States– once considered a soccer backwater– is fast becoming an essential part of the world soccer economy. But the sport’s governing body– FIFA– is embroiled in a variety of corruption scandals. We examine America’s evolving role in the global soccer scene.
- Christine Brennan Sports Columnist, USA Today; Commentator, ABC News; also, author of "Best Seat in the House: A Father, A Daughter, A Journey Through Sports" (Scribner)
- Steven Goff Reporter, Washington Post
- Daniel Bloom Co-host, Counter Attack Radio (Sirius XM); Contributor, World Sport-CNN International
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, we're hoping we get a chance to talk about the debt ceiling standoff or the return of professional football. But first, a look at the other football, soccer's global economy and America's evolving roll in it. The Europeans are coming. This Saturday, two of the world's most powerful soccer clubs will meet in suburban Maryland.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBarcelona FC and Manchester United will square off in front of almost a 100,000 fans, a rematch, a champion's league final that drew more worldwide viewers than the Super Bowl. It's a sign of America's expanding role in the global soccer industry. Top European clubs trek across the ocean every summer, drawn by our rapidly expanding fan base and the promise of big paydays. It's a story driven by the global forces of immigration, amateur sports and the proliferation of dedicated cable channels.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining us to discuss it all is Daniel Bloom. He is co-host of Counter Attack Radio on Sirius XM and contributor to World Sports-CNN International. Daniel Bloom joins us in our Washington studio. Thank you for joining us.
MR. DANIEL BLOOMMy pleasure.
NNAMDIJoining us from Argo studios in New York is Steve Goff, sports columnist for the Washington Post. He writes the soccer insider blog on Washingtonpost.com. He's covered DC United since its inaugural season. Steve Goff, thank you for joining us.
MR. STEVEN GOFFThank you, Kojo. Great to be with you.
NNAMDIAnd joining us by telephone is Christine Brennan. She's a sports columnist with USA Today, a commentator on ABC News, also author of "Best Seat in the House: A Father, A Daughter, A Journey Through Sports." Christine, thank you for joining us.
MS. CHRISTINE BRENNANKojo, thank you very much. It's a (unintelligible).
NNAMDIAlways a pleasure, Christine. Christine, this month, it was the women's national soccer team that seemed to capture the American imagination in a way nobody had seen, I guess, since 1999 when they won the world cup. You say it's interesting and instructive to compare the entire spectacle this year to the watershed moment of 1999. Could you explain?
BRENNANThat's right, Kojo. I had the opportunity to cover both '99 and I did -- I was in Europe, so I went over to Germany and caught up with the team and wrote four columns for USA Today on that story, as that unfolded in the last, you know, last few weeks. And what was different to me, in a very positive way, was that '99 seemed to be so much about title nine and this law coming of age and our realization that the nation that we were falling in love, with what we had created.
BRENNANYou almost had to be a little embarrassed to say you were following soccer. And maybe it wasn't soccer, it was nationalism. That -- but whatever that was, it was an -- kind of an awakening in '99. To me, 2011 was all about Abby Womach's header in the Brazil game. It was about the awe-inspiring moment that, whether you are a guy who has a beer in one hand or Doritos's in the other or a soccer mom or a little soccer playing boy or girl, you were just struck by -- oh, my goodness, what a moment. Male or female, it didn't matter.
BRENNANGender didn't matter. It was about a sports moment that captivated the nation and then drove the interests into the semi finals against France and then the finals against Japan. And so I think it's a real positive step that we're talking about sports when we're talking about women's sports. I don't think we've done that a lot in our country. It's nice to talk about something that is awe inspiring and about sports. And, by the way, the athletes happen to be women.
NNAMDIDaniel Bloom, you could say that it's the best of times and the worst of times for worldwide soccer. Later in this conversation, we'll talk about the very dark clouds forming above FIFA, the world governing body of soccer. But it's been a great summer for watching international soccer, hasn't it?
BLOOMIt has. It seems like every summer happens to be better than the last summer. Last summer, I was lucky enough to, you know, observe a game in Baltimore between Internazionale Milano and Manchester City. Now, there's even more top class European clubs gracing our shores. Everton FC was just in Washington, D.C. to face our own DC United. They were victorious three to one. Of course, you mentioned at the top of the show, Manchester United versus Barcelona, this is a rematch of the world's most important soccer match. The champion's league final and we have it as Washington, D.C. area residents in our backyard. It's truly remarkable.
NNAMDIIt doesn't get any better than that. Steve, allow me to make an observation. We've been talking, I guess, since 1994 about the day, somewhere around the corner, when soccer would, quote un-quote, "arrive," when it would be seen on equal footing with other major sports like football or baseball. On the surface, it may not seem like that day has arrived in terms of the sheer number of fans but in the age of on-demand media and the web, I think you might be able to make the argument that soccer actually has become that kind of sport. You just wouldn't know it if you were not a fan. What do you think, Steve?
GOFFAbsolutely. It arrived a few years ago. It's been here and it's going to stay for a long time. You have a professional league that's stable, expanding, drawing crowds that are similar to NHL, NBA, even though, you know, they don't play as many games. You have these summer tours that attract enormous audiences. You have a Latin-American community in this country that watches Mexican league and Mexican national team games in extraordinary numbers, particularly in California, Texas and places like that.
