A Call for Reform


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Table of Contents

Introduction

ARTICLE I: A Call For Transparency

ARTICLE II: FIFA Bylaws

  • Sub-Article II.I: International Calendar
  • Sub-Article II.II: Solidarity Payments and Training Compensation

ARTICLE III: U.S. Development

  • Sub-Article III.I: Youth Development
  • Sub-Article III.II: Pay to Play
  • Sub-Article III.III: Issues of Coaching Development

ARTICLE IV: USWNT Inequality

ARTICLE V: The Problems of a Closed US Soccer System

  • Sub-Article V.I: The Nature of the Closed League Structure
  • Sub-Article V.II: A Roadblock for Investment
  • Sub-Article V.III: Merit-Based Competition
  • Sub-Article V.IV: What Fans Want
  • Sub-Article V.V: Realities

Introduction

The United States Soccer Federation (USSF) is the governing body of soccer in the USA and its goal is “to make soccer, in all its forms, a preeminent sport in the United States and to continue the development of soccer at all recreational and competitive levels.”

While the federation has had its successes, there are countless issues that many feel need to be addressed. This document is meant to highlight grievances repeatedly brought up about our federation by fans, coaches, players and beyond and establish solid calls for reform.

If this text in its entirety or any Article contained within resonates with you and your experience in the American soccer structure, we ask for you to sign the petition and share the document with the people in your life that are involved with the beautiful game.

Our goal is not to topple the USSF, but to advance the sport we love in the country we love. We want you to join us in creating a voice for the soccer fans, players, and ambassadors of the United States Soccer Federation.

Our next steps are to amplify this platform and make your voice heard.

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ARTICLE I: A Call For Transparency

In a time when FIFA has been shown to be filled with corruption, a call for transparency and publication of pertinent documents should not be put on hold any longer. Since the fall of Chuck Blazer, there have been many question marks surrounding President Gulati, Commissioner Garber and CEO Dan Flynn’s record. To clear the records of those in power, while ensuring the integrity of those employed by the USSF, documents and the financial accounts of those working in the United States Soccer Federation should be published to present our federation as a positive and serious model for the rest of the nations of FIFA, and the international governing body itself, to emulate. The purpose of Article I is not to collapse the structure of American soccer and remove those in power, but rather to create clarity and respect in a time where both attributes are rare.

Transparency within federations remains uncommon in today’s society, but America should not strive to be like them. We must act as activists to push the federation to clear itself of scrutiny, especially when it spearheaded the investigation to remove the ring of corruption in FIFA. The USSF should diligently remove corruption and conflicts of interest from its operations.

Yet, U.S. Soccer exempts from its conflict of interest policy, “any constituent or affiliated member entities of U.S. Soccer,” meaning the executives of the for-profit entities Major League Soccer (MLS) and Soccer United Marketing (SUM), who are involved in soccer governance in America, may write and contribute to the U.S. Soccer bylaws, policies and rules, and vote on proposals. These actions directly affect the profitability of their interests without any checks and balances on these individuals.

These problems, which contribute to the conflicts of interest, are further illuminated by a U.S. Soccer policy which requires that any potential conflict of interest “must be disclosed and approved by the Chief Executive Officer or Board of Directors.” Through this policy Daniel Flynn (CEO and member of Board of Directors at USSF) and Sunil Gulati (President and member of Board of Directors for USSF) assume a position where they must disclose and approve any potential conflict of interest in their own dealings to either Flynn himself or the Board of Directors, on which they sit.

In order to achieve true transparency, a high-level, independent evaluation of U.S. Soccer’s relationship with MLS and SUM must be a priority.

ARTICLE II: FIFA Bylaws

Under Article II, the disparity between FIFA’s bylaws for federations and USSF’s governance will be addressed. Federations hold their play and system to FIFA’s standards. The United States Soccer Federation continues to exempt itself from specific bylaws laid out by the international governing body. This action not only stifles the growth of the United States’ development system but also increases the difficulty for American players to stay competitive within both domestic and international competitions.

