Monday, July 1, 2013

Is the NASL the next USFL?

Monday evening via Twitter, North American Soccer League (NASL) Commissioner Bill Peterson announced plans to add a franchise in Oklahoma City for the 2015 season following a final presentation to the league's Board of Governors later in July. With the addition of OKC club along with three other franchises next season, the league will be looking at a minimum of twelve teams in the same year Major League Soccer expands to twenty.

With loose salary cap requirements, a split season, and almost speculative-investment owners you have to wonder if the NASL is trying walk through the backdoor to MLS like the United States Football League (USFL) tried to do with the National Football League (NFL) in the 1980's.

The NASL has a presence in the three largest markets not currently occupied by MLS (Miami, Atlanta, and Minneapolis) as well as pushing into the well represented territories of New York City (Cosmos) and Texas (San Antonio). Likewise, the USFL launched franchises in several under-served areas (Arizona, Memphis, Baltimore) as well as larger markets (LA, Chicago, New Jersey). However, unlike the USFL, several of the teams in the NASL are franchises dating back several years so they aren't a new product to the supporters in their market.

Following the first season of the NASL in 2010, the league had clubs that ended up folding (St. Louis) or relocating/realigning (Rochester). Of course those growing pains are common for new leagues as MLS even experienced with expansion in 1998 (Chicago & Miami) followed by downsizing in 2001 (Miami & Tampa). In the case of the USFL the league began with 12 teams in 1983, ballooned to 18 teams, only to spend their last season with 8 franchises in 1986.

The USFL did not compete directly with the NFL, instead initially going with a spring/summer schedule. MLS is one of the few professional soccer leagues in the world to use a "summer schedule" playing from March to November where most play a "winter schedule" from August to May. While the NASL could not immediately offer a schedule in-line with the rest of the leagues around the world, they've experimented with a split schedule in 2013 playing in the spring and fall with a break during the summer. Eventually, the NASL could gain the favor of FIFA and other major leagues if they can move to a true "winter schedule" and thus avoid competing directly with MLS.

Ultimately the question is what does the NASL plan to do? Are they trying to establish a league that feeds franchises into MLS? Are they looking to compete directly with MLS? In actuality, the NASL is a melting pot of different ownership groups with different goals and different financial backing to achieve those goals. While the reborn Cosmos are looking to stake claim to a piece of the hotly contested New York City soccer market, other expansion clubs like San Antonio and Indianapolis are looking to bring professional soccer to untapped markets. With the structure of the United States Soccer Pyramid, there will always be room for multiple professional leagues such as MLS, NASL, and USLPRO. They each serve a purpose and, as a whole, they work together to help better the professional soccer product both on and off the field in America. However, if Donald Trump purchases an NASL club for 2015, all bets are off.

10 comments :

  1. If Donald Trump purchases a franchise, that league will be doomed. If any league makes Trump a partner it deserves to be doomed. If professional sports leagues trusted Trump, he would have a NFL, NBA, MLB, or even a MLS team by now. They don't and he doesn't.

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    1. Come off the ledge Ed, the Donald Trump reference was very tongue-in-cheek. We all know how well his NJ Generals team turned out in the USFL and that big settlement with the NFL for $1.

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  2. You made a very good points in your article, but NASL is not at the point to challenge MLS yet. Maybe in four or five years if they are stable and have a tv contract for their league, we could compare them with AFL or USFL. If they survive the next five years, we cannot compare them with USFL because they will have been around longer than the USFL. We could then compare them with the AFL. North America is big enough to have two big soccer football leagues.

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  3. I think a prudent biz model for the NASL is to do what they're doing; Move into unserved markets that may be ripe for the growth of soccer: Indianapolis, SA, ATL, OKC. But the addition of NY Cosmos also gives them a cache that even MLS doesn't have. What that will eventually become, nobody knows.

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  4. As a fan of NASL's (league leading) Carolina RailHawks, I believe the two can coexist. I don't think that it is NASL teams' goals to challenge MLS, but rather provide an alternative for markets that (mostly) don't have MLS options. One prediction I have: some of the more successful USL teams jumping ship to NASL within the next 5 years.

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  5. it seems it would make more sense for Orlando to play in NASL, at least until MLS comes calling...

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  6. I thought OKC was expanding in USLPRO and not NASL



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    1. Both leagues are adding a team in OKC apparently. USLPRO in 2014 and NASL in 2015.

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  7. Go to NASL before MLS, I don't think so. They don't need to upset the MLS boys and even the US SOccer guys. NASL is playing loose out there and I can't imagine US SOccer or MLS nevermind USL is very happy with them right now. From a quick glimpse and admittedly not a lot of knowledge, the NASL team situation is not very firm. The Cosmos came on board only to delay their start to the second half of the season, Puerto Rico is taking a year off, Minneapolis was saved just prior to the start of the 2013 campaign... Orlando City does not need those headaches.

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  8. Personally I'm a big fan of the current NWSL and USLPRO formats:

    - one season
    - one table
    - one game playoffs for the top teams
    - higher seeds having home-field advantage through the playoffs

    Easy to understand and follow, gives meaning to doing well during the regular season, no two-game playoffs (which I believe is why the NFL is more successful than any other pro sport league in the U.S.). Yeah in the future when there are a lot more teams you can pre-select a Soccer Bowl site, but for now let the top team be rewarded that right.

    I can see NASL switching back to this format, or at least I hope they do.

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