An ungrateful FIFA president

By Paul Kennedy

FIFA President Sepp Blatter's recent comments to Al-Jazeera about MLS certainly struck a nerve.

“There is no very strong professional league," he told interviewer Marwan Bishara. "They have just the MLS but they have no professional leagues which are recognized by the American society.”

MLS Commissioner Don Garber told he was "a bit surprised" by Blatter's remarks, while a petition asking U.S. Soccer to retract its support of the FIFA president has been started and already has more than 1,000 signatures.

The accuracy of Blatter's statement depends on your definition of "strong" or "recognized."

It's a classic half-empty, half-full look.

No, MLS does not have the standing on the American sports scene that, say, the EPL has in England or the Bundesliga has in Germany or La Liga has in Spain.

But can you name any other league in the world that has doubled its annual total attendance in the last decade like MLS has?

If the argument means television ratings, then Blatter has a point. For all the progress MLS has made in its 17 seasons, it has made no significant in-roads in terms of drawing a national television following.

Blatter framed his disappointment with MLS's lack of progress in the context of FIFA's decision to hold the 1994 World Cup in the United States.

"It's been 18 years, it should have been done now," he said. "But they are still struggling."

There's a couple of ways to frame the decision to bring the 1994 World Cup to the United States:

1) U.S. soccer promoters needed for the World Cup to be held in the United States to jumpstart the creation of a pro league.

2) FIFA needed to organize the World Cup in the United States to develop a heretofore untapped market.

And here's the rub: MLS owners might not have made a pile of money in the U.S. market but FIFA certainly has.

In the 18 years since the 1994 World Cup -- indeed in the last decade -- World Cup television rights in the United States have gone from being worthless to being most lucrative in the world.

As a technical matter, FIFA owes MLS owners for making that all possible. In 2002, they created SUM to buy the English-language television rights to the 2002 and 2006 World Cups that had otherwise gone unsold following the collapse of ISL, FIFA's marketing arm.

On a broader level, MLS owners have invested millions of dollars in the promotion of soccer in the United States.

Their hope, of course, has been that investment would pay for itself in terms of increased ticket sales at MLS games, increased sales of the products and services sold by MLS sponsors and increased rights fees for the broadcast of MLS games. If anyone else benefited along the way from that investment in heightening interest in soccer, so be it.

So who owes whom?

No, MLS would not exist but for FIFA's decision to bring the World Cup to the United States in 1994.

But no, FIFA would not have a gold mine in the United States but for the continued investment of MLS owners.

And for that Sepp Blatter is ungrateful.

17 comments about "An ungrateful FIFA president".
  1. Gak Foodsource, January 2, 2013 at 10:02 p.m.

    Blatter views his decision to the grant the hosting rights to the World Cup like an almighty God. And as we learned with the awarding of 2018 and 2022 to Russia and Qatar, a gift worthy of lots of suitcases filled with money. Blatter is so out of touch.

  2. Jim Hougan, January 3, 2013 at 10:45 a.m.

    Bladder is to soccer as Idi Amin was to democracy. He represents corruption and, like Amin, should be sent packing to the UAE with his shirt-tails on fire.

  3. Andrea Hana, January 3, 2013 at 11:37 a.m.

    As my 7 year old daughter used to say,"That's what you get for!"... way to go Sepp! Ya douche!

  4. Ron R, January 3, 2013 at 11:43 a.m.

    Blatter is and has always been a disgrace to the game. If he lived in the USA, he would be in jail for selling the WC to Russia and Qatar. Surely the Qatar experiment will be a disaster to everyone who loves the game... it works for Blatter because he doesn't love the game, he uses it for personal gain. If US Soccer supports him again, we need to clean house.

  5. Carl Walther, January 3, 2013 at 12:27 p.m.

    What really is there to ad? 'Blather' is the worse thing to happen to soccer (football) in the last 20 years. He is the head of FIFA for his own self-aggrandisement. He really thought that he would be given the Nobel Peace Prize for giving the WC to South Africa. He either condones or overlooks corruption in his organisation, and generally isn't very bright. (Smart people don't constantly say stupid things.) The best thing for soccer world wide would be for him to disappear.

  6. John Soares, January 3, 2013 at 12:29 p.m.

    Blatter.. foot in mouth yet again. I'll take MLS "lack of success" over Blatter's corruption any day.

  7. Martin Howard, January 3, 2013 at 4:57 p.m.

    FICK FUFA, not mine but sums it up for me.

