When the U.S. Soccer Federation began pursuing the multimillion-dollar television and marketing contract it approved in June, its negotiating team was comprised of a Philadelphia tax attorney and real estate developer and a Columbia University assistant professor of economics. At least that's what Richard Groff and Sunil Gulati do by trade.
They are highly professional volunteers, but volunteers nonetheless. The same is true with the entire USSF board of directors. By federation rule, the people who determine soccer's direction in this country cannot be paid for their efforts.
The USSF's volunteer spirit has helped the United States make significant strides within the soccer world during the past two years. Yet, with a firm nudge from FIFA, international soccer's governing body, the federation's membership last week elected Alan Rothenberg as USSF president over incumbent Werner Fricker and incumbent treasurer Paul Stiehl.
The vote signals a major change in approach for the USSF as it attempts to learn from this summer, when the national team played in the World Cup for the first time in 40 years, and prepare for 1994, when it will host the Cup finals for the first time.
Fricker, a developer from Horsham, Pa., led the federation to success in soccer-as-an-avocation. Rothenberg, a litigator who spent seven years as president of the NBA's Los Angeles Clippers, will be leading it into soccer-as-a-business.
It promises to be a tricky task that will have to be performed at a key moment for soccer in the United States.
"There are a lot of expectations," said Sandy Briggs, executive director of the Soccer Industry Council of America.
"We want soccer to be a business," said Rick Davis, the former U.S. national team captain who is in his fifth year on the USSF's 23-person board of directors. "But we don't want it to be at the expense of what soccer is about in this country."
First, a little background: The USSF is something of a hybrid in the American sports world. In most cases, if a team sport is played on an amateur basis as well as large-scale, world-class, professional basis, there are separate governing bodies for each level of competition. For example, basketball has the NBA and U.S.A. Basketball. Currently, the USSF is soccer in the United States. It governs the amateurs and the pros, kids and adults, women and men.
Under Fricker, who became the USSF's president in 1984, it decided to get serious about the World Cup -- the sport's recognized world championship. Hosting the event's final rounds was seen as the locomotive that would pull the United States out of soccer's Third World, a development that will occur only when the millions of kids playing the game remain involved with the sport after reaching 18 to 22 years of age.
And in July 1988, that vision became a reality when FIFA awarded the 1994 Cup finals to the United States. Playing no small role in this accomplishment was Fricker's decision to have the USSF's campaign for the event orchestrated by professionals -- in this case, the Washington political consulting firm of Eddie Mahe Jr. and Associates.
Anyway, since the host country automatically gains a berth in the 24-team finals, it behooved the USSF to develop a national team that would not be embarrassed in 1994. That, in large part, meant gaining experience by qualifying for the 1990 finals in Italy and not getting humiliated there.
But the World Cup is contested by professionals, and there are no full-time, outdoor pro leagues in the United States. So, the USSF decided to sign most of its national team players to contracts. The United States' only full-time professional soccer team was being employed by the sport's national governing body.
This is pretty big stuff for an organization in which policy is made by volunteers and implemented by a modest-sized paid staff. Things started becoming unwieldy when its budget grew from $4.2 million in fiscal 1988 to $6 million in 1990.
Still, even in the late 1980s, the USSF needed leadership more than money. Fricker is a strong-minded, hands-on manager. When the USSF was awarded the World Cup finals, however, the rules began to change. Fricker needed to expand his cadre within the USSF.
People who had been excluded from policy making in order to streamline the process wanted a greater role now that the USSF's responsibilities had become so broad. Fricker also needed to make sure FIFA remained content because it took a risk by giving the finals to a non-soccer nation. In return, it is expecting the '94 finals to boost soccer in the United States, which in turn will boost its revenues.
Fricker did not change with the rules.
Enter Rothenberg, a former chairman of the NASL's Los Angeles Aztecs who has had little to do with soccer since.
Scott LeTellier, president of the 1994 World Cup organizing committee and assistant vice president of sports for the 1984 Summer Games, said Rothenberg is "one of the more energetic, ambitious people I've ever met. He motivates people well. He has credibility with corporate sponsors. He's one of the hardest-working people I've ever met as well."
But there is a person emerging on the scene with Rothenberg: Charles Cale. Cale, a Los Angeles attorney, was vice president of sports for the 1984 Summer Games and currently serves as an assistant to U.S. Olympic Committee President Robert Helmick. When FIFA began searching for an alternative to Fricker, it went to him.
Cale knows soccer at the FIFA level, the USSF level, the corporate level and from the level of coaching his daughter's soccer team in a league for 8- and 9-year-olds.
He also is part of a transition committee that will provide the launching pad for Rothenberg's stewardship of the USSF. During the next two months, the committee will oversee what Cale described as a "financial, legal, and management audit" of the USSF.
Cale said the federation is succeeding in its efforts to bolster participation in the game on a grass-roots level, but its progress in virtually all other areas needs to be scrutinized.
"I think everybody understands we're understaffed," USSF national administrator Kevin Payne said. "But things have been happening too fast and there hasn't been enough money."
After a deficit of about $390,000 in the fiscal year that ended Aug. 31, 1989, brought the USSF's overall operating deficit to more than $460,000, the federation has had a tremendous fiscal 1990.
Payne said the USSF took in about $1.5 million from playing in the World Cup finals and games held in preparation for the finals. In addition, he said, there was an initial payment of $200,000 from the marketing and television contract negotiated by Groff and Gulati. As a result, Payne is forecasting a $339,000 surplus for the year.
Cale said he foresees an overhaul in "how the sport is presented in the fourth estate and how the sport is presented to potential sponsors."
If enough money can be generated, the USSF might hire a full-time chief. It could change its rules and allow the president to be paid or redefine the president's role and create what would amount to a chief executive officer.
"I don't know if it is necessary for us to do that today," Davis said, "but that day is fast approaching."
As for on-field issues, "serious consideration" will be given to the national professional outdoor league the USSF board of directors has voted to start sometime in 1992, Cale said.
Until the transition committee completes its evaluation and Rothenberg holds his first board of directors meeting, now scheduled for October, the status quo likely will be preserved. So will the positive feeling about Rothenberg. After that, however, Rothenberg will have to earn his praise.
"He has to deliver," Briggs said. "But I'm sure he, more than anybody, recognizes what's at stake."