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Q & A with Atlanta Silverbacks Owner Boris Jerkunica Concerning USOC Venue Sale

2012 May 25
by Brian Quarstad

Boris Jerkunica

IMS contacted the Silverbacks on Thursday and requested an interview with Silverbacks owner Boris Jerkunica in regard to the sale of the team’s 3rd round US Open Cup match. In a press release late Tuesday evening and after the 2nd round games, the USSF announced that both Atlanta and the Minnesota Stars sold their 3rd round home venues to MLS sides, Seattle Sounders and Real Salt Lake respectively.

Silverbacks fans and in particular their supporters groups, Westside 109, Eastside 309, and Atlanta Ultras, were very upset with the organization after the Silverbacks had publicized the game against the Sounders the week previous only to turn around sell the game to the MLS team.

The Silverbacks owner graciously agreed to answer some questions via email:

IMS: When did you become aware of, for lack of a better term at this point and time, the “loop hole or opportunity,” in the USOC bid process that allowed a team to purchase the rights from another team for a home venue and did that weigh into your initial decision to bid for the game for a $12,000 fee?

Jerkunica: The $12K was a no brainer for us to bring an MLS team to Atlanta. We used to bid a slightly higher number in the past under the old system. By the way, I really like the new system because it gives the choice to the economically disadvantaged team. For what it’s worth, I don’t see the scenario that played out this week happening too much in the future between NASL and MLS.

IMS: Word seems to be spreading out of Seattle that this deal between the Silverbacks and the Sounders was actually done and finished on Monday, the day before the Tuesday match between the Silverbacks and the Georgia Revolution. Of course nothing could be announced until Tuesday evening’s results since the NPSL would have had to travel to Seattle if they had won. When was this deal actually initially agreed upon understanding that both teams needed to know what the final result of round 2 was before an actual deal could be struck?

Jerkunica: It was done with 10 minutes to go in the game on Tuesday night. As a matter of fact, our conversations with Seattle didn’t even begin until Monday late afternoon/early evening. We immediately formed a committee to come up with criteria under which we would accept such a deal, while taking into consideration all the negatives and the positives.

IMS: It was also pointed out by some fans that the only two teams to sell their home venue rights were teams that were are partially controlled by Traffic. Minnesota is a league-owned team and Traffic owns (I believe) 51 percent of the Silverbacks. Did you ever contact anyone from Traffic or was this a decision you made on your own?

Jerkunica: Yes, Traffic was kept up to date because it was a material financial decision and a material decision affecting our fans. They were a good sounding board, but ultimately they left the final decision to us. They have been very good partners. I couldn’t be more pleased. It was a coincidence that the two teams have Traffic in common.

IMS: Was this an easy or difficult decision and why?

Jerkunica: It was a tremendously difficult decision for both us and Seattle. Adrian Hanauer, who was negotiating this on the behalf of Seattle, spent many years in our league and had a very good understanding of what this game means emotionally to our fans. We discussed all of this during our talks.

IMS: If you knew on Tuesday what might happen did you considering drafting a statement to your fans and if not why didn’t you? You had to have been aware that supporters would have been upset with the chance to host a team like Seattle that gets a lot of media attention and therefore would have gotten the Silverbacks, and the NASL, plenty of attention both in Atlanta and across the U.S?

Jerkunica: We thought we were hosting up until the final offer that was made. It just happened too fast. We wanted to make sure that our “solutions” were thought out and made sense. We wanted to take the time to get out the message we felt was right.

IMS: To those that follow the league closely it’s obvious what a large sum of money can do for teams in the NASL that as Aaron Davidson, CEO of the NASL, was once quoted as saying, lose between $75K and $1.5 million a year. How did that play into your decision?

Jerkunica: If the team was profitable, I doubt we would have sold the game to the Seattle. And as I said before, I doubt it will happen too much in the future because the NASL finances are improving rapidly.

