Ahmet Ertegun and Lamar Hunt | Adding spice, foreign and domestic, to American soccer

The Dallas side folded in 1982. No NASL team ever made a profit. Yet more important than the unworkable business model was the investment that Hunt and others had made in developing a nationwide awareness of the world’s most popular entertainment. “[G]reater numbers of American youth and, notably, American women,” write Markovits and Hellerman, “began to take up the sport as the saga of the NASL wound down.” While the recently released film Once in a Lifetime emphasizes the Cosmos’ excesses and glamour, soccer found its form in America in open fields, as a game for girls and boys who might not have found comfort in the more indigenous sports.

Columbus general manager Mark McCullers says “the embodiment of [Hunt's] legacy is Crew Stadium,” pictured on 29 Apr 06. (pinkertons | Flickrâ„¢)

Hunt’s place as “soccer’s guardian angel”—the words of former FC Dallas (née Burn) general manager Andy Swift—became assured with his sustained interest in the sport through the 1994 World Cup finals and with the Hunt family’s ownership of three Major League Soccer teams in Columbus, Dallas and Kansas City. (The Kansas City Wizards were sold in August to local owners.) Perhaps Hunt’s most vital contribution to the American club game was seeing, from his study of stadia abroad during quadrennial trips to the World Cup finals, the ingredient offered by the game’s surround. The first American arena constructed for outdoor soccer, Columbus Crew Stadium, rose after Hunt persisted through two earlier denials in 1997 and 1998 (Shawn Mitchell, “Hunt Saw His Vision of Soccer Come True,” Columbus Dispatch, Dec 15; not available online). These investments in concrete, made also in stadia in the Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas and Denver areas (Toronto, New York and Washington, D.C., to come), show that soccer has established a physical as well as a cultural presence in its last frontier.

“I have no doubts that [soccer] will be a major sport in the United States,” said Hunt in 2002, although he might have had reason to employ the present tense.

I’m probably not going to live to see that day because Americans are a little afraid of getting interested in something at which they’re not very good. … [W]e’ve made huge strides since the 1990 World Cup, USA ’94, and obviously since ’98. Unfortunately, those strides only register with the public once every four years. But I have no question that we’re going to see the sport become a major success in the United States, with high attendance at club games.

Markovits and Hellerman emphasize Hunt’s contribution toward a global perspective among the next generation of soccer investors, “a cogent sense that soccer is the world’s only truly global team sport and the world’s most popular form of entertainment” (185).

Born in Istanbul, the son of the one-time Turkish ambassador to the United States, Ertegün’s international credentials are more immediately apparent. Due to his father’s posting, Ertegün found himself in Washington, D.C., by the mid-1930s, and one imagines him plying the city’s U Street corridor, the home ground of Duke Ellington, as well as listening to jazz music at desegregated soirées in the Turkish Embassy. Social gatherings in the capital still were segregated, as well as housing, schools and shops (see “Explore DC: The Segregated City”).

Ahmet (left) and Nesuhi in the Turkish Embassy record room, sometime in the 1930s. (William P. Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division)

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