DeloitteUK finally released Duke Nukem Forever this week.
You may of course read it and form your own opinions on it. I may even share mine, if you ask very, very nicely. But first, let me take you behind the scenes a bit.
Back in July you might have heard something about Silva International Media offering to buy MLS broadcast rights for a googol dollars, provided Major League Soccer started promoting and relegating. MLS immediately accepted the offer, pointing out that there’s promotion and relegation in MLS all the time. Seattle Sounders to S2, LA Galaxy to Los Dos, Kansas City to Swope Park Rangers - players move up and down as needed.
So anyway I took the opportunity to mock Silva commissioning a “report” from DeloitteUK, and having it turn out to be a glorified PowerPoint chart based on a fan poll.
And then we all went on with our lives, until August 11. That morning, Fleischer Communications sent a press release on behalf of The Miami FC and The Kingston Stockade FC by Fleischer Communications.
(The Miami and Kingston decided to take US Soccer to Sport Court, in order to force the USSF to force MLS to promote and relegate. That complaint is up somewhere, if it looks like it’s going to go anywhere or if there’s huge popular demand I’ll go into detail on it. My only original opinion is that if this thing ends up winning, the effect on NWSL and women’s club soccer will be...unhelpful.)
The press release, which for some reason was also e-mailed to me, the last human being in the world likely to agree with it, went a little something like this:
MIAMI (August 11, 2017) – As fans and the media consider the possibility of introducing promotion and relegation to soccer in the United States, The Miami FC and Kingston Stockade FC re-released a Deloitte Sports Business Group report titled, “Professional club soccer in the USA: An analysis of promotion and relegation.”
The report identifies key findings that would result if the United States adopted the FIFA standard for promotion and relegation.
“By adopting promotion and relegation, as virtually every other soccer-playing nation has, the U.S. soccer system has an opportunity to build better teams, generate more fan excitement, and ensure greater financial success,” Dennis Crowley, Kingston Stockade FC Owner and Chairman said.
The Deloitte Report shows numerous benefits to introducing promotion and relegation in the United States. In a survey of 1,058 U.S. soccer fans, 88 percent of fans said adopting promotion and relegation would benefit club soccer in the U.S. The survey also showed that fans would be seven times more likely to watch club soccer on TV, six times more likely to attend live games, and twice as likely to become season ticket holders.
“The American soccer system will compete as one of the world’s greatest national soccer pyramids with promotion and relegation,” Sean Flynn, CEO of The Miami FC said. “And yes, this study was paid for by Silva International but that doesn’t diminish the substantive facts researched and analyzed by Deloitte. The report is thorough and the findings are credible.”
The report, originally released in November 2016, was commissioned by Silva International Investments Ltd. Given the renewed focus on promotion and relegation today, the two teams re-released the report to provide information concerning the impact promotional and relegation could have in the United States.
The bolding is mine. You see, the report had not actually been released. Not in November 2016. And not on August 11.
(Fleischer Communications is run by a gentleman named Ari Fleischer, who is a former Press Secretary to the President of the United States of America. Mr. Fleischer’s trustworthiness is, shall we say, a matter of public record. But keep in mind the kind of money being spent to hire the names being hired.)
Anyway, someone may have written Fleischer Communications to point out that the report hadn’t been released. Someone may have said we therefore had no idea if the poll’s methodology was worth the spit to moisten lips before blowing up a balloon. And someone may have spent the rest of the day goading DeloitteUK on social media on what a garbage job they did.
I came to the apparently wrong conclusion that the report didn’t exist. And even if it did, it was not fit for public release due to extreme poor quality. By the way, I didn’t come to that conclusion out of thin air. DeloitteUK told us they had no intention of releasing the full report.
Imagine my surprise, then, when Fleischer Communications sent me a link to the actual report.
You probably think I’m going to spend the rest of this post picking holes in the report, questioning the integrity of everyone involved, and accusing Deloitte, Silva, Flynn and Crowley of information laundering. You are absolutely right. I’m going to enjoy writing this more than you’re going to enjoy reading it, I’m afraid.
But the one thing I do want you to notice about the full report is what is not there.
The fan poll.
The one DeloitteUK made a full infographic out of. The infographic that comes up before the executive summary when you link to the report’s site. The one with the 88% number that was quoted every-damn-where, including three separate times on a two-page DeloitteUK document.
