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Thoughts on why the NASL/USL may fail


powerof11

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You really didn't put much thought into this article did you Jeremy. The NASL/USL certainly has its faults and certainly there are difficulties in making 2nd division soccer work in North America but this is really a terribly superficial investigation into the situation with very little research or mental effort on the part of the author. Sorry to be blunt but reading it was a waste of my time.

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Actually, I spent three months talking to one ownership group in the league, and years before that interviewing USL people for a series the Sun never ran. But I'll be sure and take your critique seriously, Grizz, since it contains absolutely nothing to counter my position.

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I thought this was an insightful, truthful and well-reasoned article. I disagree with the thesis because I don't think the NASL is doing what Jeremy talks about and is in fact trying to make a real second division but that may just be wishful thinking from off the Left Coast. I know that our local PDL club has made effort to be the kind of club that Jeremy thinks will work and I hope when we move up we will be part of a league of like-minded organizations.

This article should be printed and posted in the offices of every team in North America that aspires to be professional. If I was running a club it would be chapter one in the new employee handbook for club staff.

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Thanks Ted! There are clubs doing this, and getting results to prove it, i.e. topping the 2,000 to 3,000 mark consistently. But they're vastly in the minority and even then, don't generally have all of the bases covered.

Perhaps it's impatience on my part, because it no longer seems a complicated equation. But for every Austin and Victoria, there's a St. Louis or Baltimore. Even when clubs do start to make moves in the right direction, as is the case in Edmonton, it's after hundreds of thousands (perhaps millions, in this case) of dollars of unproductive expense.

As for the critique that it doesn't break down what each of those mistakes are, it's a process of subtraction -- I've stated the things I believe are necessary, and those things have proven out in the most successful soccer towns in North America. If people don't get that that means "the rest of you aren't really doing these things," well, that probably goes along way to explaining why these problems still exist.

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Actually, I spent three months talking to one ownership group in the league, and years before that interviewing USL people for a series the Sun never ran. But I'll be sure and take your critique seriously, Grizz, since it contains absolutely nothing to counter my position.

And the result was an article that says, "NASL/USL should have better stadiums and do better marketing?" I am not trying to counter your position, I am saying there is nothing in this article that anyone who even mildly follows the league is not aware of. Personally, I think whichever of NASL/USL merges as the 2nd div, they will manage to just barely survive until the landscape gets better for 2nd division soccer in North America which I do think will happen eventually. Nevertheless, I don't think myself or anyone else following the league would be terribly surprised if the league folded either.

My problem is not that you think it will fold, it is you say it will fold and then support that with a fluff article with little information and no indepth analysis. The "USL will it survive?" thread is far more informative and interesting than this article. You yourself have more interesting things to say on that thread than in this article. If you spent so much time interviewing USL people over the years then why does there seem to be no information from these interviews contained in the article?

I have actually enjoyed a lot of your articles over the years and am happy you are writting them. On the other hand when you fall below a standard that I think is a minimum for Canadian soccer journalism I will not be shy to point it out. It also seems to me to be a bit hypocritical to write something highly critical of the job the NASL/USL people are doing in an article in which you aren't doing a good job as a journalist. There are a lot of difficulties in running a NASL/USL team. It is not that easy to finance stadiums and marketing campaigns when the returns are often very marginal. For every team in the USL with poor marketing and an American football stadium there is one with a great stadium that tries hard to get people into the stands and finds it difficult even though they do a decent job marketing. In contrast, it is relatively easy to write an article with some interesting information and in depth analysis of the situation.

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And the result was an article that says, "NASL/USL should have better stadiums and do better marketing?" I am not trying to counter your position, I am saying there is nothing in this article that anyone who even mildly follows the league is not aware of. Personally, I think whichever of NASL/USL merges as the 2nd div, they will manage to just barely survive until the landscape gets better for 2nd division soccer in North America which I do think will happen eventually. Nevertheless, I don't think myself or anyone else following the league would be terribly surprised if the league folded either.

