Kevin Payne- CEO, DC United Share PDF Print E-mail
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After careers as an award-winning radio journalist in New York City and as a marketing and special events executive in Vail, CO, Kevin Payne became the National Administrator, and the Director of Marketing of the United States Soccer Federation in 1989.

In 1991, he became the Executive Vice President and, ultimately, the President of Soccer USA Partners, which owned all marketing, broadcast and event promotion rights to the U.S. Men’s National Team leading up to the 1994 and 1998 World Cups.

In 1994, Payne created the first ownership group for D.C. United and the team began Major League Soccer play in 1996.  Since then, D.C. United has become the most successful team in United States professional soccer history, boasting 12 major domestic and international championships.

For his tireless efforts to promote soccer in this country, Payne was awarded the prestigious Werner Fricker Builder Award by U.S. Soccer in February 2011.

He is a founding member of the MLS/SUM Board of Governors, Chairman of the Technical Committee for the U.S. Soccer Federation, is the Vice Chairman of the U. S. Soccer Foundation, and is a member of the FIFA Standing Committee for Club Football.

By Colin Robinson

What do you think of the iSportconnect concept?

I think it’s a very good idea. The world’s becoming a smaller place. Even though we have lots of differences in the way we do business in sports around the world, there’s also lots of common themes that we can share ideas on and learn from.

What are the main things that you have learned during your twenty years as a US soccer executive?

I’m something of a fundamentalist and a traditionalist about the game. When we began our league, our team took a very contrarian view to the rest of the league. We didn’t apologise for being a division one soccer team, we celebrated that. When you look at our team name and you look at our kit over the years, it has changed very little. Our signature home uniform is black on black on black, which is very distinctive. The logo is a very traditional-looking logo. Our very first marketing slogan was ‘The tradition begins.’ I don’t think in America that we can be slavish in our devotion to someone else’s traditions. America has its own way of doing things in sports.

There’s often a debate among the fans of our league between those people who want us to have a single table with no play-offs, and those people who prefer a format where we have play-offs. I think if we had a single table it would be a disaster. I don’t think Americans accept very well the notion that ‘our goal this year is to finish ninth.’

Instead we have a system in MLS, which is devoted to parity of opportunity. You can’t have a situation like Manchester City’s where one team is playing by completely different rules than everyone else. In our league, the idea is, over a period of time every team has roughly the same opportunity to succeed or fail. The ability to succeed or fail will depend much more on the ability to make the right decisions and to manage your resources well.

Several professional clubs in England have started to sell naming rights, quite a few clubs in the MLS already have sponsored naming rights. Do you think that’s an effective strategy and do you think that there are other things that clubs outside of North America can learn from MLS teams?

Naming rights for stadia present pretty substantial revenue opportunities to the extent that clubs are trying to operate aggressively but within revenue streams that are generated by the clubs it makes sense to do that. In some cases, in Europe or South America where clubs are much older and their stadia have very traditional names, and those names are important to their teams, I think the club and the supporters have a choice to make; do they want to be able to compete economically or do they want invest more into the traditions of the club understanding that they might be at something of a disadvantage?

With your club having been established in the mid- '90s, do you find that there are benefits as well as difficulties, and what might those be?

In this country we face a lot of challenges and we have a lot of opportunities. Our biggest challenge is establishing our relevance and our credibility market by market and on a national basis. I’ve been in the soccer business in the United States since 1988 and much has changed for the better. In those days there was virtually no football on television. There was very little coverage in the print media. The game was virtually non-existent except for at the participant level and to some extent in ethnic communities. Today, we have live more televised football from different leagues around the world each week than any other country. We have a very robust league with nineteen teams, in just sixteen years. When I began in the sport, our biggest obstacle was a very generic disdain for soccer. A lot of decision-makers in companies didn’t know anything about the game and, in many cases, because they didn’t know anything about the game they were actively hostile toward the game, they considered it un-American.

Nowadays, one of our biggest challenges is a growing number of Americans who actually care about the game but don’t care enough about ML S. We have so much broadcast product on the air, we have a multitude of games each week from the EPL, La Liga, and the Bundesliga. Many of those leagues spend far more money on their players, and we have to compete with that. One of our biggest challenges today is people who watch a lot of football and have a certain snobbery about it. They think that only football that is coming from a European league is worth watching. It’s a strange twist from where we were twenty years ago. When no-one cared about the sport and our problem was no-one thought the sport was worth following. Now there are many millions of people who care deeply about the sport and one of the challenges that we have in our league is to get people to care about our league. We’ve had a very successful year and we will have another successful year next year. The average attendance across our league was a little over 18,000; we actually had a higher average attendance than the NBA or the NHL this year.

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