i've been asked to blog this week on BigSoccer.com. i'm soliciting questions for a Q&A on Friday and hope to cover most of these topics during the week:
1) MLS: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
2) Stand and Deliver: A reminder of supporters culture from Brandon Kitchens
3) WPS: A message to WPS 2014 and 2019 from WPS 2009
4) WPS Predictions: team and individual
5) Red Stars: Three years in the making
6) WUSA: Lessons learned.
7) Chicago Fire 1998: Blueprint for Philly, VAN & PDX
8) If I was Commissioner for a Day (MLS or WPS): Things I’d change and/or improve upon.
9) MLS/WPS: Things soccer does better than other sports leagues. And things we do worse.
10) People I respect in soccer: Untold stories of the true good guys in soccer (i.e., your experiences with Chris Armas (player), Bob Bradley (coach), Doug Hamilton (executive), etc.).
Topic #4 was just posted. All the posts can be seen here.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
It was great to attend the Chicago Fire Foundation's Season Kickoff Luncheon yesterday at the Sheraton Hotel. It is one of my favorite events of the year, because it brings together every corner of the Chicago soccer community and all of the Fire's stake holders.
The Chicago Red Stars were well represented by former Fire staffers Pat McNamara and Greg Zaskowski as well as Alyse LaHue, Amber Simons (who is also serving as the Red Stars Foundation's Executive Director), Marcia McDermott and me. There were plenty of Fire staff alumni on hand as well including Toyota Park's Dan Garnett and Kevin Spudic and Mike Squire, Trent Sheridan, Donald Ortale, Kim Beauvais, Vince Formanek and Andy Stengren.
Marcia and i were guests of the Fan Addicts and enjoyed sitting in the front row of tables with hosts John and Kris Keller and Mike and Diane Colwell and the new Chicago Fire Foundation President Frank Klopas.
The highlight was the showing of the Dean Magdalin produced Chicago Fire spots featuring Jim Belushi . Belushi performs a soccer version of the award-winning Reinke, Clement and Associates produced commercials for the Milwaukee Admirals in the mid-90s. In the Admirals hockey spots Bob Uecker takes on the over confident, star in waiting buffoon role. The Belushi spots had the crowd roaring with laughter as the Chicago native worked out with Fire players to earn a spot on the team's roster.
i also enjoyed speaking with Head Coach Denis Hamlett, his assistants Mike Jeffries and Daryl Shore and Goalkeeper Jon Busch. Also spoke briefly with Fire leadership including Andrew Hauptman, Javier Leon, Dave Greeley, Mike Humes and Becky Carroll. Becky is the Fire's new Fire VP of Communications and she was joined by Fire Manager of Communications Lauren Brophy at the Section 8 post-luncheon soiree at PJ Clarke's. Becky was a delight and even bought a round for the appreciative supporters.
The day served to whet our appetite for the pro soccer season which has already started in warmer climates and is eagerly anticipated here in Chicago.
Monday, March 23, 2009
i was talking to my niece Ingrid yesterday and she told me she was going to go live on a farm. This came as a bit of a surprise as she currently goes to grade school and lives in very urban Minneapolis.
Turns out she's going to "Farm Camp" for five weeks and plans to return afterwards. Ingrid loves animals, so her parents may be thinking she wants her "plan" to be extended.
She said the farm has llamas and i asked her if llamas raced. Ingrid said she didn't think so, but i remained curious, so i told her i would research the question.
And thanks to our good friends at YouTube we find the answer is "yes". In fact, not only are there llama races, there is also an annual event in Hammond, Wisconsin memorialized in a documentary film called "The Running of the Llamas", which in some cases would be more accurately named "The Dragging of the Llamas". Here we see a boy training his llama for racing - i think he has a future champion if the crowds don't scare him...or the llama. And finally, here we get to know some of the great llama racers of all time and their successes and failures.
While this post has nothing to do with soccer, it did give me the gratuitous opportunity to share racing llama videos (as well as The Llama Song), which i think we can all (except perhaps PETA) appreciate.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Just a ridiculous amount of American soccer news flooding my inbox this week and most of it is good.
MLS Expansion - Vancouver, which was announced today, and Portland later this week.
DC Stadium - The soap opera continues
WPS Expansion - Philly is going to be a great franchise.
