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MISL and owners trade comments as league dissolves

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It's no secret the MISL owners were looking to maybe move to another league but the MISL/USL response seems to have galvanized the owners.

MISL commissioner Chris Economides last semi-tranquil moment in the league
MISL commissioner Chris Economides last semi-tranquil moment in the league
Thad Bell

The MISL gave the Missouri Comets approximately a scant 12 hours to celebrate winning the MISL Championship before throwing cold water on the celebration when MISL released this statement Monday morning.

"Since acquiring the MISL in 2011, we have been committed to raising the overall standards within the league and bringing increased stability to what had previously been a turbulent period for the indoor professional game... we have...come to the conclusion that...it will be necessary for us to do more than continue to make minor adjustments to the existing framework."

"Accordingly, the MISL is undertaking a process of comprehensively reviewing all aspects of the property including its membership, competitive product, and economic model.  Fundamental to the resulting reforms that will be implemented is ensuring that our most important partners, the team owners, not only share our vision, but are also capable of meeting the operational, economic, and legal standards of participating in a high-level indoor professional soccer league.  As a result,several teams that possess a different philosophy on how to structure and operate an indoor professional soccer league will not be returning to the MISL."

"The MISL refuses to compromise or otherwise relax its standards as a shortcut to increasing its number of teams in the immediate-term, and to the contrary believes that this is the proper time for the ownership standards to be increased in order to best position this league for long-term success. If that means it becomes necessary for us to not have a 2014-15 season schedule...then that is a route we are prepared to pursue. "

"We will be spending the next few months working to determine the future of the league with those who possess the capability, desire, and assets to be a part of building a league that is truly special and is worthy of the illustrious history of the MISL name.  Several prominent organizations with arena sports interests have committed to be part of this process and we are excited about where this will lead us.  We look forward to sharing with our fans the result of these efforts in mid-2014 and appreciate the passionate following the sport continues to have throughout North America."

When asked, Comets president Brian Budzinski responded with the following. "The Comets are committed to putting a first class product on and off the field as we have done for the last four seasons. This has culminated in a MISL Championship that we as an organization are currently celebrating with our fans. We plan to continue to provide that championship product next year and many years into the future."

Salvatore "Soccer Sam" Fantauzzo, CEO/Founder of the Rochester Lancers responded by phone.

"The Lancers are going to stay with our brothers, the Missouri Comets, the Baltimore Blast, the Syracuse Silver Knights, the St Louis Ambush and the Milwaukee Wave. We are going to stay united. We don't have a definite game plan yet. We were all waiting for the season to end to meet and put together the ideas and plans."

"We agree that we need to be in a league that understands that indoor soccer is their number one focus and their only focus and not a secondary focus."

Most of the owners in MISL already had voiced their commitment to exploring other options in the off season but Soccer Sam felt the MISL announcement and timing was even more incentive. "Sending out that announcement without giving the Missouri Comets time to celebrate their championship just makes me realize, it helped us all make our decision quicker.

The MISL mentioned they need owners that are committed but Soccer Sam feels that MISL has not been as committed to improving the league.

"They haven't helped the league grow and last year they brought in Pennsylvania at the last minute so the other contracts would be valid. In my three years in the business I've watched Norfolk come and go, I've watched Wichita that was owned by a multi-billionaire with his own stadium come and go, we've watched Chicago come and go and this year we've watched Pennsylvania come and go. These are all teams that they brought into the league."

"They talk about stability, I don't think the existing teams are the problem with stability," Sam continued. "The problem with stability is they haven't focused. They've been focusing on USL-Pro and making their $500,000 franchise fee with USL-Pro and not focusing on the MISL. If anyone takes time to really study this, the six MISL teams, let's take Pennsylvania out of the mix, outdraw almost every USL-Pro team. "

The latest published league reference was the USL  asking $250,000 for a USL Pro franchise (slide 19) but there were earlier documents that suggested they would ask as high as $750,000. Rochester's Soccer Sam was correct about attendance. The MISL (with Pennsylvania) averaged 4,659 while USL Pro averaged 2,611. Matching up by teams, the top 5 MISL team would all be in the top 7 of attendance matched with the USL Pro.

Soccer Sam was understandably excited and passionate about this subject and did not stop there. "The production value is at a different level completely and if you compare Ed Hale and Brad Likens from Missouri, you don't get any more quality owners than that. Those guys are very successful business people, very dedicated soccer people. To not want teams and owners of that quality in your league makes no sense at all. Throw the Rochester Lancers into the mix, for the last three years we have lead in attendance, lead the league in sponsorship sales, ticket sales. Our production is very comparable to an NBA production."

"Meanwhile I can go to their home base in Tampa and watch a Tampa VSI game," Sam continued. "There would be a 100 fans in their home city that the league (USL Pro) is based out of. There would be a 100 fans at an outdoor game, there would be no sponsorship, no anthem singers, no dancers and no halftime show. There would be absolutely no value for your dollar as a fan in the home city of the USL. Those are the people that are going to try and tell us what they are looking for in ownership? Are you kidding me? That's the biggest farce I've ever heard."

When asked about USL adding a number of USL Pro franchises across the country and if affiliation with MLS was helping , Sam responded. "They are able to sell USL Pro franchises right now but I'm not convinced they are going to be stable. You could spend your franchise money to own a USL franchise thinking you are affiliated with MLS but if you are drawing 500 fans a game, it doesn't really matter. They have created the affiliation, the feeder system but they need to do a whole lot more than that. As a franchisor, you need to train your franchisees how to operate. They don't do that."

MISL also released a video with USL President Tim Holt discussing the situation (seen above). Soccer Sam was not impressed.

"One of their brands, the MISL, they have five very strong owners with 4,000 plus fans a game, some buildings draw 7-8,000, have amazing production, they have the anthem singers, have the dancers, have everything a fan needs to feel he is at a pro sporting event. And then you go and make this ‘mickey mouse' video and do a public statement. Are you kidding or what? "

"That video reminded me of a funeral home commercial that is what it reminded me of," Sam added. "It's like a third grader produced that. That's what we want to show about our league? My grandson puts together a better video with his iPad and he is ten years old."

Sam was far from done commenting on the USL. "They are in the business of collecting franchise fees, bonds and fines. That is what they do for a living. Their whole AMWAY pyramid system is franchise fees, bonds and fines but they don't know how to teach anyone to run a soccer team. They can't do it, they've never done it. They've never operated a professional soccer team so they don't know the first thing about it. They don't even go to these cities and train these people. They just basically send you a manual and say good luck, sink or swim. You could buy a lemonade stand and get better training than the MISL and USL franchises."

There were reports that several MISL owners had met with PASL owners to discuss the future.

"Indoor soccer is going to be bigger, better, stronger next season. We just have to move forward and forget about this nonsense," Sam replied. "I don't have anything in writing for the PASL, I've never talked to the commissioner of the PASL about this. I've talked to different teams about their concerns. Some teams belong at our level and some don't. This was a shocker what happened today. "

There were obvious tensions between the MISL commissioner Chris Economides and Missouri Comets officials on the day of the MISL press conference and at Game 1 of the championship series.  There were reports of security having to intervene between Economides and Comets coaching staff before the game. There was a scuffle at halftime between the Blast and the Comets and the commissioner was in the middle of that and after the match some heated words appeared to be exchanged between Comets ownership and Economides.

At this point, it would take an incredible effort to mend fences between the USL/MISL and the owners of the franchises. It does not appear that anyone is even attempting.