Where would MLS be if Philip Anschutz had not taken World Cup '94 czar Alan Rothenberg up on his offer of two free tickets to the Brazil-Italy final at the Rose Bowl? The intensely private Anschutz, ranked No. 41 on the Forbes 400 list of wealthiest Americans, quickly embraced soccer and the soccer family, but he'll freely admit those World Cup freebies proved to be quite expensive tickets. From an initial investment of one team in 1996 -- the Colorado Rapids -- the AEG soccer empire grew to six teams at its height. AEG bought the Los Angeles Galaxy in 1998 and has owned the Chicago Fire since its inception the same year. It bailed New York, D.C. United and Houston out when they lost or couldn't find owners. Today, both Los Angeles and Chicago have their own soccer stadiums. The Rapids, whom AEG sold, will open their new stadium next year. New York, sold to Red Bull in March, is moving ahead on its own stadium project, an AEG-Red Bull joint venture.
Former U.S. national team coach Bruce Arena famously dismissed Gulati as a ''superfan,'' but who would Gulati be without his passion for the game? Indeed, no one has devoted a larger percentage of his adult life to the promotion of American soccer than Gulati, whom former U.S. Soccer president Alan Rothenberg described as ''single most important person in the development of soccer in this country.'' Gulati can add two things to any conversation he has -- soccer and economics. It's his ability to see soccer in the bigger picture of life that makes him unique. Gulati's days in administration date back to the 1980s as a youth administrator, first in Connecticut. Within a few years, he was running the national team program on his Macintosh computer out of his office at Columbia University. U.S. Soccer no longer needs Gulati's hands-on efforts -- he found time, though, to ref his son's youth game recently -- but it does need his vision to help American soccer expand.
To his greatest credit, Garber took over as MLS commissioner in 1999 during a period of downward movement and turned it around. Garber's reign has not been without setbacks -- the low point came in January 2002 when MLS folded its two Florida teams -- but he has overseen MLS's expansion from 10 teams in 2002 to 13 in 2007, the construction of new soccer stadiums in Los Angeles, Dallas and Chicago with two more to open in 2007, and MLS's TV contracts with ESPN and Univision involving first rights. Prior to becoming MLS commissioner, Garber worked for 16 years in the National Football League. In his last position, he headed NFL International. Garber was rewarded for his success in turning MLS around with a new contract through 2010. According to one report, Garber makes a base salary of $1.3 million -- more than any player.
It's fair to say that Hunt saved pro soccer not once but twice. In the late 1960s, the North American Soccer League was on the verge of collapse, with only five teams, but Hunt helped keep the league together long enough for it to take off in the mid-1970s. When time came for pro soccer to be re-launched following the 1994 World Cup, investors were scarce, so Hunt stepped up, buying two MLS teams (Columbus and Kansas City). The Hunt Sports Group later took charge of Dallas, which was without an investor/operator. Both Columbus and Dallas have soccer stadiums, and Kansas City, recently sold to a local group, is actively pursuing a stadium in suburban Johnson County. Hunt, 73, is one of the most influential pioneers in American sports history. He helped get the old American Football League off the ground and even coined the phrase ''Super Bowl'' (inspired by a super ball owned by his daughter). But there has never been any doubt about his passion for soccer -- he has attended eight out of the last 10 World Cups.
Bottom line to Skipper's fancy title: He decides what gets on ESPN, making him one of the most powerful people in sports. Fortunately, for soccer, Skipper also happens to be a soccer fan -- a big Tottenham supporter since time spent living in England in the 1990s. By coincidence, he took his current position last year just as a deal was being finalized for the television rights to the 2010 and 2014 World Cup -- a deal without ESPN. Pre-Skipper days, he says the World Cup wasn't a priority at ESPN, but he made it one in a hurry. Negotiations led to ESPN striking a deal with FIFA for in excess of $100 million. By extension, the World Cup deal led to MLS's deal with ESPN. (It's been argued MLS could not have gone forward if it hadn't gotten its new deal for a rights fee from the boys in Bristol.) Skipper says he's just the latest knucklehead to believe soccer can make it in the United States. As he says, ''Fortunately, though I'm a knucklehead, I'm a knucklehead at ESPN.''
