On SUM, Twitter and the media

First off: I’m working on two pieces that raises questions about Soccer United Marketing and the continuing evolution of Major League Soccer. One analytical, one modestly investigative. The latter, basically, is just getting some answers from Kathy Carter about SUM as it currently operates.

SUM is, of course, mentioned in my book Long-Range Goals: The Subtitle I Didn’t Like in the First Place and Dislike Today Because “Success” Can and Should Be Redefined as Time Goes By. It was crucial to MLS’ survival when the whole thing nearly went under in 2002. Don Garber, still relatively new in the job of MLS commissioner, surmised from the history of U.S. pro soccer that it too often competes with itself, and that led to the suggestion to create a marketing company that bundled things together. It worked, and no matter how you slice it, MLS and SUM are valuable properties today that have helped usher in a landscape of pro clubs with academies.

But …

  1. As they say about the stock market, past performance does not guarantee future results.
  2. What was necessary in 2002 could be a hindrance in 2017.

So yes, there are questions to be asked. And if we get through this entire presidential campaign without asking them, we’ve failed.

That said … could people on Twitter be a little more patient, perhaps?

2017 has been a rough year in the media business. More layoffs at ESPN. Fox Sports cast off a great crew of writers so they could “pivot to video,” along with a few other organizations. FourFourTwo laid off most of its U.S. staff. Other organizations have trimmed their freelance budgets, sometimes in addition to layoffs. If you think that’s a function of all of these writers doing something “wrong,” you’re about as ignorant as the people who think newspapers’ print circulation is declining solely because of “liberal bias.” The way in which we get our news has changed and continues to change, and we still haven’t figured out a good way to pay professionals when so many places are cranking out content for free or for pennies.

So when the reporters who still have a travel budget gather for MLS Cup and spend most of the State of the League press conference haranguing Garber about the Columbus-to-Austin shenanigans, is it really necessary to spend the rest of the holiday month yelling at reporters to investigate everything from why Kathy Carter is running for president (a legitimate question that should be asked in more detail in January) to whether MLS strong-armed national team coaches to play more MLS players even though Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley and Tim Howard have been fixtures on the national team since they were playing in Europe and, if anything, the fact that half the national team is from MLS today is more of a reflection that MLS has convinced these players to come home and how the hell do you expect reporters to get Garber or Sunil Gulati to admit they threatened to kneecap a coach unless they included a player from every MLS franchise and how would that work anyway when MLS has 22 teams and when the hell did Danny Williams become Busquets and Iniesta rolled into one, anyway?

Sorry. Where was I? Right …

I can’t speak for all of the “mainstream media” — especially now that I’ve been informed I’m no longer in it. (Whew! That takes the pressure off.) If you think particular reporters are reticent to challenge MLS and SUM leaders, fine. There are actually some plausible reasons for that — everything from simply getting along on a personal level to being unwilling to upset a source who leaks information. That’s why you should always check out a variety of sources (on anything). And when you notice someone always tends to get certain bits of information “first,” you might ask why that is. (Fortunately, the race to get the latest roster for a meaningless friendly 20 minutes before USSF announces it seems to have dissipated, as we’ve all found better things to do.)

The idea that MLS and SUM are strong-arming journalists, frankly, gets a bit silly. If you think MLS is going to yank credentials away from a Grant Wahl or a Steven Goff (who, incidentally, was way out in front in saying Gulati shouldn’t run for another term), you should really think before you tweet. Even in MMA, where the UFC exerts power on a global scale, Dana White had to backtrack when he kicked out Ariel Helwani. If you run a small blog and no longer have the credentials you once had, maybe someone unjustly kicked you out on a power trip — or, just maybe, you need to take a look at how you were operating.

Yes, a lot of journalists write or have written for MLSSoccer.com. Personally, I wrote a fantasy column for MLSNet back in the early 21st century, then gave it up when I started doing more soccer work as one of my myriad jobs at USA TODAY. You know who else wrote a column for MLSNet back in the day? Eric Wynalda. You think he’s afraid to speak up on MLS and SUM issues?

I mentioned at the outset that I’m working on two things that I hope will shed more light on SUM and MLS. They’re not going to be done before the holidays. That’s life. Some people have one. (Not just me — also the people I would need to interview and the editors who would need to look at and publish my work.)

So keep up the feedback. Let me know some questions you’d like to ask. In some cases, they’re unreasonable and pointless, and don’t be shocked if I let you know. In other cases, they’re interesting things that might not have occurred to me. That’s why I haven’t quit Twitter, and it’s why I block and mute only when people veer into outright harassment.

Have a happy Festivus or whatever you celebrate.


3 thoughts on “On SUM, Twitter and the media

  1. Thank you for this post. It is timely, well written and cogent.
    My commiserations with how un-lucrative soccer journalism is. I hope that changes.
    I’ve seen pundits on ESPN FC discuss how the worlds of US Soccer and MLS seems to be a closed club and if one speaks out against it one gets “blackballed”.
    See Craig Burley on this clip at about the 7:00 minute mark:

    So this sentiment may come across as wild conspiracy theory ravings on twitter but is apparently not limited to the twitterverse.

    Happy Holidays to you and yours.



  2. On the USSF Form 990 Schedule L Part IV: Business Transactions Involving Interested Persons, Don Garber is listed as an interested person with a significant transaction. It is the sole transaction in this list. The form indicates it is for sharing of organization’s revenues. It has been occurring for quite a few years and has increased every year. Is it SUM paying USSF, USSF paying SUM or something else? If MLS/Don Garber has such a large voting bloc, and MLS/SUM/USSF is significantly benefiting from an arrangement where Don Garber has significant power in all three organizations, how can we have any confidence in the MLS votes for the next USSF President? There appear to be a lot of conflicts to unwind in this arrangement.


  3. Another question: SUM also handles Mexico NT media rights in the US. Mexico NT Matches in the USA have ticket prices that can be double what is charged in Mexico. In June 2014 Kathy Carter saw no issues with this. “SUM executive Kathy Carter says there are no issues between the Mexico national team being such a big brand in large swathes of the US and the development of Major League Soccer – which SUM is part of – the US national team and the sport in general. In fact, she believes it is beneficial for all involved and is line with the mandate of her company to grow the sport in the US.” Is that true? Does it make sense to put someone in charge of USSF that thinks that?

    Liked by 1 person

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