Total ConFusion

In barely two seasons, the management has run the Miami Fusion into the ground. The fans are not pleased.

Even before Stillitano's departure, Betty D'Anjolell was recruited by the Fusion to bolster fledgling ticket sales and community relations. D'Anjolell had previously worked as executive vice president with D.C. United. When Stillitano resigned in September, D'Anjolell became the team's top executive. But at the end of March, as the Fusion's second season was getting under way with attendance still alarmingly low, D'Anjolell also resigned.

Hamilton and Chartier are the latest soccer executives to arrive in South Florida. Both worked at Adidas and then at CC&C Management, Chartier's marketing company in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Hamilton is the full-time managing director of the club, while Chartier splits his time between Fort Lauderdale and Myrtle Beach.

Both men acknowledge that the Fusion has alienated potential fans in the past but are loath to point a finger at anyone in particular. They note that it takes time to build a successful professional sports franchise, particularly in South Florida, where baseball, basketball, and hockey teams have all set up camp within the last decade. The sports market will soon be stretched thinner with the arrival of a women's professional basketball team next year.

"We have not done a good-enough job in the last year and a half of becoming a part of the fabric of South Florida soccer," says Hamilton.

Chartier says that he does not consider being from out of town a liability. "I may not be from South Florida, but I'm part of the soccer family," Chartier notes, rattling off the names of people he's long known in the South Florida soccer world, such as Mulroy, Rodger, and FIU coach Kremser. Hamilton and Chartier often echo the language of the team's critics. "It's one thing to ask somebody to buy a ticket," says Chartier. "It's another to say, 'How can we help you?'"

Even if Chartier and Hamilton have the wherewithal and marketing savvy to turn the franchise around, it is unclear whether they will be given the free rein to do so. Stillitano notes that even though he was the top executive at the Fusion during his tenure, ultimate decision-making power rested with Kenneth Horowitz, the team's main financial backer. For example, Stillitano says, in the earliest days of the franchise, he pushed for Ivo Wortmann to be appointed the team's head coach. Horowitz, however, went with his own choice, Carlos "Cacho" Cordoba. Cordoba lasted just four months, compiling a record of 8-11. Wortmann replaced him in July.

"In the end Horowitz had the final say," says Stillitano. "In professional sports owners always have the final say."

Kick! editor Jamie Trecker and others say that Horowitz's soccer inexperience (he made his money in the cellular telephone business) does not bode well for the team's future. "You've got ownership who clearly don't know what they're doing," Trecker says.

(Horowitz declined to be interviewed for this article.)
Adds Rodger, who worked as a consultant for the team when it was just getting off the ground: "You've got a non-soccer person that has been very successful in all his business endeavors, and all of sudden he is not having success -- so panic has taken over."

The debilitating problems of the Fusion are not unknown to the MLS at large. In its fourth year of operation, MLS continues to hemorrhage money -- about $60 million in its first three years -- and to struggle to fill the stands. It has made great strides in some cities, like Columbus, where a brand-new, soccer-only stadium has energized fans. But it has faltered in others, including Los Angeles, where attendance dropped off dramatically this year.

The league has tweaked the international game of football in hopes of making it more palatable to American sports fans. In the belief that Americans cannot handle the ambiguity of a tie, MLS instituted a shootout. If a game is deadlocked at the end of regulation, each team gets five attempts to score from 35 yards out. MLS Teams get three points for a flat-out victory but just one point for a shootout win.

MLS also instituted a multiround playoff system that is closer in format to American sports leagues than to other soccer leagues -- where titles are usually won solely through regular-season contests. And unlike soccer matches all over the world, in which the official game time is known only to the referee on the field, MLS keeps a running scoreboard clock.

According to the league, this brand of soccer is of the "entertaining, young, hip, and cool variety." But the end result of these changes has been to alienate some ardent soccer fans while making only modest inroads in attracting the generic American sports enthusiast.

Despite MLS' best efforts to Americanize football, the league is quite different in its business operations from the National Football League or Major League Baseball. In part because of the MLS' infancy, power rests firmly with the league itself. Fusion investor Horowitz and his fellow MLS financial backers do not actually own their franchises. Instead what these investors are purchasing is a chunk of the league itself -- in Horowitz's case a $20 million stake. Because of this arrangement, the MLS -- in particular its commissioner Doug Logan -- holds extraordinary powers. The commissioner is often referred to by fans as "God Logan."

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