Seattle's sold out inaugural game - The whole Sounders success is the best story in MLS history.
MLS opening weekend - This seems really early, but can't wait to see if Toronto has really improved that much and if the entire Western Conference is really worse than the entire Eastern Conference.
WPS teams trimming rosters - With only seven teams, there are going to be some very good players in the W-League this year.
Michael Bradley finds his scoring boots - And he's helping save Mönchengladbach's season.
Soccer and Twitter, a match made in heaven - Only 15 years ago, it was nearly impossible to find out ANY information about soccer anywhere, now in the new age of instant information, Twitter is pushing out incredible amounts of soccer information constantly.
Red Stars first pre-season game vs. another WPS team. Follow my Twitter updates at RedStarsCEO for lineups and game updates.
Have a great rest of the week and i hope to see everyone at the IYSA Expo this Saturday in Schaumburg.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
Quietly. and far from even the limited spotlight that pro women's soccer receives, there are seven month-long chemistry experiments under way at soccer outposts across the country. These experiments, conducted by Professors Hayes, DiCicco, Sawyers, Gabarra, Barcellos, Montoya and Rogers, are all now just about half finished.
The ingredients for the experiments were limited the first two weeks mainly to young domestic players who will be fighting for spots in the starting lineup or even spots on the roster. The completion of the Cyprus Cup and Algarve Cup and delays in visa and international transfer certificates delayed the addition of the key ingredients - U.S. and international national team players.
The first two weeks of preseason established processes, training regimens and relationships. The next two weeks will integrate the 8+ national team players each team has rostered. WPS has succeeded beyond expectations in securing the talents of 50+ of the most talented female footballers worldwide. The fabulous 50 including this magician, are evenly spread among the seven franchises, so that each team's supporters can eyeball their rosters on paper and honestly contend that theirs is truly a Super Club.
When seven Super Clubs play in the same league, however, one still must finish first (and last). The determining factors will be injuries, luck and most importantly - team chemistry. That team chemistry will certainly evolve over the course of the season, but the main ingredients that determine the nature of the chemistry are being activated now on soccer fields, in hotels and in meeting, training and weight rooms across the country.
The Chicago Red Stars laboratory has moved from McCook,Illinois to Sunrise, Florida. The experiment returns to Chicagoland this Saturday, March 21st at 2 pm with a public viewing of Professor Hayes in action at the IYSA Expo in Schaumburg. Emma will be taking her entire class through a full 90 minute training session indoors at the Schaumburg Sports Center at 1141 W. Irving Park.
The IYSA Expo is a great annual event as it hosts the entirety of the Chicagoland soccer community. It runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and includes Chicago FireFest, various seminars and meetings including a Red Stars Town Hall at noon and dozens of soccer business vendor booths.
i hope to see you there as the Red Stars chemistry experiment makes a rare public appearance. It'll be a great opportunity to meet the professor and her students.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
Maybe it's because i was a journalism major in college. Maybe it's because i was a wire service sports writer for three years. Maybe it's because i have a big ego and like seeing my name in print, but i've always enjoyed talking to reporters.
This morning i had scheduled interviews with New York Times soccer writer Jack Bell and the Associated Press' Rachel Cohen. Both the NYT and AP are as old media as you get these days. Both interviews were handled telephonically, lasted about thirty minutes and generally covered the improvements of WPS' business model over the WUSA's eight years earlier. Both interviews were for articles being written in advance of WPS' launch March 29th.
In the afternoon, my BlackBerry started buzzing with emails, text messages . FaceBook notifications and of course Tweets from various people forwarding Tom Dunmore's return to blogging with a Pitch Invasion article focusing on the Red Stars use of new media to promote the team and connect with our audiences.
Tom's article and reaction from readers were very positive and made us feel good about the direction we're going in promoting the Red Stars.
The good vibes came crashing down late in the afternoon though when Marquette's valiant comeback from a 16 point halftime deficit against Villanova in the Big East quarterfinal crashed and burned at the buzzer. As is the nature of sports however, my disposition soon turned up again as reports out of Florida told of Ella Masar's two goals which highlighted the Red Stars first 90-minute victory over the University of Miami by a 2-0 shutout (click on Ella's name...it's kinda humorous).
