An Open Letter to the Metropolitan Community: Local Pro Soccer Team Highlights Barriers to Minority-Owned Businesses

Omaha, Nebraska [November 5, 2021]  

“These men ask for just the same thing: fairness, and fairness only.  This is, so far as in my power, they, and all others, shall have.”

     – Abraham Lincoln

 

Dear Cities of Omaha, Council Bluffs, and Ralston,

We’re writing you an open letter today, as a minority-owned business, to highlight the current circumstances we are in, and shine a light on the individuals that continue to put up barriers against minority-owned businesses.  All we’re asking for is an equal opportunity to show that the American Dream is still alive and thriving.

Written by Natalie Viel

Owner & Chief Marketing Officer

The Omaha Kings FC (Fútbol Club) was founded in 2019 by a first-generation immigrant, Emmanuel Viel, and his wife, Natalie Viel.  Both have grown up in the Omaha community.  Emmanuel came to the United States with his family in the early 2000’s to escape a world of political chaos and unrest in Argentina.  His father, Carlos Viel, arrived in Omaha with $50 in his pocket, and was unknowingly paying rent for an entire house of strangers while he was given a mattress to sleep on in a filthy basement.  He spent years having to walk to his multiple jobs, sometimes up to 70 blocks a day.  But the end goal for him was always clear: provide a life of better and more equal opportunities for his family and children.

 

That’s the American Dream, right?  The process is not an easy one and they knew that, but the idea of having freedom and equal opportunities to pursue life, liberty and happiness in this country always rang true to the Viel family.  At least, we all thought so.

 

Emmanuel was one of the first Latino’s to attend Millard North High School, making history with his Freshman debut on their Varsity Soccer Team.  He could’ve played at the highest level of professional soccer when he was as young as 16.  Anyone that knows him can backup this statement.  Unfortunately, there were some barriers in place due to his immigration status and bad coaching, and it prevented him from pursuing this route.  Had there been an outlet like the Omaha Kings FC when he was that age, things could’ve turned out very different for him in his soccer career.

 

Emmanuel was able to attend Wesleyan University and play College soccer, as well as Bellevue University.  But what happens when athletes finish college?  The ones that are not so “connected” and “pre-destined” for the professional level?  There’s no outlets for them to continue playing, except maybe in local recreational leagues.  What was their lifetime of work, dedicated to a sport, even for?  Why do we teach kids the only route is to play sports in college, when 90% of them do not advance to the professional level afterwards?

 

These questions bring us to our current situation today.  The Omaha Kings FC is a club that was built to provide equal opportunities to play at a higher level of soccer, to people with similar life experiences as Emmanuel.  And believe us, there’s MANY of them.   They may not all be immigrants, but look around.  The Omaha Metro Community has a plethora of Colleges that pump out highly talented athletes left and right.  Where do these athletes go?  Wouldn’t a community like ours like to see them continue their careers at a higher level, without leaving the city?  One would think so.

He spent years walking to his multiple jobs, sometimes up to 70 blocks a day…

In just two years, the Kings have gone from the 4th level (amateur/PASL) of the Major Arena Soccer League Pyramid, advancing to 3rd/semi-pro level the following year (M3), and were then invited up to the 2nd Professional level this past spring for a provisional season.  Did we mention we won the league Championship at the Semi-Pro level?  Guess it’s kind of hard to know that when all the local media outlets ignore your press releases.

 

We were able to come up with the funding and are now official members of the Professional MASL2 level and will be playing in the upcoming 2021-2022 season.  But no one knows that because local media refuses to cover us, and we haven’t been able to move forward with our press conference we had planned.  Why? Our local community arenas.

Let’s have a talk about that.  We’ve learned quite a bit about arena’s through this process, and how they operate.  It appears, with the exceptions of schools or colleges, they’re usually owned by the city they’re built in, and the city hires a third-party company to manage it on their behalf.  Well, City Officials, do you really expect a corporate owned company to operate in the best interest of your economic growth?

