Trending Topics: US Soccer, SUM benefited from Blazer — but are safe from FIFA

chuck blazer

by CHRISTIAN ARAOS
Columnist

In his mostly unsealed testimony, Chuck Blazer said he and other officials took bribes to hand out the television rights to five different Gold Cups and the hosting rights to two different World Cups. The testimony further implicates the indicted officials representing CONCACAF, FIFA and Traffic Sports.

So far, US Soccer and Soccer United Marketing remain out of the eye of federal investigators.

The FBI has stated that the current focus of its investigation is the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding processes and FIFA President Sepp Blatter. With Swiss authorities also stating that the focus of their investigation is on the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, the most likely way USSF or SUM could be criminally implicated is in connection to those bids. Sorry to burst the bubbles of activist fans who continue to share the photo of Blazer embracing MLS Commissioner Don Garber, but if the feds believed SUM was playing dirty in order to get the Gold Cup marketing rights, Blazer would have remembered to mention the Gold Cups held from 2005-2011 while under oath.

That is not to say those individuals are unaware of what have been going on around them in the past two weeks — or for the past decade. U.S. Soccer Federation General Secretary Dan Flynn sat on the CONCACAF Evaluation Committee that received RFPs from marketing firms when Traffic was awarded the marketing rights to the 2013 Gold Cup. This was one of the tournaments that the federal indictment claims Traffic Sports USA President Aaron Davidson bribed more senior CONCACAF officials to get. With Davidson negotiating a plea deal, the only other person incriminated in this scheme is FIFA Vice President Jeffrey Webb.

The aforementioned meme fits the description of all memes: lazy, fabricated stretches of logic that contribute nothing to the marketplace of ideas. In this case, Garber’s warm relationship with Blazer comes from two favors Blazer did for him.

When InterForever Sports—the sports marketing company half-owned by Traffic Sports—hit financial struggles in the early 2000s, Blazer ended CONCACAF’s relationship with the company and resold the marketing rights to SUM. It is a move that helped generate much needed revenue to revitalize MLS and a move that increased CONCACAF’s revenue by $40 million per year. A CONCACAF internal investigation found that the federation’s former general secretary had created an account for himself within the CONCACAF’s books to accrue a commission of “10% of CONCACAF’s total proceeds from its agreements with InterForever and SUM, without separating out revenue that did not qualify as “sponsorship and TV rights fees” under the Sportvertising Contracts.” CONCACAF did not file a tax return from 2007-11 and Blazer pleaded guilty to tax fraud in 2013.

If the FBI were not after Blatter and/or the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, then Blazer’s other big favor for Garber could be subject to more scrutiny. In 2006, FIFA was set to award the U.S. English-language rights to the 2010 and 2014 World Cups to NBC Sports over SUM, the previous rights holder. It was known to all key players at the time that NBC was only interested in broadcasting the World Cup at the time. Garber told the SportsBusiness Journal in 2006 that NBC’s approach was “a top-down approach, and that’s bad for soccer in America.”

So Garber asked Blazer to convince the FIFA Executive Committee to delay its decision while he could convince other networks more interested in broadcasting MLS to equal NBC’s bid of $325 million. Blazer told the Executive Committee that it needed to support SUM’s efforts to raise money for MLS because SUM had already successfully driven up the value of the U.S. television rights. The ExCo obliged and after a frenzied month of secret meetings and negotiations, ESPN and Univision—both MLS broadcast partners then and now—put forth separate bids for the English and Spanish language rights to the World Cup for a combined sum of $450 million.

SUM undercut NBC in the bidding process to the television rights to the 2010 and 2014 World Cups. FIFA’s decision to keep the management of its television rights in-house fostered an environment for this to happen as it gave Blazer the ability to interact with the people who handed out the valuable rights.

As far as we know, he has never had to answer to the federal government for this interaction, and with the feds looking elsewhere, he probably will never have to.

Officials in US Soccer, SUM and MLS know Blazer and have benefited from their relationships with him. No one is trying to deny that. The sports marketing game was a dirty one and Blazer was the dirty man they needed. However, the feds are going after who set up the dirty game and who is still playing it — not the retiree nor his powerless constituents.

  • chepe pedos

    One of the reasons i stopped watching MLS, they want to control everything , and give me teams with low —mid level players to watch every week. No way MLS will be a top league by 2022, we continue to have teams with not so good talent. I just wanna see good football on the field . Thats all

    • LOL

      Says a fan of the fake Cosmos, which payroll isn’t even match half of the lowest spending MLS team.

  • Larry’s A Simpleton

    Is that you Deacon? Then again if you’re happy watching the low quality of the NASL then good for you! But personally I wouldnt get my hopes up for good football.

    • Dr. Freud

      You are obsessed with the Cosmos and the NASL. You need help. It is clearly a deep lying issue which arises from extreme self-loathing. Please get help.

      • slowleftarm

        Why? He responded to an anti-MLS comment from a Cosmos fan.

  • Sgc

    This article was mostly fair, but a couple other things needed to be spelled out. NBC Sports was still run by Dick Ebersol in 2006, and was still being run on the “Olympic Sports model.” NBC expected to provide full World Cup coverage only on Telemundo–the expectation for the English broadcast was that it would likely be edited/delayed, commercially interrupted, and full of human interest side stories.

    What I’m saying is, there’s certainly an explanation besides bribery for FIFA to re-bid that competition out, especially if basically the most successful (and Blazer was that, in terms of adding rights value) official they had in the region was telling them he could repackage the bid and get FIFA more money. Certainly USSF and MLS/SUM benefited from that–but so did FIFA, both in the short and long term.

  • Jspech

    This story was to clinical. I’ll wait for AG to say, “We expect no other Indictment in this case. Furthermore, this FIFA scandal, & the cob-webs it helped grow on the letters MLS on the keyboards of far to many soccer writers is why I dislike Single-Entity/ monopoly. Not that I expect any writers to ever look at MLS critically (See Howler mag & Klingsman). Read like it was written to MLS, yet aspire to be an investigative article. Laugher!!
    It should have been titled, Dear MLS, You did nothing Wrong.

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