GOFFThe women's world cup is obviously drawn more attention to the women's game. Soccer's here and it's not -- you know, there's a lot of people who follow MLS, but there's an enormous number of people who follow soccer, in general. They'll watch English premier league on Fox soccer channel. They'll watch the champion's league on Fox. So it's not just about MLS, it's not just about the U.S. national team, it's about the global game and the appeal of the global game all over this country.
NNAMDIWe're talking about America and the global soccer industry and inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. What do you think? Are you a local soccer fan? What obstacles exist for soccer in America? Has the sport already become a national past time? You can answer any and all of those questions or ask your own at 800-433-8850 or go to our website kojoshow.org or send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or a tweet @kojoshow.
NNAMDIChristine Brennan, you mentioned the 1999 team as a kind of crowning achievement of title nine. But over the last 12 years, we haven't seen the same kind of interest in women's professional leagues in this country. Why not and could that be about to change?
BRENNANI certainly hope it's about to change. And as Steve and Daniel both cover this sport, much more than I do on a daily basis, a weekly basis...
BRENNAN...I kind of jump in and dive in when these big stories happen. So they're the experts. But I think what we saw is, as many folks will remember, Kojo, after 1999 came, the Olympics of 2000, the U.S. won the silver medal at the Olympics in Sydney and then the league -- a new league started, WUSA in 2001. It went to $100 million in three years and it folded, basically, after the 200 season. Incredible disappointment coming off of that high of 1999. That story was on the cover of Time, People, News Week and Sports Illustrated., Brandi Chastain and her teammates, back in '99.
BRENNANNo other story ever had made those four covers in the same week. That's how big a deal that was. And the league couldn't sustain it. And now there's the WPS, they're getting very, very good attendance figures coming off of the World Cup. Abby Womach's homecoming in Rochester sold out crowds, the biggest crowd ever for the WPS. But it's an East Coast league and it's having really difficult financial times during these -- our economic times, the last couple of years in the country.
BRENNANSo I'm afraid that it's still slow going and one would hope it wouldn't be, but we have not yet, I guess, had an altruistic sense about buying tickets. That moms and dads want their daughters to have role models, but they're not willing to buy the season ticket package so they can go see their daughter's role models play soccer. And I'm also -- last little thought on that as one of the realities for women's soccer, all women's pro sports, the girls are now playing sports on the weekends. So the fan base -- the potential fan base for the women's professional soccer league is actually participating.
BRENNANAnd that, of course is the great success of title nine, the millions of girls and women playing sports. So are the fans who should be filling the stadiums to watch women's pro soccer, are they actually playing soccer and other sports on that same weekend and their moms and dads are taking them to those games, rather than buying season tickets for the WPS?
NNAMDIWell, we've got another way of following it. The more soccer assignments Christine Brennan gets, that's the bigger the sport's becoming in the United States. Christine, thank you so much for joining us.
BRENNANThank you, Kojo. Thanks, guys. Take care.
NNAMDIChristine Brennan is a sports columnist with USA Today and a commentator with ABC News, also author of the book "Best Seat in the House: A Father, A Daughter, A Journey Through Sports." Joining us in studio is Daniel Bloom, he is co-host of Counter Attack Radio on Sirius XM and a contributor to World Sport at CNN International. Joining us from Argo studios in New York is Steve Goff, sports columnist for the Washington Post. He writes the soccer insider blog at Washingtonpost.com and has been covering DC United since its inaugural season.
NNAMDIWe go to the telephones. Here is Ryan in Potomac, Md. Ryan, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
RYANThanks for taking my call. I just wanted to point out a couple things. Like, historically, in this country -- I used to play ball for a long time, for about 12 years. And historically, when Pelé came to play here in this country, when Gilhon Croix (sp?) came to play here in this country and now David Beckham is here playing in this country, all of them had been washed up. Everybody who has ever -- has a big name, as far as football goes, has always been washed up whenever they come to play in this country.
RYANNow, Beckham and everybody, they may have drawn a big crowd just like Pelé did when he played here, but they basically can't compete at the same level as they play over in Europe, when they came here to play, which is the reason why they came here when they did.
NNAMDIYou know who the leading goal scorer in the MLS is right now, Ryan?
RYANYou know, I don't know right now. Because I haven't -- I used to have season tickets to DC United...
NNAMDIWell, that would be Thierry Henry.
RYAN...but I haven't had the past three seasons.
NNAMDIThat would be Thierry Henry who apparently still has quite a bit of game, Daniel Bloom, doesn't he?
BLOOMWell, Europe's top stars may be washed up by their standards, but I have news that they could possibly compete, even in their so-called washed up state here on our shores. Yes, Thierry Henry, one of the modest success stories of these players coming over to the U.S. But Ryan's point is valid. I mean, many of these players who come over are already in their '30s, in the twilight of their careers. But their role, actually, is more valuable, at that point, as really an ambassador of the game.
BLOOMIf David Beckham has the name recognition and the power to get 30, 40, 50, maybe a 1,000 people in the stands, you know, far be it from us to decry him from coming to finish his career over here in our league. I think it helps us and furthermore, the MLS has actually done a pretty good job of producing young talent that we also then produce for the European leagues, such as Clint Dempsey, American favorite who started off on the New England Revolution and now has done great things on Fulham football club in London.
