Finding a book that covers the business of soccer is a little like finding ?The Amish Guide to Electronics?. Not many writers understand both aspects of the subject. We need a person who understands business and soccer.
Beau Dure does a pretty good job of grasping the game and the business in ?Long Range Goals: The Success Story of Major League Soccer?.
He takes off from the earliest days of the league, giving a season-by-season recap. For the playoffs, he provides coverage game by game. The coverage almost seems too much until the author gets to the conclusions of where the league is, where it wants to go, and how it?s going to get there.
For 224 pages, he delivers the facts. Then he analyzes them and offers his opinions on how to improve the league. Fixing the playoffs and giving the players better compensation are high on his list.
Early in those 224 pages we find out how close American soccer fans were to getting the minor league USISL as the country?s major league or possibly getting Jim Paglia?s League One America, which offered a game resembling soccer as much as Wiffle Ball resembles baseball.
Fortunately the U.S. Soccer Federation anointed MLS, the league with the business plan that encouraged teams to build their own stadiums and the league with the business minds that planned to purchase rights for everything soccer related in the U.S. Both those ideas were delayed, but, as Dure explains, they later saved MLS.
In 2001 owners quit investing in failing teams and put their money into Soccer United Marketing, the league?s savior. That story alone is worth a book, as is the intrusion of the NFL Players Association filing suit against the league on behalf of the MLS players. Dure tells that tale more comprehensively than any other source and explains the potential impact. Simply, the league likely would have folded if the players had won the suit.
Winners in that suit, the team owners, were finding that putting together good teams often required losing more money followed by losing good players.
The disappointment in his book and in every other book about MLS is that Dure does not say whether MLS is a profitable investment. The finances are not as bad as they used to be, and potential investors now call MLS instead of the reverse. But is MLS like the NHL in terms of the Greater Fool Theory? Is a person who owns a team really going to see the value of the team grow or are they just hoping someday to find somebody else who thinks the value of the team will grow?
As for egos, Dure spends two paragraphs shooting bullets at Giorgia Chinaglia, the man who killed the NASL and periodically returns to the U.S. as carpet-bagging Euro ass. Dure was too kind to the man who has hurt American soccer more than Soccer America?s Paul Gardner.
Then there are the egos who used their power for less evil and even some good. This book outlines how the Glazer family said no to MLS but yes to buying into Manchester United. And it explains who owned what in 2002. Philip Anschutz controlled the franchises in L.A., D.C., Chicago, Colorado, New York, and San Jose. At the same time Lamar Hunt had Dallas, Columbus and Kansas City. The Kraft family owned the New England Revolution.
These men and other business players of MLS are quoted extensively in the book, giving information that has not been provided by any other source. They talk about the league?s founding days and the bleak years of declining attendance and falling revenue.
Perhaps the best statement comes from Dure himself, though. ?This league has history,? he concludes. He goes on to summarize that today the league is not on the operating table any longer struggling to stay alive.
This means that fans of soccer in the U.S. can focus more on the game and less on the business.
Jamie Clary is a contributing writer for The Yanks Are Coming and author of The First American Soccer Trivia Book. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can follow him on Twitter at @soccerprofessor.