The one that Fleischer Communications devoted a full paragraph to in its press release. The one with exactly 1,058 US soccer fans, 931 of whom supported promotion and relegation in America.
The one produced by a British accounting firm, instead of, say, an American polling firm, paid for by the man who would benefit more than anyone else in the world right now if the USSF took that poll’s advice.
That fan poll.
Not in the report.
Not even mentioned in the report.
That’s a pretty big, large, mean, vicious dog not doing any barking.
Like I said, I can’t resist going into the actual report and enjoying the fun, but the conclusion is obvious. The report was a con. The media rights offer was a con, the pro/rel suit in Switzerland’s a con, and there’s no hint that this particular crusade is going to go legit. Silva and Crowley see a chance to turn their near-worthless teams into near-not worthless teams, and one of the many, many, many things that DeloitteUK did not explain to them was the sunk cost fallacy, probably because they were profiting from it in that very conversation.
Anyway, the report. It begins with a long disclaimer.
Ironically, this disclaimer is itself an executive summary of the real disclaimer at the end.
Might as well say “Based on a true story.”
The report begins with the executive summary - the same one we’ve had since November. I consider that a bit of a rip-off. That’s five pages of previously released material - not including the American flag clip-art cover and the one sentence on page two. Which were also part of the executive summary released in November.
Stop me if I’ve told you this, but I suspect DeloitteUK might have tried to pad this thing out a tad.
However. Ever go walking on a trail you’ve hiked however many times, and you end up seeing something that was always there, but in an entirely new light? Or when you sit down to watch “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” and out of the blue it just hits you: “Wait...I think Lee Van Cleef is the bad guy!”?
This was like that:
This was on page 1 - well, page 4, but, the first page that was trying to be substantive. Huge font, huge white space, bland as a bread sandwich. A masterpiece of filler.
Why is DeloitteUK telling the owner of an NASL franchise how many teams there are in the NASL?
Why is an NASL owner paying DeloitteUK to tell him how many teams are in the NASL?
The full report doubles down on the meringue. An entire page - 18, section 3.5, is devoted to the business of the NASL.
Imagine handing the Cliff’s Notes on the Gospel According to Matthew to Pope Francis. Presumably Silva should be aware of most of this already. Why didn’t Silva take one look at this freshman composition styrofoam peanut packing, and throw it back in their face along with a demand for a full refund?
Let’s go back to the second disclaimer real quick.
“We have assumed that Silva International Investments (UK) Ltd has drawn to our attention all matters of which you are aware concerning the project and which may have an impact on our work and the report.”
It was public knowledge, as of November 9, 2016, that Minnesota United, the Tampa Bay Rowdies and the Ottawa Fury were leaving the NASL. In fact, those teams had already effectively left, since their seasons had ended. It was not public knowledge that Rayo OKC was dead, but it was a public belief that was extremely well-founded. It was not public knowledge that the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers were on their way to becoming what they are today, but it’s hard to believe Silva didn’t know something was up with his next-door neighbors. On November 9, the Cosmos had not yet won that year’s NASL title, so it’s possible that Silva was unaware that New York was also about to miss a few paychecks and be sold off and stripped down.
In other words, Silva handed DeloitteUK a pack of M&Ms, commissioned them to find out what letter was printed on the candies, and received a report narrowing it down to either E, M, W, or 3.
“Here’s the report, Mr. Silva.”
“Thanks. Oh, good, we have 12 teams, that’s a relief, I was worried for a minute.”
Who is this thing for? It wasn’t for Silva. I don’t even think it was supposed to be for American soccer fans. I think it was just to put the name of a large accounting firm onto arguments that were worn out on BigSoccer before the second NASL was even considered.
So the executive summary is part one. Part two is the introduction. If you’ve read or written a school term paper, you are probably familiar with the literary technique of taking up space in the paper by listing in detail what’s going to be in the paper. There is a brief reference to original research, but I am stumped as to what that research actually was or where it was applied.
The introduction threatened us with a part 3 about the history of American club soccer and a part 4 describing how promotion and relegation works. Mercy would demand a recommendation to cheerfully skip these, but DeloitteUK’s portrayal of Major League Soccer helps establish the tone. Page 15 shows what can happen if you believe everything Don Garber says. The league has lost a ton of money, the league is still losing money, and MLS is done expanding after this next round.
