The Grand Failure Of A Real Soccer Club In St. Louis

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A few months ago, Peter Wilt posted an interview here with Jeff Cooper in which he described him as arguably “the most powerful man in soccer in the Midwest and one of the most influential in the country.”

Cooper is the lead man behind a unique endeavour in American soccer: a professional men’s club (AC St. Louis, part of the NASL in the USSF Division II which began play this year), a top flight women’s professional club (St. Louis Athletica, in Women’s Professional Soccer which began play last year) and an ambitious youth club, St. Louis Scott Gallagher, that amalgamated three of the area’s leading youth set-ups.

It seemed as if Cooper was putting together the perfect regional pyramid of soccer, from youth to the professional game in both genders.

But Cooper could not find the investment he needed to win an MLS franchise as well.

And now it appears that there is not enough investment to keep all this going: as reported today, it looks as if Athletica will be taken over by the league due to the team’s financial dire straits. “WPS and its Board continue to work closely with the appropriate parties on the matter related to St. Louis Athletica, including the possibility that the league will take over the team which would enable the Athletica to play the 2010 season in full.”

The men’s team seems to be in equal difficulties, a particularly awkward situation for Cooper as the Interim NASL Commissioner.

According to reports, Cooper’s investors, the brothers Heemal and Sanjeev Vaid from England, have pulled out, leaving the entire organisation in severe financial peril. The St. Louis Globe-Democrat reported yesterday that costs involved with St. Louis’ stadium have been one of the main issues facing the club’s finances:

A reliable source in St. Louis said that the money woes for AC and the Athletica stem, at least in part, from costs associated with operating the Anheuser-Busch Soccer Park, which Anheuser-Busch Inbev donated to Cooper’s group last summer. “The cost of the park is too much to allow funding for the teams,” the source said.

Three months ago, Cooper told Wilt on these pages that “Our model could be adopted to any market. It is scalable for larger or smaller markets. In time, every pro team in the US will become a real “club” with a youth program, academy, women’s team etc. It is the evolution of the game in this country.”

Cooper’s dream was grand and worthy.

But are there lessons to be learned here, if indeed AC St. Louis and/or St. Louis Athletica are taken over by their respective leagues? Would resources better have been devoted solely to the top flight women’s team, rather than trying to run a professional men’s team as well?  Is the evolution of the game not at the stage that such an ambitious set-up can be stable without an investor willing to lose millions a year for several years? Is it sensible for men’s and women’s professional teams to be part of the same club, and thus dependent on the financial viability of each other?


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