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Rethinking Division-2 Pro Soccer in North America – Part 3

2010 July 15
by Brian Quarstad

This is the third of a 4-part article looking at the future of Division-2 soccer in North America. Click here for part-1. Part-2.

Adding teams, regionalizing divisions and reducing travel costs

In most countries around the world the growth of soccer has been much more organic than it has in the US. As the sport grew world wide, teams formed with the need for competitive games. As more and more clubs were formed the most organized and successful clubs rose to the top. For many countries one hundred years or more of growth, along with smaller geographical areas, has caused the many-tiered systems where teams are promoted and relegated.

At the top levels in North America we’ve  faced a much bigger challenge. The combination of an expansive area between Canada and the US and a sport that has only recently become more popular has meant the growth of pro soccer would have to be more strategic. The North American Soccer League was briefly successful in the 70′s, but poor planning caused the league to fold in the early 80′s. Major League Soccer learned their lesson from the NASL and seemed to have gotten it right, choosing slow growth with major market cities and more recently plucking successful teams from Division 2. They also went about finding the right owners who have bought into a league that is a single-entity structure. One where teams are controlled by the league in order to keep costs under control.

MLS also started Soccer United Marketing (SUM) which many say is the reason the league continues to have success since most teams still are not making a profit. No matter what the formula, Commissioner Don Garber is widely believed to be responsible for the success of the league and has been referred to as the David Stern of MLS.

While MLS seems to be on its way to success with a master plan, the second division of soccer has seemed more like an experiment that has not gone well.

In the 80′s and after the NASL exposed many new fans to the game, youth soccer exploded in North America. Francisco Marcos started the Southwest Indoor Soccer League (SISL) in 1986 which become an outdoor league the following year. Eventually his organization was called the United Soccer Leagues. He built the league to include three levels of senior men’s play, the first national women’s league (W-League), and the first competitive North American system of youth leagues (Super Y-League). In 1997, the American Professional Soccer League (A-League) was merged with the USISL to create a nationwide pyramid structure. During the course of twenty years the A-League and the USISL, and now USL have been vitally important to the growth of soccer. Many former and current MLS pros and US National Team players spent their early years in the USL system.

As important as the USL has been to the growth of soccer in North America it’s still had far too many teams fail at the D2 level. The league has seen 39 teams come and go and has a 75% rate of failure. Some have lauded the USL’s franchise system and claimed it has allowed the league to stay solvent while teams languished and died. But others have criticized that same franchise system. In fact, even Sunil Gulati seemed to refer to that system in his January press conference concerning 2nd division soccer: “We can’t have this constant issue that bedevils a number of sports,” said a stern Gulati. “That the offseason is spent primarily to make sure that you can come back the following season. That you’re looking for expansion teams not because it makes long-term sense to build the game and the league, but because you need an expansion fee.”

The USL, who in recent years had been owned by Umbro via their parent company Nike, was sold to NuRock Soccer Holdings late last August. NuRock Holdings, based in Atlanta, is led by Rob Hoskins and Alec Papadakis.

While the organization will continue to run as a franchise system, Papadakis, has made statements that their new ownership groups would be more responsive to owners within the 2nd division. This was a complaint of the breakaway owners group that called themselves the Team Owners Association (TOA) and eventually took on the name NASL.

In researching this article nearly everyone I spoke to shared a common idea concerning the second tier of soccer in North America: Regionalizing divisions and reducing travel costs.

Andrew Bell has been with the Charleston Battery since 1999 where he’s held almost every position within the organization and was named president of the club in 2009. Bell explains that when the Team Owners Association formed and when it was clear that there was going to potentially be a break-off between the two leagues that they would drop down a division to USL-2 (3rd division).

“We decided from the outset that we wouldn’t be a part of that,” said Bell from his office in Charleston, South Carolina. “We have felt for a long time that lower division soccer in the United States should be arranged regionally. Having competed in a league that gradually became national and had a national footprint and personally having visited every single one of the USL-1 facilities over the years it was pretty clear that in the majority of cases the number of fans attending the games isn’t enough to justify the travel costs.”

“We’ve long been proponents of regional leagues,” continued Bell. “Looking at the options for 2010 we decided that USL-2 (division 3 soccer) presented not only the best short term fix for us but also the best chance for long term stability for the Battery.”

USL-2 has only 6 teams this year but they are all located on the East Coast with the longest trip being about 650 miles from Charleston to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (Riverhounds).