 

We first approached Ralston Arena, multiple times, even once through the actual Mayor.  We were given, by the representatives of the arena, every reason as to why they couldn’t make it work there for us.  We were not taken seriously by their General Manager, and met with him on multiple occasions.  He insisted that they were at full capacity and didn’t need any further tenants, and if we did try to play there, we would get the scraps of left over time after concerts and other traveling events that come in. 

 

Next, we looked at the Mid-America Center in Council Bluffs, Iowa.  It was larger than we needed, but we felt the community appeared to value their minority populations, and had put forward a huge effort to invest in soccer already.  To us, our organization is about providing equal opportunities to local athletes, and bringing people together through the game of soccer.  It didn’t matter what city had their name on it, as long as their core values aligned with ours. 

 

Mid-America was excited about our event, but had a hard time providing quality dates.  The idea was to make Iowa and Mid-America Center our home, and if there were dates they couldn’t provide, maybe we could hold a game or two at Baxter Arena.  If Council Bluffs was willing to give us the support, we were ready to make it our permanent home.  The idea is to lay the roots and grow, not bounce around from place to place.

 

This brings us to Baxter Arena.

We attempted first contact with Baxter by leaving a few messages, but never received a call back.  We then utilized a local advertising representative who had a relationship with them, and was kind enough to offer an email introduction.  Shockingly, the response this person received was that Baxter was not interested in speaking with us and already booked up for the year, and thank you for considering them.  The response was sent directly to the advertising rep, not the actual owners of the Omaha Kings FC.  

No details were discussed in the introductory email, and we weren’t even give a chance to explain we were only looking for one or two possible dates, not our entire season.  We attempted to reach back out, calling the management team multiple times over the next few weeks, but our attempts were unsuccessful. 

Why were we not even given the time of day?  Not even one phone call or email? 

Did we not have the ‘right’ connections? Or is it that we weren’t part of their ‘inner-circle’?

We knew there would be obstacles with Baxter, being well aware of the fact they had to provide space for the university sports first.  We just couldn’t understand why we weren’t even given a chance or the time of day.

Our metro-community has 4 arenas; Ralston, Baxter, CHI, and the Mid-America Center.  CHI is way too big for what we were needing and wasn’t even on our radar.  But we couldn’t understand why 2 out of the 3 other arena’s were shutting their doors on us without any logical explanations.  Did we not have the “right” connections?   Or is it that we weren’t part of their “inner-circle”?

 

 

The Mid-America Center ended up being able to provide 6 dates that we needed, not our first choices, but we were running out of time and had limited options at this point.  When we first made contact with them in March of 2021, we spoke with a property sales manager.  She was lovely and informed us the base rental rate was $7500, with opportunities in share with concession sales.  We had a zoom meeting with her, and then on her follow up, all the sudden she informed us that we were not “under her jurisdiction”, and that we were being passed to their General Manager instead.  No real explanation there as to why.

The GM informed us that everything we had just been told was incorrect.  There is zero share in concessions, and $7500 was the weekly rate, and that $15,000 was the actual weekend rate.  This was an interesting development.  Why is the property sales manager giving out different quotes than the GM, after finding out more about what the event entails?  We want to be very clear on this overall situation; we were fine without a share in concessions, the issue and barriers at hand were later developments, magically added to the contract when we met to sign. 

This rental rate though, it was completely out of our budget. A form of panic began to set in on our side, with extreme frustrations towards Ralston and Baxter closing their doors on us, and now feeling we were being taken advantage of with the MAC after hearing two different quotes from their property manager and their GM – after learning more about our event and who we were.  We pursued the Iowa West Foundation in the interim and offered to do things like free clinics for the community in exchange for help with the rental rate, but once again, we were not taken seriously and did not receive any responses after making this offer.  IWF did meet with us on one occasion prior to our offer, and it appeared they were interested in possibly working together, but again, never responded after we sent a detailed emailed on 10/13/21, clearly listing what we would provide in exchange for assistance from them.

 

We received the contract from the MAC on October 6th, that appeared to be copied and pasted from a wrestling event.  Our first home match was scheduled for December 17th, 2021, and was announced the first week of October.  We were then able to finalize the dates with the MAC at this point in time.  Our ownership team reviewed the contract with their attorney and gathered other professional opinions, and overall the deal appeared very one-sided, in favor of the arena.  We understood a negotiation process would take place next, and thought that their could’ve been a little movement on their end, however, no negotiations took place.  The MAC decided the best way to work with our organization was a “take it or leave it” deal.

