Dan Borislow, the new majority owner of the Washington Freedom, is ambitious. Really ambitious.
Friday, Borislow, the founder of the Internet telephone company magicJack, took the time to explain some of his plans for the club. He said he plans to have the team split its home games between the Maryland SoccerPlex and a South Florida venue to be named later. Borislow is based out of Palm Beach County. As part of that, he says the team will be rebranded into some variation of magicTalk FC, “or something like that.” It sounds as if the Freedom name will be no more.
Among his ambitions is signing Marta, which would bring the world’s best player to a greater Miami area heavily populated by Brazilians. Borislow said he plans to be a player-friendly team willing to pay for the best and he also spoke of taking the team on a world tour in the WPS offseason.
Neither the name change nor potential to play in South Florida has been made official or confirmed by WPS. While the team’s identity is fully in the hands of Borislow, playing games out of market would require approval from and interaction with WPS. Again, none of the below changes have officially happened or been confirmed by WPS, but the interview sheds light on Borislow’s intentions to truly overhaul the team.
Saturday morning, Dave Topp reported that the NASL’s Crystal Palace Baltimore plans to take the 2011 season off and revamp for 2012, including building that joint stadium with the Washington Freedom that The Equalizer reported on in July. How that would factor into Borislow’s desire to tap into the South Florida market remains to be seen. See my interview with Borislow below:
Jeff Kassouf: So what got you involved with the Freedom? What got you into WPS?
Dan Borislow: Well, I’ve been around soccer for the great majority of my life. I’m 49-years-old, I still play three times a week and the league had a problem with three teams and I wanted to make sure that the league would go on and be successful in the future. And in South Florida we have obviously a lot of South Americans down here – Caribbean, Haiti, so on and so forth. So, it could be a pretty good place to put on games with some of the Hispanic players that are in the league so we wanted to give it a shot and see how we do on attendance down here as well. It’s really the love of soccer and the ability to expand my brand name into the soccer community.
JK: So when did you first start talking to the Freedom?
DB: It happened very quickly – just a couple of weeks ago really. And they were very easy to deal with with. The Hendricks are also people that are extremely committed to soccer and that’s why I have very much similar goals. They took it this far and fortunately or unfortunately, these teams have to have corporate sponsors and to date that’s been a problem. I think once the league can do better with sponsorship the league will be on much better footing.
JK: So your initial contact was only a few weeks ago or that is when things really developed?
DB: No, just a few weeks ago. I was reading stories that the league was having issues. I’ve always been interested in the league and there were a couple of teams that were reported. San Jose is a little far away. I’m from Pennsylvania. I lived 38 years there and I felt the DC area was a good area for me.
JK: And you are looking to call the team magicTalk FC or some variation of that?
DB: Yea, SC or FC or something like that.
JK: And that would remove any type of city affiliation in the name?
DB: Yea, it’s not that we remove the affiliation but it would be hard to call it Florida and DC. But there would still be an affiliation with both areas, but it was just hard to name it both cities; both areas.
JK: You are looking at an equal split of the home games?
DB: That is the idea so far.
JK: And would the Washington venue still be at the Maryland SoccerPlex?
DB: Yes, same location.
JK: What would the Florida venue be?
DB: Anywhere from North Palm Beach down to Miami. Like I said, this happened very quickly. I haven’t been able to even start to negotiate with the venue or recruiting of players – all that kind of stuff. The team was being slowly winded down – or actually, quickly winded down – and I had to wind it back up again in making it a going entity again. And I’m introducing two product services in my own company right now so I am really, really busy right now. I couldn’t do this at any other time so I had to pull this deal off now. It couldn’t wait any longer. So I found enough time to cut the deal and now I have to find the time to get personnel and get the team together and promote it now.
JK: You don’t have any specific venues in mind for the South Florida market then?
DB: There are two universities down here that were previously begging me to get a professional team and they would give me whatever I wanted, so I don’t think it will be an issue. It will be a grass field, that’s for damn sure. It won’t be a football field either. I always thought that was a big mistake with teams that are playing on a football field. That just – it doesn’t look good and it doesn’t represent the league very well.
JK: What two schools are you talking to?
DB: I’d rather not mention the names.
JK: Just to clarify, the split schedule will happen in 2011 or after this year?
DB: No, it will happen this year. I want to get a feel for this. But, you know they actually did a pretty good job. I think they were actually second in attendance in the league and was getting a good fan base in Washington, so it would be hard to abandon Washington. They made a huge investment in DC and there would be no reason to abandon that.
JK: So the Hendricks are still involved and you will have interaction with them?
DB: That is correct. They will be involved.
JK: Just in more of a minority stake in the team?
DB: Yea, they actually – you can tell they do it for the love of the kids and for soccer. That only goes so far when you are losing millions of dollars per year. And it shouldn’t be anybody’s individual burden to keep it alive, so you have to salute them for taking it this far. They are very honorable people and the deal came together pretty easily. They have been very easy people to work with so I am sure they are going to be great partners.
JK: As far as the current team – staff and players – are you looking to keep the core together?
DB: My idea is to build this team to be the best it has ever been. We will be going after the best players and maybe even some new players in some different countries as well.
JK: And will you be looking to utilize the staff already there that has experience in the league?