Charleston’s attendance has averaged 3,600 this season which Bell says is on a par of what they’ve experienced the last few years. “The Battery has been playing since 1993 in what would now be called a PDL league,” explained Bell. “We joined the A-League in 1997 and spent 12 years in that league. We watched that league change from a regional league with 32 teams in 1997 to a league that had 9 teams in 2009. The number of owners that have come and gone over the years has been absolutely catastrophic for the sport. We are fortunate in that our ownership group has been consistent since day one. We may be the only team that has that stability. The financial pressures involved in competing in USL-1 were tremendous and are the root cause of a lot of the churn.”

Those 32 teams that Bell referred to played in a league with two conferences and 4 divisions: Northeast, Atlantic, Central and Pacific. A model that he and others feel Division 2 soccer should go back to in order to save money on travel expenses.

Bell could envision 2 divisions on the East Coast, a Central division and a West Coast division and he says it’s not out of the bounds of possibility for a Caribbean division.

“We are only interested in the sport growing across the United States,” stated Bell. “We are one hundred percent supportive of MLS and the US National Team. We want to be involved and do our part to develop players and to allow the soccer footprint to be as large as possible in the US.”

Bell says moving to an all East Coast D-3 league means the Battery have been able to eliminate all air travel and some other costs that are incurred as well. The team now takes all their trips by bus and often will turn around and take the bus back home immediately after the game instead of staying the night in a hotel. “In my estimation it would cost about $200 thousand for travel costs this year in the USSF D2 Pro League where it will run us between thirty- and forty-thousand dollars to travel this year in USL-2.”

There’s another added benefit to playing in a regional division: traveling fans and more intense rivalries. “We have definitely seen that,” said Bell. “Not to say we didn’t have good rivalries with the Rhinos and believe it or not, Puerto Rico, but it’s been refreshing to get back to some of these teams that were with us in the early days like Charlotte and Richmond. They were both around in 1993 when we started. The first game of the season we were at Charlotte and had close to 100 fans show up for the game. It’s only a two and half hour drive, but still, it’s doable and not like traveling to Vancouver for a game.”

Eddie Rock, a licensed player agent at Libero Sports, agrees with Bell. “I think it has to be regionalized,” said Rock. “If you look at the geographic sphere of the 2nd Division, it’s bigger than all of Europe. When you have teams like Puerto Rico traveling to Vancouver and the costs associated with a flight like that along with other travel expenses and hotels… I think long term, that’s actually taking away from players salaries as much as anything else. When the costs are so expense and when there isn’t a national TV audience it only makes sense to regionalize 2nd and 3rd division soccer in North America.”

Rock feels that the USL is looking to move back to those days of regionalized divisions: “I really believe that USL is moving in the direction of regionalized leagues. I’ve seen some comments from some officials that would lead me to believe that. Also, they have announced a team in Antigua, and you’ve got Puerto Rico and Bermuda. I could easily see them having a Southern and Caribbean conference next year. They already have one on the East Coast (USL-2). They could easily put together another 3rd conference on the West Coast.”

In fact, in an interview with IMS last March, Tim Holt, President of the USL, announced that the league would be expanding USL-2 to the West Coast. Holt said: “USL-2 is a very important league within our structure and the one which has the most immediate growth opportunity. We will be expanding USL-2 to form a Western Conference for 2011, which will be comprised of some current PDL teams and expansion teams. At this base level of professional soccer, maintaining regional competition and controlling expenses is imperative so there will not be teams traveling coast-to-coast with any regularity except for the post-season.”

Rock says looking at the big picture and the future of Division-2 soccer, he’s not sure if teams would move up to D-2 or down to D-3. He feels that it’s dependent on several factors. He believes that will be up to US Soccer and who they award the sanctioning to for the 2nd division in 2011 and what teams jump online with the league.

“If you look at a team like the Charleston Battery who dropped down to USL-2 (D3) this past year, they still pay as well if not better than some of the teams that are playing in the USSF D-2 this year,” states Rock. “I think it all depends on the level of commitment from owners and who can bring in fans and can put a good budget together because ultimately we have seen so many teams – 2nd and 3rd division teams – come into the leagues and die in this country.”

Rock says he believes there would even be possible TV interest in regional divisions that wouldn’t happen at a national level. “If you had a Midwest league with teams like Minnesota, Milwaukee, Madison, Des Moines, you could travel to any one of those markets,” said Rock. Maybe with the regionalization of the sports networks you could put together a package that would be something that would be a lot more attractive to a local Fox Sports Net than a national carrier.”