IMS: Since the Silverbacks have come back to play D2 soccer and have joined the NASL, they seem to have been doing a great job of embracing the community and trying to be more open with them. In fact you had several initiatives in the offseason. The attendance numbers seem to be up, yet the events over the last several days seem to fly in the face of what you were trying to do. You have a great soccer park that seats nearly 5,000 and with this year’s attendance that you would have easily sold out. While you most likely made more money selling the game to Seattle than keeping it, with all the numbers crunched there couldn’t have been that big of a difference in what you made for the team and the publicity the Silverbacks would have gotten for future games? I would have to believe the difference could have been made up with the increased media attention around the Silverbacks in Atlanta. How do you answer those critics and what do you say to the fans of Atlanta soccer (and there seems to be many) who have said that they have never been to a Silverbacks match but were planning on coming out to the Open Cup match to see an MLS team? How do you plan to try to recapture that group of potential fans?

Jerkunica: First of all, thanks for the feedback. We have tried really hard to connect with our various communities. Our fans have been great, and that point exactly is why this decision was very, very hard to make.

The decision was a balance between short term vs. long term gratification. To try to recapture the group of potential new fans, we will putting on an MLS exhibition game. Also, as our appreciation for the fans understanding the decision, the June 16th game will be free. Interestingly, the media hasn’t covered that we’re doing that. The fans on the other hand have noticed, and the demand has been tremendous in the last 48 hours, as requests have been pouring in for the free tickets. We are hopeful that between the free game and the MLS exhibition, we will introduce at least as many new fans to the Silverbacks as the Sounders game would have.

IMS: With the team publicizing the Seattle game what now seems like prematurely, do you have regrets that you did that instead of just saying who you might be playing next like most of the other NASL teams did?

Jerkunica: No regrets on that one. We have made a conscious effort to be open with our fans, which means that we call it as we see it and as it happens. We honestly thought we were going to play Seattle at home. With such a quick turnaround for promoting the game, we wanted to make sure we took advantage of every opportunity to get the word out about the Seattle game, and an exit handout at the Tampa Bay game on the 19th was a logical way to do that. We weren’t approached nor were we aware at that point that Seattle purchasing the hosting rights was even a possibility.

IMS: Supporters of the team felt like the press release sent out later on Wednesday was reaction to the negative feedback from the fans rather than a plan that you had all along since that statement came out after the negative fan reaction. Can you talk about that?

Jerkunica: Actually, everything you see on the press release was put into motion before we finished negotiating with Seattle on Tues. However, since everything happened so fast, we decided not to do the press release late Tues night, but to give ourselves a little bit of time to let our thoughts settle and make sure that what we were proposing made sense.

IMS: One of the things mentioned in the press release was an MLS team coming in for an exhibition match. Wouldn’t that cost a substantial amount of money considering the cost of travel and lodging, not to mention staging the game? Did Seattle guarantee a future appearance at Silverbacks Park?

Jerkunica: Seattle did not guarantee a future appearance and yes, it will cost a substantial amount, but we want to do it for our fans.

IMS: Another thing you promised to fans was a league game free of charge to fans. What do you plan on doing for season ticket holders for that game?

Jerkunica: Honestly, that has been our biggest stumbling block. We try to be as transparent as we can with our fans, so we had some ideas that we passed by the season ticket holders and those were met with mixed feedback. We are in ongoing discussions with our season ticket holders and supporters groups. I’m very confident we’ll figure something out. It’s extremely important to us that they’re happy. Our supporter groups Westside 109, Eastside 309, and Atlanta Ultras have been awesome and we really appreciate them. Some of the guys in Westside 109 have been to every game since the team formed in 1998. That is just tremendous and we really, really appreciate it.

IMS: You have a fairly small roster currently at 23. With the recent addition of Jose Burciaga, how many more additional players are you looking to sign and would they be additions to the roster rather than replacements?

Jerkunica: The coaching staff is looking at this as we speak. I haven’t discussed a concrete plan with them yet, but to answer your question, I think it will be a little of both.

