Soccer story

The Madison County Record Sep. 23, 2007, 4:48am

Jeff Cooper is a filthy-rich asbestos lawyer. He's not an accomplished entertainment executive or real estate developer, nor has he ever started or run any consumer-focused business as far we can tell.

Yet Cooper says he's bringing a Major League Soccer team to Collinsville. He says he's building an unprecedented, stand-alone, 18,500-seat soccer stadium just off the Interstate. He's building hotel rooms and restaurants with wide-eyed plans to turn the world's horseradish capital into a regional soccer mecca.

With high hopes, Collinsville taxpayers have promised to raise local taxes and borrow tens of millions for Cooper, to help him fulfill his personal dream.

We'll prepare to be disappointed.

Maybe there's a different Jeff Cooper resume out there that we're missing; one that includes experience selling tickets, sponsorships and sports merchandise. But the one we know-- a stint as a local prosecutor, an unsuccessful run for U.S. Congress in 2000, then today's perch running Randy Bono and John Simmons' infamous asbestos lawsuit manufacturing plant in East Alton-- doesn't exactly conjure up the confidence that he'll be able to live up to his promises.

Running a professional sports franchise isn't much like lassoing asbestos plaintiffs en masse. Unless Cooper plans to run late night and mid-day television ads promoting the team ("is your loved one suffering from pro soccer withdrawal?"..), we don't figure there's much skill-set overlap.

All resume deficits aside, if Cooper really figured Major League Soccer in St. Louis was an investment with legitimate return potential, he would have had no problem lining up private financing and raising equity all by himself, without the public step stool. But Cooper doesn't know, because he's never done anything remotely like this before. So he couldn't and he didn't.

Forgive our pessimism. We here at The Record adore real, true blue investment and economic development. But that, Cooper's soccer fantasy is not.

This dream is nothing more than a government-subsidized, highly-risky venture in an emerging, oft-struggling professional sports league. And local taxpayers are on the hook if it fails.

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