BigSoccer Interview: Nick Sakiewicz, Part 2

(This piece was supposed to have posted yesterday but, for a variety of reasons, none of them involving Carlos Slim, it obviously didn't.)

In Part 2 of our interview with Nick Sakiewicz, we discussed Philadelphia specifically and the organization's efforts leading up to their debut nest season.

- Opening day 2010 is now 12 months away. What's your timetable for filling the key player personnel positions; Technical Director, Head Coach and GM? Have you talked to anyone specific? Care to share any names? How important is it that you get those people in place quickly so they can start looking at talent?

We have been talking to some people and there are many that have interest in coming to Philly. Hiring an experienced, committed and high quality staff is key to on-field and off-field success. We have a terrific staff right now and will look to add more over the next 6 months. Sorry, can't give you any clues on names. Those conversations are highly confidential.

- What's your current timetable for announcing a team name and colors and unveiling a uniform? Have these decisions been made, or are there still some discussions going on?

We are very close (4-5 weeks away) from announcing. We ran a very successful campaign in January where the fans had a chance to weigh in on the name and we've been working very closely with adidas on the uniforms and logo. I think most people will be very pleased with everything.

- The hardest thing for MLS teams to do is undoubtedly getting a soccer specific stadium built. You fought long and hard to get the stadium in Harrison off the ground, and then turned around and got the building in Chester started as well and both stadiums will open next Spring. By any measure, that's an incredible achievement. What were the toughest obstacles involved in both projects?

Honestly, there are so many things that are tough about getting these stadium deals done. Keeping your internal team in the game and not letting them get discouraged, managing political agendas, communicating properly with the media, fans and public. The list goes on and on. It's like juggling chain saws sometimes but in the end it is worth it because although there is no magic bullet to making it all work a proper soccer stadium is a very big key to long term success.

-What is your response to the people who say that, particularly with the current economic climate, building stadiums is a bad investment?

The most frustrating thing to deal with in these stadium developments is the misperception that some people create around these developments. The fact of the matter is they work to create tremendous economic impact and jobs for a community and no different than attracting a major company or headquarters to a community. Yet because its pro sports there is always a group of people that distort the facts and create a lot of negativity that sometimes kills great projects. But in most cases the numbers and benefits prevail and communities find a way of getting them done because in the end they make good economic sense.

- There are persistent rumors that the league would like some additional investors involved with the Philadelphia team, and Barcelona has been mentioned specifically. What can you tell us about where that stands? Are you in discussions with anyone else?

We have, from day one, stated that we were interested in strategic equity investors to join us in Philly. This is nothing new and not an initiative recently started by the League. We are in discussions with a number of such potential strategic partners and hope to solidify something very soon. The idea behind partnering with a strategic partner is to bring investors to the table that contribute more than just capital but can also make our organization stronger by bringing business, soccer, general sports and entertainment expertise to our organization.

-What do you think, in general, of involving "big name" foreign teams with MLS?

I believe strategic relationships with foreign clubs can be a very good thing if managed properly. I'm not convinced a complete brand take-over makes sense because the fan data I've seen indicates that soccer fans in the U.S. want to cheer for their own soccer team and not one imported from somewhere else.

We see great success with teams like Toronto, Seattle, DC United, Houston Dynamo, etc. and I believe the soccer fans in this country prefer their own brands. However, I do think it makes a lot of sense to form alliances or strategic partnerships with foreign clubs to take advantage of best practices to improve the quality of the game.

- Seattle opened to huge crowds, a sold out building, something like 20,000 season tickets and a good deal of excitement. They've set the bar pretty high in terms of new MLS teams. Can you match that kind of a debut? What will you have to do to make that happen?

Seattle did a great job and we have been studying how they have gone about launching their team. It reminded me a lot of 1996 when we launched 10 teams and the League. If you recall the first games of the inaugural 10 teams were spectacular events with huge crowds and we will be sure to have the same type of grand event in Philly.

In some ways producing that spectacular event is easy. We will also focus on making sure we have a strong season ticket base and that all the games are great experiences for the fans. In Philly the key to making that happen will be to put a competitive and attractive team on the field.

- You probably don't have a crystal ball, so I'm guessing that you can't say absolutely that the stadium in Chester will be ready for opening day, but what is your gut feeling on that? If unforeseen problems do cause a delay, is there - as Sepp would say - a "Plan B" involving the use of another facility?

We always have a Plan B.

- It's no secret that the MLS Players Union is in a pretty grim mood right now over a whole host of issues. How concerned are you that the league and the Union won't be able to come to a new agreement by Opening Day 2010? In general terms, what do you think it's going to take to get a new CBA signed?

I won't comment on the CBA. That is for the League to handle but I'm confident that everyone will see the reality of both the economic environment we are in and the fact that we are still in the beginning stages of growing the sport in this country. I think its important for everyone to understand both these realities especially the fact that we still have a long way to go in building the sport in this country.

- Maybe my memory is shaky, but I recall back in 1995, when the league was first proposed, the Single Entity concept was presented as a more or less temporary measure, to ensure that MLS got off the ground without the team closings and city-hopping that helped doom the NASL. However my memory may be serving me, and despite the wishes of a lot of fans, it seems like Single Entity is going to be the way this league is operated for a long time to come. How do you see the SE 'experiment"? Has it served the league well? Do you ever see a time when MLS will abandon it?

I don't ever recall single entity being discussed as a temporary measure or an experiment.

In fact single entity was created for the long haul. It has served the League well and frankly one of the main reasons the League is beginning to flourish today. It has allowed the League and individual teams to manage their business in a steady and reliable way without the extreme volatility that other sports leagues have to deal with. Keeping control of expenses and aggregating marketing rights has been a big benefit of single entity and those benefits have allowed us to grow the League.

The League has done a great job of adjusting the business plan and tweaking the rules to constantly improve the system. I think this is smart business and hope it continues to constantly improve the rules to make the product better to meet the demands of the consumer/fans. Its interesting because when I speak to foreign clubs be it in Europe or South America they are all impressed with the single entity structure and hope their own leagues could get closer to the benefits of single entity. There have been too many good things that have come from the single entity structure that I can't see a time MLS would abandon it.