IMS: You have won 4 games in 36 league games in 2 years. The team currently sits in last place with only 4 points and 6 red cards from 8 games. Despite numerous roster and coaching staff changes from last season, the poor results have continued. What do you tell your season-ticket holders who have been extremely patient since the team’s re-introduction last year yet have had to sit through constant poor results?

Jerkunica: The red cards will stop. Our coaching staff is already all over that. As for our record. I’ve got to sit through it too. They’re not alone. I can only say it’s not fun to lose and it will change.

27 Responses
  1. smatthew permalink
    May 25, 2012

    thanks to BQ and Boris for the Q&A

    surprised that the Sounders exhibition game wasn’t actually part of the deal
    I assumed it was

  2. thesuperrookie permalink
    May 25, 2012

    Great job, BQ.

  3. jezapenguin permalink
    May 25, 2012

    thank you brian for posting this, it was a good read. now it is time for me to warm up the popcorn and enjoy the responses to this posting :)

  4. Lego7 permalink
    May 25, 2012

    After reexamining the rules, they do seem fair because they still, ultimately, give lower division teams the decision-making power to accept the offer or not. And I agree with Jerkunica about these offers being isolated occurrences in the future, so as long as lower division teams continue to find ways to improve their financial models. Then, there would be no reason to give up hosting rights.

  5. Taly permalink
    May 25, 2012

    http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/soundersfcblog/2018281190_sigi_schmid_on_all_things_open.html
    “I’ve heard L.A. was trying to do the same thing with Carolina, but Carolina is standing firm and saying, ‘Hey, we sold out the place and we’re going to play.’ ” – Sounders Coach Sigi Schmid

    I must applaud the Railhawks for thier decision to host the USOC.

  6. May 25, 2012

    Taly, While I applaud Curt Johnson as well, each case is a different situation. It was not really that tough of a decision for Johnson since he drew the #1 drawing team in the US and one of the better recognized teams in the world. WakeMed has more capacity than Silverbacks Park and even more if the additional seating they have been working on gets approved by the inspectors today. I guarantee you if Djorn Buchholz had drawn the Galaxy he wouldn’t have thought twice about hosting the match at the NSC Stadium which holds 8,500 and could probably put some more standing room only or more temporary seating in. It’s not really apples to apples here. Nonetheless, hats off to Johnson and company.

  7. Taylor permalink
    May 25, 2012

    BQ, you nailed it ! I have no problem with the Stars selling their rights to RSL. To be honest: hosting a MLS club will be nice, but it will still have a limited drawing power. Look at RSL’s roster: will they be able to attract non die-hard soccer fans ?
    If Galaxy or Red Bulls are playing, they’ll be able to even fill the Metrodome (or really close to) since not only the die hard fans will come, but casual fans and other fans who want to see Donovan, Beckham or Henry.

  8. May 25, 2012

    You gotta give the guy credit for answering the questions, whether you agree with his motives or his cost-benefit analysis or not.

  9. tomASS permalink
    May 25, 2012

    I always wondered what happen to the Crusher’s brother the Bruiser?
    I didn’t know he was a soccer fan let a lone a part owner in a team.

  10. Bart permalink
    May 25, 2012

    I think an interview needs to be conducted with Vladimir Putin to discuss how he is bringing pure capitalism back to Mother Russia. That would be about as entertaining a reading the tripe Boris provided to the questions. If he only had Wellman back in Carolina to give him a stereo effect from the days of TOA.

    Traffic has been an excellent partner? As long as Boris is not coughing up dough to fund the negative cash flow and it is all on Traffic, of course they are an excellent partner.

    Finances are improving rapidly? Really, I mean really? How so? Other than the newcomer out west, nothing has materially changed.

    Of course it was an easy decision to sell the rights, it did not cost Atlanta any monies and they pocketed a few bucks as a cushion.

    I think we have a little too much borscht and vodka going around and every loves to drink the Kool Aide.

  11. May 25, 2012

    Weve played three crap games in a row, play Chivas tomorrow, couldnt have gotten the whole team to Atlanta, our starters would be bone tired, and our defense is leaking goals.

