Five U.S.-Based NASL Teams Will Not be Allowed to Participate in 2011 Open Cup; No Time Restrictions on Traffic Finding New Owners for Atlanta and Carolina
The USSF held a press conference this afternoon with President Sunil Gulati and NASL CEO Aaron Davidson participating. Each made very brief opening statements with Gulati saying he was pleased to admit the NASL on a provisional basis.
“It’s a difficult environment on many levels,” said Gulati. “We’re excited that Aaron and his colleagues have put together a group of investors, so congratulations to them.”
Gulati was asked about the special requirements on the NASL and what sort of time deadline there were on those requirements. “The pro league task force will continue to work with the NASL on a number of points that have been discussed in the meeting and with them but the immediate movement towards a single team and single ownership, we don’t have a time table on that,” said Gulati. “So while we would like to see that done we will certainly sit down and work through that with them.”
The USSF president was asked if that also meant that Minnesota, a league-owned team, would also need to find new ownership. “Minnesota’s situation is obviously different because it’s owned on a collective basis by all the other teams. It’s clear that in an ideal world we’d like to see a situation where there are individual investors operator groups for each of the eight teams or any number of teams that the league has,” said Gulati.
Davidson added to that saying, “We’ve been clear all along that obviously it was out of necessity that Traffic had to invest into additional teams for the good of the game and for the good of second division to make this work. We are very cognizant that the sport is our number one priority. We feel that those two teams (Carolina and Atlanta) will maintain the highest level of integrity as will Minnesota, a league-owned team. The number one thing is to put on a fantastic competition at the 2nd division level where everyone has the chance to win the championship.”
“I think what you’re aiming for is a sensible business opportunity and financial viability,” said Gulati when asked about standards the federation may have for the NASL to make sure they are viable going forward. “That’s not up to the federation to say attendance has to be X, Y or Z. Or that sponsorship should be A, B or C. The opportunity and stability of the league are very much related. If the league is stable and the business plan makes sense and you have sensible attendances then there will be increased interest from people to make an investment in a team. That is certainly what has happened with MLS and I’m sure that’s what the NASL leadership is hoping and planing for with the NASL.”
Davidson responded by saying, “No one is under the presumption that all of our teams are going to be break even overnight even now that we are provisionally sanctioned. We have to work towards that but we anticipate bright spots along the way to show us we are heading in the right direction.”
When Davidson was asked what his one year goals were he stated that he recognizes where the NASL sits at the present time as a startup and would focus on the basics this first year. “To really get this league going in the right direction we are going to need some time. This year is all about the nuts and bolts and making sure we run a league where the teams are happy in the direction it’s headed and where the federation is happy with the direction it’s headed. Our expectations are to run a league, to quite frankly make it through this year and the next year, and give the teams a stable platform to grow their markets.”
When Davidson was asked what will make his league different from leagues in the past, he responded: “Our number one object is to stop the churn rate in 2nd division. Our number one objective is to maintain teams on a year-to-year basis so you the media and the fans can make sense of second division and so we can create a platform for teams, players and coaches to do what they need to do to drive up their level and possibly buy into MLS at some point. You’ve heard me say this a lot in this process but this platform where the team owners own the league and govern the league is one where all the owners in their respective markets are buying into the NASL brand as a league. And you will see us promoting it a lot more proudly. That will mean the fans and the media will be able to follow both the teams and the league a lot more consistently.”
The biggest news of the day was that the 5 U.S.-based NASL teams will not be able to participate in the U.S. Open Cup competition. Gulati said, “It was simply too late to incorporate them into the process in the various stages of the tournament. The timing does not work for the 5 U.S. based teams to participate. They will not be playing this year.”
Gulati was questioned at the end of the press conference if he felt second and third division soccer was important to the health of soccer in the U.S in regard to MLS and the National Team. “I think if we want to see American soccer grow, having additional outlets for fans, whether that is in very different cities than MLS or in other cases the suburbs of where MLS may be, I think it’s very important. Having both the USL and the NASL playing is a big plus and covers a lot more markets than MLS could do on its own. In terms of the National Team, I don’t think it’s directly the feeder system. But obviously if there are increased opportunities and at a high level that’s a big plus.”
“The other side of this is as you see younger players coming into MLS at younger ages, I think in the future you’re likely to see some relationship between MLS and the NASL and the USL. Where players will get additional playing opportunities and at the same time are under an MLS contract. We’ve had that in the past in the early stages of MLS and there’s any number of things that could happen between MLS and NASL or USL to give players additional opportunities and still give them a link directly to MLS.