Offsides on Rothenberg
Alan Rothenberg, U.S. soccer's omnipotent, omnipresent mogul, is a shrewd and tireless businessman who spearheaded the organization of the financially successful 1994 World Cup and oversees both the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) and the new U.S. pro operation, Major League Soccer. He's the sport's driving force in America. He is also a shameless self-promoter and a smug and shady profiteer.
In a trial set to begin next Monday in Los Angeles, Michael Hogue, the former director of the U.S. team's World Cup training site at Mission Viejo, Calif., is seeking unspecified damages from Rothenberg and World Cup USA 1994, for Hogue's allegedly wrongful dismissal. Hogue charges that Rothenberg's motivation in organizing the Cup was "to collect excessive personal profits," pointing out that the L.A. law firm of Latham and Watkins, with which Rothenberg has been a partner since 1990, did all the legal work for World Cup USA.
Rothenberg's hiring of his own firm (which also does USSF's legal work) might not have been illegal, but it was a blatant misuse of power for personal profit. Latham and Watkins admits billing World Cup USA, a nonprofit organization, $2.7 million between November 1990 and December '94. Hogue's attorney Robert Harrison suspects the figure is much higher, citing the nearly $8.6 million that World Cup USA paid out in "professional fees" in 1993 alone.
Rothenberg says his firm supplied "a substantial amount of free services in the beginning" and later a discounted hourly rate. Yet Latham and Watkins's billing records show an audacious $74,000 for its first month of services, and Rothenberg said in a deposition that the discounted rate was $200 instead of $210.
Hogue's grievance stems from the summer of '92 when, he says, Latham and Watkins issued a contract demanding that Mission Viejo officials in-crease the size of an already agreed-upon clubhouse by 10,000 square feet. The city rejected the demand on logistical and financial grounds; Hogue denounced the contract and raised objections to Latham and Watkins's involvement in the project. Though the training site was subsequently and successfully completed according to the original plan, Hogue was fired by Rothenberg in December '92. Rothenberg says Hogue wasn't fired; rather, "his job came to an end."
Managing conflicting interests has been a way of professional life for Rothenberg. As a condition of the U.S.'s hosting the World Cup, the USSF promised FIFA, soccer's world governing body, that a U.S. outdoor league would be launched. Major League Soccer (MLS) was one of three groups that bid for approval from the USSF to operate the league, and surprise, the Rothenberg-controlled MLS won out. Then, in August '94, when he was up for reelection as USSF president, Rothenberg ensured victory by insinuating that were he not reelected, MLS would fail.
Rothenberg, 57, is widely respected as the man principally responsible for the '94 World Cup's record profit of $50 million. As chairman and CEO of World Cup USA, he worked 80-hour weeks for two years at no pay—though he was still drawing a salary from Latham and Watkins. Rothenberg's face and titles were displayed on jumbo stadium screens after Cup matches, and he was held in such awe by his employees that no one objected when he gave his son, Bradford, then 20, a salary of $107,321 from the World Cup payroll. Rothenberg himself was well compensated when the Cup finals were over: His cronies on the World Cup USA board voted him a $7.4 million payment, siphoning that sum from money originally earmarked for developing soccer in the U.S.
With some $10 million in World Cup funds still being held in escrow to pay Latham and Watkins for pending litigation, Rothenberg's booty will continue to add up. In the meantime he governs MLS, a league in which the champion wins a trophy called—what else?—the Alan I. Rothenberg Trophy.
A Sense of Proportion
We have no objection to the New York Giants' giving convicted sex offender Christian Peter a chance to resurrect his career (SCORECARD, NOV. 25). But considering the opportunity being afforded the defensive lineman, isn't it odd that the Giants say Jeffrey Lange, the fan caught throwing snowballs toward the field during a game late last season, is still banned from Giants Stadium for life?