Once in love with soccer, always in love with soccer, says Bernie Mullin, the former Pittsburgh Pirates vice president who resigned last summer to pursue a Major Soccer League franchise for the city.
"Everything is in place but the last piece of the capitalization package," Mullin said from his home. "We believe we'll have that last piece in place in the next seven to 10 days. We've had our proposal favorably reviewed by two corporate review boards and it goes to the CEO [Friday]."
Mullin, who will be the general managing partner of the team, would not reveal the corporation he is dealing with. But he said he believes the odds of approval are in his favor and that the new franchise will operate in the MSL next fall.
Once Mullin has his financial package complete, a formal application will be made for admission to the league.
"Then it comes down to two things," said MSL commissioner Earl Foreman. "We'll review the financial stability of the group and we'll review the group of owners. But Bernie Mullin has a fabulous reputation in the sports field, and since he is putting the financing together, we don't foresee any problems."
Mullin is credited with turning around the financially troubled Pirates. During his tenure as senior vice president in charge of business operations, the team's paid attendance rose by more than 1 million and the operating losses turned into profits by 1988, two years after he joined the club.
"I know Pittsburgh and I know soccer is a natural for this city," said Mullin, 42, who grew up in England and played semipro soccer for Oxford City. He came to the United States to earn his master's degree and coach the University of Kansas soccer team to a Big Eight championship in 1978.
Mullin is excited about entering the MSL, even though the league has faced questions each year about its financial stability. The now-defunct Pittsburgh Spirit called it quits after the 1985-86 season, after five years of existence.
This season is the first in the MSL's 13 years that the same franchises returned from the previous year. And, despite the search for additional or new financing in Dallas, Kansas City and San Diego, the same eight teams are expected back in 1991-92.
"When this franchise folded, it was averaging 7,000 to 8,000 fans," said Mullin, who plays indoor and outdoor soccer twice a week. "There have been a lot of changes in the league since then. The salary cap means the payroll will be $1 million less than it was in 1985. Ticket prices have almost doubled. With the decision to shorten the season to 40 games, it is even more appealing."
Making ends meet in the MSL has not been easy. Not since the Cleveland Force made a profit during its last season in the league, 1986-87, has an MSL franchise finished in the black. None are expected to do so this season.
In Pittsburgh, Mullin has negotiated a lease agreement with the Civic Arena and says he is on the way to a 20-game local TV package.
As general managing partner, he will act as both team president and general manager, and former Spirit defender Bob Vosmaer will be vice president in charge of player personnel. As for the coach, Mullin said he knows who he wants, but would not name him.
He is also making a title search to see if the team name "Spirit" is available.
"I know there is still a Spirit boosters group with more than 1,000 members in existence here," Mullin said. "I understand it. I will die with my soccer shoes on."