Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Hall Without An Address

A sad day for soccer in the United States, as the National Soccer Hall of Fame is disbanding it relationship with the facility in Oneonta, NY.

Having grown up in New York, I always looked forward to trips to Oneonta to visit 'our' Hall of Fame. Now, 'our' HOF is homeless.

J Hutcherson of US Soccer Players wrote about the present and future of the National Soccer Hall of Fame.

Over the years it got to be too easy for people to fantasy manage the National Soccer Hall of Fame. First step, change the location. Then rework the basic business plan. After that, reorient to focus on the latest professional league.

Some got personal. The broader concept of what the Hall might be was never going to work. Nobody outside of Oneonta really wanted to commit. Yet there the Hall stood, a physical location to focus the idea that American soccer has a history worth celebrating.

It's sad, frankly, that the history the Hall held is now going to be put in storage to await future plans that no longer include Oneonta. That building, soccer-specific and the site of memorable gatherings of like-minded people, used for something else.

A few years ago, the United States National Soccer Team Players Association partnered with the National Soccer Hall of Fame to create the Time In program. The point was to honor people with a connection to soccer battling Leukemia. Considering that the disease disproportionately targets children, it was no surprise that most of the program's honorees were youth soccer players.

When we held an induction ceremony at the Hall, the purpose of that physical building was obvious. The parents and some of the honorees could see their names set in brick, part of the Hall of Fame's Walk of Fame beneath the giant soccer ball made to look like it was bursting out of the building. The location made it real in a way a website will never match.

It was a pleasure to work with and get to know the people running the Hall. They were dedicated, well aware of the issues the Hall faced, yet committed to making it work in it's actual location rather than in theory. A soccer museum that never shrank from having a broader purpose, building connections to and through the game.

Like we've already covered, it's very easy to design your own model. Move the Hall to a Major League Soccer stadium. Have the induction ceremony in New York City.
Downplay any broader connection to a little town in the middle of nowhere that just so happens to be home to two colleges that produced Glenn Myernick, Mike Burns, and MLS commissioner Don Garber.

The people that worked at the Hall were under no illusions. The reminders were constant as their situation grew less tenable. The harder they pushed, the more the Hall was required to spend. The bigger the expectations, the more obvious the flaws became.

Since the doors are finally closed for good, it needs to be said that the people who worked there knew how to put on an event. I went to enough inductions to see it move from a small stage (the Wynalda and Caligiuri year when it was held in the atrium) to a large one (the Hamm/Foudy year when it was held outside) and then back again. They had a better store than any MLS stadium you've been too. No matter the size of the crowd, they treated people like friends. They made the long travel times seem worth it.

For all the talk of soccer as the next great emerging sport, scant attention was paid to the idea that only baseball has really made a museum work. How many people do you know planning a vacation to Canton, Ohio or Springfield, Mass, the sites of the football and basketball halls? How about South Bend, Indiana, the home of the college football hall of fame that holds their inductions in New York City?

New York City itself wasn't capable of sufficiently supporting a general sports museum that borrowed exhibits from the others. It couldn't support the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame annex that recently closed.

As with so many things, the idea got well ahead of the reality. There's always been a better answer. There's always someone with a clear vision of how these things should work. Most of the time, that has very little to do with what's already in place.

It's not an unusual story for American sports. much less American soccer. Not that it makes it any easier.

We really need to find a home for the National Soccer Hall of Fame, and hopefully in a media market that will attract volume - maybe something in conjunction with an MLS venue like the Home Depot Center (Los Angeles) or the new stadium for the New York Red Bulls.

Regardless as to where it ends up, hopefully we will be able to have a home for 'our' Hall of Fame soon...

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