Cosmos owner Rocco B. Commisso says he will invest $250 million of his own money into a new professional soccer league. (FrontRowSoccer.com Photo)
By Michael Lewis
Cosmos chairman Rocco B. Commisso wants to make a major investment to grow and develop indepedent professional soccer in the United States. In exchange, the U.S. Soccer Federation would agree to protect his investment via a 10-year compliance plan and strengthening its internal governing standards.
The U.S. Soccer Federation has opened the door to discuss that matter.
Whether the two parties can mesh out a deal, is another situation entirely.
In an April 13 letter to USSF president Carlos Cordeiro, Commisso revealed that he has developed plans to raise $500 million “to allow new as well as select existing clubs to effectively compete at the highest level of American professional soccer.”
Commisso wrote that he personally would commit $250 million as the lead investor.
On April 19, Cordeiro responded that he was out of the country trying to promote the United States’ bid with Mexico and Canada to host the 2026 World Cup to other confederations.
“We welcome the opportunity to re-open a dialogue and to determine whether there is a mutually agreeable path forward that does not involve a multiplicity of legal proceedings,” Cordeiro wrote in his letter.
In his letter, Commisso outlined his plans.
“If the USSF is willing to work with us as outlined below, my expectation is that we could also complete subsequentrounds of financing that could see the initial funding amount double,” he said.
“This new investment would produce enormous benefits for U.S. soccer at many levels,” Commisso continued. “In addition, if USSF’s contract with Soccer United Marketing were ended, I would be willing to buy, directly or through a consortium, the same rights for a higher price than SUM currently pays USSF, providing extra money that could be used to support youth, amateur and women’s professional soccer.
“The main obstacle to achieving these benefits is a hard lesson that I have learned from my experience as a new NASL owner—as long as USSF remains joined at the hip with MLS, if MLS perceived this new investment as creating a competitive threat, those of us providing the funding would face the risk that USSF would deny or withdraw the sanctioning needed for the clubs we finance to be taken seriously by players, fans, sponsors, and investors.”
Last year USSF rescinded Division Two sanctioning of the North American Soccer League, of which the Cosmos are a member. The NASL is on hiatus for 2018 and has filed an anti-trust lawsuit against the federation.
“Naturally, neither I nor other potential investors can prudently move forward without written assurances that [the] USSF will give us a sufficiently long runway to allow this new initiative to have a realistic chance to succeed,” Commisso wrote. “We are not seeking, however, anything different in substance from the kinds of support given by USSF to MLS during its formative years.”
Commisso said he would need at least six assurances from the federation:
* The end of the conflicts arising from the USSF’s relationship with Major League Soccer and SUM, MLS’s. “At a minimum, there needs to be a strong conflict of interest policy that will allow the existing conflicts to be properly managed,” he wrote.
* Equal representation and voting power on the USSF’s board for each professional league.
* Rules that focus on club poaching strategies used by MLS and the United Soccer “to destabilize competing leagues to insure that all of the leagues are on an equal footing and none has an unfair advantage over any of the others,” he wrote.
* Denying federation board members with ties to professional leagues governed by USSF and/or USSF’s business partners from playing any role in the selection of board director of Athlete Council members. Commisso used MLS commissioner Don Garber as an example.
* Having an open and competitive bidding process for the licensing of the U.S. men’s and women’s national teams rights, which are held by SUM.
* The adoption of a promotion and relegation system by 2020.
“I stand ready and willing to put capital behind an attainable plan to finally make soccer one of America’s preeminent sports,” Commisso wrote. “My sincere hope is that this letter jump starts a productive conversation about how we can achieve that goal by working together.”
In his letter, Cordeiro stated that he would like to see a written proposal “of this initiative/proposal or, at a minimum, a detailed and transparent outline.”
“Although we disagree with several of the statements in your letter, U.S. Soccer nevertheless appreciates your offer to meet, and we look forward to receiving the information requested,” Cordeiro added.
To which Commisso responded on April 23:
“It is our opinion that USSF, at least during [former president] Sunil Gulati’s administration, has been too closely intertwined with MLS/SUM and has behaved discriminatorily and unfairly toward the NASL and its teams. Accordingly, there is reluctance on our part to share detailed information about our plans and proposals with USSF at this juncture. We doubt that MLS/SUM has ever been required to share the detail of their budgets or expansion or other strategic plans with USSF leadership. Instead, the purpose of the first meeting should be to determine if we can re-establish a sufficient level of trust and goodwill to allow us to move forward in good faith to pursue this potential opportunity.
“In its early years of MLS, USSF allowed the league to harness the financial resources of wealthy individuals like Phil Anschutz, Lamar Hunt and Robert Kraft. All I am asking is that USSF afford me the same opportunity to help my league grow.”
USSF general secretary Dan Flynn, in an April 29 letter, said that he had been delegated along with a board member or members to meet with Commisso. Flynn asked the Cosmos owner to outline his proposal “to make the meeting more productive.”
“If you are concerned with maintaining confidentiality of your proposal, as suggested in your letter, we are willing to discuss your concerns and would invite you to propose a solution, such as, for example, the path you suggested in the footnote of your April 13 letter,” Flynn wrote.
“Finally, while we are prepared to have this conversation in the spirit of reopening the dialogue, we are prepared to do so without pressures of artificial deadlines or suggestions of going to the media.”
To be continued, for sure.