My problem is not that you think it will fold, it is you say it will fold and then support that with a fluff article with little information and no indepth analysis. The "USL will it survive?" thread is far more informative and interesting than this article. You yourself have more interesting things to say on that thread than in this article. If you spent so much time interviewing USL people over the years then why does there seem to be no information from these interviews contained in the article?

I have actually enjoyed a lot of your articles over the years and am happy you are writting them. On the other hand when you fall below a standard that I think is a minimum for Canadian soccer journalism I will not be shy to point it out. It also seems to me to be a bit hypocritical to write something highly critical of the job the NASL/USL people are doing in an article in which you aren't doing a good job as a journalist. There are a lot of difficulties in running a NASL/USL team. It is not that easy to finance stadiums and marketing campaigns when the returns are often very marginal. For every team in the USL with poor marketing and an American football stadium there is one with a great stadium that tries hard to get people into the stands and finds it difficult even though they do a decent job marketing. In contrast, it is relatively easy to write an article with some interesting information and in depth analysis of the situation.

Everyone's entitled to their opinion, obviously. I think you grotesquely overestimate how much the people reading my column weekly know about this issue, but that's probably because this is an active and knowledgeable board.

It was intended to be a list of the key issues they're missing out on, nothing more. If you agree those are issues you already know about, why would you not also agree that if not resolved, they point to failure, as has b een the case in the past?

I would also point out that it's a weekly opinion column. As a journanlist of about 20 years, I can clarify that they're not the same thing. Opinion columns have never been required or expected to broad-base cover something. If I was allowed to write about the issue at length for my paper, I would. But the media ain't what it used to be, and that's a fact.

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Trying to sell second division soccer in Canada is always going to be marketing challenge.

First of all you dont have and will never have the carrot of promotion to first division as long as you have leagues formed by and for franchises. You will never see a club system in North America because what are you going to say to the people who payed 40 million for a franchise?

Secondly, How do you market a teams where you wont have identifiable talent. Its little bit different in other sports where there will be the occasional hot prospect coming through that people will want to see and that will be well marketed and people will know of already. But in soccer most of that talent is foreign and soccer doesnt have that high a profile among the sports illustrated types of north america and furthermore USL and NASL never presented itself as that type of league. Its hard for a U20 international to get playing time in the USL / NASL when competing against a 28 year vet whose got so much more experience. Furthermore the coach will want to play to win and is less likely to be patient of a 20 year old mistakes. So you end up with something that resembles more like the AHL or AAA baseball than a true second division.

Thirdly, if you cant market based on the talent then you have to market based on the sense of community spirit or by promoting fun at the facility. This has worked to some extent in Rochester and Montreal but it wont work if you are playing in crappy facility like a high school field. And furthermore a strategy based on "fun at the ball park/soccer field" will inevitably offend the purist such as SG's and true followers of the game leaving you with a fickle fan based with no loyalty to the brand (your team) . Problem with this crowd is that it has a short attention span and its hard to build a solid returning base from this group.

Fourthly, you need to attract investors with deeper pockets and more capital to invest in developing the brand and getting the word out. Again, you have this already in a few markets but its a challenge in others.

A couple of solutions:

1-Make a rule that every team must field a certain number of players who are under 21 (local or Canadian).

2-Create loan arrangements of both short term and and one year Between MLS and USL and have it work both ways. Of course important details regarding salary and responsibility of salary would have to be ironed out. Better yet create working arrangement with clubs in Europe to share academy talent or talent from the reserve sides. You might not get a Messi, but seeing an EPL or serie A player who once played a for a summer in your town might nudge you towards taking a second look are your local club. Problem there will be finding someone whose interested in partnering with someone in North America but if its sold as an outsourcing opportunity, who knows.

3-Be more strict in regards to ( easier said than done... I know) who you let in to make sure that you have credible investors who are realistic and and take a long term view.

4-Promote the league and the game better. I mean, last i checked the website was still pretty poor.

Some might say that 2 and 3 are pie in the sky. But 1 and 4 are certainly doable.