NNAMDISteve Goff, when Barcelona and Manchester United played each other in the champions league final last year, it was a truly global spectacle. More than 300 million people watched the game worldwide. This Saturday, as I mentioned earlier, they'll play each other for the first time since that game in Landover, Md. But you're in New York right now for a big game tonight. Tell us about that.
GOFFYeah, it's the major league all star game, it's at Red bull Arena tonight. It's the MLS All Stars against Manchester United tonight on ESPN2 and you know, it's a different approach to an all star game that we're accustomed to in American sports. You know, it's not an East versus West, American league versus National league. This is a select MLS team against a real team with almost all its best players, ready to play, although they are in preseason. And this is a real competition.
GOFFAnd the MLS team was selected with competition in mind. So this a -- this will be interesting. And then, from here, Manchester United comes to Washington for the Barcelona Friendly on Saturday.
NNAMDIYep, tonight Man. U. versus the major league soccer all stars. Dan, Barcelona and Man. U. aren't the only ones coming stateside. The English club Everton played DC United last weekend at RFK, other clubs are crisscrossing the U.S. that they include Italian powerhouse Juventus and Manchester City from the English Premiere League. Why are these teams here?
BLOOMMoney, quite frankly. There's a large American audience here ready to snap up shirts and all kinds of paraphernalia, of course, put their butts in the seats. That will enrich the coffers of these teams that desperately are looking after new sources of revenue so they continue to pay incredibly high wage bills to the best players in the world.
BLOOMAfter all, great soccer does not come cheap. It is largely an untapped market. I mean, we are -- soccer -- we're a sport-crazy country, but soccer's really only finding its feet kind of in the major sports landscape now, thanks to the efforts of Fox Soccer Channel, thanks to the efforts of ESPN and the proliferation of online availability. I mean, it's absolutely unbelievable. So we're just getting started with the potential of sport in the United States.
NNAMDIManchester United is playing five games in the U.S. I read the club is making $2 million per game. Is this international money playing an important role on these teams, Steve Goff?
GOFFYes, sure. I mean, this is -- I'll take a kind of contrarian look at it. In a way, maybe this is an over tapped market that these teams have come over so often that people just have fatigue from these games and these games don't mean a thing. You see it with the mass substitutions, with a lot of players staying home. You know, it's preseason for these teams and from that standpoint, this is strictly a marketing and business tour by these teams. People go out to see them, they'll watch, they'll pay the money.
GOFFBut I think a lot of people have -- they've gone out. They've seen these games. Now, Manchester United versus Barcelona is something very different. But you saw the other day, DC United played Everton, which is one of the upper tier teams in the Premiere League, they only drew 12,000. They played Iax a couple months ago, the Dutch champion, one of the great teams of Europe and there were only about 10,000 there. So, you know, there's -- these tours work to a degree and they certainly make money for the teams that come over. They improve their visibility and marketing, but I don't know how long they can sustain this.
NNAMDIDoes this money play any role at all in allowing these teams to buy top fighters for the English Premiere League, for instance, Dan?
BLOOMWell, it's a drop in the bucket as far as the individual $2 million here, $3 million here for the individual tour. But the name recognition that they build up really across the world and as much territory as they can, that is what drives the foreign television rights that are doled out to every team, let's say in the Premiere League, and this is reaching hundreds of millions, really approaching billions of dollars from multi-year contracts. So although you may only be catching 2, $3 million -- let's say on a tour of Asia. Asia's one of the most important markets for TV rights and that may end up making you hundreds of millions more than you would've otherwise as we project out into the future.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation on the U.S. and the global soccer industry. If you have already called, stay on the line. We will get to your call. If not, you can call us at 800-433-8850. What do you think? Are you a local soccer fan? You can also go to our website, kojoshow.org. Send us a tweet at kojoshow or email to email@example.com. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWe're talking about the U.S. and the global soccer industry with Steve Goff, sports columnist for "The Washington Post." He's been covering D.C. United since its inaugural season. He joins from Argo Studios in New York City. Joining us in our Washington studio is Daniel Bloom, co-host of Counter Attack Radio on Sirius XM and a contributor to "World Sport" at CNN Internationals. Your calls at 800-433-8850.
NNAMDIBefore I go to the phone, Steve, you mentioned that a lot of these games are completely unimportant, but you say Barcelona and Man U. is different. Every local soccer geek is excited by that prospect. Why is it different?
GOFFWell, because it's Manchester United and Barcelona. It's rematch of the champion's league finals so soon after their game in May at Wembley so this is a little bit special. This is different from, say, Juventus playing last night at -- New York. You know, this is unique. It's going to draw worldwide audience. People want to see it. They're curious about the teams as they prepare for a new season so I think this one definitely stands out.
NNAMDIAnd even though Messi won't be playing, Alex Ferguson of Man U. tends to take these things very seriously, does he not?
GOFFYes, and you've seen the results. They've been playing some MLS teams. They beat Seattle 7-0. Seattle's a good team. They did play with a lighter lineup than they normally would, but that's a pretty impressive score line. Manchester United's taking tonight's game against the MLS All Stars very seriously, you know, there's a lot of pride at stake when Barcelona plays Manchester United.
