NASL Commissioner David Downs at the NSC Stadium in Blaine, Minn. – Photo by Brian Quarstad
NASL Commissioner David Downs was in the Twin Cities on Tuesday, September 11th for NASL business and took in the Minnesota Stars FC v Puerto Rico Islanders match. Downs spoke to me moments before the kick off of that match and that conversation was followed up with several more questions in a separate discussion on Monday of this week. The NASL Commissioner said on Monday that he would be traveling to Edmonton this week, along with NASL CEO Aaron Davidson, to show support for stadium initiatives for FC Edmonton as well as the work owner Tom Fath is putting into the team and the community.
In Part 1 of this interview, Downs reveals that the Minnesota Stars FC have two different parties interested in the team at this time. He also disclosed the the league has met with executives of the Minnesota Vikings, not so much for ownership of the Stars but more to talk about soccer and the future of the sport in Minnesota. He also speaks to the fan reaction to the news last week that the NASL would be going to a split season format in 2013.
In Part 2 of this interview, Downs speaks to the league’s expansion plans which have been slower than originally expected and states that he still expects more teams to be announced before the 2013 season with the outside possibility one or both would be ready to play next year. He also answers questions about rumors that have been circulating that the New York Cosmos may not be ready to play by 2013, and he addresses the possible name change for the Silverbacks to the Chiefs and speaks to the concerns that some were expressing about that name.
IMS: David, it’s been a week or so now since you have announced the split season schedule for next season. It’s had a lot of fan reaction, did you expect that?
Downs: Yes, we knew we’d have considerable reaction. It’s enough of a big step that people are going to have an opinion. Obviously in the world of soccer it’s not “so” radical that it hasn’t been done anywhere else in the world. It’s following the pattern of several different countries’ leagues around the world. Indeed it has been tried in different sports in the United States as well. So it’s not completely radical but we expected that it would be opinion-provoking and we’re not upset about that. We believe that we’ve done enough analysis that in our heart we think it’s the right thing to do. And we’re not afraid of the fact that we somewhat stand apart by doing it and we’re happy to have the feedback from our fans on both sides.
I’d say the feedback has been all over the spectrum. We have some people who are indifferent and some people that are polarized on both sides of the issue. We made the change for a variety of reasons and we didn’t think that the format would create such anxieties that people wouldn’t go along with it ultimately.
IMS: The one difference between a Apertura and Clausura type season and this new NASL split season is, for instance, the Mexican Primera there is still a playoff system. Also, in other countries where this exists there is promotion and relegation. We have none of those scenarios in this format. Does that seems like it might be a concern?
Downs: One of the reasons that we opted not to have playoffs at the end of each of these seasons, is playoffs create uncertainty for teams. One of the benefits of this format, is each team knows every single game they are going to play and they know it months in advance so they can budget it. Even for that one Soccer Bowl championship game pitting one winner against the other, even one of those teams knows 4 months in advance that they will be playing in that game and hosting that game.
So from a planning standpoint for our teams it’s very good. We didn’t see a way that we could have some of our teams have a six or seven week break while others only would have a three for four week break between seasons (because of first season playoffs). So the moment we decided we had to eliminate playoffs in the first half of the season it really made sense to eliminate them in the second half.
IMS: Did the NASL do any consulting with outside parties like fans or was this a top down decision?
Downs: We didn’t ask our fans per se in the sense of putting it out there with a fan poll or ‘here guys, here are three different formats. Which would you like us to choose next year?’ I think ultimately we are a business and we owe it to the business men to run these teams to do what we think makes the most sense for us. Even if the fans may not want that particular form or another, we owe it to ourselves to do what makes the most sense. So we couldn’t ever come up with a fan poll to determine our competitive format, unless we honestly believed there were two or three formats that were identical and it didn’t matter. The fact of the matter is that we do believe it does matter and this was the best format. So when we put it to all the owners and they were unanimous, it didn’t make much sense at that point to ask the fans their opinion. They will give it. We know that. And we are certainly subject to their opinions, but we have to run our business and we have to make our own business decisions.
IMS: David, that the last time we talked on record was after the announcement that the Cosmos were coming into the league for 2013. At that time it didn’t really look very positive for Minnesota with it being a league-owned team and the Cosmos being added to the league. There are still a lot of people worried about that. Do you have any news that you can share with us on that front.
Downs: Since the Cosmos announcement, we’ve had approaches from at least two different sources indicating some interest. We are at very different stages with the two sources in my mind nothing is anything until we get a firm offer and we don’t have a firm offer for someone to take over the team. It’s getting kind of close, because for us to carry the team forward next year as a league-owned team we would need a vote of the full board of governors and that probably couldn’t occur any later than October 27th at our in-person board meetings. That’s probably the deadline which we will know whether the league is prepared to carry the the team forward or not another year. That’s not an impossibility by the way. Especially if we were to make some headway with a potential sale between now and then. That’s where we stand with the team.
I should point out that this morning while I was in town I had breakfast with some representatives of the Minnesota Vikings organization. Not to discuss whether they would have an interest in taking over the team or not. They are obviously quite a long way from making their own internal decision about whether they want to be involved with officially in the sport of soccer. But clearly they are in the planning phases for the new stadium and that stadium will accommodate soccer of some kind. It was pretty clear, that was on their radar.
I think they are also sort of a little baffled at how strong the opinions are of the soccer community in Minnesota and how attached the folks are to the Stars and how there was somewhat of a sentiment in the media that their involvement with soccer down the road might be an impediment to the Stars. They were both a little puzzled by that and a little hurt by that because I don’t think that it’s their intention at all to be an impediment to the Stars success and I think they realize that at the highest levels of their organization, should they want to get into MLS, having a thriving team here with an existing fan base and a continuity of play that dates back over two decades would be an extremely good thing.
I thought it was a very positive meeting all together. They’re interested in learning more about the league and the team and we’re interested in keeping them abreast of what’s going on here, because they do need to factor the team in as they think about the future but that is in the future.
IMS: Shifting back to the Stars again, with that interest that has been displayed in the Stars, and with some positives that have been reported with some other teams that are close to joining the NASL, do you think there’s a shifting at all from the owners that they could carry the team for another year or is that still unclear yet?
Downs: I think that’s still pretty unclear. It is a vote and our owners are very democratic and they will go through the debate and each one will feel it in their pockets if we keep the team going. So it’s not a slam dunk. I think all the owners feel the league is heading in the right direction and they recognize that if something bad were to happen to the Stars that would be a bad reflection on the league. So there’s a lot of incentive for just as you say, for the owners to rally around. If we don’t feel we have a sale imminent to keep the team alive, I just don’t want to promise that because it’s not within my control and they have the right to make that statement.
Commissioner Downs also mentioned that on Monday, September 17th, he had received the Minnesota Dark Clouds supporters letter asking for continued support of the team for one more season while the NASL tries to resolve the ownership issue. He said the letter had about 275 signatures on it. Downs said he loves the fans in Minnesota and the team and it was nice to get the letter from those that care about the organization, but it still comes down to a financial decision for the owners. Downs said he will make sure the board of governors see the letter and signatures.