    Atlanta had the perfect storm of an opportunity to knock out the three time defending champs at home with a sold out crowd, and threw it all away.

    For that, I thank your greedy owner.

    4peat!!!

  12. drebin permalink
    May 25, 2012

    Hm. Vodka with Kool-Aid, I should try that! Maybe if I do that and then stare into that picture of Boris for as long as I can… I might be able to discover what he is smiling about.

    :)

  13. Tom permalink
    May 25, 2012

    Call me Mr. Assumption, but in Atlanta’s case…..
    Reported attendance is up nearly 30%
    So you can assume that gate receipts are also up accordingly
    So you can assume that concession sales are also up
    So you can assume that miscellaneous revenue is also up
    There is also the potential that more butts in seats means greater potential sponsorship money
    I believe they also cut a deal with Coca-Cola

    So assuming that they are keeping their expenses in check, it is not a big stretch to state (and believe) that Atlanta’s finances are improving.

    Carolina and MN are also both showing attendance gains over last year so the same argument could be made individually in both of their cases as well.

  14. Bart permalink
    May 25, 2012

    @Tom
    Call me Mr. Assumption, but in Atlanta’s case…..
    Reported attendance is up nearly 30%
    So you can assume that gate receipts are also up accordingly
    not necessarily, heavier discounts to get more traffic is not uncommon

    So you can assume that concession sales are also up
    Possibly, but with the target market kids and families on a budget, not necessarily

    So you can assume that miscellaneous revenue is also up
    See above
    There is also the potential that more butts in seats means greater potential sponsorship money
    I believe they also cut a deal with Coca-Cola
    They have not

    The vodka and borscht must still flow freely in order for the ice castle to gain it’s strength

    So assuming that they are keeping their expenses in check, it is not a big stretch to state (and believe) that Atlanta’s finances are improving.

    Carolina and MN are also both showing attendance gains over last year so the same argument could be made individually in both of their cases as well.
    .

  15. Tom permalink
    May 25, 2012

    @Call me Mr. Assumption, but in Atlanta’s case…..
    Reported attendance is up nearly 30%
    So you can assume that gate receipts are also up accordingly
    not necessarily, heavier discounts to get more traffic is not uncommon
    Also, on the contrary with supply and demand economics in place, a growing fan base and ticket demand would decrease the supply and not necessitate discounting.

    So you can assume that concession sales are also up
    Possibly, but with the target market kids and families on a budget, not necessarily
    See above – if anything, if you’ve ever taken your kids to a ballgame you know who the money gets spent on…..

    So you can assume that miscellaneous revenue is also up
    See above
    See above
    There is also the potential that more butts in seats means greater potential sponsorship money
    I believe they also cut a deal with Coca-Cola
    They have not
    In March of this year a fountain deal was cut between the Silverbacks and Coca Cola. I am very familiar with fountain deals. Money was almost assuredly involved – do you think McDonalds just lets Coke pour for free….?

    The vodka and borscht must still flow freely in order for the ice castle to gain it’s strength
    Sounds like fun!

    So assuming that they are keeping their expenses in check, it is not a big stretch to state (and believe) that Atlanta’s finances are improving.

    Carolina and MN are also both showing attendance gains over last year so the same argument could be made individually in both of their cases as well.

    Bart
    Tom

  16. Taly permalink
    May 25, 2012

    @ Jon Danforth. After knocking out the Sounders in ATL, the Silverbacks could have faced the 3rd worst team in MLS – Portland Timbers. So much for making history in the USOC, Silverbacks front office and who knows maybe be in the CONCACAF Champions League with an opportunity to play in the FIFA Club World Cup.

  17. Kel permalink
    May 25, 2012

    @Taly – Back to reality there buddy. The Silverbacks, who can’t even handle NASL competition, weren’t beating three MLS teams and making the CCL. Or even more ludicrous, playing in the FIFA Club World Cup. When you pay your players on average between 12 to 20k like NASL clubs are believed to, you are not winning any major competition against clubs who spend millions on much better talent. And no minor league club today is close to the quality that that the late 90s Rochester Raging Rhinos had.

