Soccer Hall of Fame should move to Oz

The National Soccer Hall of Fame needs a home and the answer lies in US soccer’s new Mecca
by Mike Firpo   |   Monday, January 16, 2012

National Soccer Hall of Fame in Oneonta (1999 to 2010)

Cooperstown. Canton. Springfield.

These words bring about a lifelong series of images of bronze busts, controversial votes, heroes in blazers and emotional acceptance speeches of years gone by. Most Americans would have a hard time pointing to these tiny towns on a map, but they would immediately understand the connotation: The Hall of Fame.

These places have come to be as iconic to the public as the legends that are enshrined within their walls. A Hall of Fame is just that, a place to honor the past while creating a connective bond between the generations of sport. It immortalizes and honors the best of the game, while paving the way for the sports to live on eternally in the hearts of their fans. It is living tradition and something that American sports undeniably does right.

Oneonta used to be on that list. The small upstate New York college town was until 2010 the location of the National Soccer Hall of Fame. It is no longer based there. Quite sadly, it is no longer based … anywhere.

Due to financial reasons the NSHOF had to close its doors after years of trying to find other sources of income and attraction besides the annual induction ceremonies. Maybe it was too early for soccer, maybe mistakes were made, maybe the location was “too” remote and small for the niche sport of soccer in the US, maybe it was the recession, maybe the US Soccer Federation and MLS could have done more in hindsight, maybe Nike or Adidas could’ve donated more than Eurosport, the soccer retailer. Who knows?

There’s no sense in pointing fingers at this point. The damage has been done and the sport’s immortals are without a home.

For all the amazing things that American soccer has accomplished in the last decade, especially MLS, it’s hard to take the game seriously until we provide a new venue for our National Soccer Hall of Fame. The farcical situation that we currently are in sees a homeless Hall of Fame with no end in sight. The 80,000 museum items it once held have been dispersed to the far corners of the American soccer landscape. Hopefully this amazing collection of our game’s history, like two FIFA Women’s World Cups, is not destined to become a travelling vagabond, moving about the nation like a soccer version of Antiques Roadshow.

To have everything else improve, professionalize and move to the next level, yet have the Hall move not only backwards, but seemingly into oblivion the last few years is kind of like wearing a fancy tuxedo - with flip-flops.

It’s an embarrassing black-eye for the American version of soccer and it needs to be solved quickly, especially if we want to be taken seriously in this highly competitive sporting nation.

The good news is, annual inductions still take place at various US Soccer designated matches and a new Board is now in place. So the future would seem rosier, except there is still no physical location for soccer’s Hall and little to no public discourse about something, which should be quite public. That needs to change.

The biggest question has to be location. Let’s look at some of the obvious candidates for the host city of the NSHOF:

New York
Pros: The nation’s biggest metropolis and home to many fans of the sport and a significant portion of American soccer history. It could receive tons of tourists if located somewhere in Times Square.
Cons: NYC has so much going on it could easily get lost in the lights. The high price of rent for the space needed would be astronomical. The location in the very Northeast means vast parts of the rest of the nation would struggle to get there. Alienation of the West Coast.

Los Angeles
Pros: Another huge metro area with lots of tourism. SoCal area is home to huge numbers  of soccer players and soccer-loving families.
Cons: Hard to tell if the NSHOF would be able to draw enough visitors from the fickle playing populace. The very Western locale might alienate the big numbers of East Coast soccer visitors from attending.

Portland/Seattle
Pros: The current heart of passion in the new MLS. Lots of local hardcore soccer lovers.
Cons: Would either city really care for the NSHOF as much as they do for their club? The extreme location in the PNW, makes it only convenient for locals.

St. Louis
Pros: The historic heart of American soccer. Very central geographic location.
Cons: The failure of the proposed MLS expansion team and stadium to get off the ground has left the area devoid of a big league soccer club, venue and local fan momentum. St Louis was clearly once the epicenter of the American soccer universe, that day though has passed.

So if none of those cities tick enough boxes, where else?

The answer is right in front of us. Well it was last week, at the MLS SuperDraft. It showed itself well on TV sets nationwide in the second half of the 2011 MLS season. It was for all to see during the CONCACAF Gold Cup. The signs all point to…

National Soccer Hall of Fame in Kansas City

Kansas City
Specifically at their new shining example of MLS 2.0: Livestrong Park, the new unofficial Mecca of American Soccer.

