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Columns

September 19, 2009

Soccer hall could use an assist

Like many who cheered from the sidelines as Oneonta embarked on its quest to become Soccertown, USA, I was surprised and disappointed by the closure of the National Soccer Hall of Fame earlier this month.

Since the announcement Sept. 3, there's been much speculation on what went wrong "" and what will become of the institution that has existed in Oneonta in some form for 30 years, including 10 years at its current location off state Route 205, exactly half a mile from my house.

Whether the problem was mismanagement, missed opportunity or misplaced faith in a cultural revolution that may never happen, what matters now is that everyone who believes soccer is part of what makes Oneonta special rally around the hall and figure out how to keep it here.

Until recently, the hall's museum was averaging 17,000 visitors a year. Its camps and tournaments were more successful, drawing 55,000 people to the campus, but that still was not enough to sustain the $1 million-a-year operating budget for the 400,000-square-foot museum and its four fields. Several staff members were let go, and the hall is now closed to the public except during its few remaining scheduled tournaments, including the High School Hall of Fame Cup this weekend.

As the board of directors works to develop a "new, sustainable operating model" that may include online exhibits, traveling exhibits and a possible new physical location, some observers say the hall would be better off in a major city, perhaps even on the grounds of a soccer stadium.

I disagree. The museum would certainly get more tourist traffic in Washington, D.C., and it would attract more Major League Soccer fans if it were located at, say, Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J. But the operating costs would rise along with the number of visitors, and it's hard to imagine the hall inspiring the kind of regional and community support it has here.

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