We held 8 dates total, 2 of them were in case we were given the opportunity to host playoffs.  The MAC’s management agreed to give us the “supposed weekday” rate for 4 of the dates, but we were on the hook for full price for the other 4.  The explanation for paying the full rate those 4 days was that they were “prime dates”.

 

We still needed to find glass for our arena set up at this point in time.  The MAC’s dasher system was over 20 years old, and there were very few options to find glass to fit that specific set up.  We attempted to lean on the MAC for assistance in finding glass with that particular set up, and went back and fourth with them on it for about a month and half, creating a high amount of frustration on our side.  So we approached the Mayor of Council Bluffs for assistance, who was very excited about our event.  They haven’t had a sports team in the MAC since the Lancers were there years ago.  He asked where he could help us and we informed him we were having trouble with the rental rate as well as finding the specific glass needed for that dasherboard system.  He then proceeded to tell us that the arena had done dozens of events in the past where they rented all that stuff, and why weren’t they offering that to us?  He said he’d make a phone call and see what he could do.

 

A few days later, we got a call from the GM of the MAC and all the sudden (after a month and half of time wasted I might add) he found glass for the dasher system that we could rent.  The cost to rent for the season was $6000 total, and they were going to add that back into our rental rate.

 

Did the Mayor make a phone call to the MAC?  We’re not sure.  But the timing of everything did seem very coincidental.   

 

October 21, 2021, we met with the MAC with the intentions of signing the contract.  We were very aware we had a little scenario going of having to “prove ourselves” without having a past arena experience to back it up, but we had yet to receive an actual contract written for our actual event.  All we had to go off of was the copied and pasted one from the wrestling event they held previously – which funny enough, when it was sent over by the GM he included it as an adobe sign document and said to go ahead and sign when we were ready.  Sign the wrestling contract, MAC?

We were aware of every detail in this agreement.  We knew it was on us to provide the event, event staff, referees, turf, goals, and now glass.  We were also planning a hefty, costly advertising campaign and offered every bit of added value components to help elevate the arena.  We were willing to pay the rental rate and “figure it out” if they wouldn’t budge, but the one thing we asked in return for was to help us provide a pasta meal for all the teams after the game.  We haven’t mentioned this yet, but the plan was to launch the women’s semi-pro team, the Omaha Queens, this year as well, where they’d play in the arena prior to the men’s games.  We were told we could not bring in any outside food, so we said that was fine, we’ll go to a restaurant.  The MAC insisted we use them, which we entertained.  When we sat down to sign the contract, they informed us they could only provide pasta for up to 20 people, and that we should go find a sponsor to cover the cost of the rest.  The amount of food needed was for 4 teams, of about 20 people each.  Pasta is extremely low cost in the catering world, so we asked if they wanted us to cook the food for them too.  

There we were, ready to sign, ready to “figure this out”, and we got to the final piece of the negotiation.  We had lightly discussed suites verbally prior to this contract signing meeting, and we knew some of them were pre-sold and very much understood that.  We thought we’d get about 4 or so (out of 12 total) to sell so we could maybe maximize our revenue and make up for paying such a high rental rate, and had also mentioned we had sponsors interested in the suites.  The contract verbiage, which was different from the original piece we received, implied that we would receive 2 suites to use privately (not sell), and they maintained the rest and were able to sell and keep the revenue for themselves.  They also maintained that they got to sell and keep the revenue for the VIP seats.

So now, we were on the hook for 4 dates at $7500, and 4 dates at $15,000 (this included Sundays), now had to look for an additional sponsor to help cover the cost of their catering, let alone our own costs to execute this type of event.  In addition, we were not given what the rental rate was going towards, and there was at least $3000 in extra costs for EMT and security that was required for the event and “non-negotiable”.  There were also a few times we would’ve had to pay extra set up fees for the field, $1000 every time.  They wouldn’t provide us an exact flat quote.  It was always, this is the base rent, and then these might be extra, it just depends, but sign the contract so we can get moving.  Hmm.  