Adding teams and regionalizing divisions may seem like a great idea but the execution will take time and some teams that are already successful at lower levels will need convincing that it’s worth their while to jump up one or two levels. They will also need the assurance that the right things are in place to make that venture successful.

Todd Meiners is the General Manager of the Des Moines Menace, a USL-PDL team that draws over 3,500 fans per game, better than many D2 teams. Meiners said they think about moving up to D-2 almost every day. However, the organization doesn’t believe the timing is right or that the correct things are in place at this time to convince them to make the move.

“Now is not the right time and it’s not the right circumstance,” said Meiners. “We would need a lot of assurances and a product that would draw bigger crowds.” He explains that his team already draws well fielding an amateur side they don’t have to pay.

So what would lure the Menace to D2? Meiners says the team tried to build a soccer-specific stadium (SSS) about 5 years ago but that fell through. He says a SSS  appropriate for the Des Moines area would be one of the things that would be important to moving up a level. Also, the Menace would need the right things in place to draw enough fans to make up for the salaries of a paid team.

“We know MLS isn’t a possibility in Des Moines,” said Meiners. “If we were to make that move (D2) we would need attendances to be closer to 6 to 8 thousand per game.  Regional leagues are a good idea as long as it’s competitive and the teams are of the same caliber. We would need to know that each club is actively pursuing soccer with the same marketing philosophy that we are in Des Moines.”

And how do they approach their team’s financial objectives? “Like a small business,” says Meiner.  “Kyle Krause, the owner of the team, is the President and Chief Executive Officer of Kum & Go, L.C. and he owns over 400 stores. Our team office is located right in the headquarters for Kum & Go and everything is run in the same fiscally responsible way.” Even the team’s website boasts that Krause “has applied his company’s 50-year-old business approach to the Menace.”

Meiners says the idea of a strong regional conference is alluring and he loved what was happening between Portland, Seattle and Vancouver when they were all in USL-1. He says he believes MLS will be stronger when those three teams all make the move. But the Menace GM believes that most important is the assurance that other teams are building their markets and that the teams and the league will be around for a long time. “With the right amount of things in place we might be willing to make the move,” said Meiners.

But not everyone sees the benefits of entirely regionalizing divisions. Rob Clark, owner of the Rochester Rhinos, states he’s not a believer in completely regionalizing. Clark, who switched his alliance last fall and from the USL to the NASL,  believes there should be at least 3 local markets in each region.

“I think our fans really like and enjoy the fact that we’re playing a team from Minnesota and that we are on a national stage,” said Clark. “I think when you go totally regional it diminishes what you look like, so to speak. I don’t know for sure if that’s true but that’s my belief. I think you can regionalize it within reason but our fans do really enjoy playing a team from Portland, Oregon or Vancouver or Puerto Rico. I think it brings something to the table that this is a legitimate league.”

But when talking to members from teams in both the USL and NASL, the idea of regionalized divisions seemed to not necessarily run along alliances but more what each team felt was best for their organization and their particular market.

Djorn Buchholz, CEO for the Austin Aztex, currently with the USL, is not opposed to regionalized divisions, but wonders who the Aztex would play. Currently, the closest team to Austin is AC St. Louis which is nearly 900 miles away.

Even though regionalization seems to make sense there are definite obstacles. Where do you come up with 24-teams which seem like a minimum amount for four divisions with 6 teams per division? As if there aren’t enough problems at the current time finding qualified owners playing in appropriate stadiums and marketing correctly this would be no small task. Several solutions could be possible.

1) For now, drop D-2 teams down to D-3 and move some PDL teams up to D-3. A certain amount of those teams will rise to the top and eventually a new D-2 league could be started when the teams are ready and the timing is right.

2) Another scenario would be to move D-3 teams up to D-2 and add a few successful PDL teams as well. But getting those teams to comply with the new USSF standards might be difficult. However, this could be the best solution for now.

3) Keep the status quo for now and continue to recruit new owners and teams that fit the D-2 market with the plan to create 4 or 5 divisions with 6-8 teams a piece. However, this could not be done as randomly as it seems both the NASL and USL are currently going about it. Teams would need to be created strategically in cities that are appropriate for both the league and for the division.

No matter what the solution, the process cannot be rushed. It will take time to identify the right owners, start teams the right way or bring teams up from lower levels and help them along to be successful.