Besides President Mark Abbott, Gazidis is MLS's longest-serving employee, convinced by Abbott over a round of golf at a law firm outing to leave London to help create the business plan that would entice the investors who made MLS's 1996 launch possible. He also assisted Sunil Gulati, then-MLS deputy commissioner, in signing some 200 players for the league's original 10 teams. Much like Gulati did then, the South African-born Gazidis is MLS's frontman for soccer, providing vision on all key strategic and business decisions made by the league. He also oversees all of MLS's competitive aspects. Gazidis, who twice played for Oxford University against Cambridge at Wembley Stadium, has taken on a critical role in recent years as president of Soccer United Marketing International, which is heavily involved in the promotion of international events: CONCACAF Gold Cup, Mexico's InterLiga (pre-Libertadores tournament), Mexican national team friendlies and European club tours.
The New Yorker's influence should not be underestimated. Indeed, he's the most powerful American in international soccer circles. His impact on the FIFA executive committee has grown since first being appointed in 1996. It was Blazer whose 11th-hour maneuvering paved the way for the ESPN and Univision television deals with FIFA -- deals that made it possible for MLS to strike the first deals for rights fees it has had with these networks. Blazer's day job is general secretary of CONCACAF, a position he has held since 1990 when he orchestrated Trinidadian Jack Warner's election as CONCACAF president. Blazer, who runs CONCACAF out of a suite of offices in New York's Trump Towers, previously served as U.S. Soccer's executive vice president and was the American Soccer League's commissioner. Like Gulati after him, he got his start as an administrator in the Region I ODP program and ran the U.S. national team program in the mid-1980s.
With the exception of a short stint as the head of AEG's soccer operations, Payne has headed D.C. United, the most successful club in MLS history, since the league's launch in 1996. The last year has been spent trying to find new investors for the club, and a deal was expected to be announced shortly of United's new investment group including former Duke basketball player Brian David and Discovery Channel founder John Hendricks. Few executives can match Payne's knowledge of the game and experience at the top levels of the American soccer. The late Werner Fricker brought Payne in to work for U.S. Soccer in 1989. Payne remains heavily involved in federation affairs as one its two pro representatives (along with Don Garber) on its board of directors. Payne is chairing the federation's technical review committee.
Leiweke heads Philip Anschutz's AEG, which has had at one time or another an ownership, management or marketing interest in a majority of MLS's 12 clubs. He has worked most closely with AEG's Los Angeles Galaxy and has pushed for MLS to sign big-name players like David Beckham, whose soccer academy AEG manages. But the AEG Leiweke oversees is more than a soccer company. It has come to hold vast interests in commercial real estate and entertainment around the world. Before coming to AEG, he served as president of U.S. Skiing and worked in the NHL and NBA. He began his career in indoor soccer, working for the Major Indoor Soccer League during its heyday. In 1980, at the age of 24, he became the youngest general manager in pro sports by assuming that post with the MISL's Baltimore Blast.
Love him or hate him, people listen when Bruce Arena speaks. No one else in American soccer, with the possible exception of Freddy Adu during his rookie season, has generated as much attention as Arena, who coached the USA at the 2002 and 2006 World Cups. He is sometimes out of line, but he is completely honest. Arena built the most successful college team in history -- Virginia won an unprecedented four straight national titles in 1991-94 -- and MLS's best teams ever -- 1996-98 D.C. United. Arena is well known as a player's coach -- he learned his motivational skills by eavesdropping on opposing basketball coaches such as the legendary Dean Smith and Mike Krzyzewski from his UVa soccer office next to the visiting basketball team's locker room -- but perhaps his most important quality is the strong work ethic he developed at Virginia. Arena has been preaching that work ethic in his new post as head coach of the underachieving Red Bulls.