 

Overall, we estimated ourselves (since the MAC wouldn’t provide an explanation or any itemized breakdown of what the rent actually was covering) that the 4 dates at $7500 would’ve had about a total cost of $12000 – $13000, and then the dates at the rate of $15000 would’ve ended up somewhere around $23000 – $25000 for ONE day.  Not a weekend, a DAY.  We could understand that on a Saturday, but Sundays?  $25000 rental rate on a Sunday?

We’re not sure how any business could survive on that kind of deal.  Where do we get a fair shot at making any sort of revenue? Not to mention, we’ve been working with the MAC on this since last March, and here we are, almost less than a month away from our first game, and we can’t even announce a venue or get tickets on sale – which all should’ve been done over a month ago.

The thing is – this is for our local community.  All we were asking for was somewhat of a fair deal so we could provide this outlet, and a chance to prove it.  The MAC was also getting a few bucks of every ticket we sold, the entire revenue for the suites and VIP seats, the concessions, and demanded we give them dasher board advertising as well as advertising on our website. The advertising piece was obviously understood, but, what do we get?  The net profit from general admission tickets and whatever we sell in merchandise?  Sure – if we had at least 6 months head start to promote ticket sales, not a month away from our first game.  We truly feel our time was purposely wasted by the MAC’s GM with the glass and, if you can even call it this, negotiations.  They knew, and the Mayor even said they could rent this equipment, and now it seems we’ve been backed into a corner, being forced to take a one-sided contract that will make us fold, as there is no way to make that kind of revenue.  Would you like us to put a number on the amount of money we’ve lost due to these circumstances surrounding the “contract negotiations”?   They’ve eaten into all of our promotional time window, and refuse any counter offers.  We’ll just say that amount is close to half a million, and that’s us being conservative.

 

The Omaha Kings is a melting-pot of cultures, with immigrants from all over the world.  We have always kept politics out of our club, focusing on the fact that we’re here to play soccer and come together through that beautiful game.  Soccer is the biggest sport in every country but America.  It is also the fastest growing sport in the US.  Living through such a divisive time, soccer is something that can bring people from all cultures together for enjoyment and entertainment.  And what’s better than supporting your local athletes?

 

Our community has a business that’s owned by a first-generation immigrant and a woman, who somehow figured out how to keep their business open (successfully) through Covid, and continued to offer pathways to our local athletes.  We are trying to build a long-term staple for our community, generating economic growth, tourism, and inclusivity with our multi-cultural club.  We recently had a player, who is a Somalian immigrant, get signed to the highest level of professional Arena soccer, comparable to the MLS in outdoor, and there was ZERO media coverage about it.  One would think, an immigrant owned club, getting another immigrant to the highest professional level of soccer would generate some media coverage, but not here. Everyone is such an advocate for minorities and minority-owned businesses, until it comes time to actually support one.  Everyone can put as many “equality” signs in their yards, offices, kneel for our National Anthem, wear armbands and even brand their jerseys in the wake of social justice, but are NO WHERE TO BE FOUND when it comes to actual scenarios that put up barriers against minorities and women.  Are we only good for your votes and wallet?  Because that’s what it feels like.

 

In this era of ‘social justice warriors’, we’d like to take a moment to highlight the hypocrisy of for-profit business like the Mid-America Center/Harrah’s, that attempt to take complete advantage of minority-owned business.  The key factor here is Covid.  Venues were severely impacted by Covid, and there is no other way to look at this scenario except that a big corporate giant ‘Goliath’ is trying to take a minority-owned ‘David’ business for everything they have to make up for what they lost.  Not to mention, they hear the words ‘soccer’, ‘Latino’, and their eyes bulge trying to figure out how much money they can make.  We countered with a more than fair offer, and were told to take their’s or we can walk away.

 

Would we be treated like this if we, let’s say, had the “right last name”, or had the “right family member” who knew someone that knew someone?  Or, if we had a multi-millionaire owner?  HOW does any average American get a fair shot at business when situations like this happen all the time under the radar?  ALL we were asking for was somewhat of a fair deal so we didn’t lose our business we’ve fought so hard for, through a global pandemic we might add.