GOFFYou know, Barcelona's the European champion and they want to show that again this weekend and Man U. wants to prove that, you know, they can play with Barcelona. Even Barcelona will be missing several players such as Messi and some of their other South American based players.
NNAMDICare to comment, Dan?
BLOOMI do, actually, agree that these are just friendly games for the teams that are coming over here to get ready for their new season. But occasionally you do get special moments in these friendlys that are extremely memorable. For example, last year at the MLS All Star game, they faced off against Manchester United, it was the first time that soccer fans around the world got to see Javier "El Chicharito" Hernandez in a Manchester United jersey. He was inserted as a substitute late in the game and ended up scoring his first game -- his first goal ever for Man U.
BLOOMSo if you were in attendance that night, the score didn't really matter. But that's not what you remember. You remember I got a chance to see El Chicharito score his goal in what may end up being an incredibly prolific career and what was just a fabulous, fabulous season.
NNAMDIHe had a great year in the Premiere League.
BLOOMA 23 year-old, it's absurd the things that he pulls off.
NNAMDIOkay. Onto to the telephones. Here is Jay, in Falls Church, Va. Jay, you're on the air. Go ahead, please. Hi, Jay. That was my fault Jay. You are, I think, not on the air. Jay, I think we may have to do a little fixing on the telephones before we get back to you. So if you'd like to contact us for the next few minutes, go to our website, kojoshow.org, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or send us a tweet @kojoshow. Steve, DC United is one of the more important franchises in Major League Soccer with one of the longest records of success. But the last few years have not been kind to DC United fans...
NNAMDI...but things seem to be looking up a little bit this year. They just can't seem to win at home.
GOFFYes, they've raised themselves from poor to mediocre. You know, they're better. They have better players. They have a better coach now with Ben Olson. They've kind of fallen behind the rest of the league in many ways. I mean, not just on the field, but they're one of the few teams without a new or renovated stadium.
GOFFThey're not drawing crowds like they used to. The flagship franchises in this league now are teams like Los Angeles and New York and Seattle. So DC has really slipped and I'm afraid to say it's going to stay that way until they have a new stadium and they can draw a broader audience. And along those lines, they have to improve the team and get back to the playoffs because it's been several years.
NNAMDIWell, earlier this year, I watched the United States men take on Canada in the Gold Cup and took note of one player that seemed to be a game changer on the Canadian side, Dwayne De Rosario.
NNAMDIWe said to ourselves -- that's Brendan Sweeney, our producer and yours truly, why can't DC United get a player like that? Well, and behold.
BLOOMWe've done it. That's right, Dwayne De Rosario acquired from New York Red Bulls. I have to cede the floor to Mr. Goff on this one as a regular reporter of DC United. Dwayne De Rosario, what do you think Steve?
GOFFHe's definitely a difference maker. He's the player they needed to play in the middle of the field. But, you know, he's getting a little older. He's still very influential. And if this team is to make the playoffs, it's going to be on the back of De Rosario.
GOFFThere's a lot of nice complementary players on that team, like Andy Najar and Charlie Davies, Chris Pontius, but De Rosario is the hub of their attack. He's the most important player now in these final couple of months of their regular season. It was -- in my mind, it was an excellent trade. It was a trade they had to make and we'll see how this turns out though the rest of the way.
NNAMDIYes, he's one of the -- he's the kind of player that I think a lot of the fans have been looking for also. Now, you can join the conversation at 800-433-8850. The telephones are functioning again, 800-433-8850. We're talking about the U.S. and the global soccer industry. We got this email from Troy. "Is soccer becoming more popular in all socio-economic/ethnic groups equally or is immigration what's driving popularity?" What do you say, Dan?
BLOOMWell, I can point to at least two groups that have really benefited from kind of soccer infrastructure and the difference in these changes that the emailer's describing. One is kids who grew up in the suburbs of all socio-economic backgrounds. As we know, the suburbs is a much more diverse place really than, you know, a textbook definition would suggest. Suburban leagues have absolutely flourished in the last 20, 30 years. I brought a list in here with me today of local soccer leagues, I mean, National Capital Soccer League, District Sports, Stoddert Soccer, the list is absolutely just endless.
BLOOMSo organization wise, kids in the suburbs have had access to soccer at relatively organized level for 20, 30 years. And then as the emailer mentions, if you drive around or ride your bike around this great city, Washington D.C., take a look at the fields. Any area that you may see with grass probably has four cones set up on it and probably has a game either happening or a game about to happen as soon as the clock hits 5:15, 5:30. It's absolutely amazing to walk around the city at that time and see how many people, dozens, hundreds, possibly thousands are out there after work just playing and it's plain to see, right in our streets.
NNAMDIAnd walking around the city and seeing that is what gives me a great deal of hope for the game growing because that's how most people learn to play, just walking in on a pickup game in the afternoon and being able to play. Not necessarily as organized as it normally is in the suburbs. But here is the other part of Troy's email. "And should the definition of arriving include referring to the game as football?" Not going to happen, Steve Goff, right?
