The Daily Star, Oneonta, NY - otsego county news, delaware county news, oneonta news, oneonta sports

September 4, 2009

Soccer Hall to close

By Mark Boshnack

ONEONTA _ The museum at the National Soccer Hall of Fame will be closed to the public after Labor Day, except for dates when matches are on the field, its President and Chief Operating Officer Jonathan Ullman said Thursday.

He spoke during a media conference at the facility about the Soccer Hall's financial difficulties and also confirmed there will be a reduction in staff as it works on "a new sustainable operating model." He did not discuss details of the cuts, saying, "We have some wonderful people that have worked extremely hard and have been dedicated to this organization."

Sources previously said that of the eight full-time employees, only Ullman; director of museum and archives Jack Huckel, who was also at the discussion; and the financial manager will remain by the end of the month.

The Soccer Hall said it will honor its commitments to various events, including the High School Hall of Fame Cup set for later this month and the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Boys Soccer Championship in November.

No decision has been made by the board of directors about whether to keep the National Soccer Hall of Fame in Oneonta, Ullman said. Discussions are ongoing between board members, but no formal meeting has been scheduled.

The operating budget of the Soccer Hall is about $1 million per year, he said. There is enough money to continue until a decision is reached, which Ullman said he expects this fall.

"We cannot continue in a state of flux for a long time," he said.

The U.S. Soccer Federation, which recognized the Hall in 1983, has been supportive of the effort to turn things around, Ullman said.

Museum attendance is about 17,000 a year, Ullman said, with admission of $12.50 for adults, $9.50 for students, discounts for youth and seniors and children younger than five get in for free. About 55,000 people will come to the campus this year, including the four playing fields, he said. About 80 percent of the people come from spring through the fall.

The organization has always had a structural operating deficit that Ullman said he estimated to be in the six figures. Although the revenues haven't been enough to meet expenses, "we have been fortunate" for ongoing state support and major cash infusions from various sources that helped make ends meet, he said.

But the Soccer Hall still needs money to address building depreciation and "revitalizing the experience" at the museum, he said.

One alternative being considered is having a central location but devoting more attention to traveling exhibits and events in other spots and online. The effort would include working to develop sponsors and promoting the mission of the organization, he said. This includes celebrating the history, honoring heroes, inspiring youth and preserving the legacy of the sport of soccer, according to the Soccer Hall website.

There is no question there will continue to be a national Hall of Fame, Ullman said. Ballots will go out and there will be an induction in 2010. It was too early to say whether that institution would be in Oneonta, he said.

In discussing what people can do to keep the Soccer Hall in Oneonta, Ullman said, "we continue to be open to any ideas, thoughts or concerns.

"I can't say enough how supportive the community has been," he said. Meetings have been going on for more than a year with a number of community supporters of the Soccer Hall to find a way to remain in Oneonta.

Ullman has been with the nonprofit for about two years.

"Hindsight is easy, but I'm not sure that there was anything that could have been done differently to avoid the current situation," he said.

State Sen. James Seward issued a statement on the situation Thursday.

"It's clear the Soccer Hall of Fame will have to operate differently in order to maintain a presence in Oneonta," he said. "I look forward to working with its staff and leadership to cement its commitment to Oneonta."

Two area high school coaches said they were hoping the Soccer Hall of Fame is able to remain at its location.

Milford High School boys coach Frank Spurchise said that when he has brought teams to the museum, they have enjoyed it. He said he also knew of a student who was able to use the resources for a senior project. But he said he was more concerned about the soccer fields.

"The kids love to play there," he said. "It's a big draw" that he said he was afraid could disappear if other services are cut.

Oneonta high school girls coach Jerry Mackey said he was "cautiously optimistic" this was a procedural move that will lead to a stronger facility.

The Soccer Hall has "four of the top-quality fields in the state," he said. He said he was hopeful the fields would continue to be available after the nonprofit works through its financial and marketing issues.