Borislow lawsuits go on

The Palm Beach Post reports today, in a story behind a paywall that required three incredibly frustrating efforts to sign up, that Dan Borislow’s estate has not been settled because of several lawsuits and claims.

The lawsuits and claims against him:

  • $674,000 to Palm Beach Kennel Club, where he won $6.67 million and change on one race card in May but placed many more bets last year. Borislow’s wife has disputed the claim.
  • $3.3 million to one Michael Ciprianni of Palm Beach Gardens.
  • $6 million to the IRS. He and his wife challenged that claim in U.S. Tax Court in 2011.
  • $200 million against Borislow and his former company, magicJack, from a Miami company called NetTALK.com, claiming infringement on NetTALK’s technology to make magicJack Plus. That was filed in 2012. Borislow scoffed mightily at the time.

But Borislow had a couple of suits going the other way as well, though they’ve both been settled:

  • Against Canaccord Genuity Group for negative remarks from one of their analysts.
  • Against magicJack for $20 million. Yes, his former company. The suit is posted at Scribd and is worth a perusal just for the opening reminder that magicJack “would not exist and would not be successful if it were not for Borislow’s Herculean dedication, investment, effort, and ingenuity for almost a decade.” The company’s CEO also said “would not exist without him” in an earnings call soon after Borislow’s passing.

There’s not much else to say. I spent a bit too much time on Google and my favorite legal sites, and I can’t really add anything. We can only hope for the sake of Borislow’s family that this all wraps up soon and brings them some peace.

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Remembering Dan Borislow

Dan Borislow’s larger-than-life reputation was so great that, upon hearing of his death this morning, I immediately thought I needed to get his side of the story. I was sorely tempted to text him, thinking I might get an entertaining response about a bunch of idiots declaring him dead when he had every right to be alive.

In this case, he would’ve been right. To pass away so suddenly and so young, with children just on the verge of adulthood, is a colossal injustice far beyond anything alleged in a Palm Beach County court document. And for someone like Borislow, who refused and ridiculed idle lifestyles, to pass away from a heart attack after a soccer game is a cruel contradiction for a man whose life was full of contradiction.

The first time I spoke with him was at his urging. I had just reported a development in his unraveling relationship with WPS, and I fully expected him to rip me a new one over the phone. Instead, I called and found a quiet, distracted guy who really just wanted to chat a bit.

He was a man who cared deeply about the women on his team who showed no regrets about scorching the earth under their flailing soccer league.

He was a man who enjoyed chatting with reporters but instilled a powerful code of silence among his players and others in his employ. Strong soccer-playing women would take great care to avoid saying anything about life as a magicJack player.

He was a smart man with a knack for making money, most recently taking $6.7 million in a horse racing jackpot, and yet he was prone to email outbursts that were barely coherent, picking fights with people over trivial things like placing required advertising boards at league games.

It’s safe to say he had issues with authority and would speak up for himself in court. He lost big when he tangled with popular website Boing Boing. A search of Palm Beach County court records shows a long list of traffic infractions, many of which he challenged. He has a couple of court cases, traffic and civil, still open.

He also enjoyed venting. My email was full of rants about U.S. Soccer, WPS and other women’s soccer figures. They got a little personal at times, but if you’ve read any of the court documents from the WPS lawsuit, you already get the idea.

And yet, he cared deeply about a couple of things. First was his family. Second was women’s soccer.

Early in our correspondence, I asked him if he had considered any relationship with youth clubs that had worked with the Washington Freedom as the pro team packed up and left town.

“I would do anything for youth soccer,” he replied.

One of his youth players posted her heartbreak on Twitter:

https://twitter.com/ohhgiio/status/491448233030197248

If women’s soccer could have somehow harnessed his enthusiasm and willingness to support the sport without dealing with the controversies that surrounded him, the sport would have surely been better off. But that would never happen.

“Beau, if my wife can’t change me, no one will,” he once told me with a bit of a laugh.

And no one did.

My sincerest condolences to his family, and I hope his legacy will be to inspire others to take an interest in women’s sports and other underfunded outlets for talented people.

