02/04/2017
PFL: opinion piece by Steve Harris

Professional Futsal League
Professional Futsal in the USA?

by Steve Harris

report taken and developed from a former article posted on the Japanese magazine Futsal Navi.

“Professional Futsal League Ready to Launch Throughout the United States in 2016” said the new league’s press release in Jan. of 2015. The start of a professional futsal league in the United States? For many, the very notion evoked the familiar imagery of the NBA and NHL: massive arena sports followed by millions around the globe, lucrative broadcast deals, spectacular player acquisitions, transnational corporations vying for advertising space, etc., etc. Americans promote sports better than anybody else – how could this be anything but amazing?

The glow of this Big Bang was intense for a few fleeting moments, but the developments that followed have been somewhat less impressive.

For an update on the progress of the Professional Futsal League (PFL), have a look at the official site. But prepare to be disappointed, as there are only four entries on its news page. And this is actually a fraction of the original number, which was 20. According to the PFL’s Twitter page, the official site underwent a renovation and the new version was just unveiled on Jan. 26, 2017. It’s also worth noting that as of this writing, the league does not yet have a single team.

The Original PFL Idea
Among the 16 news items removed in the Jan. renovation of the site was press release #1, which is archived here at Yahoo! Finance. According to that release, the “leading investor” of the PFL was supposed to have been “prominent NBA executive Donnie Nelson, president of basketball operations and general manager of the Dallas Mavericks.”

In an article in a local Texas paper, Donnie Nelson explained the birth of the original PFL idea like this: “We were looking at buying the Sidekicks (NB: Dallas Sidekicks are a professional indoor soccer team located near Dallas, Texas), and that’s when my daughter, at the breakfast table, said, ‘Hey, gee whiz, we should really kind of take a look at this Futsal thing.’ She went up to Milwaukee and she had a chance to meet some of the other [Futsal] industry leaders, and Keith Tozer, who is now our commissioner, and Rob Andrews, the international guy.

What could it mean that press release #1 that includes Nelson’s name was removed in the Jan. site renovation?

Donnie Nelson conceptualized the idea of the PFL with his daughter Christie over breakfast (Photo courtesy: Star-Telegram)

Donnie Nelson conceptualized the idea of the PFL with his daughter Christie over breakfast (Photo courtesy: Star-Telegram)




Rich Investors
The current PFL site’s oldest press release (Feb. 3, 2016) has Donnie Nelson welcoming Mark Cuban as the second leading investor. Cuban is described in the release as an “American businessman, investor, film producer, author, television personality and philanthropist. He is the owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks.” The PFL lifted this description word-for-word from Wikipedia.

More NBA, more Texas, and this time a billionaire…How could this be anything but amazing?

But wait – futsal leagues have never been vanity projects of the super-rich. They start with competitive teams in competitive leagues – leagues that tend to go national. Then there are the star players – players who dominate domestically and have even attracted interest from major futsal markets. And the infrastructure is then funded by major sponsors and coordinated on the ground by local and national futsal/soccer organizations. These are the elements crucial to a fledging league.

And none of these elements seem to be present in the news about the PFL. Where are the teams, the players, the sponsors and the organizing bodies?

Billionaire Mark Cuban is announced as the second major investor in the PFL. (Photo courtesy: PFL Official Website)

Billionaire Mark Cuban is announced as the second major investor in the PFL. (Photo courtesy: PFL Official Website)




The Track Record So Far
Other than news about Donnie Nelson and Mark Cuban investing in the league, what has the organization accomplished during the last two years? There has been no mention of any American teams, as the business model seems to be based on selling “stakes” in the league. (There are unsubstantiated rumors that “stakes” have been purchased by a major NBA team owner in California as well as by FC Barcelona and even Bayern Munich!)

