By L.E. Eisenmenger - BOSTON, MA (Feb 2, 2010) US Soccer Players -- The National Soccer Hall of Fame closed its doors last September, but Saturday, president Jonathan Ullman said an announcement about the future of the Hall is “imminent,” perhaps even within the next few days or weeks.
The spacious ten year-old museum located on 60 acres in Oneonta, New York contains a vast collection of documents, artifacts, and memorabilia that chronicles the growth of soccer in the United States. The Hall also honors the greatest American athletes, coaches, and builders of the sport as inductees, a lifetime achievement.
Who and what is historically significant now will increase in prominence and value as the sport matures. These legends, achievements, and moments in time permanently shape public perception of American soccer.United States National Team players Thomas Dooley and Preki Radosavljevic are joined by former National Team coach Bruce Arena as the class of 2010. It's a very real question as to when and where they'll actually be inducted.
As it stands, the Hall's physical location has moved from an easy talking point for soccer fans to an issue threatening its future. As pretty as a Fall in upstate New York can be, the Hall's growth has been hampered by its remote location. Only fifteen to seventeen thousand visitors to pass through the doors each year.
The low attendance and associated financial deficit of $200,000 - $400,000 annually forced the Board of Directors to close the Hall this September and form a Strategic Committee to determine a better way forward.
“We need to identify a more cost effective, financially sustainable way of operating and going forward that allows us to reach the national soccer community,” explained Ullman.
The Strategic Committee has explored a range of options, including traveling exhibits, outreach projects, and a more vibrant virtual museum, options that would not be limited by a single destination. The Committee also looked at the feasibility of managing the four attached soccer fields, which although rented to tournaments, clubs, and colleges, have not contributed to revenue and, at best, broke even.
But the relevance of a single destination, a physical space where fans can walk through exhibits displaying Pele’s New York Cosmos jersey, the Lamar Hunt Open Cup trophy, Mia Hamm’s cleats, and commemorations of the first US World Cup team in 1930, is essential to the growth of the sport.
The collection unites and explains the diversity that binds the US soccer community fans and leagues together. That diversity of ideological and demographic differences also stymies the progress of soccer in this country and may be the number 1 impediment to the success of the sport in North America. Yet the overall impression of the Hall’s diverse collection is one of strength. The story it tells is important.
The allegiances of immigrants, the collegiate development of players, the popularity of the sport with women, and the rise and fall of various business models are puzzle pieces that collectively form their own landscape when displayed together in the Hall. A visitor sees the entirety of the landscape, not a snapshot of their particular favorite league, player, or ideology. It is uniquely American.
Its current proximity to the Baseball Hall of Fame, an overwhelming success that has become part of the basic celebration of that sport, was supposed to be a plus. Families visiting Cooperstown could take I-88 a few more exits to the southwest and see a quality museum dedicated to a sport that outranks baseball in the hearts and minds of most children. The Soccer Hall even has areas devoted to participation rather than keeping the focus on history.
What made some sense in theory never fully revealed itself in practice. The Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum's attendance dwarfs all other sports museums, and there wasn't enough of a connection between Cooperstown and Oneonta. A Soccer Hall of Fame store on Cooperstown's main street wasn't enough to convince people to extend their trip.
Relocating the museum in a metropolitan area, perhaps as part of a Major League Soccer stadium, would obviously increase the accessibility to the public and tie the sport to the professional game. That was rumored to be in the plans for what will open this Spring as Red Bulls Arena, but nothing came of it. Trying to move induction to a New York City ceremony with the associated media presence and easy access also never happened.
As for what will, Jack Huckel, the Hall’s former Director of Museum & Archives who ran the 2010 elections for inductees on behalf of the US Soccer Federation, is concerned about the preservation of the archives and collection as the museum moves to another phase. Within the next two weeks, the Hall will announce a veteran player as a new inductee, but after that the future is unclear.
Regarding the reopening of the current facilities, Huckel is pragmatic.
“What would it take to open the doors? It would probably take someone who was determined to do that, committed to do that with a big checkbook,” Huckel said.