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^ Amen to all that free kick. Perticulary on the subjetcs of clubs. In the Rest of the world Soccer clubs are exactly that. CLUBS. Historiclly a grouping of like minded individuals who got together to play and watch football, Sure the money men moved in and took control, but by that time the fan base was established. How do you think English and european football survived the 1980's through all the hooliganism? Not by the fancy plans of directors, in creating the EPL. Without the fan base that would surley have Crashed and Burned Like a flaming Soccerball.

English fans moan like hell about chairman and club directors. ManUnited and the green and gold movement against the glazers is just one example. But the fans stay loyal because they have been around as a critcal mass almost as long as the Clubs have. North American Soccer will struggle until it finds away to address the club culture and not the Franchise (the MLS appears to be getting this). And yes it might seem like symatics but Liverpools fans reaction to Gilletts 'franchise' comments and the massed share holders of Barca (ergo the fans) choosing their chairman each year or two speak volumes in this sport.

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How do you think English and european football survived the 1980's through all the hooliganism? Not by the fancy plans of directors, in creating the EPL. Without the fan base that would surley have Crashed and Burned Like a flaming Soccerball.

The way you phrased it makes it sounds like hooligans attempted a systematic destruction of the sport across the globe.

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^ Amen to all that free kick. Perticulary on the subjetcs of clubs. In the Rest of the world Soccer clubs are exactly that. CLUBS. Historiclly a grouping of like minded individuals who got together to play and watch football, Sure the money men moved in and took control, but by that time the fan base was established. How do you think English and european football survived the 1980's through all the hooliganism? Not by the fancy plans of directors, in creating the EPL. Without the fan base that would surley have Crashed and Burned Like a flaming Soccerball.

English fans moan like hell about chairman and club directors. ManUnited and the green and gold movement against the glazers is just one example. But the fans stay loyal because they have been around as a critcal mass almost as long as the Clubs have. North American Soccer will struggle until it finds away to address the club culture and not the Franchise (the MLS appears to be getting this). And yes it might seem like symatics but Liverpools fans reaction to Gilletts 'franchise' comments and the massed share holders of Barca (ergo the fans) choosing their chairman each year or two speak volumes in this sport.

All true. In regards to this topic, i saw no need to expand on the drawbacks of a club system or the the merits of a franchise system. You mention the draw back of franchise based system with your examples but there are equally many benefits.

For example, look no further to the number of corruption and betting scandals in Europe and especially the number of stories of financial mismangement at the club level. You would never see that here in North america because a franchise league means that there is usually a commissioner, president or other figure head who overseas and is entrusted with the greater good of game. Somone who can reign people in if it has to be done, weed out shady characters as investors and ensure that there is something (rules or orther) to makes sure that there is some semblance of competive balance. I cant see Canadians ever putting up with seeing the same one or two teams winning year after year.

Under European club system, MLS would have disappeared six or seven years ago at the time when the league was left with only 3 investors who had to buy up several clubs.

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Trying to sell second division soccer in Canada is always going to be marketing challenge.

First of all you dont have and will never have the carrot of promotion to first division as long as you have leagues formed by and for franchises. You will never see a club system in North America because what are you going to say to the people who payed 40 million for a franchise?

Secondly, How do you market a teams where you wont have identifiable talent. Its little bit different in other sports where there will be the occasional hot prospect coming through that people will want to see and that will be well marketed and people will know of already. But in soccer most of that talent is foreign and soccer doesnt have that high a profile among the sports illustrated types of north america and furthermore USL and NASL never presented itself as that type of league. Its hard for a U20 international to get playing time in the USL / NASL when competing against a 28 year vet whose got so much more experience. Furthermore the coach will want to play to win and is less likely to be patient of a 20 year old mistakes. So you end up with something that resembles more like the AHL or AAA baseball than a true second division.

Thirdly, if you cant market based on the talent then you have to market based on the sense of community spirit or by promoting fun at the facility. This has worked to some extent in Rochester and Montreal but it wont work if you are playing in crappy facility like a high school field. And furthermore a strategy based on "fun at the ball park/soccer field" will inevitably offend the purist such as SG's and true followers of the game leaving you with a fickle fan based with no loyalty to the brand (your team) . Problem with this crowd is that it has a short attention span and its hard to build a solid returning base from this group.