Since being named secretary general by Robert Contiguglia in 2000, Flynn has brought management and fiscal controls that have allowed the federation to become a thriving soccer organization with net assets of more than $40 million. Flynn is the person responsible for the day-to-day affairs of the Chicago-based federation, overseeing a staff than has grown to nearly 100 people. Flynn played soccer at Saint Louis University -- he's a member of the school's Hall of Fame -- and held both sports marketing and management positions at Anheuser-Busch before moving full-time into soccer as the Chicago venue chief for the 1994 World Cup.
Checketts is so well respected that he was on the list of 11 candidates the National Football League was considering for commissioner. Checketts brought high-level pro soccer to Utah when he launched MLS expansion Real Salt Lake and is moving closer to his goal of building a soccer stadium for the club. He has needed all his political skills to overcome opposition for the project. He has also forged ties with the ''other'' Real, Real Madrid. The clubs are working on the development of a major soccer academy in Utah. Checketts' other main sports interest is the NHL's St. Louis Blues, which Sports Capital Partners bought this summer. Checketts spent 10 years as president of Madison Square Gardens, which owns the NBA Knicks and NHL Rangers.
By returning from Bayer Leverkusen in March 2005, Donovan instantly became MLS's most important spokesman: an American star who wanted to stay at home. Following the 2002 World Cup, a 20-year-old Donovan showed his poise and charm on the talk-show circuit. He remains the poster boy for American soccer, even if his 2006 World Cup was a major disappointment. With three MLS titles in six seasons, Donovan is well on his way to building the greatest domestic career an American has ever had.
The launch of Chivas USA gave MLS a high-profile soccer owner it had been lacking. Vergara made his fortune with Omnilife de Mexico, then bought Chivas Guadalajara, the most popular club in the Mexican-American community. Chivas USA has also given MLS entrTe into that market. Cue, a real estate developer, has pushed hard to develop relations between MLS and the Mexican league and boost Chivas USA's image in Southern California. The club has developed a satellite center in Bell Gardens and is talking about adding another one in outlying Pomona.
Until May, Motzkin and Segal were the principals in SportsNet, the most prominent management agency in American soccer. Their clients include Landon Donovan, Freddy Adu and Bruce Arena. Thirteen SportsNet clients made the 23-player U.S. roster for the 2006 World Cup. The Wasserman Media Group's acquisition of SportsNet marked its entry into soccer. Motzkin began his work in soccer as U.S. Soccer general counsel in the early 1990s and founded SportsNet in 1994. Segal, who played collegiately at Haverford College, founded Impact Sports in 1996, and it merged with SportsNet in 2002.
As president of Univision Sports, Downs is responsible for the return of the powerful Spanish-language network to MLS after an eight-year absence. The eight-year deal, which calls for 25 MLS games to televised each year beginning in 2007 on Univision network TeleFutura, will be key to the league's effort to (re)capture the Hispanic market. Moreover, MLS gets a rights fee. Also included in the landmark agreement are deals to showcase the U.S. national team and other SUM international events. Downs came to Univision from ABC in 1999 and was instrumental in securing Univision's two World Cups deals -- the first covering the 2002 and 2006 World Cups, and the second covering the 2010 and 2014 World Cups.
Abbott, MLS's first employee in 1993, runs the business side of MLS, supervising the league's broadcasting, legal and finance departments. He also deals closely with potential investors and expansion cities -- a responsibility that has grown in importance as MLS has sought to diversify its ownership group. Like Ivan Gazidis and Richard Motzkin, Abbott came out of Latham & Watkins, the law firm where Alan Rothenberg was a partner during his tenure as the American soccer czar in the early 1990s.
MLS pulled off a major coup when it convinced Austrian Didi Mateschitz, on the advice of friend Franz Beckenbauer, to invest in American soccer. Specifically, Red Bull, the energy drink producer in which Mateschitz holds the largest interest, acquired MLS's MetroStars in early 2006 and agreed to partner with MetroStars owner AEG on the construction of a soccer stadium in Harrison, N.J. MLS not only got a company for its underproducing New York club but it got an investor known internationally for its aggressive marketing.
