Mandates and beyond, and a self-criticism (Part 2)

I usually write my articles bi-weekly for Soccer America. Sometimes when the article looks long, I try to split it into two parts and even once I split it into three parts. Usually the readers do have some difficulties to follow up the split articles; this is especially true if the time difference between articles is more than a week or two. I was hoping to write this article last week but due to tragic loss in my immediate family I had to wait for this week. So I will try to summarize the Part 1 of the series so the readers can follow my rationale. 

Basically, I tried to explain why it is so difficult to mandate anything in this country let alone the mandates of U.S. Soccer. I also mentioned my initial misunderstanding about the nature of the relations between a central authority and the parts associated with it. Let me quote from my earlier article to summarize this: 

I recommended lots of changes and especially mandates to US Soccer for a better soccer system. I knew that countries that mandated changes and set standards across their soccer landscape had been successful. If you look at the success stories of Germany, France, Belgium and lately England you will see well-designed, mandated and executed developmental plans. When the National Governing Body of soccer in any European country mandates a change or applies a standard it goes down to the grassroots without a hitch or opposition. Coming of this background I thought same could be done here in the USA. After talking to a number prominent people including some of the incumbents of US Soccer administration as well as some former ones I came to a realization that mandating anything – forget about soccer - by a centralized authority in our country is very difficult and meets immediate opposition and resentment if you do not do the necessary communication and stakeholder involvement in the process properly. Even that might not be adequate.” 

“Although I now know that any mandate or national standard in soccer is very difficult to implement in our country, in the second part of the series I will talk about two soccer specific reasons for this difficulty. You cannot just blame it on the political infrastructure and biases of the country.”

Now let us talk about two soccer specific aspects of our soccer landscape that does not help the situation of mandating changes and standards by U.S. Soccer:

  1. Financial situation of U.S. Soccer or in other words its annual budget. As the lyrics from the movie Cabaret says: “money makes the world go round.” Money can solve a lot of problems, including convincing constituents for mandates. Our soccer community should thank both Hank Steinbrecher and Dan Flynn for bringing up the finances of U.S. Soccer to the current level; let us not forget that U.S. Soccer had a very tiny budget in the 80s and even 90s. 

Although some people might find the current revenues of U.S. Soccer of being very lucrative and can support a lot of project, crux of the matter is that it is NOT. 

Let us have a look at the below table ...

U.S. Soccer 990 forms (fiscal year ending March 31):

$65,138,738 $77,304,477 $102,127,196 $126,685,090 $152,393,266 $123,592,803
$60,858,907 $70,312,831 $93,531,264 $110,011,376 $106,085,152 $112,678,501
$4,279,831 $6,991,646 $8,595,932
$46,308,114 $10,914,302
Net Assets
$64,094,906 $73,619,126 $83,082,764 $98,004,402 $148,996,396 $162,738,719

If you look carefully at this table you see a sharp increase in 2017 and that is due to Copa America Centenario --“The Copa America Centenario brought in almost $72 million over two years — a one-time windfall that accounts for nearly half of the surplus.” In essence, the fact is that the budget (revenue) of U.S. Soccer is around $120 Million years per annum and has a net asset of $162 million at the end of 2018 fiscal year. 

Some might think that this is a big budget and a big amount of net assets that can solve if not all but most of our problems. Let me show otherwise with a few examples.

The last year I managed the Turkish FA as its CEO in 2010, the budget of the Turkish FA was about $100 million. Right now, for 2019 the budget is about $120 million.  (The exchange rate between TL and the U.S. Dollar has changed drastically over the last two years. The exchange rates in June 2010 and June 2019 are 156/5.85, respectively. So the increase in dollars is far more than what it shows in TL).  In order not to compare apples with oranges, I must state that the Turkish FA still manages the professional leagues and hence its revenues/expenses increase extensively. On the other hand, Turkey is a country of the size of Texas plus Louisiana with a population of 83 Million people and ranked the 19th in GDP worldwide. Turkey has about 350,000 registered soccer players.

Let us look at England's FA. The FA’s revenue for 2018 is about $500 million. England has a population of 55 million and the UK is ranked fifth in the world in GDP. FA reinvests $245 million back into the game. There are 12 million players of all ages, 200,000 coaches and 27,000 referees. (I loved the presentation and the information of the FA Report and Financial Statement and hope to see one day a similar detailed report by U.S. Soccer)

If we now look at the world’s governing body for soccer, namely FIFA, we see that the revenue of FIFA for 2018 is $4.641 billion. It has a reserve of $2.745 billion.