The U.S. Open Cup, women’s soccer and “data points”

U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati is an economist by trade — which is good, because if you see the financial documents linked later on, you’ll remember that he doesn’t get paid for his role with the federation. (Perhaps it’s a little unfair that the person making the big bucks, CEO Dan Flynn, rarely has to face the media while we pester Gulati all the time. But I digress.)

So when we pestered Gulati before Sunday’s USA-China women’s game, he made one telling statement: “I’ve been doing this too long to get too up or down by individual data points.”

Whether you agree with everything Gulati does or not, this statement is one thing that separates his thought processes from most of us who yap about soccer on the Internet. We in the virtual soccer community can “prove” lots of things from single data points:

  • Hey, it’s 50 degrees in Chicago today! That proves MLS can play through the winter!
  • The Rochester Rhinos won the Open Cup! That proves the A-League is better than MLS!
  • We sold a lot of tickets for one exhibition game between Manchester United and Real Madrid! That proves that if MLS teams simply spent themselves silly, we’d have crowds like this every game!
  • The WPS games immediately after the World Cup drew huge crowds! That proves WPS has made it!
  • The U.S. men won in Italy! Why aren’t we ranked in the top 10?

In the long run, it’s a good thing the powers that be don’t make decisions based on isolated data points. They might see a few hundred people gathered for one of last spring’s WPS games and figure women’s soccer is dead. They might see empty seats in MLS cities — even in places like Toronto where the seats are apparently sold but not occupied — and figure MLS is struggling. They might notice that ratings trumpeted as big numbers for European broadcasts are in the same ballpark as the numbers that have fans of The Ultimate Fighter on edge.

Let’s look at a couple of data points and see how the situation is a little more complicated than it appears:

Continue reading The U.S. Open Cup, women’s soccer and “data points”

Borislow unleashes anger at U.S. Soccer

Former magicJack owner Dan Borislow has been conciliatory toward other WPS alumni. Their lawsuit is settled, and everyone’s moving forward.

But he still sees an obstruction in the path of women’s soccer, and it’s the organization that collects the sanctioning fees. Here’s his statement:

My take on the whole matter is that WPS could have made it if the USSF granted money to the league instead of charge it. I have never understood why the most successful team and players representing the United States in the last 10 years are not taken care of like the national treasure they are. Why is Pia (Sundhage, the U.S. women’s coach) not extended a contract and make 20 times less money than the head coach of our men’s national team (Jurgen Klinsmann)?* Why wasn’t the USSF more involved in helping form and run a successful Women’s Division 1 league?

In the future, the USSF needs to give MLS an annual grant so they can run a women’s league. Right now the largest sport we have for kids and Women can’t get a few million dollars from the wealthiest country in the world and their governing body. It’s disgraceful. Billions here, billions there and not a couple million for the best team representing our country.

If you have to point fingers — in this case there is a guilty party, that is where you point them. But not these owners who put up the money and tried the best they knew how. Fire these morons running the USSF and replace them with somebody who understands the value and importance of girls and women playing soccer in the United States. They shouldn’t even be invited to the Olympics.

U.S. Soccer would argue that it pays the national team players pretty well. But it’s safe to say the organization hasn’t been pro-active about getting a women’s soccer league running. Is that their role?

Quick historical precedents: In 1993, U.S. Soccer solicited bids for a new men’s professional Division I league, and veteran U.S. Soccer officials were involved with the winning bid, MLS. And in 2010, U.S. Soccer administered a men’s Division II league, forcibly (and temporarily) merging the USL’s top tier and the nascent NASL.

* – Technically, Klinsmann makes 13 times what Sundhage makes, but the point is taken.

Boston Breakers statement on WPS

I’ll have more analysis at some point over the weekend, in case my story and analysis at espnW aren’t enough for you.

But I wanted to go ahead and pass this along from my inbox …

May 18, 2012 (NORWOOD, MA) – Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) further announces today that the efforts of all teams over the past six months have regrettably lead to the conclusion that the league cannot continue forward despite the efforts of all teams. MagicJack did everything possible to try and keep the league together and succeed as well. MagicJack helped keep the league alive in 2011. Unfortunately, collectively the ownership could not reconcile their differences about how to run the league and what the appropriate financial model for teams should be for sustainability and jointly made the decision to cease operations.