Moving to KC and within the brand new stadium would be wise on several fronts:

Fans: Did you catch a glimpse of those KC fans during the SuperDraft? Or during the later stages of the season after they moved into their new digs? They are vociferous, loyal and love the game. Like peacocks that just saw their own reflections for the first time, they are now loud and proud! KC fans are reinvigorated and they’ll take their club and their version of MLS soccer firmly into the coming decades. It might also be wise to base the Soccer Hall of Fame in a city, with its own local fanbase, rather than to a small town like the other American Halls which have more popularly entrenched history and decidedly larger fanbases.

Location: There aren’t many more central parts of the USA easier to get to, than Kansas City. The Midwest locale also removes the contention between the East and West coasts and the feeling of preference and alienation of one over the other. It would also be somewhat unjust to base the future Soccer Hall in the northeast as most of the best supported clubs in the MLS are now based in the West; it almost has to be more central at a minimum. Another point for a KC-based Hall is that it isn’t too big a city like an LA or New York where it can get lost. Nor is it too small where the American soccer fanbase would struggle to bring in enough traffic and income as was the case in Oneonta.

NSCAA: KC is also home to the National Soccer Coaches Association of America. With a membership of over 22,000 it is the largest collection of coaches in the world. Their annual convention is the USA’s defacto soccer industry convention and doubles as the host venue of the MLS SuperDraft as well. Though the location of the convention moves from the Midwest to the Northeast annually, it likely will be hosted in Kansas City, like it was in 2012, more than any other place west of the Mississippi. Having the convention tied to the MLS SuperDraft, SKC’s jewel soccer stadium and the National Soccer Hall of Fame is soccer synchronicity at its best.

Funding: If the owners of Sporting KC help to sustain, reinvigorate and expand the NSHOF with even a fraction of the success that they have with their core businesses, they’ll give it a very bright future. Freed from the constant worry of survival, it will have a chance to thrive and give our sport the sense of lineage its sporting cousins have with their HOFs. At the same time, US Soccer and the new Board should be able to manage to keep the NSHOF going and find them more long-term sponsors, funding avenues and if need be, a portion of US Soccer Foundation funds per year. Also, if need be, the broader MLS, USL, NASL and youth leagues and structures should divert a small fraction of their profits to the NSHOF. This can work without much setback to any one organization. They can get creative and have a small percentage of the entire museum collection set aside annually for sponsored travelling exhibitions to various MLS stadia nationwide. There are many ways to make this work, putting the Hall in Livestrong Park just makes it easier.

Livestrong Park - home to Sporting KC

Stadium: What a great perk for a visiting fan to get to see the nation’s Hall of Fame while they see their local team play KC in the new Mecca to the sport. Imagine American soccer fans not only making the soccer “pilgrimage” to visit the new gleaming park, but to see their sport’s history as well. Moving the NSHOF into the best soccer stadium in all of the Americas immediately shows the general public that our sport is the real deal and is rightfully up there with the big boys. It forces them to see the shining steel, glass and soccer-laden future of the coming USA. It makes them take us seriously again. It puts our best foot forward. It attaches our tumultuous past with our solidified future. It shows that American soccer has grown up from being ostracized tenants, to being owners of our own destiny and equal sporting peers.

Not having a permanent home for the National Soccer Hall of Fame is hardly logical at this point in American soccer history. The leadership of the sport has to address this soon and even moreso, they have to make a wise decision for the longevity and success of the Hall. The best solution of the bunch just might be in KC alongside the new Mecca to the sport, giving fans of today and tomorrow a chance to see what American soccer was like in the past in a venue for its future … Kansas City here we come!

Mike FIRPO

Nationality:
USA
College:
Binghamton Univ.
Club Domestic:
NY Cosmos, RSL
Club Foreign:
Palermo, Napoli, FCB
Creator of Soccer Newsday. President of World Football Travel. Founder of NY Cosmos Campaign. Manager of North American Soccer Industry group on LinkedIn. Helped a few fans see the global game. Proposed on-field at MLS Cup 04. Longtime devotee of Soccer.
MIKE'S SPONSORS