Sub-Article II.I: International Calendar

While domestic leagues around the world abide by the FIFA International Calendar, America’s top leagues do not. Most importantly this calendar dictates the international breaks in league play to relieve players, who represent their country in the global game at all levels, of the decision to choose between club and country. USSF refuses to adapt their domestic leagues to this calendar, which presents problems for international players that come to America as well as the USMNT players who must abandon their teams during the season to represent their country. Among the substantial problems, it forces teams to compete during crucial moments of the season without key players.

Although MLS gradually change this practice by scheduling less games during international breaks, this responsibility falls on the country’s governance. USSF must demand league structures abide by FIFA’s calendar to give the best opportunity for our national teams’ successes as well as development for players in domestic leagues.

Sub-Article II.II: Solidarity Payments and Training Compensation

The USSF refuses to enforce the global standards of solidarity mechanism and training compensations to ensure local clubs who develop world class players receive money from their professional contracts.

Formally, FIFA defines it as the “Solidarity Mechanism” under Article 21 of the Regulations on the Status and Transfers of Players. It states:

If a professional is transferred before the expiry of his contract, any club that has contributed to his education and training shall receive a proportion of the compensation paid to his former club.

Article 20 defines Training Compensation as:

Training compensation shall be paid to a player’s training club(s): (1) when a player signs his first contract as a professional, and (2) each time a professional is transferred until the end of the season of his 23rd birthday. The obligation to pay training compensation arises whether the transfer takes place during or at the end of the player’s contract.

DeAndre Yedlin represents a perfect example of the Solidarity Mechanism being ignored in the American system, although many different cases illuminate the disregard. Yedlin’s youth club, Crossfire Premier, filed a grievance with FIFA after being denied a payment for Yedlin’s transfer from the Seattle Sounders to Tottenham Hotspurs. FIFA’s bylaw entitled Crossfire Premier to 5% (or $200,000) of the $4 million transfer fee from Yedlin’s transfer. For a club who required a roster fee for youth players of $600 in 2012/13, the cut calculates to roughly 333 players who could have played one season free for a year.

While solidarity payments and training compensation are necessary international bylaws in the FIFA statutes, MLS and the USSF have chosen to ignore them when they apply to smaller American clubs whereas MLS franchises benefit from them. It directly contributes to the perpetuation of the pay-to-play system that disenfranchises potential players.

Enforcing solidarity payments prompts many additional questions (e.g. Should NCAA players who are drafted, not transferred, have their fees be subject to this rule as well?), but the trickle-down effect of the money currently concentrated at the top of our soccer system would encourage youth development and make it easier for successful academies to grow their programs.

ARTICLE III: U.S. Development

Article III breaks down U.S Development grievances and reforms into three basic elements. The issues discussed in these sub-articles, and countless others that coaches, players and fans have voiced, should be brought to the forefront in discussion of change in USSF’s governance.

Sub-Article III.I: Youth Development

After the 1998 World Cup, the German Men’s National Team rebuilt the country’s youth development system to establish a long term plan of international dominance. Raphael Honigstein detailed this restructuring in his book, Das Reboot. The German Youth Academy rebuild designated a set amount of funding for the youth academy system at all clubs along with elite talent centers across the nation, from high metropolitan areas such as Berlin to the countryside of Bavaria. The rebirth of German soccer arrived to showcase their new model of youth development. It also demonstrates the reasons why the U.S. system struggles to develop homegrown, world class talent from local club academies for the national team. One might argue the status of youth in the national team is stronger than ever, but one must also realize these players come from Germany. Although young players leaving to increase their chances of success and ability is great, it highlights the next issue under Sub-Article III.I.

The second grievance is the issue of compensation of small clubs for the development of youth players. As previously mentioned, U.S. international DeAndre Yedlin transferred from the MLS side Seattle Sounders to the EPL side Tottenham Hotspurs. Before Seattle, Yedlin played for a small, non-professional team called Crossfire Premier. With proper compensation, Yedlin’s former club would earn thousands of dollars and could allow multiple teams to play for free across all levels to further development, local growth, and profits. Tottenham reportedly notified the club and said that all grievances are to be handled with the USSF. Potentially due to the fact that it would preclude a top US division from receiving the total funding, Crossfire Premier’s compensation has largely been dismissed.

