U.S. Soccer's 2019 AGM wrapped up Saturday with the National Council
Meeting in Scottsdale, Arizona. It marked the one-year anniversary of Carlos Cordeiro's election as the federation's new president.
In his prepared remarks to federation members, he highlighted some of the key areas he ran on last year and the progress that has been made:
-- Winning the bid (over Morocco) to co-host the 2026 World Cup with Canada and Mexico in June 2018;
-- Forming new board-level committees in the areas of technical development and commercial development to give the board more power;
-- Implementing a new management structure with 10 department heads (including new positions for men's and women's national team general managers);
-- Strengthening membership relations to help members address concerns;
-- Forming a Youth Task Force to address issues in the youth game; and
-- Providing more funding for the national teams and other programs, as well as grants for grassroots programs.
Afterwards, Cordeiro talked about some of the key topics that came up at the meeting.
2027 Women's World Cup. In his 2018 campaign, Cordeiro talked about bidding to host the 2027 Women's World Cup, a year after the men's tournament, and he brought up the 2027 Women's World Cup in his prepared remarks. Asked if the USA would indeed bid, he said it's still very early in the process.
"FIFA have yet to decide where the 2023 event will take place," he said. "This is really longer-term, strategic thinking, but the answer is I think we are open to it. I talked about it during my campaign a year ago. As I said in my speech, it is more of a dream. At the right opportunity, when they decide to call for submissions, we'll talk about it with the board and very likely move ahead. It's too early to say we are doing it for sure."
Review of women's soccer program. Cordeiro called for a review of the state of women's national team, in light of the failures of U.S. teams at the 2018 U-20 and U-17 Women's World Cups, though he later clarified it would not be in the form of a task force, like on youth issues.
"It's more of me laying a thought out," he said, "that while we are ahead and others are making strident efforts to close that gap, we've got to be relentless in our own pursuit of excellence and dominating the world. We want to make sure we are not missing out on anything. This review will be very all-encompassing. From the grassroots to everything that the Task Force will be touching on, coaching education, the academy questions, the pathways for the girls. Our youth national teams frankly don't have a lot of competition. If you're not in competition all the time, that might be why they don't do as well as they should when it comes down to a World Cup."
Cordeiro said new vice president Cindy Parlow Cone, the general manager of the women's national team, whom he hopes will be appointed by late May, and other managers involved on the technical side will look at the issues.
"It's not a task force, more of an internal staff and board focus," he said. "It will help the board's discussions on the next generation of investments. We've been ramping up the budget for the last couple of years, and we will continue that. And having some thoughtful consideration for that will be helpful. We're doing this from a position of strength. We're not flagging a problem. We're seeing what others are doing, and we want to see that our women have every opportunity to continue to be very successful."
CEO/Secretary General succession. Cordeiro confirmed that Dan Flynn, the federation's CEO and Secretary General since 2000, will be stepping down later this year -- a source later told Soccer America that Flynn will probably leave his position in mid- to late June -- and an executive search firm will work on identifying candidates to replace Flynn.
"We have been working with an outside consultant for the last two or three years," said Cordeiro. "It has been very involved in the search for our independent directors. And it is possible we will continue with them. Suffice it to say, we will have an outside consultant, we will have a board committee, a subset of the board, and working together they will come back to the full board with a couple of candidates. This is my guess. It will be very open, ultimately very transparent once we make the decision.
"I don't want to put a timetable to it. As I said in the speech, in looking for [men's national team general manager] Earnie [Stewart] and now looking for the women's GM, we want to get the right person in there. And we may have to be flexible. Depending on who that person is, he or she may have to extract themselves from another position. But this year, Dan will step down. It could be tomorrow or some time from now. We don't have a timetable. I am very process-driven.
"This is a very complicated job. The job Dan has today isn't anything like it was 20 years ago or even two or three years ago. Now we've got a World Cup to worry about, the '26. There are different aspects to the job and we have to think carefully about what that job is before we go look for a replacement."
Why Hart? Patti Hart, a long-time CEO in technology, gaming and entertainment, was confirmed as a new independent director, replacing Big East commissioner Val Ackerman, who is not seeking re-election. Hart has spent 13 years, including six as CEO and the last three as vice chairman, at International Game Technology, which produces slot machines and other gaming technology, and served on various boards, though business media have focused on her 2012 exit from Yahoo, where she was in charge of its CEO search and did not seek re-election as a board member in the aftermath of revelations by an activist shareholder about the accuracy of CEO Scott Thompson's academic record.
"That is eight years ago," Cordeiro said. "I don't know enough about that, and it is not a concern of ours. Gaming has been her most recent seat but she has has more than 40 years of experience. She has been involved in technology through Yahoo, sat on multiple boards. She is a very accomplished CEO, she has managed, in the case you mentioned, a very difficult governance situation. We think she is going to bring all that experience to the board. Most importantly, we are going to ask her to chair our commercial committee, the one of the six board committees that hasn't had a chair. And that committee is the one that will guide the federation over the next several years on the commercial side. And we heard a lot about it today."
Revisiting SUM arrangement. Cordeiro has stressed the need for the federation to grow its revenues if it wants to expand its programs and compete with the top soccer-playing countries in the world. U.S. Soccer recently announced an eight-figure sponsorship deal with Volkswagen through its marketing agency, Soccer United Marketing. Long-term deals with SUM and Nike will bring in about $50 million, or about 40 percent of the federation's revenues in fiscal year 2020.
"It is still early days, and things will accelerate," Cordeiro said. "And we are tied into these very long-term contracts. And those contracts turn over in 2021 and 2022. I think that will reset the clock across the board with everyone. We expect we will continue to grow the budget. We have a significant surplus that we are using to fund these deficits and in longer term we'll just have a lot more revenue coming in.
"The arrangement we have with our exclusive marketing partner will revisited in time. And in time we will look at that in an open and transparent way. And this is an arrangement that has been in place for more than 20 years. We wouldn't be where we are without having a productive relationship with Soccer United Marketing. But in '21 and '22 we will revisit that and we will look at the whole thing. And they will be part of the discussion. And they have rights to that as well, like most current partners do."
Paying for deficits. U.S. Soccer is projected to operate with losses of $13.9 million in fiscal year 2019 and had budgeted a deficit of $14.3 million in 2020, but its net assets had grown to more than $168 million in the last year of its public filings.
"We aren't a bank," said Cordeiro. "We aren't there to cash this money in and invest that in the financial markets. That is a reserve that we are going to use to fund these deficits. Why are we having these deficits? Because our spending has been growing incrementally. We can't starve these programs just to maintain a reserve. The objective is to draw down on those reserves and help fund these deficits but not draw it down to zero. You always need a reserve for a rainy day. We're being intelligent about that."
Photo: Bob Kupbens/Icon Sportswire