The U.S. Open Cup, women’s soccer and “data points”

U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati is an economist by trade — which is good, because if you see the financial documents linked later on, you’ll remember that he doesn’t get paid for his role with the federation. (Perhaps it’s a little unfair that the person making the big bucks, CEO Dan Flynn, rarely has to face the media while we pester Gulati all the time. But I digress.)

So when we pestered Gulati before Sunday’s USA-China women’s game, he made one telling statement: “I’ve been doing this too long to get too up or down by individual data points.”

Whether you agree with everything Gulati does or not, this statement is one thing that separates his thought processes from most of us who yap about soccer on the Internet. We in the virtual soccer community can “prove” lots of things from single data points:

  • Hey, it’s 50 degrees in Chicago today! That proves MLS can play through the winter!
  • The Rochester Rhinos won the Open Cup! That proves the A-League is better than MLS!
  • We sold a lot of tickets for one exhibition game between Manchester United and Real Madrid! That proves that if MLS teams simply spent themselves silly, we’d have crowds like this every game!
  • The WPS games immediately after the World Cup drew huge crowds! That proves WPS has made it!
  • The U.S. men won in Italy! Why aren’t we ranked in the top 10?

In the long run, it’s a good thing the powers that be don’t make decisions based on isolated data points. They might see a few hundred people gathered for one of last spring’s WPS games and figure women’s soccer is dead. They might see empty seats in MLS cities — even in places like Toronto where the seats are apparently sold but not occupied — and figure MLS is struggling. They might notice that ratings trumpeted as big numbers for European broadcasts are in the same ballpark as the numbers that have fans of The Ultimate Fighter on edge.

Let’s look at a couple of data points and see how the situation is a little more complicated than it appears:

Women’s soccer: I didn’t expect so many people to panic upon seeing my tweet that Abby Wambach thinks Dan Borislow will be involved in whatever iteration of professional women’s soccer exists in the future. That’s one person’s offhand statement, and it may say as much about the respect Wambach has for Borislow as it does about anything else.

I did run Gulati’s comments about the women’s game (see my brief summary, Jeff Kassouf’s full transcript and Jonathan Tannenwald’s analysis) past Borislow. The magicJack owner wasn’t impressed. He said he reached out to U.S. Soccer for help at various times. And he offered this: “To say that their support with dollars wouldn’t help is asinine.He also had the ability to dictate policy and rules that could have saved the WPS in combination with funding. ”

How much could U.S. Soccer help? We can get part of the picture by browsing their financial statements, which they post on their site.

A few interesting factoids to show compensation for men and women:

  • Not necessarily related to what we’re talking about here, but let’s see the final word on compensation for former U.S. men’s coach Bob Bradley. His 2010 compensation is listed at $915,647. That includes a base salary of $515,647 and $400,000 in bonus/incentive pay. (2010 990 form, pages 8 and  33)
  • Jurgen Klinsmann, the new U.S. men’s coach, has a base of $2.5 million (FY11 Audited Financial Statements, page 15)
  • U.S. women’s coach Pia Sundhage had a base of $207,667 in 2009. (2009 990 form, pages 8 and 32)
  • A couple of individual U.S. men’s players had base compensation well over $300,000 in their World Cup year of 2010 and just over $150,000 in 2009. That’s higher than the women, but we do not have figures from the World Cup year of 2011, let alone what they’ll make this year when they’re prepping for the Olympics without a pro league. (2010 990 form, page 33 // 2009 990 form, page 32)
  • Spending on men’s and women’s national teams, apparently not including coaching salaries (“Coaching” is a separate line item), is roughly a 3-1 ratio in favor of the men. (FY11 Audited Financial Statements, page 18)

The big numbers are these: In 2011, USSF had revenue (not including investment income) of $66,705,367 and expenses of $64,981,068. Both numbers were way up from 2010, both primarily due to national team revenue and expenses. The 2010 numbers: $42,264,710 revenue, $43,543,007 expenses. (Those numbers all just under $40 million in 2005 and 2006.)

Something to ponder: Nike, that company with a 450,000-square-foot building named after Mia Hamm, contributed more than $10 million of that revenue each year as part of a deal that runs through 2011. (FY11 Audited Financial Statements, page 10)

Revenue from professional registrations, not broken down any further than “professional,” was a little over $1.1 million in 2010 and 2011. That goes to Borislow’s point about sanctioning fees, which Gulati dismissed as insubstantial in the grand scheme of things. (FY11 Audited Financial Statements, page 5)

So where were we?

Gulati said the number frequently given for WUSA expenses was $100 million over three years. Clearly, that’s not something U.S. Soccer could do by itself. (WPS spent significantly less.)

Could U.S. Soccer do “more”? Possibly. Enough to make a difference to keep WPS going at a major level? I’ll let people go in and play with the numbers and see what you can find.

U.S. Open Cup: In the grand scheme of all these numbers, this is a cheap contest. The 2011 figures: $442,772 revenue, $371,151 expenses (FY11 Audited Financial Statements, page 5). Hey, a profit!  That’s a lot better than it was in 2005, when USSF spent $414,143 for revenue of $182,202 (FY06 Audited Financial Statements, page 5). Ouch!

So the Open Cup is doing a good bit better than it was.

