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Alan Rothenberg: U.S. Soccer and Nike team to grow soccer

(Thursday, January 1, 1998) -- These are indeed good times for U.S. Soccer and for soccer in the United States.

I am sure that you have all read about the United States Soccer Federation's exciting new partnership with Nike, but I want to take this opportunity to report personally to the soccer community and to share with each of you a glimpse of the future opportunities.

The Nike contract is not simply a sponsorship renewal. It is anything but that. In the course of extremely amicable and complex negotiations which went on for months, we made sure that the Federation's aims would be met and that we would be able to tap into one of America's greatest sports marketing companies to achieve them. To that end we found Nike to be a very willing partner, one that shares the dreams of Project 2010 and that fully embraces our bold, but attainable goal of winning a World Cup by 2010.

The Wall Street Journal reported some very hefty financial figures about our contract ($120 million for eight years), and it would be inappropriate for me to be any more specific than that. But the critical issue here is that the contract is about a great deal more than money. As Nike President Tom Clarke said during the October news conference held to unveil the deal:

This partnership with the USSF is about growing the sport of soccer in the U.S. Nike represents the future of soccer. By making the game more visible and accessible to all kids and creating more opportunities for them to play at an international level, we can close the competitive gap internationally and win the World Cup by 2010. We are dedicated through our grass roots programs to working with and developing the best young talent this country has to offer.

I'm especially proud of the fact that in our negotiations we were able to retain some very attractive rights, which now can be maximized by the youth and amateur divisions and the state associations. Specifically, the apparel category for those family members remains available for them to exploit to their best possible advantage. It was always the aim of our talks to protect our members and not to co-opt them from future growth paths. I eagerly await their progress on this issue and know that U.S. Soccer has provided a bountiful future for them as well as for the parent body.

Much of the money -- indeed most of the money -- that Nike is putting into our sport is earmarked for player development and identification, starting at the youth level and working its way upwards. We shared detail of the Project 2010 initiatives with you at the annual general meeting, and now we will embark on honing those ideas into reality.

Finally, let me also notify you of something about the Nike contract which did not make headlines. In his remarks, Tom Clarke alluded to growing the sport of soccer, and Nike has taken a creative approach to working with us. Nike has agreed to spend significant dollars -- millions -- to advertise and promote the game of soccer during the contract's lifetime. This, too, is a critical area of our future because soccer now is in the wonderful position of having a major sponsor that wants to spend its own money to promote our game. The commercial significance and power of soccer has now been recognized, and we will all benefit.

The 90s have already given us a huge number of memories. Now, as the decade approaches its end and as U.S. Soccer enters a transition, I am happy to say that the sport continues to grow exponentially and that your Federation's leadership has done its best to make sure that the future is secure for all.

Alan Rothenberg is the president of the USSF and can be e-mailed at SOCFED@aol.com. He is also the chairman of Major League Soccer.

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