GOFFNo, I mean, soccer's a British term and, you know, not every country in the world uses the word football to describe the sport and that's okay. It's still the same sport, it doesn't matter what we call it. It's gets incredibly annoying when Europeans or the British look down on Americans who follow soccer because they call it soccer. I mean, come on, you know, so, you know, the World Cup final last year was played in Soccer City Stadium, in Johannesburg.
GOFFSo, you know, these are just semantics and I don't think it's necessary. Plus, football is synonymous with the NFL and NCAA football so the last thing you want to do is confuse the two sports.
BLOOMAnd Kojo, if I may...
BLOOM…we're also right there with Australia, by the way. We call it soccer because we also have a game that we refer to as football, just as they have a game that they refer to as football, Aussie rules, and as Steve so pointedly mentioned out, it did start Britain anyway. It was to differentiate between ruby, which Fall League and Football Association, which is still the name of their national -- their body there, the FA. So we did get it from the British and I second his thoughts that it's soccer, football, foot calcio, whatever you want to call it. It's still the beautiful game.
NNAMDIOnto Laurel, in Arlington, Va. Laurel, you're on the air. Go ahead please. Hello, can you hear me? Laurel, if you can hear me, I can't hear you so we're going to work on this one more time.
NNAMDISteve, the All-Star game will be played at the New York Red Bulls brand-new, it's my understanding, beautiful stadium. A lot of local fans feel like RFK Stadium is not only badly in need of repair, but that it might be becoming an obstacle to building up the fan base and improving the quality of the team on the pitch.
GOFFIt's a lovable dump. It has a lot of character, a lot of soul to it, which, you know, frankly new stadiums lack. You know, you see that at FedEx field, we'll see it this weekend. There's some great charm about RFK, but the fact of the matter is the team is losing millions of dollars. They can't continue to play there. They don't have, you know, private boxes. They control only a small percentage of concessions and parking. The place is too big for their purposes and the number of fans they draw. A lot of the seats point the wrong way because originally it was designed for baseball.
GOFFSo there's a lot of issues and, you know, frankly people just don't want to spend their day or evening at RFK Stadium. You know, there is something to be said for beyond the product on the field, the appeal of, you know, of an arena. You see it with baseball, with the Nationals. People -- in my mind there's not a huge interest in the Washington Nationals but, you know, they'll still draw crowds because people want to go out to the ballpark and experience it and try the different foods and things and it's all part of that experience.
GOFFRFK does not offer that experience and its time has come and gone. It's 50 years old. It served its purpose and hopefully the team and the city can work out a new deal at some point.
BLOOMI completely agree with Steve's points. Also, I discovered a secret recently about going to RFK Stadium. Anyone who's driven there knows that there's a labyrinth of parking around there. Nobody knows where to go. The metro lines can be very long. Bicycling to RFK Stadium is the way to go. There are so many bike racks around there. It's the most painless way to get there. if you're a redline rider you bike right to Union Station afterwards and get on afterwards with your bike.
BLOOMBut a note, actually, in praise of DC United, the one thing they do really well and probably better than any other franchise in town, except maybe for the Leones (sounds like) led teams -- or they're getting there is fan appreciation and kind of interaction with the fan groups, the Barra Brava, the Screaming Eagles. These are groups that fully sanctioned by the team and they kind of work hand-in-hand to make sure those flags out, make sure that they have the prime seating and the food options in Lot 8, I have to say, pretty impressive. I had a lobster roll the last time I went to a game.
NNAMDIAnd the tailgating is awesome.
BLOOMThe tailgating is awesome and that's a very important part. We should -- actually shouldn't just overlook and kind of laugh at that. That's a very important part of making soccer work in this country and I think D.C. does a pretty good job in their interactions with the fans.
NNAMDIWhatever happened to the Buzzards Point Stadium idea, Steve?
GOFFIt's still out there. I mean, the team is pursuing this stadium. They're just going about it in a very quiet way. They went public with it in their previous efforts with Poplar Point and Prince George's County and they feel like they kind of got burned when those projects didn't work out for them.
GOFFSo now they're doing things quietly behind the scenes. As far as I know the only site besides maybe the RFK campus is Buzzard Point. It's right near the baseball stadium, it's kind of an industrial area. The National Defense University's there, the Coast Guard Headquarters are there and there's nine acres of land owned by Akridge, ready to be developed.
GOFFI think it would be great for the team and for the city, whether they can pull it off or not, we're not sure. D.C. United's owner, Well Chang, is based in San Francisco. He doesn't have any ownership partners. He needs some minority owners involved and they have to work with the city and with the developer to get this project done. Hopefully it ends up there. Baltimore remains an outside possibility but something has to happen at some point.
NNAMDIIndeed there have been veiled and not so veiled threats that this team could move to another city and Steve just mentioned Baltimore. What are your thoughts on this, Dan?
BLOOMThat terrifies me. I view that as a very real possibility, if for no other reason, than honestly I think the D.C. United will end up in any jurisdiction that wants to build a stadium for them. And I can count the number of jurisdictions that want to build that stadium on no hands. So I don't actually see it happening anytime in the near future, but I view it as an absolutely realistic possibility.
NNAMDIHere is Samuel...
NNAMDIGo ahead, Steven.