These are all statements that are at best, heavily qualified and highly misleading. DeloitteUK uses these statements, takes them at unquestioned face value, for purposes that are heavily qualified and highly misleading. This is a bad report, but the irony is masterful.
It’s more or less at this point of the Jungle Cruise that we veer away from the padding and start getting into the cherry-picking. Let’s take, for example, Chart 5.
I have no trouble believing that the Premier League and Liga MX are measurably more popular than MLS, but it’s strange that in the year 2016 a report like this would ignore local cable television deals worth millions of dollars. Exclusive local cable deals are not limited to MLS. Take, for example, the Los Angeles Dodgers. Like the Galaxy, they signed an exclusive local deal with a single provider. As a result of that deal, the Dodgers’ local Nielsen ratings have, predictably, tanked. And Major League Baseball’s national TV ratings are nothing to write sonnets about.
So focusing on nationwide Nielsen ratings, and not things like how the Galaxy pull in five million donuts a year from Time Warner (I think they’re Spectrum now, not that it changes the contract) - well, that’s the sort of misleading and unhelpful information that under normal circumstances would really annoy me, if I were an international sports broadcasting billionaire reading this from a giant accounting firm. I wonder why Silva bought such a thing.
Or take this chart, which shows the woeful decline of MLS Cup ratings over the course of...one year.
As a Galaxy fan, I assume that the entire difference is due to 2014 featuring Landon Donovan’s last game (or so we thought), as opposed to a match between two teams that, love them though we all do, aren’t exactly sex on silk - sorry, Portland and Columbus. If only MG & Silva - whoever they are - had been considerate enough to provide MLS Cup ratings data for previous years.
(They would have been damning, actually, since MLS used to pay for over-the-air broadcast, and now gets paid for cable coverage. I’m surprised DeloitteUK resisted the temptation to do this, to be honest.)
And then there’s this:
The words “Who cares?” come storming into mind. I’m not even certain Google itself gets money from search term volume for its own sake, let alone what tangible benefit the Premier League gets from this that MLS doesn’t.
I mean...if MLS really, really wanted Google search terms to work for them, they’d have the S stand for “stepsister.” I’m just saying what we’re all thinking.
Pausing only to marvel at how comprehensively Section 3.7 failed to deliver on its heading, we sail onward to Chapter 4. Students of the pro/rel fanfiction subgenre will be familiar with the overly long and pointless explanation of what promotion and relegation is and how it works. There is the obligatory highly selective quotation of FIFA Statute 4, section 9. There is the obligatory shocked amazement that the United States stands absolutely alone in managing its sports in such a strange fashion, forgetting both the league structure mutations in Mexico and Brazil on the one hand, and the entire existence of Australia and Canada on the other.
But it’s worth a stop on page 23. Behold these amazing charts. As a change of pace, let’s try to understand these on an artistic level.
I don’t even think this is supposed to be a chart, in the sense that a chart conveys information. I think it’s supposed to be some kind of statement. It might be a comment on the status of America as a superpower whose leisure time economy dwarves the resources of the rest of the planet. Or, it might simply be absurdist dada, in how it uses symbols and strips them of meaning. It might be an existentialist complaint against words, which imprison thoughts in its unforgiving lines and curves. No more words! Here is a picture! Look at the pretty colors!
Perhaps Silva and DeloitteUK actually commissioned and produced a parody of modern information dissemination. If so, it peaked in Table 1, but there are other examples of a chart whose information the rest of the report defiantly ignores.
Here’s Table 2.
An overt statement against American exceptionalism. Except Mexico is shown literally right next to the United States, and its playoff system is noted. But not colored. This is useless as information, but intriguing political art. Is Mexico an American satellite, or a European colony...or its own unique culture? The artist presents the reader an explicit choice, then draws the viewer away from it to the culture of its dominant neighbor.
On closer examination, though, the information turns out to be, again, simply squiggles of lines and curves. “Year of USA top division founding - 1993”? "Year of England top division founding - 1992"?! But...what was all that with Burnley and 1898?
Why did the artist make those choices? I think it’s to remind us that the viewer, not the artist, is the one who arranges the artist’s work into coherence, even when there is none.
On that note, we are now roughly halfway through the full report. The next section is “The case for promotion and relegation.” After a mere 23 pages, DeloitteUK will now undertake to produce what it was paid for. This seems like a good time to take a break.