Boston Breakers’ managing partner, Michael Stoller, stated “Dan Borislow built a terrific team that created a great level of fan support and created a strong attendance boost after the World Cup ended for the league and each team. I know many players on the MagicJack team were very happy and would love to play for Dan again in the future. Unfortunately, collectively we decided that the number of issues we faced as a league, along with the overall economic considerations, were just too much to overcome presently.”

Thoughts?

Recapping the WPS-Borislow case

Someone asked recently if I could put all the WPS-Borislow documents in one place. I also find myself sometimes wanting to go back and check a few things, and I’m sure a couple of the diehards following everything also want to see it all together. So with apologies to those who just want this all to be over with, here goes:

You can get a list of the documents from the Palm Beach County clerk’s site. They say it’s only set up to work in Internet Explorer, but I was able to get it to load in Chrome as well. Here’s the direct link to the case.

Continue reading Recapping the WPS-Borislow case

Judge cuts Borislow’s discovery request in half, but WPS’s to-do list is long

This order, released with no fanfare March 9 and not posted to the court site until a few days later, is one of the simplest documents in the long saga of Dan Borislow’s court case against WPS. It boils down to one sentence:

The Court overrules Defendant’s Specific Objections as to Requests No. 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 and the Court sustains as to Defendant’s Specific Objections to Requests No. 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10.

The document has the feel of something that was rushed. For one thing, the second “as to” in that sentence is misplaced. For another, if you look at Page 2, the identifier at the top says “Order Granting Plaintiff’s Motion for Temporary Injunction, Page 2 of 11.” This is not an order granting such a motion — to my knowledge, no such order has been made, and the original injunction request is hardly the issue any more — and the document is two pages, not 11.

Here’s the order in question:

In case you hadn’t memorized Requests 1-10, check WPS’s prior motion. This is actually two documents combined; start on p. 3 of the second one, with the header SPECIFIC OBJECTIONS:

I’ve had to re-read the order multiple times to be sure I’m reading it correctly. WPS has to produce the following:

  1. All documents relating to the decision to suspend the 2012 season.
  2. All documents relating to the proposed settlement, including “Defendant’s decision not to comply with settlement terms.”
  3. All documents relating to efforts to resume play in 2013.
  4. All documents relating to the Jan. 30 press release in which the league announced it was suspending the season, including drafts, markups, etc.
  5. All documents relating to the Jan. 30 media conference call — basically, whatever notes WPS CEO Jennifer O’Sullivan and board chairman Fitz Johnson had.

Then the judge sustains WPS’s objection to discovery on the distribution of Borislow’s bond money for the 2012 season.

As always, lawyers’ input is welcome. But this discovery seems to be less about settling the dispute and more about deciding whether WPS was operating in bad faith when league officials negotiated with Borislow in January.

For a league that has already said its legal fees (which are NOT subject to discovery) and this ongoing court case had choked out the 2012 season and threatened its continued existence, this ruling surely isn’t a welcome development.

Why the Borislow-WPS case won’t die

Yes, I know. Only masochists and bored legal scholars are still reading legal documents in this case at this point.

But since the court held an inconclusive status conference this week (I’ve heard “trial in April,” “the judge still hasn’t ruled on the motions” and “cannot comment at this time”), I’ll give an inconclusive status update.

The latest filing from Dan Borislow’s legal team shows how far apart the sides are at this point. It’s a position statement offered before the status conference. Enjoy.

What we have now are a couple of different possibilities for what has happened, depending on whom you believe:

Version A: We made a deal, but the U.S. Soccer Federation said they didn’t think it would work. We went ahead and asked again to see if we could work it out, and they said no. So there’s no deal. Independent of that, our chances of playing in 2012 went from slim to none soon after we agreed to the deal. There’s no point in issuing a temporary injunction for a league that isn’t playing in 2012, and we’ve started the arbitration/mediation process, so shouldn’t we be out of this court right now?

Version B: Seems awfully convenient that USSF told you the deal wouldn’t work. You never had any intention of settling, did you? We’re going to pursue discovery of you and maybe the USSF to find out. (Note: Not exaggerating here — see page 2 of the document above.) This was just a little delaying tactic you made because you knew you were going to lose. (Again, see the document.) We still have a deal, and we’re going to pursue it in case you’re able to get things in gear for 2013.

