Red Bank, N.J.
One issue in soccer that has intrigued me is television coverage. Of all the major networks in the country, Capital Cities/ABC is the most committed to soccer. I have been very pleased with their recent soccer coverage, especially World Cup USA '94, U.S. Cups '95 and '96 and MLS Cup '96. In fact, when FIFA received the formal bids for international TV rights for the 2002 and 2006 World Cups, Capital Cities/ABC was the only American network to file a formal bid for such rights. I was also happy to learn that Capital Cities/ABC was able to obtain TV rights for World Cup 1998. Now for the questions...
A) I recently wrote to Capital Cities/ABC praising their soccer coverage, especially MLS Cup '96 and hearing at the end of the game "This has been a presentation of ABC Sports, home of World Cup 1998." I asked if more MLS games will be aired on ABC. I was told that MLS Cup '97 will be the only game on ABC. Is it possible Capital Cities/ABC doubts the success MLS has enjoyed so far as to only air the championship game?
Ridge Mahoney: Keep in mind that MLS is PAYING to have its championship game televised on ABC, to the tune of several hundred thousand dollars. And, the rating for the '96 game was only 1.4; the league had been hoping for about a 2.0.
ABC paid a small rights fee to broadcast four U.S. qualifiers, but if the ratings aren't very good, the network may hesitate to carry forth with soccer after the 1998 World Cup.
MLS success has not yet translated into good TV ratings. Soccer is still not a powerful English-language ratings commodity in the United States.
B) I also read a recent FIFA media release that the bid for international television rights filed by Capital Cities/ABC for the 2002 and 2006 World Cups was rejected by FIFA. I can't believe FIFA doubts Capital Cities/ABC's commitment to soccer. Certainly FIFA was displeased with NBC's small coverage of soccer during the Olympics. Why doesn't FIFA place faith in an American network like ABC to bring the best soccer coverage possible in the USA?
Ridge Mahoney: For a lot of reasons. The primary reason is ABC wasn't willing to pay enough money to tie up lucrative foreign TV rights, which are worth hundreds of millions of dollars. FIFA cut its own deal with the Sporis/Kirch Group that includes long-time FIFA marketing partner ISL. And in terms of actually producing international games, ABC is an infant compared to European companies.
Do you think MLS teams are going to focus more on defense this year? It seems to me that the recent signings of defenders would indicate that they are.
Ridge Mahoney: We said much the same thing in our MLS Preview, and so did Doug Logan. Most of the players to be called away for international duty are attackers, so goalscoring will probably drop somewhat.
Also, they are currently building a new stadium here in Cleveland. Have you heard anything about MLS expanding here?
Ridge Mahoney: No, and I think Cleveland is way down the list. It has no soccer heritage to speak of, has a relatively small Hispanic population, and is not among the top TV markets.
I'm a little confused: we keep talking about how critical it is that the boys on our national team get good solid experience in world class leagues, and yet, Alexi Lalas, who spent time in one of the premier foreign leagues, looks worse than ever. What do you make of this?
Duncan Irving: It is critical that players continue to get exposure in the top leagues abroad. The quality of facilities, training, regularity and standard of play are far superior to anything the U.S. has to offer at this time.
As for Lalas, his time at Padova was mixed: a good start and then the team struggled. In his second season, he was bounced from the club by Christmas.
He'll be the first one to admit to his limitations as a player and you have to ask why, other than for novelty value, an Italian club would need to sign an American defender when they are so capable of producing their own by the truckload.
Lalas' confidence was shot last year. He had an unhappy season at New England and rarely showed signs of his old form. That was reflected in his play for the national team. Sampson has vowed to stick with him while he plays his way out of a bad patch. And, as the U.S. coach is so fond of stating, who else is there?
1. Just in reference to the person who wrote about the 1.4 rating the MLS final received. I feel for a first-time event a 1.4, which amounts to about 1.3 million people not including bars and restaurants that showed the match, is extremely respectable, considering that the NHL ratings are very similar on ESPN.
Ridge Mahoney: But network expenses are three to six times what is incurred by ESPN, so similar ratings equal a financial disaster. CBS drew ratings in the 6.5 range for the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament, and the network will lose money with figures like that. And those games, too, are watched in bars and restaurants.
2. With Nicola Caricola's retirement, the MetroStars now have two foreign spots available, do you feel that Branco from Brazil will be one of the foreigners and do you have any ideas who else the Metros may be looking at?
Ridge Mahoney: No chance for Branco, too expensive. The M's are looking at two players from the Brazilian league, and a Portuguese player, but we haven't heard the names yet. One foreigner slot will be filled by the midfielder Guido.
New York, N.Y
What happened to Dario Brose? Where does he play now? Is he considered a candidate for the national team? He has the talent of Claudio Reyna and yet, nobody hears of him!
Paul Kennedy: Todd, you're right, Dario is a very exciting player.
Since leaving French club St. Brieuc, Brose has been in the German Third Division with Saarbruecken. The money he could make there was better than anything MLS could offer at the time it was looking for players in 1995. Last summer, MLS tried to buy Brose, but Saarbruecken's asking price was too much. MLS did not want to set a precedence and pay a lot of money for a player in the German Oberliga. Many young Americans have gone there through the years.
