The man who brought Baggies to the world thinks that he can make U.S. professional soccer a success by adapting the business methods that made him a multimillionaire.
Howard Samuels, 63, a brash politician and the founder of Kordite Corp., has a four-point business plan that he says can revolutionize both professional soccer in the United States and this country's world role in the sport.
As president of the North American Soccer League, the number two job behind Commissioner Phil Woosnam, Samuels is in a good position to try. Essentially, what he is trying to do is run soccer like he'd run any business: emphasizing cost-cutting, marketing, patriotism and unity among two often competing entities--his league and the Modern Indoor Soccer League.
That means insisting that owners cut fat and players' salaries, instituting strict league-wide accounting standards, moving American soccer toward world class competition, taking greater advantage of the sport's existing commercial strength--its burgeoning appeal to the young--and rationalizing soccer's muddled dual indoor and outdoor seasons.
It may not be Bowie Kuhn's or Pete Rozelle's accommodating style, but the first thing Samuels said he did after taking the job last June and studying the NASL's problems was tell team owners what he thought of their efforts. "I told all the owners they're horses' -----," he said in an interview.
In Samuels' view, the owners, in what is now a 14-team league, have been paying too much for players and not enough for marketing, particularly since the league lost between $25 million and $30 million last year, averaging 14,000 fans per game.
"We're in a business that can't affort $150,000-a-year players," Samuels said. "I told one owner that he ought to sell his team. He didn't believe in marketing, he only believes in winning. They get into sports and they lose all business concepts."
NASL owners had been willing to "spend $75,000 for a player but look for a $25,000-a-year marketing executive. A sport's image is based on marketing," not winning, he said.
While that image-building is going on, it also means that the league is going to have to cut costs at every corner. "Cost reduction is the simplest one of the areas he wants to emphasize to get to," Samuels said. Whether it means abandoning a high salary structure for players, pressing the airlines for discount packages, or perhaps ordering joint insurance plans, urging owners to cut unncessary overhead is atop Samuels' immediate agenda. He thinks $400,000 to $500,000 can be cut from each team's overhead within the year.
Next, Samuels hopes to take advantage of the commitment of American youth to the game, largely through the development of Washington-based Team America.
"In order to give kids someone to dream about, we've got to develop American players," he said. "The future requires that we build national teams. The sport will never make it here until we prove we can play in international competition." By doing so, "We can change the whole public attitude toward the sport," he asserted.
In addition, Samuels said he is at the forefront of efforts to bring the World Cup--the international tournament that is considered the most widely watched and most successful sporting event in the world--to the United States as soon as 1986.
He realizes the league will have to establish itself without the help of national television in the near future, although he says syndication is possible and thinks cable television ultimately will come to soccer's aid.