And through the years, lower-division success has been hit or miss. A lower-division team (Rochester Rhinos, then of the A-League) last won it in 1999. Since then (big years for lower divisions in bold; to head off a correction, let me stipulate that the “records” given are simply which team advanced, not technically “records” — that’s why you don’t see ties):

  • 2000: MLS 16-3 vs. lower divisions. All-MLS from quarterfinals onward.
  • 2001: MLS 14-4 vs. lower divisions. Two A-League teams advanced to quarters by beating other A-League teams.
  • 2002: MLS 8-1 vs. lower divisions. Only eight MLS teams entered.
  • 2003: MLS 10-2 vs. lower divisions. Two MLS teams entered in round of 32; others in round of 16.
  • 2004: MLS 7-4 vs. lower divisions. Round of 16 was huge: A-League teams went 4-2 against MLS teams. Charleston beat Rochester in quarterfinals to put one A-League team in semis.
  • 2005: MLS 7-4 vs. lower divisions. USL’s Minnesota Thunder made semis, beating MLS teams Real Salt Lake (6-4 in ET!), Colorado (4-1!) and Kansas City.
  • 2006: MLS 8-1 vs. lower divisions. But the “1” was big — Dallas Roma was the first USASA team to beat an MLS team.
  • 2007: MLS 5-5 vs. lower divisions. With a new qualification round added, only eight MLS teams played in the Cup proper, entering in the round of 16. Five lost! The USL’s Seattle Sounders and Carolina RailHawks made the semifinals. Seattle wiped out Colorado 5-0 to get there.
  • 2008: MLS 7-5 vs. lower divisions. Same format as 2007, but this time, the lower divisions did their damage in the quarterfinals, with Seattle and Charleston advancing. They were paired up in the semis, giving the lower divisions their first finalist since 1999. Charleston then lost 2-1 to D.C. United.
  • 2009: MLS 8-3 vs. lower divisions. Still only eight MLS teams in Cup, and three lost in round of 16. Rochester won all-USL matchup to reach semis.
  • 2010: MLS 8-1 vs. lower divisions. The only team to beat an MLS side: The ever-pesky Harrisburg City Islands.
  • 2011: MLS 8-1 vs. lower divisions. The winner this time: Richmond Kickers.

So this year, after five years of MLS sending only eight teams to the Cup proper, they sent all 16 U.S.-based teams into the round of 32. And the “bloodbath” so far has been astounding: MLS is 7-7.

What conclusions can we draw from this? Kenn Tomasch rounded up a few:

  • U.S. Open Cup should be televised! Sure, a game or two would be nice. But 16? You think England does that?
  • We need promotion/relegation! Well, that explains why all these people who could easily be playing D2 or D3 soccer have opted to play PDL soccer instead. And does the Michigan Bucks facility, which is surely fantastic for amateurs, look ready for a pro team?
  • How hard could it be to start a league to compete with MLS? Not too hard if you don’t mind sinking hundreds of millions of dollars into it. Go right ahead!
The truth is this — a lot of MLS teams field weaker lineups in the early rounds of the Cup. Some teams take it more seriously than others. That’s pretty much what you see around the world. Given the results of the past few years, the rash of upsets was probably overdue.

So what conclusions can we draw from this isolated data point?

  • A lot of MLS reserves failed to take advantage of a rare opportunity to impress in a meaningful non-reserve game.
  • Even after an exodus to MLS and a brouhaha between the USL and NASL, the lower divisions have signs of life.
  • This is a fun tournament.

And one more: The next round should great.

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4 Responses to The U.S. Open Cup, women’s soccer and “data points”

  1. StarCityFan says:

    US Soccer could run an entire women’s pro team for the cost of Klinsmann’s salary. I wonder – other than WNT player expenses – how much money they’ve actually put into top-level women’s club soccer?

  2. Craigaroo says:

    From a data standpoint that’s why it’s really too bad we don’t have the 2012 WPS season. As one of the more “chirpy” advocates of WPS, I’m well aware of the problems reading too much into the 2011 attendance post-World Cup. On the other hand, many people simply want to dismiss the increase in attendance. But it’s really a case of lack of evidence – evidence we’d like to have and just don’t have, and won’t have.

  3. Greg says:

    StarCityFan, while Klinsmann’s salary could potentially run a team, how would the rest of that league feel about one of their competitors being run by the USSF while they all had to scrape and scrounge to meet their yearly expenses? Overseas there is considerable controversy regarding certain “glamor” teams being bankrolled in part by their local and national governments (and, potentially, in some cases their federations). It would be like a team being run in administration, something that typically gets a club punished in various ways because administration is looked at very negatively for the health of a league. If USSF does get involved financially, I think it would be better served in an logistical sense and for the benefit of all teams in that league. Otherwise, we would just be in for more infighting and controversy. Would that they could bankroll say an entire 8 team league in a top-down manner ala early MLS though…

    Looking at the USSF numbers, it seems to me that they have very little wiggle room. A loss two years ago, and a small profit after a world cup boost are hardly signs of being flush with dollars. I wish we had more numbers based on what the men’s national teams generate and what the women’s national teams generate. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if the revenue gap was larger than the spending gap of 3-1 considering television rights and how much the men bring home from the World Cup and Gold Cup vs what the women may bring him from the World Cup and CONCACAF championship, not to mention merchandise and sponsorships.

    I wish we could get one US Open Cup television broadcast per round. And I’m glad that Beau pointed out the very definitive reasons MLS sides can and do lose early round matches. They are the very same reasons first division sides around the world can and do lose early cup matches.

  4. StarCityFan says:

    I wasn’t suggesting that the USSF actually sponsor a team, just pointing out that they could have paid for 1/6 of WPS for no more than the USMNT head coach’s salary.

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