The USA has the highest GDP on the planet with a population of about 330 million. The size of the country is nearly the size of Europe. There about 5 million registered players for U.S. Soccer. (This is just an estimated number. Since only recently U.S. Soccer started gathering this information from the state associations and affiliated national associations). U.S. Soccer, like the FA, does not manage the men's professional leagues. So whether you look from the perspective of the Turkish FA or the FA or FIFA, the budget of US Soccer is minimal for the size of the country and for a federation whose mission is to make soccer the preeminent sport in the country. U.S. Soccer is aiming for a budget of $500 million and that will take some time to achieve. Until then, it will be difficult to navigate around the obstacles of the constituents of the National Council to impose mandates and standards using finances as leverage. The structure of the National Council is the second obstacle of our soccer landscape. The current structure does not help the situation of mandating changes and standards by U.S. Soccer.

  1. The structure of the National Council is a reflection of the history of development of the game in our country.  There are three groups of constituents: Adults, Youth and Professional Leagues. Those three have the same voting power. Thanks to Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act of 1998, 20 percent of each governing body’s National Council has to be athletes. As a result the Athlete Council represents 20 percent of the National Council. I had written an article comparing the National Council structure of soccer federations in Europe and U.S. Soccer. The basic difference is the lack of permeability between the groups of constituents in the case of U.S. Soccer. This is caused by the lack or promotion/relegation to and from professional leagues as well as the fact that amateur soccer is categorically split between adults and youth. On top of that, the adults, the youth and the professional constituents are further fragmented between various organizations. In such a fragmented system, which does not allow permeability, it is very difficult to come to a consensus on any mandate. Each constituent as well as each organization has their own agendas and goals that might be conflicting with the others.

I understand the efforts of US Soccer to increase its financial strength, but said as earlier reaching the $500 million mark might take some years. Reaching that mark will require substantial success stories by the USMNT. That might require some mandates since the current system needs at least some fine-tuning. That sounds like the chicken and egg problem. The other option is to change the structure of the National Council, which will require a financially stronger Federation. That is another chicken and egg problem.

To cut the long story short, mandating changes and standards have both cultural and soccer-specific obstacles in our soccer landscape. But nobody said running U.S. Soccer was an easy job; it is far more difficult and complicated than running a European FA.  I am sure all elected and appointed officials are aware of this conundrum. So when criticizing them we should be aware of these facts. On the other hand, I believe still there are ways of circumventing the obstacles. We just have to look at the forest from 30,000 feet without any biases instead of creating or hiding behind excuses.

Ahmet Guvener ( is the former Secretary General and the Chief Soccer Officer of Turkish FA. He was also the Head of Refereeing for the Turkish FA. He served as Panel member for the FIFA Panel of Referee Instructors and UEFA Referee Convention. He now lives and works as a soccer consultant in Georgetown, TX.

6 comments about "Mandates and beyond, and a self-criticism (Part 2)".
  1. beautiful game, August 30, 2019 at 11:29 a.m.

    Money is no problem...the issue is that  the various U.S. soccer organizations have no common ground because of 'turf wars'. It is a cultural aberration in just about every segment of governance. Common sense planning and goals have a short oxygen cycle. 

  2. Bob Ashpole replied, August 30, 2019 at 12:17 p.m.

    Lack of money results in at least 2 deficiencies compared to the development of elite athletes in other countries.

    1. Pay to play.

    2. USSF's dependence on club coaches instead of hiring its own professional trainers to identify and work with the best players. Club coaches invaribly have a conflict of interest between national program and their club.

  3. Bob Ashpole, August 30, 2019 at 12:12 p.m.

    One clarification. The law requires a minimum representation of 20% amateur athletes. Pros don't count.

  4. Ginger Peeler replied, August 31, 2019 at 5:39 p.m.

    Please, add me to that list!  Thanks to Ahmet Guvener and R2 Dad!!!

  5. R2 Dad, August 30, 2019 at 4:03 p.m.

    Looking forward to the next in this series, " Circuventing the Lack of Permeability in US Soccer Without The Use Of Pitchforks & Torches".

  6. Bob Ashpole replied, August 30, 2019 at 5:09 p.m.

    That comment made my day. :)

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