Until the smaller clubs are properly respected by the USSF and provided the funding rightfully due to the club after a youth player sale, U.S. player development will continue to suffer largely due to a lack of financial backing.

Sub-Article III.II: Pay to Play

The current standard of families paying fees ($500-1500 a year in some areas, there are stories of families spending over $2000 in one weekend) for their child to have an opportunity to participate in the world’s game constrains the process and outreach of ingraining youth players into the American developmental system. This process restricts many players from low-income backgrounds from advancing beyond recreational leagues in the sport while also making soccer a non-option for families below the poverty line and those earning just enough to provide a decent life for their family.

While the 2015 update of EPI’s Family Budget Calculator claims on average parents of a two-child family in America need $63,741 to provide a secure and modest lifestyle for their family, the average income for an American family in the same year was $56,516 according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. Those facts reveal a large struggle to ensure a good lifestyle for one’s family in America, and the high bills demanded by competitive sports would exacerbated this issue.

Youth sports in America have increasingly adopted a pay-to-play model, and while soccer is not the only sport guilty of the practice, it might be one of the biggest offenders. As youth sports has grown into an over $7 billion industry, parents can expect to pay $30,000 on their child’s sporting career from ages 8 to 18 with the costs of elite teams skyrocketing to over $10,000 a year. Soccer, a game that only requires a ball to play, could and should break this trend in American youth sports.

The U.S. still faces the striking problem of predominantly white, upper-class, suburban players. While no coordinated effort to create these barriers is apparent, the question has become: “What has the federation done to aggressively curb the pay-to-play system that disenfranchises so many potential American soccer players?”

Sub-Article III.III: Issues of Coaching Development

In the United States, an aspiring coach can face many challenges. Much like the issues faced with the “Pay to Play” style of youth soccer, there is also a “Pay to Coach” style. An aspiring coach can enroll in online courses, or “e-learning,” for roughly $50-$150. These online courses only cover the first levels. At this point, they only face financial issues. Upon reaching the later stages, an aspiring coach will need to attend weekend courses.

The courses are incredibly limited, and it is expensive to rise through the ranks. A “B” license costs $3,000, and an “A” license costs $4,000 in comparison to Europe where the top UEFA coaching license, the pro badge, costs €430 in Germany.

Beyond the price of the course itself, some levels of coaching badges may only be taught once a year and the courses could be in any location. If a prospective coach struggles to find the funding to pay for the course, they also must account for the issues of paying for a flight, a hotel room, and missing work.

The issues coaches might face in the U.S. are not faced in Europe. European federations place a higher level of funding and development into their coaching system, which promises a steady flow of new coaches. In America, the federation acts as a gatekeeper to produce coaches that abide by their mentalities. In a constantly changing sport, the development must mirror the change and grow to adapt alongside the game.

Unless the current federation attempts to fix this process, development in the United Stated will remain stagnant. It will result in repeated tactics, stale games, and weak international performances. The federation must change and evolve its outlook on and process of developing coaches, which require reforms.

ARTICLE IV: USWNT Inequality

The USSF’s preeminent national team is undoubtedly the United States Women’s National Team; however, these same women, who played in the 2015 World Cup finals which ranked as the highest rated soccer match in American history (estimated 30 million people watching from the US), are still embroiled in a bitter fight for equal treatment from their employer.

Internationally and domestically, the women’s game is less profitable than the men’s. Germany, the winner of the 2014 men’s World Cup earned $35 million directly from FIFA, but the following year the USWNT only received $2 million. This snapshot into the international soccer economy should not reflect what the USSF’s standards should be. Besides the fact that in 2015 the women’s team gained $5 million from ticket sales while the men lost $1 million on ticket sales, Carli Lloyd aptly explained that, “We win. We’re successful. We should get what we deserve.”

