'Soccertown, USA' says goodbye to museum

[HALL OF FAME] More than 30 years after Oneonta, N.Y., hosted the first soccer exhibit, the National Soccer Hall of Fame is closing up shop in the upstate New York town. Plans are in place to distribute the permanent displays and store the archives. As for its 62-acre campus purchased in 1989, the Hall of Fame will seek to transfer title to a local development agency.

American soccer's great players and builders will continue to honored. In January, the Hall announced the election of Thomas Dooley and Preki Radosavljevic as Players and Bruce Arena as a Builder. The Veteran Player will be announced in the coming weeks.

The annual election process will continue without interruption, and the location of specific induction ceremonies will be planned.

Oneonta became known as "Soccertown, USA" following the national championship won by Hartwick College in 1977, and efforts to host historical exhibits about soccer soon followed.

The first museum was located in downtown Oneonta. After land was purchased on the outskirts of town, four world-class soccer fields were built.

In 1995, the Hall was awarded a $4.5 million grant from the State of New York to begin the construction of a dedicated museum on that site. In 1998, the U.S. Soccer Foundation pledged $1 million, and a fundraising campaign generated over $7 million.

Its location close to the Baseball Hall of Fame in nearby Cooperstown made a Soccer Hall of Fame in Oneonta a natural move, but it never took off.

Attendance never topped 20,000 in a single year, and revenues from admission fees and event and facility revenue never matched expenses. Losses were to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars each year.

All but three staff members were laid off last fall.

“The National Soccer Hall of Fame is saddened to be closing our doors in Oneonta, a city and region that has showed great support for both the museum and the sport long before we opened here,” Hall of Fame President Jonathan Ullman said. “Ultimately, we need to move forward in a manner that maximizes our resources and provides the greatest possible access by the public to the history and heroes of the sport, and this is the first step forward in that process.”


Last summer Soccer America contributor Emily Cohen traveled is to the National Soccer Hall of Fame with her 10-year-old daughter. Here is what they found.


Should the Soccer Hall of Fame be shut down? Is there a better home than Oneonta? Should it be turned into a traveling museum? Does anyone care? What do you think?

5 comments about "'Soccertown, USA' says goodbye to museum".
  1. Clayton Berling, February 12, 2010 at 4:38 p.m.

    As a Hall Of Famer myself and one who voted for the Oneonta bid those many years ago when a member of the USSF delegation from Northern California, I
    understand the stated reasons for closing the current hall, but also feel it is a mistake in judgment. No museum or hall of fame comes reasonably close to covering ongoing expense from "admissions". The location is never going to satisfy that desire, and a major investment has already been made by the State of New York and many soccer fans. It is a storehouse of artifacts, well displayed, with useful surroundings. A more central location might have more admissions, but cost of rent or further capital investment in such a location would erode any locational advantage. True, transportation could be enhanced, but spreading temporary exhibitions at a number of oongoing sites would better serve the fan interests and cultural development. A MOBILE exhibition project would serve better, but costly also, yet a repository is still needed somewhere. A wintertime partial closedown would conserve funds. Much more could be considered including a support in smaller amounts from every soccer league and association, plus personal fan appeals, especially from those of us who have been given the privilege of HOF status. Looking for one major "sponsor" to carry the ball is shortsighted, although US Soccer and its allied Foundation should carry a large portion. Much more could be said, but it's probably fruitless now. The bottomline is that rather than closing down the jewel we have, much more thought should have been given to expanding the reach "for the good of the game."
    Clay Berling
    NSHOF, 1995

  2. Marc Silverstein, February 13, 2010 at 9:50 a.m.

    Good morning Mr. Berling: It's a very sad day for the US soccer community. As a graduate of SUNY Oneonta and a referee for the last 25 years I want to thank you for all that you've given the game that we love. However, as a donor to the NSHOF from day one I have to say that the hall was mismanaged. Why they needed to build that huge soccer complex located outside the Oneonta city limits in 1999 is beyond me. The NSHOF should have been seen as an organization trying to grow the game rather than just a repository for artifacts. They somehow lost the message of being relevant. In the meantime I've reached out to the St. Louis Soccer Hall of Fame and hopefully they'll be able to accept some exhibits on loan. Much better to have the artifacts shown around the country rather than sitting in mothballs at the North Carolina storage facility. Anyway, all the best to you.
    Marc A. Silverstein
    Nanuet, NY

  3. Eric R., February 13, 2010 at 11:36 a.m.

    I'm a soccer fan who hold a grad degree in history, so I'm speaking exclusively from that perspective. I want to echo Mr. Silverstein's thoughts that the admissions shouldn't have to cover the cost of operating a museum. I also think that closing during winter would have been a good idea. But I'd want to point out that a traveling exhibit is a good idea for American soccer. Too many people still think that soccer isn't American enough. What better way to break down that stereotype than a traveling exhibit of U.S. soccer in the early twentieth Century? Would Bethlehem Steele FC (as one example) capture the public's imagination? Moreover, what exhibits are prepared should not be restricted to soccer-specific venues. I'd love to see an exhibit at RFK for a DC United game, but a traveling exhibit would be far more visible at the Smithsonian! Whatever happens, the idea behind preservation of soccer history should be about propelling it forward, not keeping artifacts in dimly lit rooms where they are safe and unseen.

    Thanks to both Mr. Silverstein and Berling for sharing your thoughts and for your dedication to the American game.


  4. Marc Silverstein, February 13, 2010 at 2:13 p.m.

    Thanks Eric, Pretty funny as I graduated with a dual major of American History and Political Science. Most of the good ideas presented were actually Mr. Berling's. The idea of multiple traveling exhibits across the country is actually a very good one. I hope that they also reach out to other regional soccer halls around the country in order to continue to educate the public on the wonderful history of our game. I think that the legacy of these Hall of Famers at least deserve that much.

  5. Paul Bryant, February 14, 2010 at 5:49 p.m.

    In my opinion, the Soccer Hall of Fame should be located in or near a "destination" city. I understand the reasons for placing it in Oneonta, NY: boost the local economy, land was inexpensive to build on,etc... The fact of the matter is that is too few people will plan a trip just to go there. Soccer in America does not have the popularity and history of the other sports. Soccer still has difficulty standing on its own two feet. Outside of NYC, maybe in Northern NJ, or near Philadelphia of Atlantic City. St. Louis MO, could also be a candidate.

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