    Boris/Traffic did not sell away the CCL. They took some money for a lower division club that is bleeding cash. Welcome to minor league soccer.

    If the RailHawks didn’t draw the LA Beckhams, they would not of sold out and probably done the same thing. Back in 2007 and 2008, Carolina drew around 3,000 and 4,500 to see MLS teams in the Open Cup. It didn’t help the RailHawks any. A few years later they were on sale on eBay. The Galaxy draw fans. Garber should pay attention. Some Americans want to see MLS super clubs.

  18. bullsear permalink
    May 26, 2012

    I’m becoming more and more okay with giving the smaller clubs an opportunity to sell their home games, but if that possibility is going to exist, it should exist across the board. There is no reason ATL and MN should get a payout for winning a coin flip while teams like the Strikers never even had the opportunity to sell their rights.

    It just doesn’t seem like a very stable or fair system.

  19. Darren L permalink
    May 26, 2012

    I have to hand it to Mr. Jerkunica for granting this interview. Kudos for providing some of the background on the decision. I come away feeling that he indeed believe he is accountable to the fans when decisions are made that piss them off. Whether I agree with him or not, just talking to fans like friends or family about what’s going on in his team’s life makes us… (if not happy) feel better. Nobody trusts a member of the family who keeps lot of secrets.

    My MN Stars will grant BQ a similar interview, unless of course they don’t give a s**t.

  20. Whatever You Want it To Be permalink
    May 26, 2012

    Brian, you’re doing a great job, but me thinks your cozy rapport with NASL bigwigs is warping your perspective a bit. Here is the reality of the situation:

    http://blog.seattlepi.com/soundersfan/2012/05/24/opinion-sounders-fo-show-a-disrespect-for-the-game-with-us-open-cup-antics/

  21. May 26, 2012

    @Whatever You Want it To Be, Thanks for the compliment but I really don’t understand what you are stating here? You link presents an opinion. I rarely state opinions on IMS except I will at times in the comments. When opinions are offered at IMS they are labeled as commentary. What I try to do is present soccer news. I worked hard on the questions for both Jerkunica and Buchholz and I think I presented some difficult questions for them. But I did so in a balanced and respectful way. That is always my goal at IMS. I am curious how you would have preferred me to deal with this situation?

  22. Bart permalink
    May 26, 2012

    Jerkunica is loyal to Jerkunica. And maybe his kids. Period. NASL has been able to exist for the last 2 years because Jerkunica has remained passive and in the background.

    This is one loose cannon that, while very intelligent, will mess up any teenager’s perfect wet dream.

    If Jerkunica does get more involved, you can expect to see stress in the NASL ranks.

  23. Whatever You Want it To Be permalink
    May 26, 2012

    I AM referring to your opinion, as stated in the above comment where compare the Railhawks situation to the Silverbacks. It seemed like you were defending Boris’ decision. (Which you have every right to, by the way. I just disagree.)

  24. taly permalink
    May 26, 2012

    @ Kel. Way to think like Boris Jerkunica. Check out TFC a crummy team that qualified for the CCL.

  25. May 26, 2012

    @Whatever You Want it To Be,
    Got it and fair enough. But my point wasn’t to defend Boris but to say from a financial aspect, not a philosophical one, they are two totally different scenarios. I still stand by that. LA Galaxy in a stadium of over 8,000 or the Sounders in a stadium of 5,000.

  26. Whatever You Want it To Be permalink
    May 26, 2012

    Understood. We can respectfully agree to disagree on that one. As for your earlier question about what I would do differently, how about interviewing supporters group leaders from across the league? A series of supporters group interviews similar to the coach & staff interviews you’ve been doing on your podcast would be great.

    Anyways, thanks for your thoughtful replies and your hard work.

  27. May 26, 2012

    We have already had James Hope of the Crocketeers on the podcast and have plans to have players, FO personal and supporter group personalities on the show this year. The podcasts are a lot of work (hours) for the actual traffic that is driven to the site to listen to them. I appreciate you listening.

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