 

We tried (unsuccessfully) contacting Omaha’s Mayor Stothert multiple times, with the last time being directed to Omaha’s Inclusivity and Diversity director, Keith Station.  We confided our concerns in Keith in regards of what’s been happening to us, and then he disappeared for a month, ignoring our follow ups until we sent it to the Mayor’s hotline.  He has since disappeared again.

Everyone is such an advocate for minorities and minority-owned businesses, until it comes time to actually support one…

PLEASE do not take this open letter as us crying for sympathy or playing a political pawn.  Those are not our intentions here.  We really did not want to resort to the method of going public, but what choice do we have at this point in time?  Our first game is a month away.  We haven’t been able to announce ticket sales, and we have an entire league of other teams depending on us to make this happen – their flights are already booked!  On top of that, we have our own players (who we pay) that we’re taking care of that are depending on us, big (private) sponsors who have supported us from the beginning because they believe in what we’re trying to build, as well as the health and well-being of our own selves.  Not only are some of our players relying on us in regards to their visas and immigration status; their families, wives, and children are too. 

 

We have tried every avenue, and the only support given to us was from the Centro Latino of Iowa, which we are incredibly grateful for.  We don’t want sympathy and we don’t get into politics.  We want ACTION and equal opportunity to grow our business.  We’ve had enough of people “claiming” to be for businesses like ours, yet their actions do not match their words.  We want for-profit businesses like the Mid-America Center/Harrah’s to stop putting up barriers for minority business owners, and give them just as equal of opportunities that we all know are extended to multi-millionaire owners, or let’s just say, “the right people” in their eyes, everyday.

 

We are a perfect example of the American Dream.  Not just the owners, the club, players and staff.  Why we’ve been treated this way is a mystery to us, but we will no longer be silent.  Our players deserve to be recognized, they deserve to play in an arena, and they’ve fought just as hard, tooth and nail, alongside the owners to make this outlet for athletes become a reality.  This is truly a community organization.  Ask any of them.

 

Thank you for your time, and we hope Mid-America Center/Harrah’s will reconsider our generous counter offer.

About the Major Arena Soccer League (MASL)

The Major Arena Soccer League represents the highest level of professional arena soccer in the world. The MASL is a 4 tier pyramid league consisting of professional and semi-professional men’s arena soccer teams.  The Omaha Kings play at the professional level in the MASL 2 (second tier), backed by the Major Arena Soccer League (top tier).  The remaining pyramid consists of the M3 (third tier and semi-pro), and the PASL (fourth tier and amateur).  For more information about the MASL and the MASL 2, visit their websites at the links below:

 

About the Omaha Kings FC

The Omaha Kings FC are the only Men’s Professional Arena Soccer team in the state of Nebraska, proudly representing the Major Arena Soccer League 2.  The Major Arena Soccer League represents the highest level of professional arena soccer in the world. The club embodies a grassroots focus, consisting of mostly local talent seeking pathways to play soccer at the professional level.  Launching in 2019 in the Premier Arena Soccer League (PASL), the Kings built a huge momentum and in the two short years of their existence, were granted to Pro status at the M2 level in the Major Arena Soccer League (MASL).  The Kings wrapped up their M3 inaugural season bringing home the first ever National Championship title in the history of the M3 Arena Soccer League. The M2 team finished out their provisional season in July, with a 6-8 record, rallying 5 straight wins through the latter half and missing the wildcard playoff spot by just one match.  They’re currently gearing up for their next season, which will be played at a larger-scale arena (TBA), and are coming fresh off a Golden Goal overtime win against the Division 1 MASL team, Kansas City Comets, in a recent exhibition match.

 

The team’s practice field is currently Off The Wall Indoor Soccer Facility (110th & Harrison), but will be playing this upcoming M2 season in a larger-scale arena venue for the upcoming 2021-2022 season – facility location is soon TBA.  The club was founded by Argentinian native Emmanuel Viel and his wife, Omaha native, Natalie Viel (Troutman).  Serving as General Manager is Carlos Viel, a former professional soccer player from Necochea, Argentina.  Head coach is Emmanuel Viel, with Assistant Coach and Bellevue native, Brian Locke.

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