The women’s team’s frustration is understandable when you break down pay differences between the men and women. Men get paid per game whether they win or lose, with a bonus of $17,625 for winning. The women are paid on salary contracts (agreed to in 2005 and 2013) and can earn up to $72,000 with a bonus of $1,350 for winning. In 2016, the men played 19 games giving them each a possibility to win $334,875 in bonuses (they only won 12 of those games – $211,500 of winning bonuses). Conversely, the women played 25 games and won 23, which totaled $31,050 in bonuses. Regardless of the nature of the games played, this consistent structure illuminates the stark inequality in the pay available for the more-dominant women’s team.

Rich Nichols, the attorney who represented the USWNT, explained that the women want to earn the same amount as the men. It means a $5,000 minimum per game, $8,000 for tie, and $17,625 for win.

Also important to note, of the 12 players USSF pays over $1 million, six were women. The top-earning man made $1.4 million compared to $1.2 by the top-earning woman. While it seems to suggest this problem is less severe than the women claim it is, seventy-five percent of the USWNT’s compensation from 2008 to 2015 is directly related to bonuses from winning championships, which means while the men are paid to play, the women are paid to win.

While the women previously negotiated to acquire these contracts, Becky Sauerbrunn explained they “didn’t know how to fight and which ways we could fight (when the agreement was proposed in 2005 and 2013).” Hope Solo’s comment on 60 Minutes was more damning. The goalkeeper said that while she was asking for more pay she brought up the men for comparison. Solo said that in response, U.S. Soccer became agitated and said, “Don’t bring up the men.” Yet it’s hard to not bring up the men, when in 2015 Solo earned $366,000 playing in 23 games while USMNT goalkeeper Tim Howard earned $398,495 playing in only eight games.

Our women have demonstrated their excellence on an international level and deserve to be compensated by their federation accordingly. To do anything other than that is to affirm their claim that they are being treated as second-class citizens.

As President Obama said after the women’s World Cup win, “This team taught all of America’s children that playing like a girl means you’re a badass.” Our soccer world must reaffirm it, and the easiest way to back that statement is to pay them like the badasses they are.

ARTICLE V: The Problems of a Closed US Soccer System

Article V focuses on the closed or open system argument of the United States league structure. The discussion will be directed towards the issues, the economic and competitive effects, and the popular opinion of the closed structure. Article VI is a crucial component to this document and is co-dependent with many of the previously listed Articles.

Sub-Article V.I: The Nature of the Closed League Structure

The American soccer leagues operate in a closed-league structure. This means that, like most other American sports leagues (MLB, NBA, NFL, etc), a static group of teams play every year within one league. In soccer, the first division is MLS, but many other leagues, such as NASL, USL, NPSL, and PDL, have their own sets of franchised or independent teams.

These soccer clubs fight for fans and viewers, which will always define how Americans measure competition. Yet, a closed-system, which will always naturally produce battling leagues, in a country with a wide and deep love for soccer diverts where the competition takes place. In the American system, leagues compete against each other viewers and attendance when that should be the role of the teams. Fans proudly wear MLS, USL, or NASL fandom and see themselves as direct rivals of each other as their leagues compete for investors, stadiums, fans and divisional sanctions.

Instead of establishing a fixed system in which these leagues are set in stone in a divisional position that would be naturally filled out by the growing demand and interest in the sport, USSF turned a blind eye and allowed league-based competition to continue. While the federation reportedly helped mediate business with leagues so that as few clubs fail as possible, they fail to address the source of the problem. USSF continues to accept divisional changes. Clubs and leagues have begun to fail, and USSF, the body in charge of promoting the game in our country, refuses to curb this infighting.

While competition is healthy and good for a sport, we must be sure the dynamics of competition promotes the sport instead of harms it. Two top-flight teams in the same area, say New York, Red Bulls and NYCFC, improves competition because it encourages more fans and creates an intense rivalry. Two leagues vying for a divisional position creates instability for wide swaths of healthy clubs and leads to vacuums of soccer across the country when one of these leagues “wins” while the other folds. It leads to a new iteration of the “Soccer Wars,” which ravaged the sport throughout America in the early 20th century.