So that leaves the following questions:

1. What has the USSF allowed or not allowed?

No idea, and they’re not saying. There’s a bit of confusion over whether Borislow would be allowed to sign five national team players, four, one or none, and frankly, I’m not sure it’s worth getting into what each side is saying. The voice that matters is USSF. Which is silent.

2. Would any league take magicJack?

WPSL, likely not, from all that’s been reported. W-League? Haven’t asked. This is relevant for this reason: If magicJack is a member of a league and wants to play some exhibitions, what limitations could USSF place then?

3. What kind of damage could discovery do to WPS?

Maybe someone can tell us what sort of trouble WPS would be in if — and we can’t stress the word if enough — the discovery process finds some sign of bad faith in negotiating the deal, either by having advance knowledge that USSF would say no or that they were already about to pull the plug on the 2012 season.

Conspiracy theories aside, few businesses like to have all their dealings made public. WPS has been keeping things guarded for months — they haven’t gone public with expansion candidates, among other things.

4. Can WPS get a fair hearing in Florida?

I’ll rephrase my own question: Did WPS negotiate the deal with Borislow because they had simply lost confidence in their chances to win in this court? Even though the Jan. 18 hearing that was averted would’ve been WPS’s first real opportunity to present witnesses and make its case against Borislow? All they had done before then was defended (unsuccessfully) its termination procedure.

5. What can WPS do to get out of court?

Agree to play exhibition games against Borislow in 2013? That, along with a couple of smaller issues that don’t seem to be controversial, would satisfy the deal. Then there’s no need for a motion to enforce a settlement or anything else. (Unless some other issue arises.)

6. Why don’t they?

No idea. Maybe a couple of owners balked? Maybe USSF won’t let them?

7. So that leads us back to Question 1?

Yep.

I’m always happy to crowdsource these legal documents. Comments welcome.

WPS teams move on; WPS does not

If you’ve been looking for just a little bit of good news in pro women’s soccer, you got it today. The Western New York Flash and Boston Breakers will play this season, and a couple of well-established WPSL teams (FC Indiana, former WPSer Chicago Red Stars) will be moving into an “elite league” to join them. I’m guessing Marta won’t be involved, but this will give a lot of WPS players a few options other than fleeing the country.

But if you read what I’ve written at espnW, you’ll see things aren’t quite as rosy for the league as a whole.

Dan Borislow’s motion for a temporary injunction is morphing into a motion to enforce “The Deal.” Many readers believe “The Deal” was never finalized. Borislow’s legal team argues most vociferously that it was.

(Sorry I’m not embedding the document this time — these two combined would probably break my blog. Here’s the Motion to Enforce Settlement.)

The second document — Declaration of Louis S. Ederer (Borislow’s attorney) — is enough to make you wonder when and how this case will ever end.

As I say in the story, one revelation here is that the league’s laundry lists of accusations against Borislow (you remember — the stuff Deadspin called “The Angry Emails That Helped Cost Boca Raton Its All-Star Pro Soccer Team”) was basically ignored by the court to this point. Perhaps I shouldn’t be so surprised, given that the court has thus far limited itself to the termination procedures. But this was brought up early, when the league was trying to get the case dismissed. The league says back in its opposition to Borislow’s original motion that it’s a bit rich for Borislow to point to these agreements after (according to the league) breaching his own responsibilities so many times.

I say “according to the league” because Borislow denies all this. He firmly believes the league had no reason to dismiss him.

And I should clarify one thing from the previous post on this matter. It wasn’t Borislow’s business plan to say “Nah, I’m not going to buy sign boards because I’m putting the money toward players.” The sign-board disagreement is more about Borislow’s objection to his lack of TV games and some related disputes.