Tomorrow, Part-4 – What’s next for Division 2

30 Responses
  1. smatthew permalink
    July 15, 2010

    I think another option would be to tell those markets that don’t fit into a regional pro-division, “I’m sorry but if you want to maintain a soccer team its best you drop down to the PDL.” Maybe having owners with the desire to field a pro-team in the PDL could help facilitate the creation of a regional professional division, even if its D3.

  2. July 15, 2010

    smatthew, thanks for the thoughts. I suspect there may be a fair amount of comments today on this one because the options are so wide open. In fact writing part 4 for this series has been a bit overwhelming and it makes me understand that organizing, establishing and growing D-2 and D-3 is really a daunting task.

    I am interested in hearing ideas of how this could work. I certainly don’t have a magic solution.

  3. July 15, 2010

    This has been interesting, thanks. I like how you’ve actually spoken with the people who will have to make the decisions about what they do.

    Andrew Bell has long struck me as one of the smarter guys in American soccer. He’s pragmatic and understands the financial realities. And it’s hard to argue with their success.

    Very interesting to me to read of Des Moines’ comments. Unlike many others (like, I fear, Dayton) who figure their revenue will just naturally increase with a move up, he wants someone to show him that it’s going to work (and he’s not even from Missouri). And THAT’S why pro/rel doesn’t work, boys and girls. Because there’s no guaranteed pot of gold at the end of the promotion rainbow.

  4. Luis permalink
    July 15, 2010

    Thank you for writing this insightful piece. I think that though there are countless possibilities for reorganization of soccer on the D2 and D3 level there are already existing models to work from in sports. Minor League and Independent league baseball in my opinion offers the best model for lower level sports in North America. The Atlantic League of Baseball offers high quality professional baseball in a regional market with modern facilities. I would love to see the soccer community adopt this model. The primary difference between this model and the current USL-2 plan is that the proposed regional leagues would be completely independent of each other. This model would offer an autonomy that would cultivate competition and innovation between leagues.

    In response to the Rochester fans wanting to watch their team play national teams they need to understand that the quality is suffering. In my assessment it is not wise to compromise the quality of the game on the basis of wanting to play an out of region team. Some may argue that more fans will attend games if the team is playing out of region teams but I would have to see the statistics before I believe that argument. Charleston has demonstrated that a regional league can still draw reasonable crowds.

    These are just a few thoughts. Thank you for your post

  5. July 15, 2010

    “We know MLS isn’t a possibility in Des Moines,” said Meiners. “If we were to make that move (D2) we would need attendances to be closer to 6 to 8 thousand per game.

    Really… Meiners… Really? You’d be leading the league in attendance if you were drawing that many.

  6. James permalink
    July 15, 2010

    I think a fair point to make is if the team in the D2 league this year remained they would see travel cost have a dramatic reduction due to Portland and Vancouver moving to MLS and another bump in 2012 when Montreal leaves. Thats 2 cross country flights and another international flight that teams would not have to make. I agree that regional rivalries are a big part in helping promote the games and get fans passionate. Just look at the attendance for Portland – Seattle matches. It just needs to be done correctly with a mix of regional games while keeping a high level product on the field. More teams will definitely saturate the quality to some degree. Whatever the answer is I don’t think it will be something that happens over night but over the next 3 – 5 years. Hopefully a lot of these teams can last that long.

  7. Super Rookie permalink
    July 15, 2010

    If all the teams from D2 drop to D3 then wouldn’t D3 be the new D2 in terms of player quality?

  8. July 15, 2010

    I’m really enjoying this series. I think that Rochester has really learned a way to make minor league sports profitable. In St. Louis, we’re still worried about what’s going on with AC, but we’re becoming more and more hopeful.

    I know that they’re doing some of the things that Rochester has been doing.

  9. Man GaGa permalink
    July 15, 2010

    Why do 75% of D2 franchises fold?
    A. They buy into a high cost national league
    B. Rochester wants to compete with MLS
    C. They don’t have the revenues to cover their expenses.

    Answer is C. But, I think answer of “All of the Above” is not entirely out of the question.