GOFFSorry. Yes, I mean, Baltimore is in the picture. DC does not want to move to Baltimore, their fan base is here. But at some point they've got to make a move to pursue a stadium.
NNAMDIIs it correct or -- I think I saw some place that the fan base in the Baltimore-Washington region is the largest and most enthusiastic fan base in the country?
BLOOMWell, I can tell you for sure that they got...
NNAMDIIn terms of TV viewers.
BLOOM...they got -- out of the top five markets for the Women's World Cup final, USA versus Japan, which was the highest soccer program ever watched on ESPN, out of the top five markets, Washington was one, Baltimore was another and Norfolk, Va. was three. So the interest clearly in this area is absolutely high. As I mentioned, the number of people that compete, both in youth and adult leagues, by the way, in this area is probably astronomical compared to other areas in the country. There is something special about this area that has a love affair with the game. I think it has something to do with the international character of the city.
NNAMDIHere's Samuel in Prince George's County, Md. Samuel, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SAMUELHey, Kojo, how you doing? I just want to comment. I love DC United and I think -- I was telling the guy, the one that picked up the phone, that Barcelona is playing Manchester United this Saturday at FedEx Field and I think that's going to help the soccer thing feel a little crazy around here because I play also. I play at the little league over on (unintelligible) stadium there. I play in a tournament called Copatogra (sp?) and I play for high school. So it's like soccer's real big and DC United is the only team we have around here. I hope it stays and keeps soccer going as a major league representation for the area. And I just want everybody to go out to watch Barcelona play (unintelligible) .
NNAMDIJust want to see Barcelona play Man U. Thank you for your call, Samuel. We got this email from Jim, which is a bit long, but I think I should read it. It says, "Having lived in both Europe and the U.S. and having my children play soccer on both continents, I've observed several things. Firstly, youth soccer in the U.S. is extremely dysfunctional. For example, in the Washington, D.C. area there are numerous competing leagues whose teams continuously entice young players to jump ship from one team to another. The emphasis is not always on development. However, essentially they attempt to buy players in their attempt to create a national championship team in some short period of time.
NNAMDISecondly, wealthy and influential parents often affect the direction of management of teams and clubs. This both hinders development and hastens the breakup of teams. Youth soccer in the U.S. is essentially supported by the fact that Americans are the best capitalists in the world. Youth soccer in this area can cost from 2500 to $5,000 per year, often only for six months of training. Playing within a professional European franchise cost our family a whopping 45 euros per year."
NNAMDI"Lastly, there's a serious lack of passion within the U.S. youth soccer programs. Europeans practice like their future income was on the line. U.S. boys often practice and play for other reasons, but certainly not because soccer is a serious career choice." Care to comment on that? First you, Dan.
BLOOMWell, there's a lot of very interesting points contained in that email. Certainly, I have to quarrel with him on the passion side. I think we are passionate about the game just as much so as any other country. The income part is a very interesting point, and you could also apply it to developing countries. I mean, Brazil is the best example. We hear stories of kids playing barefoot in the favela because their future or possibly future earning income depends on their skills on the soccer field.
BLOOMWell, I'm not sure that I'm willing to say it's a bad thing that American boys and girls are out there, you know, not just playing for their food. I am happy that there's a recreational aspect to it and that there's a community building aspect to it. I think there's one also difference between the way that Europeans and Americans train. American kids generally are out there on the full-size field playing 11 on 11 soccer, possibly before they should be. Many teams in Europe and many programs such as IAX Barcelona, the really famous training academies, they have the kids playing in five a side, six a side, really learning about the angles and how to work with your teammates.
BLOOMSo it's not just about the passion and kind of playing for your food. It's also about, let's make sure these kids have the foot skills that they need first, then we develop, you know, the fitness and the physical part as their bodies develop as well.
NNAMDIBut, Steve Goff, one of the other things our emailer talked about was the cost of playing organized soccer in the U.S. relative to doing it in Europe. Is that, in your view, a factor?
GOFFYeah, there's an issue of paying to play and, you know, that turns off a lot of families that can't afford to do that. One thing you are starting to see change a little bit is with major league soccer and their youth academies. I think this is going to be a big deal over the years and that young players are joining these MLS systems. And you're going to see players developed within the team systems and eventually earn professional contracts.
GOFFYou know, there's different ways you can go about acquiring players in major league soccer for instance. And, you know, you can go out and sign players and make trades. But also you can develop your own talent and you can -- you're seeing that with DC United now with Bill Hamid and Andy Najar and some of their other developmental players who have signed. It doesn't mean they've been strictly developed by the MLS Club, but that's the trend we're starting to see. And then the team will have the exclusive rights to these players. So I think that's a step in the right direction, but, yes, the writer brings up a lot of issues. And it's certainly not perfect in this country.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation on the U.S. and the global soccer industry and take your calls at 800-433-8850. If the lines are busy you can go to our website kojoshow.org. Join the soccer conversation there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our soccer conversation. We're talking about the global soccer industry and the role of the U.S. in it with Daniel Bloom, co-host of Counter Attack Radio on Sirius XM and the contributor to "World Sport" at CNN International. Steve Goff is sports columnist for the Washington Post. He's been covering DC United since its inaugural season. He writes the soccer insider blog on washingtonpost.com. Back directly to the telephones with Jay in Falls Church, Va. Jay, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JAYHi, Kojo. My question is if you look back at some of the international teams, some of the top ones like Germany, and how their professional leagues were built and how they built their formations, a lot of the teams, I think, almost came down to the association. They would say, we're going to play a four-four-two or we are going to play a four-four-three, as far as a formation, and that allowed the players to get into the national team and be less like tactically naïve. So my question is, you know, for the U.S., it seems to me that we just don't have that. And I'll take your question off the air.
