The U.S. Soccer Foundation, an independent charitable organization that has invested $125 million over the last 25 years to provide access to soccer, largely in minority and low-income communities, sued the U.S. Soccer Federation on Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Ed Foster-Simeon, the president and CEO of the U.S. Soccer Foundation, told SI.com he was stunned in August when U.S. Soccer requested a meeting in which it said it was ending the relationship between the two organizations—the federation president has always sat on the foundation’s board—and demanded that the foundation abandon the name “U.S. Soccer Foundation” and its logos.
In the lawsuit, the foundation said it is seeking a declaratory judgment that the foundation owns the name “U.S. Soccer Foundation” and related trademarks.
“We were surprised and shocked,” Foster-Simeon said of U.S. Soccer’s actions. “We have spent $125 million over 25 years building up the equity around the U.S. Soccer Foundation and the work that we’re doing. This is a threat to our organization and our ability to continue the work we’re doing. But more importantly, this threatens our ability to reach kids in low-income communities that we have taken the forefront in in trying to create access and opportunities and quality programming for those kids.
“Not just the elite athletes. Not just those kids who come from households that can afford the pay-to-play model. We’re talking 90% of the kids that we’re reaching are on free and reduced school lunch, which is a key indicator of poverty. This effort to strip us of the name ‘U.S. Soccer Foundation’ and all the work that we’ve built into becoming a leader in this space and in effect telling us to start over, it’s just unreasonable.”
The U.S. Soccer Foundation was formed with $50 million of the profits from the 1994 World Cup, which was hosted in the United States and is still the highest-attended World Cup of all time. While U.S. Soccer’s mission is to serve its member groups and produce the best national teams possible, the mission of the U.S. Soccer Foundation has been to provide access to soccer around the country to kids, not just potentially elite players. The foundation has supported programs and built fields in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., and distributed more than one million pieces of soccer gear and equipment to children in need. (Full disclosure: I have participated in foundation fundraising events over the years.)
Foster-Simeon said the foundation asked U.S. Soccer verbally whether it intended to use the name U.S. Soccer Foundation for itself, but U.S. Soccer did not respond. But the foundation was direct in its complaint, saying: “The USSF has threatened to hijack the Foundation’s trademarks for its own use—likely an effort to capitalize on lucrative business opportunities when the United States hosts the World Cup in 2026.”
U.S. Soccer was contacted by SI.com after the lawsuit was filed on Thursday. The federation’s response will be added here as soon as it is received.
Foster-Simeon said he was particularly struck that U.S. Soccer took such an aggressive stance against the U.S. Soccer Foundation soon after including the foundation and its programs in the Legacy section of the successful bid (with Canada and Mexico) to host World Cup 2026.
“It’s almost like a bait-and-switch,” said Foster-Simeon, who was on the board of the bid committee. “Like we were great for them leading up to the bid, but then within weeks of receiving the bid it’s like, ‘Oh, we want to divorce from you and want you to change your name.’
“At the end of the day, we’ve been told they want to raise $100 million for a national training center, so this may be about money and dollars. But we’re about making a difference for kids in low-income communities, because the pay-to-play model and the increased expense of participation blocks them out. Around the world this is the most egalitarian sport there is. But right now the picture of the game in this country is largely a middle-class, upper-middle-class and suburban sport. And we’re working incredibly hard to change that and are having success. It would be another matter if we weren’t having success, but we’re bringing kids in, we’re creating access and opportunities, and we’re growing at a rapid rate in terms of the number of kids that we’re reaching every year.”
The U.S. Soccer Foundation served 70,000 kids last year, Foster-Simeon said, and expects to reach 100,000 by the end of this school year.