    The solution that works best is what Luis describes – one AAA league with D2 endorsement and several “rookie leagues” with D3 endorsement. A national league at D2 level is insane as it is killing the investors of our clubs. Our richest soccer families no longer can support the cause.
    National D2 final? National D3 Final? Inter-conference play? Maybe. The structure is what is important, and to get there, some teams may have to play inter-division (D3 vs PDL) until enough D3 teams can fill an entire conference.
    Maybe, just maybe, USL needs to restructure their office. Maybe they should have 6 small regional offices and telecommute to Holt. Maybe franchises work within their conference to build stability, revenue sharing, expense sharing, etc. to build their brand. Big Ten vs SEC comparisons sound familiar? They’d want good teams in their conference, they’d promote their product and they’d have incentive to have a good D3 conference… and for their work, give them a piece of the expansion fee.
    In short: Smaller operating costs, clear player path, better competition/rivalries, stronger leadership, and continuity. Continuity. Novel thought. USL and its franchises have yet to adopt that concept as fans and players need it.

  10. July 15, 2010

    Y’all DO realize why minor league baseball teams are able to make it work, right?

    In affiliated minor league baseball, the parent club (through outright ownership, or, more commonly, a Player Development Contract) picks up a lot of the burdensome expenses in exchange for the right to do whatever they like with the players and to choose the manager and staff.

    In independent minor league baseball, the players are paid jacksquat, live with host families (in many cases) and are sold (if they’re good enough) to Major League organizations as a revenue generator.

    In both cases, either the National Association’s edict of the early 1990s that stadiums be brought up to code or market pressure has resulted in many new ballparks over the last 15 years that also help generate revenue and create a pleasant spectator experience. Plus, it’s baseball, and baseball is kinda popular here.

    If you want a minor league baseball scenario, you’d best be prepared to choose between Door #1 (in which case, good luck getting MLS to foot the bill for the NSC Minnesota Stars’ player payroll and equipment) or Door #2 (in which case your players are simply not going to make a lot of money, which results (some would say) in an inferior level of play.

    The level of play is less important than the experience when it comes to minor league baseball, but we don’t have many minor-league soccer stadiums in this country that are even either half as nice as Victory Field in Indianapolis or as charming as Midway Stadium in St. Paul. Plus, you have the relative popularity of the sport of baseball versus that of the sport of soccer as played at the outdoor club level.

    And, let’s not kid ourselves – independent minor league baseball is nice, but there have been a lot – A LOT – of come-and-go, fly-by-night leagues that aren’t as good as the Atlantic League (which had the Lehigh Valley Black Diamonds, let us not forget). And, as of this moment, the Atlantic League’s average attendance is 3,904 (with a high of 5,804 on Long Island and a low of 1,918 in Newark).

    One is not necessarily a model to which to aspire, and the other is a complete pipe dream.

  11. Super Rookie permalink
    July 15, 2010

    It will be interesting to see what happens to Tampa, Rochester and Austin as they seem to be the top franchises outside of the “Big 3″ going to MLS.

    One thing is for certain. Players won’t be getting paid very much as the days of the huge payroll are long gone. Can the NASL survive? Travel costs to Edmonton can’t be very cheap and is the cost/benefit that high? I could live with a D3 league in the Midwest of: NSC Minnesota, Rochester Thunder, Des Moines, Thunder Bay and hopefully a Milwaukee team. That would be fun and I don’t think the quality of play would be less as their won’t be any other place for the players to go.

    Argh.

  12. Soccer Boy permalink
    July 15, 2010

    I don’t understand why USL seems to want to develop teams in the Carribean and bring them into the league. Reduce travel costs? Um, last time I checked you cannot charter a bus and drive to Antigua. I”m frustrated!

  13. ERic permalink
    July 15, 2010

    @evegoe “You’d be leading the league in attendance if you were drawing that many.”

    Unlike just about every other PDL team that has made the jump, he sounds really reasonable to me, and has a very good handle on the expenses. Unless things change dramatically, the Menace would have to fly to every game except maybe Minnesota and St. Louis. Just because Vancouver and Portland are leaving doesn’t mean there won’t be long flights — in the NASL with Edmonton and Miami, and in the USL with the Caribbean. As illustrated in the article, that’s a travel cost change of around $150k. Assuming Des Moines has a reasonably connected airport. And it may not be as much of a hub as Charleston.

    As much as I dislike the idea, I’m starting to think that the best solution is to merge the D2 and D3. That doesn’t really help Austin any, and the west is still very large. Not even sure it would help Edmonton, either, but the Pacific NW is certainly a shorter trip than Puerto Rico.

