NASL Commissioner Downs Says League Expansion is Delayed but Still on Track
In a recent article by the aurthor of Soccer Made in St. Louis and contributor to IMS, Dave Lange, he quoted NASL commissioner David Downs as saying St. Louis had been targeted for expansion by 2014.
“The NASL is currently seeking a qualified owner to enter a team representing St. Louis into our league, and would hope to have an agreement in place in time for the 2014 season. We strongly believe that the size of the city, coupled with its passion and history for the sport, makes it a perfect location for a successful NASL team.”
While the league had previously mentioned St. Louis as a potential city the immediacy of Downs’ comment caught some off guard. Lange has written about the possibility of pro soccer in St. Louis as well as possible venues and ownership.
Downs made several statements recently that have started to clarify what the NASL’s plan is in regard to expansion.
In mid April, the NASL commissioner told reporter Steven Sandor of The11.ca that first and foremost in the league’s expansion plan that was approved by the board of governors, owners of the teams, was a footprint in the Western United States.
According to the guidelines created by the USSF in August of 2010, the league must have 10 teams in the 3rd year of play (2013) and U.S.-based teams must be located in at least three different time zones in the 6th year (2016). The NASL currently has 5 teams in the eastern time zone and 2 in the central. Edmonton is the third (mountain) but Canadian teams are not specified in that particular requirement.
“For us, the number-one priority is the west coast of the United States and filling out the Midwest,” said Downs. “But, with the success Montreal and Edmonton have had in our league, it is clear Canada is a fertile ground for professional soccer, and we would be remiss not to look at other opportunities there.”
And those American markets? Downs confirmed that NASL’s sights are set on San Diego, Phoenix, Albuquerque, Las Vegas, Sacramento and the greater Los Angeles area (Anaheim, Riverside).
In fact the following weekend Downs tweeted from New Mexico. When IMS recently talked to the NASL Commissioner he admitted that he was indeed talking to potential team owners: “Yes, absolutely. It’s a fascinating area and better soccer than a New Yorker like me would have liked to believe. Obviously the New Mexico Lobos were ranked #1 in the country most of the year last season. They were undefeated until they got bounced out of the tournament. So that’s a city that is definitely under consideration.”
Just a few days earlier in Cary, N.C., Downs was interviewed by reporter Neil Morris of Indy Week in Cary, N.C. In that interview he stated that he expected to make an announcement on two new NASL teams for 2014 and expected to make that announcement in the next 30-45 days.
“The league has finalized contractual terms with one club and is in the latter stages of negotiations with the other,” Downs told Morris. “One is an existing soccer club while the other is a startup franchise.” Downs did not expand on the meaning of “existing soccer club” which could also mean a youth club.
Aaron Davidson, CEO of the NASL, also told Morris that one of those teams will be stationed in the western U.S. while the other will be located within the NASL’s current main geographic footprint. Davidson also said that NASL hopes to add two more clubs before the 2013 season.
Last week Downs told IMS that while he is “still quite hopeful those announcements will be coming in the next 45 days,” he thinks it will be closer to the end of June before they will have anything to announce. “That means the dates on those announcements have slipped since I (originally) thought those announcements would be coming in 30 to 45 days that I talked about three or four weeks ago,” said Downs.
Downs said the league has almost exactly a dozen target cities where they are hoping to expand first. “A dozen would be almost the perfect number, yes. It’s approaching the deadline in which starting a successful team for 2013 by scratch would at least be difficult. But we are well on target for teams that would want to start in 2014. We are having meaningful conversations with a number of cities.”
But is St. Louis one of those cities who Downs suddenly put on the list when he mentioned it to Lange?
“I don’t know anything that you don’t know, that we are eminently close to making an announcement about St. Louis,” said Downs. “I’m just saying it’s identified as a target, and 2014 seems like a closer entry date than 2015.”
“The league wants to expand to 20 teams by 2020. The Board of Governors have ratified an expansion campaign and St. Louis is clearly one of the target markets. I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s either the highest priority of the long list of target markets nor would I say we are the farthest along there of any of our target markets. It is an undeniable fact that it is a hotbed of soccer in the U.S. and has been for years. It’s a top 25% population size market and it should be able to support an NASL team comfortably. We are actively engaged in searching the community for an appropriate ownership group. Do I think that will happen in time for the 2013 season? Probably unrealistic. Do I think it could happen by 2014? Probably more realistic.”
“In fairness, the day the season opened (April 7th) I’m not sure I had a conversation with anyone from St. Louis in the previous 6 months. That’s clearly not the case today.”