As U.S. Soccer has grown into a $100 million business with a huge influence on the sport, both domestically and internationally, how it approaches business relationships and develops
standards of good governance becomes increasingly important.
U.S. Soccer doesn't just train and field national teams and develop programs for the development of the sport at the youth and
adult levels, it is also deeply involved in the business side of the sport.
The Copa Centenario -- for which U.S. Soccer is budgeted to receive an extraordinary fee of $15 million for
running the tournament -- would not have happened if U.S. Soccer had not stepped in and organized the tournament following the arrests of key Conmebol and Concacaf figures in 2015. It has operated the
NWSL, a full-blown women's pro league, since its launch in 2013.
U.S. Soccer's broadcast rights for national team games (men and women) are bundled with those of Major League Soccer and
sold by SUM, which also sells integrated marketing partnerships on behalf of U.S. Soccer.
U.S. Soccer has been far ahead of the game, compared to FIFA, in many of its governance areas,
notably the appointment of independent directors (like Donna E. Shalala
, the president of the Clinton Foundation) to its board.
But Roger Pielke Jr.
, the founder and
chairperson of the Sports Governance Center in the Department of Athletics at the University of Colorado, has published
a report at Soccernomics
in which he recommends three steps U.S. Soccer should take related to conflict of interest policies to bring them, as he writes, "into the 21st century."
Pielke writes that U.S. Soccer
reviewed drafts of his proposals and U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati
was supportive, saying, “We’re happy to get better!”
The three areas of concern: 1. How U.S. Soccer evaluates actual or potential conflicts of interest.
They must currently be disclosed to CEO Daniel Flynn
or Gulati. A risk, audit and
compliance committee helps with dealing with issues that arise.
Pielke suggests U.S. Soccer needs to have an independent body review these cases at arms' length, pointing to an
independent ethics committee like what USA Track & Field has an example.
2. How U.S. Soccer's business relationships operate and how business and non-profit activities
function under the same umbrella.
Pielke argues that U.S. Soccer must conduct an independent review of U.S. Soccer's business relationships with MLS and SUM and create separate
business and non-profit functions under completely different organizations.
He notes that this will be strongly resisted by all parties but adds that "the mixing of business interests and
non-profit sports governance is a recipe for disaster, as we have seen repeatedly in the soccer world in recent years."
What makes this problematic, Pielke says, is that U.S. Soccer
currently exempts from its conflict of interest policy “any constituent or affiliated member entities." 3. How U.S. Soccer communicates its conflict of interest policies to its
members and the public.
Pielke says U.S. Soccer needs to improve its transparency and publish information on its conflict of interest policies and procedures.
does have an Integrity Hotline
, where parties can report potential ethics or integrity violations or suspected or wrongful acts of conduct by
U.S. Soccer representatives.