    As far as I’m concerned, Clark is letting his ego get in the way of good business. In minor league sports, the opponents don’t matter. Fans are mostly just going out to see a good game. The Aztex are drawing around 3500 this year. The supporters group still only has a couple dozen. We’re the only ones that really care about that hack defender on Montreal, or the entertaining rivalry that might be developing with Tampa Bay.

    One thing is sure — there aren’t enough teams for two national D2 leagues. And from the comments by Bell, it’s clear that Charleston won’t be moving back up to D2 anytime soon. If ever.

  14. ERic permalink
    July 15, 2010

    @Soccer Boy: My best guess is that they’re continuing to go by the idea that the more teams they add, the sooner they’ll be able to go regional.

    Think about it — if Miami and Tampa stayed in the same league as Puerto Rico, and you add Orlando, a second Puerto Rico team and Antigua, there you have a nice cozy 6-team league. 6 games home and away gives you a 30 game season.

    The problems, of course, are myriad. The notion still pushed by Clark (and others — I’d love to hear Miami’s take on this) that D2 needs to be a national league. The USL and NASL still being at odds with each other. The question of whether any of the new teams (and Miami, for that matter) are actually viable at the D3 level, let alone D2.

    If that’s the thinking, I applaud them for it. But I certainly understand your frustration. Because it doesn’t seem to me like things are being sold any differently than they have been for the past 20 years — “Look, we’ve hooked another sucker! And this one might just take other teams down with them!”

    I’m trying to be hopeful, though. If we look at the list of teams that are possible additions for 2011, it includes San Diego, San Antonio, Phoenix, Edmonton, Orlando, Antigua, Puerto Rico2, New York, and Atlanta (I think I remembered everyone). If they all came through and the current D2 teams all survive, that’s 19 teams. Which should be more than enough to regionalize things. Assuming the USSF can talk the NASL and USL into a sensible division and organization.

    Yeah, that’s lots of ifs. But I’ll add one more: if that was merged with the USL2 (including a USL2-west), then things would suddenly become a lot easier and livable for a lot of the teams.

    But it makes too much sense. It will be interesting to see what Brian sees in the future.

    Me, I expect we’ll get another 10 years of bumps and bruises before it all gets sorted out.

  15. July 15, 2010

    “Think about it — if Miami and Tampa stayed in the same league as Puerto Rico, and you add Orlando, a second Puerto Rico team and Antigua, there you have a nice cozy 6-team league. 6 games home and away gives you a 30 game season.”

    If you want to try to sell tickets for the fifth and sixth time Antigua comes in, good luck. That’s simply too many games against any one opponent, and while that’s still a recessive gene in the whole DNA mix, six home games against a given opponent is probably three, maybe four, too many.

    “If we look at the list of teams that are possible additions for 2011, it includes San Diego, San Antonio, Phoenix, Edmonton, Orlando, Antigua, Puerto Rico2, New York, and Atlanta (I think I remembered everyone). If they all came through and the current D2 teams all survive, that’s 19 teams.”

    I will absolutely take the under on that. Right now. Here. Today.

    The combined number of DII and DIII teams since 2005:

    2005 – 21
    2006 – 22
    2007 – 22
    2008 – 21
    2009 – 20
    2010 – 18

  16. July 15, 2010

    Great articles, interesting discussion about them on the Southsiders froum:

    http://forum.vancouversouthsiders.com/forum_posts.asp?TID=4253&PN=1

  17. CoconutMonkey permalink
    July 15, 2010

    Another cracker, BQ.

    I’m a little confused though. You mentioned that USL’s franchise system allowed the league to stay solvent while other teams languished and died.

    I’m not an expert on the USL’s structure, but I though the whole point of having franchises, and a centrally controlled league was so that under performing teams don’t fold? Well, don’t fold too often. Did they have any revenue sharing, salary caps, etc in place before the whole TOA/NASL revolution?

  18. CoconutMonkey permalink
    July 15, 2010

    To KT: GAH! You said the most dangerous words on an American soccer forum, “promotion and relegation”. And even though we disagree, I LOVE discussing it! However, best not to let the cat out of the bag yet. Gotta wait for Part 4.

  19. July 15, 2010

    Please CoconutMonkey. DO NOT go down the Pro Rel road because it makes absolutely no sense at this point and time. As Garber said last winter, perhaps if we grow the sport correctly their may be a day but we are so far from that right now as these series of articles point out.

    USL did no revenue sharing and the argument of TOA was that they didn’t do enough to help teams to be successful. However, USL has gone out on a limb many time allowing teams to skip payments or would waive fees in order to help a team survive. In the case of the Thunder they even allowed them to play without a bond the final year but in the end got burned badly for it.

