by Allison Andrews, USLFans.com reporter
Friday, November 21 marked the first full day of the 2008 United Soccer Leagues Annual General Meeting. The Super Y-League North American Finals also kicked off at other Tampa locations on Friday, but the AGM events centered on the Hyatt Regency hotel in downtown Tampa, which served as host of the event for the third year in a row.
The AGM attendees sign in
For the second year in a row, all four champions on a single jersey
The Opening Lunch is ready to start
The Hyatt Regency Tampa, site of the AGM for the third year in a row
The leagues held their individual meetings in the morning as those who had not checked in on Thursday (including myself) found their way in and picked up their badges and meeting materials. The opening full attendee event this year would be Friday’s Opening Lunch, with the Master of Ceremonies this year being Charleston’s Andrew Bell. USL Executive Vice President & Chief Operating Officer Tim Holt opened the meeting and spoke about the longevity of the league, with it’s 25th season a year off, and President Franciso Marcos followed and spoke about the international reach that the league has achieved over the past few years, with the involvement of teams like West Ham and Burnley forming partnerships in the USL, and the expansion of the league being exemplified by the First Division final this year between Vancouver and Puerto Rico, two franchises that are 6,000 kilomteres miles apart and could only be exceeded in distance between two soccer clubs in a single league anywhere in the world by the distance between St. Petersburg and Vladivostok in the Russian Premier League.
AGM attendees then got a chance to hear about the new relationship between Nike and Umbro, as Nike officially acquired Umbro, who owns 94% of the USL, during the last year. Mark Duggan, who is President of Umbro - The Americas and was Chief Executive Officer of Nike Bauer Hockey before that, spoke about the importance of the Umbro brand to soccer around the world, with the 1966 World Cup victory by England, wearing Umbro kits of course, being one of the high points, but that Nike was committed to maintaining the Umbro brand, and using Nike technology and expertise to help strength Umbro’s product line. To many who were at the AGM last year when the Nike acquisition of Umbro had first been discussed, it was comforting to hear that Nike did not intend to just assimilate Umbro into the Nike brand. Umbro’s reputation and brand loyalty within the soccer world was strong enough to make it’s brand valuable enough to keep, and that point would be made clear at a meeting I would attend later in the day.
But the first individual meeting I attended would be the Fox Soccer Channel meeting, which was mostly about the logistics of getting the games on the air, but an interesting point made by David Bolton from Cultural Videos and Sports (who works with Fox Soccer Channel to get these games on the air) is the difficulty in sometimes getting the production trucks to the games, especially with the growth of coverage of Major League Soccer and College Football, which can affect the availability of that equipment, and is greatly affected by the region where the games are originating from. As a fan who is just used to seeing the trucks there at the stadium when showing up for the games, I never thought about the difficulty in getting those trucks to the matches, and the problems (and costs) associated with getting them there if they are not available locally. And while points were raised about using stadium feeds or existing equipment that are in some stadiums to help this situation, Bolton spoke about the need to maintain the quality of the product as a reason why he wants to use the latest state of the art equipment for those broadcasts to maintain a high standard.
As I mentioned earlier, one of the biggest areas of growth of the USL in recent years has been reaching into international markets, not necessarily with new clubs, but with partnerships with teams around the world. The next meeting I was able to attend was “The West Ham Way” where Jon Conway from West Ham USA talked about the partnership that the English Premiership club formed in 2007 with the USL and how the program has already started producing results with a few players already having come over from North America and into the West Ham youth program, and also re-enforced the strength the team sees in Umbro as a soccer brand, as West Ham is an Umbro team and sees their partnership with the USL as a part of that brand loyalty. He also spoke about Jonathan Spector, who played in the USL Super Y-League and now plays for West Ham, though he was discovered outside the current youth discovery program, but he also serves as a strong ambassador to the youth players coming up through the West Ham youth program.
The evening ended with the Hall of Fame awards dinner, which included the induction of Amos Magee, Pat Onstad, and Mo Sheta in this year’s class, along with the Brooklyn Knights, Northern Virginia Royals/Majestics, Central Florida Kraze, and Westchester Flames, who all joined the 10+ years club this season.
Magee, who was introduced by Thunder President Manny Lagos, spoke of his friendly rivalry and respect for fellow inductee Pat Onstad, and said that he feels that he was inducted as much for the respect he brought to the game as to his on-field performance, “except for the time I went after the refs in Charleston after a PK”, but he left that one moment could be excused.
Onstad, who was introduced by former Rhinos teammate and current Rochester Rhinos coach Darren Tilley, also spoke of his career matching up against Magee, and also his close friendship with the Rhinos he enjoyed, especially during the 1998 and 1999 seasons when they won the First Division and US Open Cup titles respectively, but also admitted to his “Own goal Onstad” nickname he has carried throughout his career after knocking a cross into his own net during his first MLS home match.
Sheta, who was introduced by Majestics General Manager Tim Schweitzer, kept his comments short, but recognized everybody who has worked so hard and spent so much time and effort to make this league work, and seemed especially honored by the award.
I will add more photos and details from the awards presentations for the individual leagues at a later date, but will let the league announce all of the awards first.
Saturday: “State of The League” Address and SoccerFest event.