GOFFYeah, I mean, there's a vertical integration I guess you could call it in terms of youth development and the rise into your club and into your national team. We're more diverse I guess with our ideas and the way we play here. It's still an evolving process. I think you do see it with the clubs starting to take form in the sense that, as I said before about these youth academies, you know, the kids that come in to a youth academy and eventually sign with a team understand the way the team wants to play. And you see that with, like, IAX. A young player in the IAX academy knows exactly how the club wants to play when he reaches the level -- the professional level. So, yeah, that's a fair point.
GOFFYou know, but national teams, it's a little bit different because you're taking players from different places. You know, Brazil's National team is made up of players from all over Europe and as well as in Brazil. So they're all coming from different styles as well. You know, it's hard to get everyone on the same page, obviously.
BLOOMI think that Steve brings up a really important point about the academies that are being sprung up kind of around this country generally led by the MLS teams. DC United has one. He mentioned Andy Najar, who's a homegrown player, who cost the team nothing in a transfer fee, let's say, and is able to kind of reap the benefits of that soccer education that they've given him. So if more players can find their way into these academies and then filter up through the MLS system, I think it may kind of end up helping the national team as a result.
BLOOMPerfect example is Juan Agudelo, the newest kind of star for the U.S. National Team who made his debut in the Confederations Cup in South Africa, I believe, a year before the World Cup and has been scoring goals left and right. This is an 18-year-old guy who comes out of the New York Red Bull's system. Now, these are the kinds of players we need to be hearing more about kind of if the future of the United States soccer, you know, setup is going to be bright.
NNAMDIHere is Alex in Washington, D.C. Alex, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ALEXYeah, I'm wondering what y'all think about the idea of a salary cap in European football teams. There's a limited amount of teams every year that compete for, you know, an English (word?) title or a champion's league title. And I'm wondering if that's because those teams have all the money, kind of shutting out the rest of, you know, the smaller squads from Portugal, the French teams, so on and so forth.
NNAMDII hear two objections from Barcelona and from Manchester United, but go ahead --
NNAMDI-- go ahead, please.
BLOOMWell, Alex is absolutely right. I mean, it's important in every aspect of life, soccer included, to follow the money. And the good players go where they can get paid the most money and that generally tends to be the most successful teams. Now, there is an effort under way to try and level the playing field undertaken by a former great, great player named Michel Platini, a Frenchman who is now heading up UEFA, the European football kind of association. And his plan is financial fair play.
BLOOMSo, you know, making sure that the best teams in the world who are going to be competing in these European competitions that they are spending relatively the amount of money that they're going to be able to bring in. Now, the question is, will these teams be clever enough to find creative accounting ways to get around these financial fair play rules and will they have any teeth. Will it mean anything? Teams like Manchester City are already hard at work trying to figure out how to bring those wages somehow onto a part of the books that don't appear to be in violation of the financial fair play rules.
BLOOMBut it remains to be seen because they're not enacted yet. I think, like the healthcare reform law in this country, it has a couple of years to kind of seed in before it actually starts to bear any teeth.
NNAMDII know, Steve...
GOFFYeah, and it's important.
NNAMDI...some people think (unintelligible) and media magnets are ruining European soccer.
GOFFYeah, I mean, I think it's welcome because right now there's only a few teams in England that can -- are capable of winning a championship. You see the same thing in a lot of the other major leagues. The league that's really refreshing to me is the Bundesliga in Germany, the way it's structured. And I don't know the exact details, but you see different champions. You see teams come out of nowhere to win something and teams relegated into the second division. So the Bundesliga has really become, I think, the model for what we want to see everywhere in Europe in terms of balance, parity and, you know, unique seasons.
NNAMDIAlex, thank you very much for your call. Dan, I mentioned earlier, some of the black clouds on the horizon for soccer's governing body FIFA. This year FIFA president Sepp Blatter won another term in a lopsided vote by the sport's governing body. But the team has a number of corruption scandals swirling around it. First and foremost, there have been nasty accusations about the two countries that won the right to host the World Cup in 2018 and '22, Russia and Qatar.
BLOOMWell, the Qatar 2022 selection raised a lot of eyebrows for no small reason because it's the summertime when the World Cup is played. And the average temperature in Doha I believe is somewhere north of 115 degrees at the time when the tournament would be taking place. So they have new plans involved to have indoor stadiums. There have been some frankly cockamamie schemes about splitting the game into three parts so the players will have a chance to cool down in between. It's pretty wild.
BLOOMAnd it remains to be seen whether this will stand up because the head of the Qatari bed, Mohamed bin Hammam, who was challenging Sepp Blatter for the presidency of FIFA in total...
NNAMDIAnd we get to the bribery and corruption story involved...