Sub-Article V.II: A Roadblock for Investment

Currently, the American soccer landscape is witnessing a healthy and growing amount of investment into its league systems. Even with the possible collapse of NASL this past January, investors pushed teams into USL and MLS. Yet even more striking, the number of wealthy American business and team owners investing in European clubs within open systems. These owners are obviously looking to profit from the highly successful industry—soccer in a global market, but it begs the question of why they would not look first to lower division American sides to try and create a soccer powerhouse here. The reality of the situation is that the path from investment to success in American soccer is held by the gatekeeper of the first division.

A report on promotion and relegation published by Deloitte states: “Promotion and relegation will motivate ownership at all levels—by enabling the ambition of owners further down the pyramid (through promotion), as well as by removing the safety net for owners (through relegation), this will motivate ownership to invest and/or develop their club so as to capitalize on the benefits of promotion or avoid the penalties of relegation.” The closed system discourages new investors from putting their money into establishing a new lower league side in the American system, but it also removes the incentive to invest money into an existing team to improve and possibly move them up the system. All investors in lower divisions must either be complacent with remaining a lower league side or they must be able to pay a $200 million fee (and growing) down the road to move into America’s first division.

Deloitte’s report showed that promotion in America leads to an immense jump in attendance (822% increased attendance for the Seattle Sounders when they bought promotion), which proves a closed system limits the ability of lower league investors to maximize their return through means of increasing their team’s skill level.

Sub-Article V.III: Merit-Based Competition

As mentioned in previous Articles, the American system fails to abide by the standards of the FIFA bylaws, especially the tenants of a merit-based league competition in an open system. The 2008 FIFA Congres granted the United States and Austraila an exemption from this rule, but only under the terms of an eventual move towards promotion and relegation when the system transitioned into a healthy status. The ethos of American capitalism and excellence lends itself to the idea that the strong should profit and succeed while the weak should be forced to change their tactics or die. While this argument can be applied to the finances of clubs and ownership making the right financial decisions, ultimately the goal of a league system should be to promote skill on the field. The closed system fails to reward those clubs who develop the skill of their club.

Sub-Article V.IV: What Fans Want

Many different polls have indicated that fans are in favor of a system of promotion and relegation. FOX Soccer broadcasted this segment, which discussed their poll where fans overwhelmingly said they wanted promotion and relegation. The Deloitte report revealed an 8:1 ratio of fans supportive of promotion and relegation. Of the 1000+ people polled in the report, 88% supported promotion and relegation. This form is a currently open poll to try and gauge interest in promotion and relegation. If you want your voice heard, vote in the survey to make this effort an ongoing and growing process to determine what American fans truly want.

Sub-Article V.V: Realities

It is unreasonable to say that USSF should step in and float any team that is having financial or organizational trouble when the negative aspects of an open system take place. Yet, the federation should work to build a system which offers clubs the best opportunity to live and thrive to their greatest potential. If a club has a great fan base but no desire to move upwards through the divisional structure, like some fans of Detroit City FC want, they should be allowed to continue as a lower division side without having their urban area bought out by the top division. If a team has a great squad but not enough income to carry them in a lower division forever, like the New York Cosmos, the divisional sanctioning should not restrict their opportunity to potentially advance to D1 to help them strengthen a fanbase around the allure of promotion.

Don Garber previously stated that promotion and relegation is the ultimate goal for the country and that it will happen when the country is ready; however, how does he define “ready?” If certain standards must be met (number of clubs per division, on-field skill levels, club financial levels, infrastructure standards, relative divisional parity, etc.), we call on USSF to determine those standards and to become transparent about the necessary American soccer climate for a transition to an open system. If attainable, which many fans think it is, we call on USSF to adopt a timeline to the eventual adoption of an open system.