Kroenke Sports' acquisition of the Colorado Rapids from AEG wasn't as important as its $135 million public-private partnership with the Denver suburb of Commerce City for a Rapids stadium that will open in 2007. Kroenke thereby became the first big hitter besides Philip Anschutz and Lamar Hunt to buy into the concept of the commercial future of American pro soccer being part sports, part real-estate development. Kroenke knows a lot about sports and real-estate development. The Missouri native made millions in the development of shopping malls -- his wife, Anne, is a member of the Walton family that started Wal-Mart -- and in recent years expanded into sports. His sports interests include the NBA's Denver Nuggets and NFL's Colorado Avalanche, as well as the Pepsi Center in which they play.
Like MLS Commissioner Don Garber, Quinn came out of the National Football League, where he spent 14 years in a number of senior management positions. In 2004, he joined SUM as president of the newly created Enterprises division and has been responsible for the development of SUM's many commercial properties. SUM began as an offshoot of Major Soccer League in 2001 when it acquired English-language television rights to the 2002 and 2006 World Cup -- a deal that paved the way for MLS to secure its relationship with ESPN at a time when it otherwise had little leverage with the all-important sports network. SUM's commercial ventures have become increasingly lucrative as MLS struck deals in the last two years with adidas, ESPN and Univision, among others.
Another relative newcomer to American soccer, Hunter is a protTgT of AEG president Tim Leiweke, for whom he first served as an intern with the NBA's Minnesota Timberwolves. Hunter played a key role in the relocation of two NHL franchises -- Quebec to Denver and Winnipeg to Phoenix, where he was most recently president of the Coyotes. He now oversees AEG Sports, whose properties include ownership interests in four MLS clubs (Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and D.C. United), a marketing deal with Chivas USA and a stadium deal with Red Bull. (A sale of D.C. United was being finalized at press time.)
It was Levinstein who pressed U.S. Soccer to increase the monies it gave players for national team appearances. In early 2005, an impasse forced national team coach Bruce Arena to open training game for the final qualifying round with replacements. By late 2005, Levinstein negotiated an agreement through 2020 that made the players' bonus structure among the most lucrative for national team players anywhere in the world. The players didn't cash in at the 2006 World Cup -- they made $37,500 each for making the World Cup roster, $3,750 for each game played and split $150,000 for the one point earned in group play -- but they'll get another chance if they qualify in 2010.
Ask Americans to name one American soccer player, and many will still say Adu. His debut at the age of 15 in 2004 was the closest thing MLS has had to a PelT-type moment. No player generated media excitement like Adu did -- to his detriment. After a solid first season, he went into a funk in 2005. Now 17, Adu is still a solid prospect, but no one is any longer expecting him to become another PelT, with whom he did a Sierra Mist commercial. If Adu were to leave D.C. for Europe when he turns 18, it would be a major loss for MLS.
No soccer person is as highly placed at a major corporation as Kain, the former U.S. international. He's a legend on the Jersey Shore -- the Wall Soccer Club retired his No. 7 jersey -- and won the Hermann Trophy at Duke in 1985. The NASL had just folded, so he was the first American of note to try his luck in Europe. He had a short spell at Germany, where he penned stories for Soccer America on life at the tiny Second Division club Union Solingen, and with the U.S. national team. At 27, after playing indoors with the Kansas City Comets, he says it was time to get a haircut and a real job, so he joined adidas as a sales rep. Within a decade, he was adidas' director of U.S. soccer, but eventually left for rival Nike, for which he worked in Amsterdam as its director of global marketing for soccer. He has since returned to Nike's headquarters in Beaverton, Ore., and remains close to the American game. He's on U.S. Soccer's committee examining technical issues.
As interest in the World Cup grew, so did the influence of ESPN's most outspoken studio commentator. Right or wrong, Wynalda's comments became gospel to thousands of soccer fans. In particular, Wynalda's attacks on U.S. World Cup coach Bruce Arena turned public sentiment against Arena. Wynalda's steady work is as color man on ESPN's MLS broadcasts. Assuming he returns in 2007, Wynalda's importance will grow as ESPN2 introduces its Thursday night timeslot for MLS.
Foose is responsible for handling labor matters as head of the players union, which was formed in April 2003 and signed its first collective bargaining agreement with MLS in 2004. MLS players don't make the big money that athletes in other major sports do, but the money is more than it used to be, and the CBA put in stone all sorts of benefits other pro athletes took for granted. The big test for Foose and the players union will come in 2009 when the current agreement expires.