    I know they also helped the Rochester Thunder PDL team to survive this past year after the senior Thunder team had sort of shafted them. USL basically forgave the debt that the senior team owed for the PDL team. The Rochester owners where minority owners but wanted to stay in the league. In fact Rochester lost money on the situation as well. USL worked something out that was more than fair and reasonable so they could continue.

  20. July 15, 2010

    This is interesting…

    RailHawks seeking local investment:
    http://www.newsobserver.com/2010/07/15/582047/railhawks-seeking-local-investment.html

    “Our crowds aren’t where they need to be,” Wellman said Wednesday. “Putting a winning team on the field is not the total answer. We’ve never really put a whole lot of money into building the marketing side of our business – especially sales.”

    As I’ve been saying.

  21. CoconutMonkey permalink
    July 15, 2010

    To BQ: Ha ha. Don’t worry. I haven’t chucked my sense of financial reality out the window. I wasn’t trying to force a pro-rel flame war into the conversation. But after reading my previous post, I basically did. My bad.

    Thanks for the info too. To be honest, I’m not quite sure I understand the relationship that USL clubs had/have with the league. Especially at this level, and these attendance figures, I’m not sure how professional clubs can survive without working together financially. I can only assume that the NASL teams have a different vision when it comes to how the league operates.

  22. Jane permalink
    July 16, 2010

    I haven’t spoken for awhile but it seems like it is time to speak. I think the whole concept of regionalization makes a lot of sense but there is one thing wrong. This will take several years to put it together and the current D2 problem needs resolution now. The problem at the D2 level is not an expense problem…..IT IS A REVENUE PROBLEM!!! In any business driving expenses down as low as you can get them rarely results in a successful business. Driving revenue is the answer which means increasing fan attendance which also drives sponsorship revenue both of which result in elevating soccer in the U.S. and Canada. The answer is not what you and others are suggesting by merging/consolidating current D2, D3, and PDL teams for the purpose of lowering expenses which BTW also lowers the overall level of play. The real answer is to take the current D2 teams and put them under the MLS umbrella and raise the level of play to put more fans in the seats. Additionally, the MLS structure with centralized control of player salaries, MLS players on loan to D2 teams to get more playing time , and the resources of SUM to help D2 teams with big revenue exhibition matches, expansion, etc, is the answer. And don’t underestimate the value of branding. If D2 is announced as MLS-2 the very next day will result in more D2 ticket sales. Further, MLS is badly in need of strong reserve teams for player development and a tight connection with strong D2 teams solves that problem while at the same time elevates the level of play within D2. The NASL owners have been unjustifiably criticized by everyone for thinking bigger resulting in the elevation of soccer. Think small and you will stay small…..the result will be that you will stagnate soccer’s growth. I am rooting hard for the NASL “bigger thinkers.”

  23. Sounder 75 permalink
    July 16, 2010

    1) For now, drop D-2 teams down to D-3 and move some PDL teams up to D-3. A certain amount of those teams will rise to the top and eventually a new D-2 league could be started when the teams are ready and the timing is right.

    That’s the way to go if they were smart the would do it like that.

  24. ERic permalink
    July 16, 2010

    Re: Railhawks owner quote. Really. And this guy is one of the ones that was driving the NASL creation? No wonder Rawlins has been shy of the NASL. As many people have been saying — “Who cares what the league does in promotion. Teams need to promote themselves locally.”

    I am appalled that the Railhawks owner is saying that they haven’t properly built up their marketing and sales team.

    …I’m also intrigued that the Atlanta Silverbacks owner isn’t in the list of Railhawks owners. I thought he was a partial owner. If he’s gone, what does that say about the Atlanta NASL franchise?

    I’m starting to think that, once again, there’s no way either the NASL or USL will have enough teams to put out a D2 league next season. The USSF can say it doesn’t want to keep running the league, but there’s not much evidence at this point that the two current options are any where near ready or capable.

  25. 2 Cents permalink
    July 16, 2010

    @evegoe – I think that’s the point he was trying to make, that it’s not feasible at this point. I don’t think he indicated in any way, shape or form that he believed it was possible to have 6K – 8K a game in attendance.