Brose is in and out of the lineup at Saarbruecken, so look for him to return to the United States to play in MLS eventually.
What's up with this suit that the players are bringing against MLS? I mean, they all should have read the contract. The whole point of signing players to the league was to keep salaries down, and now they're suing? It seems frivolous.
Ridge Mahoney: Oh, no, it may be malicious, but it's not frivolous. John Kerr wants a fight, and the players -- most of whom don't know any better -- are going along with him. The players do want a bit more money, and a bigger share of the merchandising/licensing pie, but they also want the league to bargain in good faith.
This suit will drag on for years, by which time I expect each team to be signing its own players under limits imposed by a salary cap.
Several college basketball conferences (the Pac 10, CAA, and starting next season, the ACC) currently use a remote-controlled timing system so that the referees (not a local clock operator) control the clock. I think the concept of having a public clock (as in the MLS) is a good one (true accountability in close games) -- IF the referee controls the clock. The referees rarely seemed to control the clocks last year. Couldn't MLS use this proven technology to solve this problem? Maybe they could get swatch or Casio to build it and come on board as a MLS sponsor!
Ridge Mahoney: The referees do control the clock; They signal the clock operator to stop and start it. In several cases last year, the referees weren't sure when to stop the clock. MLS has issued timekeeping directives to clear up this confusion.
The problem with a remote control handled by the referee is the device may malfunction in inclement weather; there is no such concern at an indoor event. However, knowing how sponsor-sensitive MLS is, I'm sure they're looking into it.
In the NFL, one of the officials on the field keeps time in case the scoreboard clock malfunctions, but the referee signals for clock starts and stoppages. In MLS, the fourth official is responsible for monitoring the timekeeping procedures.
I am wondering about the draw for France '98. What determines which teams will go in what groups? I know that France and Brazil will automatically be top seeds in two of the groups, but what about the other six? How are the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th seeded teams chosen? Is this done by FIFA ranking?
Duncan Irving: Good question. There has been talk about using the FIFA rankings, but the formulae need time -- say about five years -- to reflect an accurate picture of world soccer.
What they use instead is a rankings system based upon performance at the last four World Cups. France and Brazil will be two of the seeded teams. The next six will join them in the first pot. The next eight in the second tier, the third octet in the third bowl and the last eight in the fourth slot.
Of course, there's lots of finagling: Spain was livid in 1990 that England was given a top seed spot. The Spaniards had a better record, but the Italia `90 organizers wanted to isolate troublesome English fans and gave them the island of Sardinia to play in.
And it's not infallible -- Bulgaria garnered a low ranking in `94 and finished fourth and woe betide the team that draws Nigeria (a third or fourth pot selection) if it qualifies.
1) Now that the Redskins have left RFK will D.C. United be the No. 1 tenant? Will RFK remain the home of D.C. United or will they move to the new Redskins facility too?
Ridge Mahoney: They'll stay at RFK for at least the next few years. Hooray! BUT, D.C. United's May 24 match was moved to May 22, due to a U2 concert at RFK on Memorial Day. Oh, well.
2) Has MLS found an ownership group for the three clubs that no one has ventured on? And has MLS found any new sponsors/partners?
Ridge Mahoney: Several investors are interested in the San Jose franchise, and the league has apparently found an investor for an expansion team in Miami. No major sponsors have been announced lately.
How many or what percent of our Olympic team and national team players were once ODP (Olympic Development Team) national team members?
Paul Kennedy: The number of current players from the ODP program is rather slim.
Look at the 13 that played against Canada:
Kasey Keller -- U-17 backup and U-20 star; runner-up in MVP voting at U-20 tournament in '89.
Alexi Lalas -- discovered at Rutgers.
Marcelo Balboa -- U-20 World Championship.
Jeff Agoos -- played U-17 and at the U-20 World Championship with Balboa.
Eddie Pope -- discovered at North Carolina; he played football and soccer as a youth in North Carolina.
John Harkes -- played with the U-20s, but the team didn't qualify for the 1985 World Championship.
Ernie Stewart -- raised in the Netherlands.
Claudio Reyna -- a U-17 standout in Scotland, his U-20 team didn't qualify for the 1993 World Championship.
Thomas Dooley -- raised in Germany.
David Wagner -- see Dooley.
Eric Wynalda -- A local youth standout who was brought through while at San Diego State.
Michael Mason -- see Dooley.
Mike Sorber -- a product of the St. Louis youth system, he was discovered by Bora Milutinovic playing for Saint Louis Univ. at the final four.
and the three others who saw action in Costa Rica:
Tony Sanneh -- was a youth standout with the Lagos brothers in Minnesota, but he never saw time on a national youth team.
Roy Lassiter -- a high school scoring wiz in North Carolina, which was then not considered to be a strong soccer state. He was discovered by Bora Milutinovic at the 1991 ACC tournament while playing for N.C. State.
Peter Vermes -- standout Jersey high school player who made the national team after completing his college career at Rutgers.