The Business of Playing in MLS: Chat with Richard Mulrooney

rmulrooneyIn January we posted a two part chat with MLS veteran Carey Talley about some of the financial realities of playing in Major League Soccer.  Today we are pleased to continue our series on the business of playing in MLS with  our chat with former MLS All-Star and USMNT player Richard Mulrooney.  Mr. Mulrooney is currently the head soccer coach at the University of Memphis.  During his playing days, he earned 14 Caps with the full national team and made more than 260 appearances in MLS. You played more than a decade in Major League Soccer.  During that time, did the League or any of your teams provide any guidance or pointers on post-career financial planning?

Richard Mulrooney: Not until the end of my career did we even have a 401k set up and there was very little talk regarding financial advising.  I had followed my dad’s advice and got the IRA’s and other retirement savings all set up on my own from the first year in the league in ’99.  But in terms of the league setting up classes or really trying to educate us as a whole on financial planning it didn’t happen.

FB: What opportunities were there during your career for players to earn money outside of their regular salaries? Were these options made available by the team?

RM: The options I recall were coaching club on your off days or in the evenings which didn’t interfere with your MLS club schedule.  I knew a few guys who actually got other part time jobs to help make a little extra money but it was difficult because of the odd hours we had as players and the unknown of the daily schedule from week to week.  The team made appearances available to the guys and they gave a bit of money but other than that the team didn’t offer any other ways to make money available to the players that I recall.

FB: Similarly, what type of sponsorship/commercial opportunities were available to you during your career?

RM: There weren’t a lot of commercial sponsorships made to us as individuals so much as there were for the team.  If your team was sponsored by Honda then your team would occasionally set up an appearance at a dealership to sign autographs but that wasn’t an individual deal.  Personally, I was with Adidas and they would ask me to help market their product and I would be taken care of through the contract I had signed with them.  The bigger players in the league possibly had more opportunity for these types of deals but with MLS just starting out it didn’t have the power of like an NBA or MLB player.

FB: Other than the increase in the salary cap, were there changes in the League during your career that made it easier for players financially (e.g. per diem increases, better hotels, etc…)?

RM: After we got our Players Union set up that is when I saw the biggest help financially for me and other teammates.  The raise in per diem made a big difference as well as the 401K being set up. Obviously, the salaries were increased but you had that already if you were a player that played big minutes and your club wanted to reward you for that.  But the overall the Players Union was the biggest help in helping players earn a bit more coin.

FB: You also had experience with the national team, including 14 caps with the full national side.  Does US Soccer provide any thoughts to its players about life after soccer?

RM: Not so much help came from the US team in regards to life after soccer.  And to be honest I don’t believe it’s their job to do that.  They have a job to fill seats in stadiums which helped pay us when we played in front of Mexico or Jamaica. But we had such little time with them outside a week here or there that if it wasn’t spent on the field practicing it was in our rooms resting for games like the ones I just mentioned.  And that left no time to really have talks about our future outside of the game.  I was okay with that and understand it.

FB: Finally, even though your playing career has only recently ended, with the benefit of hindsight, what guidance would you give to players now entering the League about how to plan about their post-career world?

RM: The two biggest things I believe would help any player post career would be to start saving on your own from Day 1 as it really can be good money if spent and saved on the right things.  And the next thing would be still work towards your degree.  You can find work without it but you don’t want to be limited in what you can do because you don’t have the piece of paper.  Take a couple classes each year and by the end of your career you will be that much closer in earning it or that might just be all you needed to have it ready for post career soccer!

Stadium Fun: Downtown in Houston

houstonWhen the San Jose Earthquakes became the Houston Dynamo in 2005, part of the understanding was that a soccer specific stadium was just around the corner.  After years of playing in Robertson Stadium (home of the Houston Cougars), it appears that the dream of a downtown Houston stadium is closer to a reality.  The downtown location of the proposed stadium is right near Minute Maid Park (home of the Astros) and situated in a Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone.

According to the City of Houston website, Tax Increment Reinvestment Zones are:

special districts created by City Council to attract new investment to an area. TIRZs help finance the cost of redeveloping or encouraging infill development in an area that would otherwise not attract sufficient market development in a timely manner. Taxes attributable to new improvements (tax increment) are set-aside in a fund to finance public improvements in the zone. Zones in the City of Houston have been created for one of three reasons:

  • to address inner city deterioration
  • to develop raw land in suburban fringe areas
  • to proactively address the decline of major activity centers

Total cost of the 21k stadium is expected to be about $80 million with the Dynamo ownership (primarily AEG and Golden Boy Promotions) funding about $60 million.  The rest of the funds could come from tax credits,  the TIZ money and from some of the stiumulus money floating around.  The TIZ program will also provide the property for the stadium.  According to Houston President Oliver Luck, multiple banks are lining up to provide financing for the contruction project.  As we have noted previously, this is a great time for construction, with the cost of materials and labor way down.  Also, these are the type of projects that can bring jobs and income into the economy.  The economic benefit of stadium projects is also debatable, but during a downturn there is a definite economic upside.

The renderings are out and design firm Populous has been selected for the project (also did Citi Field).  An important aspect of the agreement as far as obtaining city approval is the participation of Texas Southern University.  Although negotiations are ongoing, it is expected that Texas Southern football will also use the stadium for at least 30 years and a $2.5 million investment.

Importantly, this is not the first time Houston has gotten close to a stadium deal.  However, the pieces appear to be slowly clicking into place for a 2011 opening.  A downtown stadium in Houston will continue the trend that has been successful in Toronto and Seattle by placing the Team within close proximity to public transportation and population centers.  With Philly and New York set to open new stadiums in 2010 and other projects on the way in Portland, San Jose and Kansas City, this is a great time to be an MLS fan.