Interview with Atlanta Silverbacks Alliance Council President

An Interview with the ASAC President, Jasun Cohen
by Corey Langley   |   Friday, December 19, 2014

Atlanta Rising – column on MLS Atlanta & the Georgia area soccer scene.

There is something unique when it comes to the North American Soccer League. It has something that is entirely different than most Major League Soccer clubs and not easily replicable. That uniqueness is its’ intimacy. After an NASL game at Silverbacks Park in Atlanta, one can walk out onto the field to play a quick game. They can mingle with the players who just finished a game of their own. They can speak with club owners and general managers easily as well.

The North American Soccer League has tried their hardest to encourage this intimacy, because it builds a different kind of fanbase. It builds a rabid fanbase. One that loves its’ club so much, that it will do just about anything to ensure its’ survival. When word came that the Atlanta Silverbacks Football Club might indeed fold, one group initiated an endless campaign to save it. While the Jasun Cohen of the ASAC was relatively new, his devotion to the club had built so strongly and swiftly that he was asked to be President of a group that would go on to save soccer in the Atlanta area.

I met Cohen at an Irish bar in Marietta, Georgia. The first thing I saw upon entering the bar was a man in a Silverbacks jersey and scarf. He noticed me as soon as I walked in the door and gave me a hearty welcome, too. This was nice, considering I was running pretty late for the interview. This particular bar was perfect, considering the topic. Scarves and jerseys from European clubs were hung everywhere.

As I was interviewing the President of the ASAC, I should not have expected anything less. Cohen’s life revolves around soccer. He coaches. His son plays. They attend Silverbacks games every time they are at home. They even have clubs with former Silverback players that they’ll travel to see as well. For someone who lives almost an hour from the park itself, that impressed me. Cohen has, over time, met and befriended several Silverbacks players on a level that not many people do.

“We had Thanksgiving dinner with Alex Harlley.”

Cohen loves the team on a personal level. To find out that they could possibly be torn from him was devastating. It is one thing for a casual fan to lose a team. For someone who personally knows and talks to many players on the team, it is a lot harder.

“Personally, I was terrified. Because, I love going to the games and I love the atmosphere. And, through getting to know the players, I love them. So, I knew we had to do whatever it took to get the team to come back,” Cohen tells me. “Just short of cutting a check for it, because...yeah...I don’t have a 20 million dollar net worth.”

While the bit about a 20 million dollar net worth was intended as a joke, I have no doubt that Cohen would have paid it immediately if he had the money. Early on in the conversation, I started to realize why Cohen was asked to be President.

I had first found the Silverbacks Alliance through Twitter and Facebook. Apparently, it had been in place long before, though. It just was not quite as organized. The groups’ original intention was entirely different than their most recent purpose, however.

“The purpose of the ASAC is to bring all four {supporter} groups together, as well as family fans. So, we can streamline a request from, like a, supporter or a family.”

While the intent of improving the gameday experience was definitely needed, the group was forced to shift their focus and become more vocal in order to ensure they had a team to improve.

“We were working on things to talk to the club about. Different ways to make the whole thing better. But, we were concentrating, back then, on things like concessions, parking prices, things like that...interaction between the announcer and the crowd,” Cohen explains. “But, the Silverbacks made the announcement and everything changed. So, we had to focus on saving the team first. That way, any ideas we had for making the club better could actually be put in place.”

Upon hearing the news, the group knew they had to do something. They would not sit around and let their club leave so easily.

“We actually had a discussion amongst ourselves on different ways we could affect and save the Silverbacks. Because, none of us are in the position to cut a check. But, we can help find someone who is in a position to cut a check.”

The Silverbacks Alliance's chosen tactic was to be as loud as possible in their cries for a new owner. They wanted to let the Atlanta area know that there was a solid fanbase. It just needed a solid ownership. Their pleas helped.

“As it worked out, it was our making noise about saving the Silverbacks. That was the deciding factor between Bill Peterson and the NASL to save the Silverbacks.”

By becoming the ASAC President, Cohen has had the opportunity to talk to NASL Commissioner several times as well.

“If it wasn’t for Bill Peterson, the NASL and the other team owners stepping up because they believe in the Atlanta market and they saw what the fans could do, they would’ve let the team fold.”

Not that the group has been able to successfully save their favorite team, the Alliance as once again changed priorities.

“Since the club is saved, we’re going back to our last mission. Which is, to make a game day experience better, giving options to the front office as to how they can streamline things and make them better, and just try to make the club stronger all around.”

While the Silverbacks are indeed coming back, that does not mean there still is not major issues to contend with. Historically, the team has had a severe lack of marketing in the Atlanta area. With a Major League Soccer franchise coming in 2017, the Silverbacks need to rectify that immediately. Some of the issues the club will face are not so easy to fix, including one of the highest ticket prices in the NASL.

“You have to look at it as the business model is set up. The Silverbacks get no money from parking. They get no money from concessions. For the 2015 season, they are going to have to rent the field and rent their name,” Cohen says. “So, the only money they really make is from ticket sales. So, those sales have to go to fund the team, fund the travel, pay the players, pay the insurance, front office and all that.”

While sponsors help to alleviate some of that cost as well, the club also has not had an easy time accruing those either. The jersey sponsor from last year was a company that belonged to one of the owners at the time.

Cohen acknowledges these issues. He also says that the Silverbacks Alliance will do anything in their power to help.

“I’ve just set up to have weekly meetings with {Vice President} Evan Mitz. We’re going to talk about ways to, starting from right now, to make the club stronger and better for when they start up.”

His main idea for the Silverbacks is a simplistic one. He wants people to just come see the team.

“Tell your friends. Bring your friends. You don’t have to come every week. Come every other week. Come once a month.”

My interview with Cohen lasted a lot longer than I had anticipated. We sat and talked of all things soccer related for several hours. Eventually, we knew we had to leave. As I packed up my things and headed out the door, I noticed Cohen was not leaving quite yet. Instead, he stopped to speak to the only employee. As I drove away, I gave a quick glance at Cohen finally walking out the doors.

Within that quick glance, I noticed something missing. Cohen was no longer wearing his Silverbacks scarf. Instead, he left it to be hung up where it should be. Alongside scarves belonging to some of the best clubs in the world.

Corey LANGLEY

Nationality:
USA
College:
U. of West Georgia
Club Domestic:
LA Galaxy, MLS Atlanta
Club Foreign:
MUFC
Corey fell in love with soccer too late, so he tries to soak up all he can now that he watches. He will cover soccer in Georgia and specifically Atlanta, which will be adding an MLS team in 2017.
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