DB: You know, the league kind of cut back on expenses. It was a necessary thing and I don’t think it will change the performance at all by cutting some people. It was first put together as if there was going to be a larger fan base and things like that and there was just too many people. The same goes on with not only the league but the team as well. We’ll be cutting back on staff for sure. We also have a large staff, so we’ll be cutting back on staff but I think we’ll be on the high end of the pay scales for the players. So anything that we might cut back on the staff, we’ll be paying that much more to the players’ salaries. We plan on being very, very player friendly.
JK: And one of those staff positions you have to worry about is general manager with Mark Washo leaving.
DB: Like you said, Mark is transitioning. Like I said I have only been doing this for a couple of weeks and I didn’t even know if it would close. And now that it closed (Thursday) now I have to go out and see what I am going to do now. But it happened so quickly and like I said, I didn’t even know if it was going to close so I didn’t want to start making promises and making commitments to anybody until it was done. Now that it is done, now we are going to start working on it.
JK: What are the challenges you see with playing in a split market? Are you looking to have staff in both spots or staff that travels?
DB: I don’t know. Do the Packers still play at two fields? I think they used to play at two different fields as well. And there is still one other team that played up in Toronto and had huge attendance (Nov. 7 the Buffalo Bills hosted the Chicago bears at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, drawing 50,746 fans). Detroit maybe. We are going to experiment a little bit. Changes have to be made in the league and you have to experiment to see what works. And yea, maybe split schedule isn’t the way to go but we won’t know until we try.
JK: You mention trying to be player friendly and wanting the best talent. Marta is the best player in the world and she is on the open market. Is she on your radar?
DB: She is.
JK: Have you spoken with her or her agent at all?
DB: I’d rather not say, but I would – we really want Marta on the team and I am going to try my best to get her.
JK: Does the big Brazilian community in Florida influence that at all?
DB: Well there are two million Brazilians in South Florida, so if Marta should play anywhere in the country it should be South Florida. I think the international players are very, very important for the league. They are the best players and they put the best product out there. I actually am disappointed that we can only use six international players. It should have been unlimited because this is the league of the world. Besides getting as many good players on our national team I am definitely looking for the best players in the world. What we want to do at the end of this season is take the team on a world tour and play against other national teams. And when I have an international player they will actually go on their own national team. My own players will play against us in at least one game. That’s why I think we should have more international players and really promote the league throughout the world. I think it’s really important to do that.
JK: The last two teams Marta has been on have folded and she demands a high salary. Does that factor into your decision at all?
DB: The only risk I have is how the other players feel about it. I think if the players want to play with Marta than they have to know what comes with it. At the end of the day it is really going to be my players’ decision and I think they understand. Look what happened when you got rid of Wayne Gretzky out of hockey. The attendance and a lot of things went down from there. These players in any sport only come along once in a lifetime. Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretsky, Marta – people need to see these players play at their best against the best teams. You don’t want to waste – especially for soccer, to promote female soccer people have to know it is the real deal. But I think she is very important to play in the league.
JK: And you would be fully committed to paying whatever she is looking for?
DB: I am committed to getting a deal done.
JK: Abby Wambach is also under contract. Does that influence that decision at all?
DB: I’ve asked Abby if she wants Marta on the team and she said, “yes.” So that’s all I needed to hear. Abby, she is a fantastic player. She has come up with injuries from a little while ago and I expect that she is going to have a great season and very well could score more goals than Marta next season.
JK: And you are hoping that is side by side?
DB: Wouldn’t that be fun to watch? And that is exactly the point. There is one other player who I think is phenomenal and that is young and I don’t want to say who it is but we’ll be going after her too.
JK: I know you just got this worked out, but a lot of fans are looking for long-term commitment. How long do you see yourself in this for?
DB: I think there is a core group that is really committed and we are committed to taking it on to an international level and creating interest. And if I do a good job with that with a good team then we should be able to get more TV dollars and more sponsorship and that is how you build a business. You invest in it, you lose money in the beginning and you hope it has returns later, and that is exactly what we are looking for. I hate to call it a business, especially just jumping in. But that has been part of the problem, that you have to think of this as more of a passion and love, which I have both for soccer. You also have to say, ok this is a business. You also have to treat it like that and treat it like any other business.
JK: So how long have you signed on for?
DB: Forever. I’m just like any other owner now.
JK: So there is no term of contract in this deal?
DB: No, I’m just like the other five, six owners now.
JK: What are your expectations for 2011 then? We talked about on the field, but what about off of it? Some teams are losing $1.5 million or $2 million in a year.
DB: I expect this to be a huge promotional year with the World Cup. I expect that we will lose a certain amount of money this year, but I expect that the attendance will climb pretty good from this year to two years from now. Next year will be a growing year for us. It will be an experimental year. And I think it is going to be very exciting to take this team on a world tour after the regular season.
JK: Do you have a figure you expect to lose?
DB: Well the league has been cut back substantially. There’s been a lot that’s been cut back where the investment just wasn’t panning out. You had this employee doing this and this employee doing this but all they ended up doing was creating expenses and not revenue and income. You have to get the expenses in line with them. The league’s been doing that, the individual teams have done that and we expect that losses will be below $1 million this year.
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