July 26, 2017: Ken Bensinger

Guest: Ken Bensinger

Story: Mr. Ten Percent: The Man Who Built — And Bilked — American Soccer

Publication: Buzzfeed News

Date: June 6, 2014

LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW HERE

SUBSCRIBE HERE: http://tinyurl.com/h75mlf4


Chuck Blazer sounds like the company name of a Trunk Club-like idea on Shark Tank started by a 30-year old entrepreneur who’s “tired of the traditional coats” at mainstream stores “like Nordstrom,” but it’s not.

Blazer, a “portly figure with a Santa Claus beard and Harpo Marx haircut,” according to The Guardian, was one of the most influential non-athlete in US soccer history. He died at age 72, on July 12, 2017. His life, so well described by Ken Bensinger in the piece we talked about, reads like a short story. One of a clumsy, inexperienced, and at times unsuccessful man who managed to talk to the right people, be at the right place at the right time and use his vision to make millions of dollars, all while leaving his colleagues in the dust.

I read this story in June 2014, when it was first published but decided to revisit it and ultimately talk to Ken Bensinger because it was so intriguing. At the time, Bensinger had only been at Buzzfeed for four months. He was hired in January 2014 from the LA Times to join Buzzfeed’s new LA-based investigative unit.

Bensinger worked on the piece for a while and got more information after the article was published. And he’s not done yet. He’s currently working on a book about FIFA (“partially about Blazer, but a lot of other stuff as well”) and is still getting intel on the former US Soccer official.

“Is there stuff we still don’t know about Chuck Blazer?,” I asked.

“Yes, absolutely, there a ton’s a stuff we don’t know.”

-Étienne

You can listen to the interview or read some of the best moments below along with some other great long reads.

Here’s an excerpt of Bensinger’s story that was published in Buzzfeed.

Technically, the contract was not with Blazer himself, but with a seven-month-old New York company that he founded and controlled with the unlikely name of Sportvertising. Under the terms of the eight-page retainer agreement, Sportvertising would provide CONCACAF with an employee who would carry out the duties of the general secretary. In exchange, CONCACAF would provide office space and administrative support and pay Sportvertising a series of fees plus a 10% cut of certain types of revenue, including “sponsorships and TV rights fees.” At the time, CONCACAF had virtually no TV deals and brought in scarcely $140,000 a year.​

To read the full story, click here


Here are the best moments from our conversation:

On Chuck Blazer’s fame:

He was in certain circles incredibly well known, and in others, not at all and I think that was partly virtue of the fact that he was American. In the US, it’s just not a very big sport and so, if he were an executive committee member from almost any other country in the world, maybe not Canada, but other than us two, he would have been a very big public figure for his entire career.

He was on the [FIFA] executive committee starting in 1997. He was one of the 24 most powerful men in soccer for almost 20 years… 16 years […] that’s quite a long time. And when he was in Zurich and traveling Europe, everyone knew who he was, but he had this unique thing where when he was in the US, except for his very notable physical attributes, he was otherwise not very well know at all. He could stroll around New York in a way that other famous FIFA people just couldn’t do in their own country. It’s sort of an irony that he had this degree of anonymity despite his power.

On his influence at CONCACAF a year after the American Soccer League failure:

With CONCACAF, he didn’t have to have legitimacy, he wasn’t getting elected. Jack Warner was getting elected and Blazer all he to do was… he was smart, all he had to do was the brains behind the operations and show Warner how to get elected and Warner had to have legitimacy, not Blazer […] He needed Warner to appoint him so he didn’t need legitimacy, he just needed one person to get power who would help him out.

Talking to Chuck Blazer:

I spoke to him on the phone a couple of times but never met him in person, which is one of my great regrets. When I spoke to him on the phone, he was already cooperating with the Department of Justice. I didn’t know it, it was a secret at the time so he didn’t say anything about it […] but when I later learned that he was, I always hoped that someday I’d be able to talk to him, meet him in person, and spend time with him. I certainly spoke to his lawyers a number of times, there was the idea that that was something that could happen down the road.

What’s left to know about him:

There’s a ton of stuff that we don’t know [about Chuck Blazer]. The people who know the most about him, other than himself and his family are probably the federal prosecutors who he cooperated with, but they’re not talking. They’re not sharing that much about what they learned from him. They spent many many many hours with him, interviewing him, learning about his whole career […] I think there’s a lot that wasn’t known.

Our picks:

-The Atlantic’s Rosie Gray writes about one of the last remaining senior administration official remaining from the Michael Flynn-led National Security Council, Ezra Cohen-Watnick

-Journalists and co-news-anchors-turned-couple Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski have had a rocky relationship with U.S. President Donald Trump since before he was elected. Olivia Nuzzi has all the details for NY Magazine

-We know adopting an accent helps actors get into character but this New York Times piece about accent coaches breaks down why they’re so important

-Many disabled Americans rely on their disability checks to pay their bills but according to the Washington Post, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for them to stay afloat

-For GQ, Zach Baron explains how much easier it is to venture into the world of acting (or any professional, really) thanks to social media

-Jenny Slate continues to charm the world in an interview withVanity Fair where she talks about her life-changing year