Rumors aside, the PFL has a track record that consists of only the following three events.
- Mar. 2015: The “PFL International Challenge” in which FC Barcelona competed with Team USA and Team Mexico. FC Barcelona was in fact the youth team of the famed club and neither Team USA nor Team Mexico were national teams
- Aug. 2015: The “PFL Supercopa” in which Team PFL played against Muita Calma, one of Western Australia’s better club teams. Futsal legend Falcao led Team PFL, which was a mix of little known players.
- Aug. 2016: The “PFL All-Star Showcase” in which Team Falcao played against Team Ricardinho. A social media competition solicited hot-shot lesser known players, who submitted videos of themselves, to fill up the rosters. Unannounced was the fact that Team Falcao would include Pula (Russia) and Vampeta (Italy) and Team Ricardinho would include Cardinal (Portugal) to make the show a little more entertaining.

The Falcao-Ricardinho match was made into a documentary-style promotional video that was released in January of this year, five months after the event was held. The video has slick production values but out of its total 18 min. only four are devoted to scenes of the actual game. To get a sense of what the actual game was like, have a look here.


Ricardinho joined Falcao at the third promotional event held by the PFL (Image courtesy: PFL Official Website)

Ricardinho joined Falcao at the third promotional event held by the PFL (Image courtesy: PFL Official Website)



Meet the Team
In the three events organized by the PFL, three major names have been featured: FC Barcelona, Falcao and Ricardinho. But which American teams does the league plan on including? Where are the American players? And who exactly is running the PFL?

Appointed as league commissioner was Keith Tozer, who has managed the US national team since 1996. For those who have followed the declining fortunes of the US national team this came as a bit of a surprise, as the USA went from World Cup finalist in 1992 to CONCACAF minnow in the course of about 20 years. The winning percentage of the national team under Keith Tozer went from 37% during 1996-2004 to 15% during 2004-2016. In fact, the USA was eliminated by Canada in a playoff to take part in the CONCACAF World Cup elimination round in 2016 and did not even qualify for that tournament, which was also the qualification round for the 2016 World Cup.

Meanwhile PFL Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Michael Hitchcock is purported to be the founding member of Playbook Management International LLC and Legend Football Partners, companies that have little to no footprint on the web. Google search results indicate that Hitchcock is an owner of Fort Worth Vaqueros, a team in the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL), which is essentially the fourth division of US soccer’s professional structure. The organization is building, however, and an article in 2015 reveals that Legend Football Partners acquired “a significant interest” in Alfreton Town Football Club in England’s Conference Premier – essentially the fifth division.

Canada defeated the USA in the North American qualifying playoff series 9-7 on aggregate to qualify for the 2016 CONCACAF Futsal Championship (Photo courtesy:CONCACAF)

Canada defeated the USA in the North American qualifying playoff series 9-7 on aggregate to qualify for the 2016 CONCACAF Futsal Championship (Photo courtesy:CONCACAF)<br><br>



Waiting for the Chicken? Or the Egg?
The emerging picture is that the PFL is a skeleton organization waiting for owners with deep pockets to purchase stakes and launch franchises. Though Donnie Nelson and Mark Cuban have gone on record as willing investors, the PFL appears to be waiting for a critical mass of other affluent individuals to step up and get things going.

It’s sort of like a chicken and egg dilemma – except that there are still no chickens or eggs.

Now that two years have passed and the PFL has almost nothing to show for its efforts, one has to wonder how long the organization can remain credible. And while the fledging organization waits for the big fish to bite, it is quite frustrating to see the PFL make no efforts at bringing on board existing American teams or players – despite the fact that the game is being played throughout the USA.

British daily The Guardian caught wind of an inner-city soccer team in New York City that was hoping to incorporate futsal as an urban-friendly ladder to success for its players. The team representative had been looking to the PFL as a future goal his players could aspire to. In the resulting article, published on Nov. 29 of last year, it is noted that PFL president Michael Hitchcock declined an interview by The Guardian, claiming that “news will be forthcoming in the New Year.” It’s now March of the New Year and we are still waiting for the PFL to show tangible signs of progress.

Obviously, the global futsal community hopes for positive developments for the PFL soon.


Professional Futsal League

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