  8. Mike Crump, January 3, 2013 at 5:28 p.m.

    AFIF (Association For Illegal Funding) President Blatter forgets that the US is home to 3 of the largest professional leagues in the world (NFL, MLB, and NBA) as well as the portion of the NHL when it operates. Not only that there is NCAA football and NCAA basketball. These 4 pro leagues and two college 'leagues' combined are the competition that the MLS has to endure. There is only so much time and money that can be had. The MLS also has to compete with the popularity of the EPL. Given that the MLS is competing with forces that dwarfes those of other soccer (football) leagues I think they have done a splendid job. The day that Blatter does the MLS or this country any favor will be the first. US Soccer and the MLS need to keep fighting but they have made wonderous progress.

  9. Wayne Root, January 3, 2013 at 10 p.m.

    Septic Bladder. Just keeps getting worse and worse.

  10. Doug Wiggins, January 3, 2013 at 10:56 p.m.

    All good posts, everything I was going to say is said! Thank you!

  11. Kyr-Roger St.-Denis, January 4, 2013 at 7:54 a.m.

    All predictable posts, some even libellous.

    Whatever realm of corruption Blatter may or may not preside over in his little Alpine kingdom, the real concern here is the MLS, which needs (despite the hard competition from NFL, NBA and MLB) to develop fan loyalty on a larger scale than it has done. The only way to do that is by television, but MLS has adopted, without seriously considering alternatives, the mature-sport model of the larger sports. The result is nationwide broadcast of occasional games on various channels, giving the league some exposure to existing fans but nearly nothing to reward the new fan, who has no idea what he's missing.

    MLS would do better to develop regional television commitments in the areas where each team expects to draw its base, so that EVERY game that team plays is broadcast in that area, so that a cadre of competent commentators develops, and so that the teams become intimately identified as a source of local pride. Look not at the present television contracts for the major sports as a model: look at the contract arrangements they had back when television was a new idea. The best example is the Dallas Cowboys, who saw the prospects of that newish medium back in the early '60s, and got their games on the air all over Texas and the South-West, and in Mexico, and so became, for a time, "America's Team."

    I, for one, might actually watch the Houston Dynamo or FC Dallas if they were on tv regularly around here; but as it is, one or two games a season isn't enough to build any idea of fan loyalty in my soul. Meanwhile, I sit drooling in my soup all week at the prospect of another Liverpool match on the weekend.

  12. Ken Jamieson, January 4, 2013 at 10:48 a.m.

    Is it possible that MLS has reached the saturation point for soccer in the US? Is is possible that this is as good as it will get for the league? When you consider the NASL, with all the money and stars it used, saw its best seasons averaging just over 14,000 a game (despite the Cosmos averaging in the 40,000s). At 18,000 a game league wide, MLS may be hitting its maximum. I echo another post that indicates MLS has a lot more high-profile competition than other nations. There are no equivalents to the NFL or MLB in Spain, England or Germany. Also, these are nations were the sport was allowed to grow naturally over a hundred years. MLS has been required to reach maturity in less than two decades by Blatter's reckoning. Clubs like Liverpool and Man U established themselves through history and tradition, not by bringing big names in early in their development.
    MLS may yet become a force to be reckoned with in the years to come, but for now we must be content with what we have. Pushing too hard may send the MLS down the same road as the original NASL.

  13. Andres Yturralde, January 4, 2013 at 12:36 p.m.

    Much ado about nothing, if you ask me.

  14. Frank Cardone, January 6, 2013 at 12:25 p.m.

    It is time for Mr. Blatter to retire. He has been at FIFA (and part of the problem) far too long. The same was true about his predecessor, JH from Brazil. Globally, soccer is beset by numerous, serious problems, not the least of which are fixing games, unruly fans, lack of true competition in leading soccer nations, a rise in rough play, and dare I say it, a lack of goals. Blatter should spend more time,. energy, and resources finding solutions to these problems instead of firing unjustified shots at a convenient target like the US. Oh, I forgot to mention FIFA's poor image thanks to internal corruption. Again, Blatter is part of the problem. Time to retire.

  15. Kevin Sims, January 6, 2013 at 8:30 p.m.

    Blatter blather reigns. MLS is due much credit for strides made, yet clearly has worlds to conquer. Mr. Blatter would so well to lead in this matter by acknowledging USA successes and by offering constructive advice on areas of needed improvement. It is all too easy to criticize; I would wish to receive fraternal encouragement and advice from FIFA.

  16. John Pepple, January 6, 2013 at 8:42 p.m.

    Way back in 1972, some friends and I got involved in soccer. We tried to get other people to join us, but the amount of resistance we faced was unbelievable. That soccer has progressed at all in this country still amazes me, given that there are still many people who want to have nothing to do with it at all.

    Particularly disappointing to me was that people who should have been supporting soccer haven't done so. I'm talking about the multiculturalists, the Anglophiles, the Francophiles, the Germanophiles, and cosmopolitan types in general. Where have they been? Anglophiles who don't know what QPR stands for? Please.

  17. Bill Anderson, January 7, 2013 at 8:33 a.m.

    The league is making progress, despite FIFA's "best intentions"...

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