Berhalter moved to U.S. Soccer along with Dan Flynn in 2000 when Flynn left the U.S. Soccer Foundation to become U.S. Soccer's general secretary. Berhalter's attention to detail was invaluable as U.S. Soccer went through a reorganization. His business acumen has helped make the federation a thriving business. His can-do spirit was demonstrated as he helped lead the U.S. Soccer staff in its (profitable) organization of the 2003 Women's World Cup on short notice.
Sports Endeavors -- better known to soccer consumers for its Eurosport catalogues and soccer.com Web site -- is the nation's largest seller of soccer equipment with revenues reported to be in excess of $150 million and enormous clout in the soccer market. The Moylans -- brother Brendan is COO -- began their soccer business out of their basement when Mike Moylan was a teenager. In recent years, they've also branched out into rugby and fast-growing lacrosse.
In retirement, Foudy is the most active of the former U.S. women's greats. She is the consummate politician, playing a key role in the fight to maintain the gains for women's sports through Title IX. During her playing career, Foudy served as president of the Women's Sports Foundation and on the board of WUSA, the short-lived women's pro league. Foudy, a color commentator on ABC and ESPN during the 2006 World Cup, is working on getting a new women's league off the ground, perhaps with MLS's support in 2007.
Yorks represented the USA at the 1989 World Youth Championship, but his pro career consisted of four minutes in one game for Bruce Arena, his college coach, at D.C. United. He now heads the U.S. office of one of England's premier soccer management agencies. Proactive's clients include Claudio Reyna, Brian McBride, Brad Friedel and DaMarcus Beasley. Yorks has been instrumental in helping place teenage stars Johann Smith and Lee Nguyen with European clubs.
Rothenberg, the well-known Los Angeles attorney, has developed interests outside soccer and the law since stepping down as president of U.S. Soccer eight years ago. He is chairman of First Century Bank and president of the Los Angeles Board of Airport Commissioners. In 2003, Rothenberg and Bernstein, MLS's former marketing chief, teamed up to form Premier Partnerships, which has brokered many soccer deals, most notably the sale of naming rights to Pizza Hut Park for a reported $25 million over 20 years.
Koskinen's soccer background dates back to the APSL in the late 1980s, but he is best known as the Y2K czar responsible for fixing the year 2000 computer problem. The former Clinton Administration official is well connected in Washington, where he heads the U.S. Soccer Foundation, which had net assets of more than $70 million in 2005. It has given out hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants each year -- and even provided a loan for MLS to get off the ground.
Gardner remains the best-connected journalist in American soccer. He has the ear of such men as Sunil Gulati and Chuck Blazer, both of whom he's known well throughout their rise in the soccer world. He has preached the beauty of soccer and its fundamental values as entertainment for many years and remains critical of the influences of coaching and business on the game. In addition to writing for Soccer America for more than two decades, Gardner is a columnist for the daily New York Sun and London-based World Soccer.
Peddie is arguably the most powerful man in Canadian sports. Peddie's Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, which owns the NHL's Maple Leafs and NBA's Raptors, added MLS's Toronto FC to its collection of Toronto sports properties. It also owns the Air Canada Centre and BMO Field, which will be home of Toronto FC when the stadium opens near the waterfront next year for the World Youth Championship. The 20,000-seat stadium, which cost $55 million, was mostly paid for with federal, provincial and municipal funds.
Behind the scenes, Collins is one of the most powerful attorneys working in soccer. Like Richard Motzkin, Collins served as U.S. Soccer's general counsel for four years (1997-2001). That legal background in governance issues became very valuable as U.S. Soccer went through its restructuring. Collins & Collins, a small Chicago-based family law firm, currently acts as outside general counsel for the American Youth Soccer Organization and CONCACAF. Perhaps John Collins' best known soccer client is CONCACAF president Jack Warner, whom he has vigorously represented in a number of FIFA matters related to Warner's business dealings, most recently related to World Cup 2006 ticket sales.