BLOOMSorry to get ahead of you.
NNAMDI...involved in the vote for president. Go ahead.
BLOOMThat's right. Well, the two are, to me, deeply interrelated. Because if we're talking about Qatar winning an upset bid to host the 2022 World Cup, you have to then ask questions, well, there's another man, bin Hammam, of course, who was involved with Jack Warner, a man who you spoke about prior to the show.
NNAMDIYes. Jack Warner is a man from Trinidad who was the head of CONCACAF, the federation that features the U.S. And he was accused of both apparently accepting and soliciting bribes on behalf of the aforementioned gentleman from Qatar.
BLOOMAnd another reason this is so interesting to me is here we are we sit in the United States of America, a relatively unimportant country in the global politics of soccer. But it was our own representative Chuck Blazer who is also a member of the FIFA executive committee, the most powerful board in world soccer, who turned in proof on Jack Warner and the members of the Caribbean Football Associations from taking bribe from bin Hammam. So bin Hammam has been thrown out, Warner has resigned and now there's to be an inquest about these meetings where potentially cash was handed over. It is a very dark cloud over the whole governing body and all of the good governance ideas that we hope, you know, for.
NNAMDIYeah, but if there's a shadow therefore over the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, can that shadow become a sledgehammer and crush those games in Qatar?
BLOOMWell, it's going to matter very much who is asking the questions, how hard they want to pursue this. Generally issues within FIFA have been handled "in the family" which means that basically nothing happens and it's all behind closed doors. And they're not a government body who's really beholden to anyone. They kind of make their own rules. So basically...
BLOOMYeah, let's let Steve Goff...
NNAMDISteve Goff, what's your take on this? What have we gotten ourselves into here with this game?
GOFFWell, there's been a lot of allegations and, you know, there was one alleged key witness who is turning on Qatar and she recanted everything and was proved to be a liar. So, you know, I would be shocked if Qatar is -- if Qatar's World Cup is removed. I think they're going to host it. Unless something stunning comes along I think this is a done deal. They're going to find a way to host this tournament. They have the money and they're going to a new part of the world for the World Cup.
GOFFYou know, the heat will be an issue, but it's been pretty hot in the U.S. this summer, too. So, you know, I mean, almost anywhere you go except northern Europe, you're going to have issues with this. Or, you know, South Africa was beautiful last summer because it was winter there. So, you know, Qatar wants to air-condition these stadiums. They're going to try some different things and it's 11 years until this World Cup takes place. So who knows what the technology's going to be like over the next decade?
BLOOMI'll still go to Qatar.
NNAMDIWell, Dan, the women's World Cup has become a global event and women's participation in soccer has become an ongoing theme within FIFA. But they've been dealing with a variety of scandals on the women's side of things. Earlier this year FIFA barred the Iranian national team from participating in an Olympic qualifier because the members of the team were wearing headdresses. What's up with that?
BLOOMThis was a really bad idea for many, many reasons. First and foremost, I mean, it's just so culturally insensitive for a global body that's trying to be inclusive and trying to pitch themselves basically as, you know, the kind of global good guys who are connecting cultures around the world, which in some ways they really are. I mean, in very real ways. This is one reason I love this sport so much.
BLOOMBut when they go and make a mistake like this where they just fail to understand the realities of these women's lives, that they must remain in these headscarves to remain loyal to what they believe to be right, and they love the beautiful game and had to struggle so hard to get on the field in the first place. How about having a woman or two in the debate about what's going to happen to this team before you bar them from competition? I mean, it just seems like a no-brainer, but this is sometimes the way that FIFA works.
NNAMDIIt's who FIFA is. And I'd like to get one more call and that would be from Enrico in Bethesda, Md. Enrico, go ahead, please.
ENRICOYes, hi, Kojo. This is a great topic and I just want to say thank you to your guests for covering this sport. There are a lot of sports analysts that don't do a very good job of it 'cause they don't understand the sport, but your guests are fantastic. I wanted to touch on the issue of the national team, the U.S. National Team...
NNAMDIYou got 30 seconds.
ENRICO...and just the fact that they often have to play a visitor game at home and is that something that's going to continue or will the soccer base in the U.S. grow enough to where there will be home games for the U.S. National Team?
GOFFWell, we live in a very diverse country and people have their loyalties. You know, someone who lives in the U.S. with family ties to Mexico is going to probably stay a Mexican fan. It's just like, you know, if you're a Red Sox fan and you move to Chicago, you're not going to give up your connection to the Red Sox. I mean, you're dealing with nationalities here but I think there are parallels to that. So...
NNAMDISo wherever we play Mexico, Mexico's the home team.
GOFFAbsolutely and that's not going to change. You would like to see better U.S. support for teams that don’t have the fan base in the U.S. (unintelligible) ...
NNAMDII'm afraid that's all the time we have, Steve.
NNAMDISteve Goff is a sports columnist for the Washington Post who has the soccer insider blog on washingtonpost.com. Steve, thank you for joining us.
GOFFThank you very much.
NNAMDIDaniel Bloom is co-host of Counter Attack Radio on Sirius XM and a contributor to "World Sport" at CNN international. Thank you.
BLOOMI enjoyed it. Thank you.
NNAMDIThank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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