Universal buys soccer story

Studio ponies up $3 million

Universal Pictures has netted rights to make a feature about the Fugees, a youth soccer club made up of international refugees who settled in Clarkston, Ga.

The studio has paid $2 million against $3 million for the rights to an article by Warren St. John that ran in Sunday’s New York Times. He’ll turn his article into a book, which will be part of the rights package. Also included are life rights to the team’s coach, Luma Mufleh.

Stuber/Parent’s Scott Stuber and Mary Parent will produce with Kennedy/Marshall’s Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall. Tom Lassally will be exec producer.

The article detailed the unlikely success story of the Fugees, a team of refugees from global hotspots including Afghanistan, Iraq, Bosnia, Kosovo, Burundi, Congo, Liberia, Somalia and Sudan. Placed by resettlement agencies, the kids were banned from playing on a grassy field in the local town park.

Part of the pic deal calls for Universal to pay $500,000 to build a soccer field for the kids. Part of the money will fund a foundation to benefit the team, and the dealmakers cut their fees so more of the coin would go to the teens.

The core of the story is the determined, Jordan-born female coach who recognized the need in these displaced kids and created a team for them. She also became active in helping their families find work and break through bureaucratic red tape as they tried to assimilate.

The team made it to the semi-finals, but missed the championship after being eliminated in the final moments of a game against Atlanta’s most affluent soccer academy.

Universal beat out several rival seven-figure bids: Columbia Pictures, pledged $1.75 million against $2.5 million, with producer Mark Gordon attached; DreamWorks bid $1 million against $2 million. Disney and producer Scott Rudin also were in the bidding.

The bidding began hours after the article was published. Auction was spearheaded by UTA, which reps the writer and the coach. ICM repped the newspaper in the deal.