So from all this, we have a bunch of questions I’d like to throw open to my civil, thoughtful commenters:

1. Who’s joining the four teams already announced for the WPSL elite division?

2. There’s no sanctioning problem with that division, right? Right? (Shouldn’t be — WPSL has had pro teams in the past.)

3. Which players will be around to play for these teams?

4. What’s the deal with “The Deal”? Can Borislow compel teams to play him in 2013 if they return to WPS as scheduled?

5. What did U.S. Soccer say about “The Deal,” when did they say it, and to whom did they say it?

6. Why such an insistent discovery process over the suspension of the 2012 season, which neither party apparently believes is a violation of “The Deal”?

7. What’s the way forward from this?

Comment away …

Business plan (Lisa needs braces!) – roots of a WPS conflict

You may say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one – John Lennon

I myself have never been able to find out what feminism is; I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute. – Rebecca West

I had been planning to write about the underlying business-model dispute in WPS today, and then I saw that Fake Sigi had already chimed in on the topic of marketing WPS as a “cause.”

I’ve said before that there are plenty of reasons to own a sports team or invest in it. You could argue that Barcelona is a “cause,” and it’s sometimes hard to tell if that cause it the “more than a club” philosophy or Keynesian theory on economic debt. (Yes, econ nerds, I know I’m oversimplifying. Bear with me here.)

What we saw in 2011 wasn’t so much “cause” marketing as a different type of ownership. Dan Borislow and Joe Sahlen differ on a few things, but they had some similarities. They were willing to spend money on talent. And their teams were, in part, outlets of their brands. Borislow named the team after his product; Sahlen bought heavily as a league sponsor with naming rights on their stadium.

So when we ask why Abby Wambach has sworn allegiance to Borislow or why other national team players haven’t spoken up about the current legal mess or Ella Masar’s incendiary blog post, are we really asking what these players believe is possible in WPS?

That idea, beyond anything Borislow has done, is seductive. Just find enough wealthy people who are willing to spend money with little in return — at least for now — and you have a league of people enjoying competitive play and relative comfort between World Cup/Olympic cycles.

The question those investors might ask: How long am I expected to lose money, and how much? Anschutz and company sank tens of millions into MLS, but even with their accounting as private as it is, you have to figure they’ve earned a good bit back by selling a lot of teams as their value was soaring.

And future owners likely will need to spend more on a front office staff and other ancillaries than Borislow has. Critique the league’s front office all you want, but the fact is that magicJack benefited a great deal from having an infrastructure in place and from other teams’ marketing efforts. Abby Wambach would’ve drawn just as many fans to her hometown of Rochester if she had been playing for the Washington Freedom or Atlanta Beat or Chicago Red Stars as she did playing for magicJack.

The league also had smartly reached out through social media, a byproduct of the great decision to bring in Amanda Vandervort. The players’ Twitter presences exploded after the World Cup, but you can thank the league’s former management for building up the efforts on that front.

Now a lot of that infrastructure has been depleted by budget cuts. It’s not exactly going to build up during a season with no games and a lot of legal fees.

So when Wambach goes to Kansas City and speaks to a crowd larger than the announced attendance at many magicJack games, then says the league needs a bunch of positivity and wealthy people, is she dreaming?

Signs point to yes. The Washington Freedom, which once boasted Wambach, Japan’s Homare Sawa and France’s Sonia Bompastor, had to move because they didn’t find anyone willing to do what Borislow did. Not even in the wealthy enclaves of McLean and Bethesda, where the Freedom had done outreach for years with the powerful youth soccer clubs. If you can’t get some D.C.-area tech entrepreneur or Capital One executive to gamble a few million on a pro team that would provide coaches and inspiration for a couple of youth juggernauts, what are the odds of finding someone elsewhere?

And Wambach’s plea for unity may come across as a little tone-deaf. Fans are in an uproar: See StarCityFan2’s comment here saying she didn’t seem to care how her teammates were treated. And league backers could respond to her “can’t build something from negativity” comment by asking, “Wait a minute — who’s suing whom here?”

But should we question Wambach’s desire to dream of a time in which WPS gets such backing? Is it really wrong to hope that some combination of Nike, Ellen DeGeneres and some youth soccer phenom-turned-tech CEO will swoop in to build a better league? Do we have to go to Peter Wilt’s souped-up semipro model already?

Perhaps not. But the question in the meantime is how you keep today’s arguments from sweeping away the platform from which tomorrow’s soccer can be launched.