  26. Zentrum Orlando permalink
    July 16, 2010

    Please, in the name of all that is holy and pure, please do not portray Commissioner Garber as the David Stern of MLS. How about “…the Pete Rozelle of MLS”? I continue to hope that Garber will lead MLS much more like Rozelle led the NFL far more than the way Stern has allowed the NBA to devolve into a running reality series over the past several years, with all the charm and plastic drama that entails. MLS can and must aim higher.

    Excellent series, Brian. Much appreciated.

  27. 2 Cents permalink
    July 16, 2010

    From a business standpoint, cutting player salaries would initially seem to be a smart thing to do. But it does nothing but stunt player development in this country. Why? Because after players mature and see that they can hold another job getting paid 4 – 5 times as much as they would as a player, and still play in leagues that challenge their competitive nature, why in the world would they continue to play in this “pro” league? Simply put, there are players all over the country that are better than the players that are currently playing in the USL. As much as I will always support any local USL team that this state has because it benefits the growth of the game as a whole, it just sickens me to see how sub-par many of these paid players are in terms of soccer ability. It just blows my mind how some of these players are even paid a nickle to step on the field. But it’s impossible to hold player ability to a higher standard when many of the best players in the country choose financial independence over playing a game. It sucks, but it’s the truth.

  28. Dave permalink
    July 18, 2010

    The NASL is nuts for trying to be a “national” league! That is what ultimately killed the old ASL; a failed West Coast expansion, where all but two teams failed after their first year (Oakland, Utah, Tacoma; only LA and Sact’o , and all the western teams were gone by 1980-81. By 1981, most their teams were east of the Mississippi (except for OKC and Dallas (82-83)), and most of them were south of the Mason-Dixon Line; by 1983, they were done.

    Whoever the D-2 league is next year, they need to seriously consider bolstering the East/Midwest teams, and tell Edmonton to wait until there are at least 4-5 other western teams in the mix. D-2 should not be any more than 16-20 teams, with four, 4 to 5-team divisions. They need two conferences (East and West, two divisions each), with the conference winners playing for the championship. Even with this setup, it would be pushing it, if a team like Phoenix has to travel to Edmonton, or Miami (if they’re still around) has to go to Hamilton or Ottawa (or even Rochester). And the USL is absolutely insane for looking to the Caribbean.

    As for the Atlanta owner, I understand from reading other postings that he is not a Railhawks owner any more. There are rumors that the ‘Backs are in for ’11, but until we in ATL see a schedule, and they actually have a game, we’ll believe it when we see it. There has been absolutely no news whatsoever, either yea or nay that I’m aware of, beside the rumors.

  29. Dave permalink
    July 18, 2010

    I meant to say that only LA and Sact’o were left after the ’76 season; the ASL added Santa Barbara (folded after 12 games) and the CA Sunshine for the ’77 season. All four, plus the SoCal Lasers (added for for ’78; one-and-done), LV Seagulls (1979) and the Golden Gate Gales, were gone by 1981.

  30. Pounder permalink
    July 21, 2010

    First… the thought that MLS putting their name behind the 2nd division would boost ticket sales? The NBA putting their name in with the D-League, promoting the heck out of the NBA ties, has done squat for D-League franchises. The D-League survives by cannibalizing better old CBA markets and, if not quite frenetically expanding, certainly trying.

    Minor league baseball… as I’ve poked and prodded into that realm this year, I think I’ve learned the dark side of that business. I don’t much believe their attendance numbers anymore. That doesn’t mean they’re not viable at their actual attendance, though I suspect the Pacific Coast League isn’t with its current geography. What happens, IMO, is that a few show pony franchises shake out taxpayer money from many other places… or in the case of the PCL, too much debt. Beyond those show ponies, there are teams living off the taxpayers, and a few survivors who either scrape by… or benefit from being within an hour or two of the MLB parent club. The irony… I wouldn’t be surprised if AAA ball morphs to become the “reserve league” for MLB, those teams traveling with their parents, playing mostly in either current minor league parks or, in a few cases, the big ballpark.

    I’ve been an advocate of regionalizing… and still am. However, there’s another basketball comparison to be heeded. There’s a few leagues existing in a region that have serious turnover. There’s a league (a scam, to be sure) trying what you propose. Truth is that not every market will work, this proposal will not give the appearance of stability we seek for some time. We have to be willing to make errors. Rival owners are advised to help by giving a few pointers on operations… and sending buses of fans on road trips to help each other out. I think this will help, but I don’t see a model that is inherently more stable than what we’ve experienced over several years. Stability will have to come with time… and some anchor clubs that help to spread the love.

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