Sunday, March 8, 2009
This was my Twitter message yesterday morning on the way to Toyota Park:
"Today: Advisory Board mtng, Pick Your Seat Day, CRS Fndation board candidate intervw, talk to ISSA, 1st CRS exhibitns @ Lk Barrngtn. Whew!"
Consolidating yesterday's whirlwind of Red Stars activity into 140 characters really didn't do the day justice. It was a 12-hour non-stop Saturday that only slowed down for about 20 minutes prior to the Illinois State Soccer Association's meeting.
At the end of the day Red Stars GM Marcia McDermott and i talked about avoiding overlaying so many activities on the same day in the future to help improve quality control....we agreed that we really didn't have much of a choice this time and it's unlikely we'll run into many more days like that in the future.
The two public events came off generally well:
"Pick Your Seat Day" featured several hundred Red Stars season ticket holders relaxing in the Toyota Park Stadium Club away from the persistent rain, touring the seating area before selecting their seats and meeting Red Stars players including Swedish National Team star Frida Östberg and Danesha Adams.
Hundreds of fans squeezed into the remarkable Lake Barrington Fieldhouse for the first glimpse at the Chicago Red Stars ever in a round robin tournament. The pre-season team (pictured above) is still missing four of its internationals who are awaiting visa clearance and three players who are in Portugal with the US National Team. Donations from the spectators raised more than $1,000 for the Chicago Red Stars Charitable Foundation. Through two mini-games (45 minutes each), the Red Stars remain undefeated. Tina Estrada forever etched herself into Red Stars lore by scoring the first two goals in Red Stars history to top Northwestern 2-0. Afterwards, a fresh-legged Purdue team drew the Red Stars 0-0 in the second match. Australian National Team Goalkeeper Lydia Williams earned the shutout for the Red Stars against the Boilermakers.
The three private events i participated in also went well:
The Red Stars quarterly Advisory Board meeting was attended by about twenty stake holders and everyone contributed to discussion ranging from the Red Stars mascot (still undecided) to suburban viewing party locations to recommendations for urban promotional venues (Reggie's on Ladies Arm Wrestling Night - thank you Tom!).
Red Stars Charitable Foundation Executive Director Amber Simons and i met with Denise Barreto to discuss the possibility of Denise joining the Red Stars Board of Directors. Denise has tremendous corporate and foundation experience. She is currently a marketing executive for Sears and formerly served as the founding Executive Director of the Chicago Fire's FireWorks For Kids Foundation.
At the ISSA Meeting, Red Stars Account Executive Carrie Sear and i updated the group on the Red Stars progress and described the IWSL partnership benefits including the complimentary ticket vouchers for all players, which were distributed after the meeting.
After the long day was over i had a long drive back home through the rural towns of Johnsburg, Richmond, Lake Geneva and East Troy before finally getting to Milwaukee. The drive did seem to go faster than usual as i had a series of team related phone calls during most of the trip.
'Tis the season though, as the days, minutes and seconds continue to count down until the launch of Women's Professional Soccer!
Thursday, March 5, 2009
During these days of economic crisis when every television, newspaper and Twitter report is of certain doom and gloom*, it was refreshing to participate in two days of WPS owners meetings this week that included a number of positive indicators for the League's launch and future.
Individual teams and the League both had good reports on ticket sales, sponsor direction and expansion. While some teams are further ahead than others on ticket sales, the League overall is averaging around 1,000 season tickets per team with more than a month to launch and the teams that started the slowest are making the greatest gains recently.
i'm encouraged by the willingness and ability of teams that started slowly to react quickly and address their business needs. i think that's an indicator of the level of engagement the ownership in WPS has, which is greater than the WUSA's ownership.
While sponsorship sales are down throughout the sports industry, WPS is making good progress with a dozen or so companies whose customers fit our targeted audience. Several teams are also in serious discussions for jersey front presenting sponsorships. While some of these talks will close and some will not, it is apparent that the League's message and audience is resonating with corporate America even during these difficult times.
And finally, the positive talk on the expansion front continues to strengthen our belief as owners that we are on the right business path. The League has taken a focused approach to expansion that is resulting in identification of quality leadership that will grow WPS and assure the League's long term sustainability.
*That doom and gloom article was written in 2005 as a spoof...kinda eerie how accurate the "spoof" turned out to be.