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updated: 4/28/2010 12:31 PM

U.S. Soccer CEO sees progress amid challenges

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  • Dan Flynn

      Dan Flynn

 
 

Dan Flynn is the most important man in U.S. Soccer you've probably never heard of.

As CEO/Secretary General of the Chicago-based U.S. Soccer Federation, Flynn runs the day-to-day operations of the business, working to develop the national-team programs and coordinating the Federation's efforts with the professional soccer leagues here, including MLS and WPS. He prefers to stay out of the limelight, a strategic decision to make sure there is a consistent message coming from the Federation's communications department and USSF President Sunil Gulati.

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"He (Gulati) clearly is the spokesperson and provides the vision and the strategy as well with our board as to where the Federation ought to be played as well," Flynn said.

But just more than 40 days removed from the men's World Cup, there are few better people to talk to about the state of American soccer than Dan Flynn.

In 10 years at the helm of the Federation, Flynn has seen the sport grow in this country, with the development of the pro leagues, the successes of the national teams at tournaments like last year's Confederations Cup, the soccer-specific stadiums in MLS, and the increase in the number of games shown on TV. Still, it's far from a finished product.

"The sport continues to be in its growth mode," Flynn said.

TV represents one of the all-important barometers of the sport's growth.

"Our TV ratings for our sport, as a national team they've grown and in other areas they've grown, but they're not to the level we want them to be," Flynn said.

So when will the sport realize its potential? When will hype meet reality?

"What I try to do, and I am often asked that question, is I think our sport is relevant. And I think the challenge is how do we become relevant 365 days a year," he said.

Part of the way to make it more relevant is to attract the fan of foreign soccer leagues to domestic teams, to convince a Manchester United fan living in Chicago to give the Chicago Fire a serious look.

"The one area that I'd like to see is the continued growth of that average fan connecting with and watching Major League Soccer or watching and following the men's and women's national teams. That's one area that everybody is trying to work hard at, trying to figure out what's the best way to connect that fan, that consumer," he said.

For the national teams, and possibly even MLS, the answer is simple.

"Winning on the field certainly helps. Let's put it that way," he said with a laugh.

The next big chance to attract new fans is June's World Cup. Some U.S. success can go a long way. But it will take much more than one tournament to make soccer the major American sport its leaders dream of, or even to make it so the United States can play Mexico in front of a pro-U.S. crowd.

"We talk about it a lot," Flynn said. "I think to be pretty direct, we've got to grind it out. We've got to win every fan over. It's a little bit like a consumer product. You have to stay with it, you have to grind it out in the market place."

oschwarz@dailyherald.com

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