Fourthly, you need to attract investors with deeper pockets and more capital to invest in developing the brand and getting the word out. Again, you have this already in a few markets but its a challenge in others.

A couple of solutions:

1-Make a rule that every team must field a certain number of players who are under 21 (local or Canadian).

2-Create loan arrangements of both short term and and one year Between MLS and USL and have it work both ways. Of course important details regarding salary and responsibility of salary would have to be ironed out. Better yet create working arrangement with clubs in Europe to share academy talent or talent from the reserve sides. You might not get a Messi, but seeing an EPL or serie A player who once played a for a summer in your town might nudge you towards taking a second look are your local club. Problem there will be finding someone whose interested in partnering with someone in North America but if its sold as an outsourcing opportunity, who knows.

3-Be more strict in regards to ( easier said than done... I know) who you let in to make sure that you have credible investors who are realistic and and take a long term view.

4-Promote the league and the game better. I mean, last i checked the website was still pretty poor.

Some might say that 2 and 3 are pie in the sky. But 1 and 4 are certainly doable.

Bah, replied to this and it disappeared.

I'd agree with all of these, but would demand more specifics for number 4, including a local commitment to build the club a proper Soccer-specific stadium. That would require more diligence in selecting franchises on the league's part, with respect to financing as you've mentioned, but also with respect to local politics and the likelihood of it impacting future growth.

In other words, they need a soccer-specific market assessment before they hand out a franchise.

And as for number 3, it's not "easier said than done." Checking financial credibility is actually quite easy, it just requires a lot of legwork by someone who knows what they're doing. I once worked on a soccer-investment related story and found out that an investor was in the hole to shareholders for over $13 million, without producing anything in return, using his Securities Exchange Commission database informatin (the EDGAR database).

I warned the league he was investing in --- and they ignored it, subsequently allowing his club to lose over a half million dollars, much of which I'm quite sure made its way back into his pocket.

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The way you phrased it makes it sounds like hooligans attempted a systematic destruction of the sport across the globe.

Trident, Living through that time in the UK it often felt that orcestrated. I missed a lot of live football as I had parents who were not to happy taking their kids to Big Ticket games. To some extent the Violence did mirror the social ills of the da, But thats a college debate to be had elsewhere.

FK I dont disagee that the Franchaise system has benefits. MLS would not be in such a healthy state without it. And i would say that the same system gave the World Cup a recognisable feel for the USA. ABC apparantly got really good ratings for the Tournament.

All I caution is that Clubs in the 'lower divisions' in North America have to think up inventive stratagies to build their Fan base. As having no automatic 'Shot' at Joining the big boys through Automatic Promotion IMO makes the team/league seem less important.

To the girls and guys who watch their soccer through PPV, They may well just not want to bother watching what they perceive as a lower standard product, unless of course the franchise/club finds a hook to catch them with., and drive its potential fanbase.

FC Edmontons' hook may well not be the NASL, but more likley the V cup. If nothing else this will give a few Edmontonians a chance to blow smoke in the direction of BC, ONT and Quebec for a while.:cool:

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Very interesting series of articles. Thanks for the link L.T.

I think there is a lot of potential in a regionally-organized second division in partnership with MLS. If NASL could get their act together and create that partnership it could happen starting in 2011. This would leave the USL to focus on amateur teams at the third division level. MLS, NASL, USL: first, second, third. Sounds good anyway.

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This is something I've never really understood about the dispute anyway... the USL's "bread n' butter" is really the development leagues. They should be happy that someone else wants to take over the 2nd division headaches. I really don't see why the NASL and MLS couldn't develop a MLS2 league. Even without relegation, a strong partnership between the 1st and 2nd division seems to make a lot of sense. For MLS you're widening the brand (I really don't think the NASL guys are married to the name "NASL" anyway, it was probably more for convenience than anything else), and for a league that's quickly reaching it's "maximum" at 20 teams, an expansion into the second division makes sense. For the second division, you get more stability and some of the MLS credibility.

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This is something I've never really understood about the dispute anyway... the USL's "bread n' butter" is really the development leagues. They should be happy that someone else wants to take over the 2nd division headaches. I really don't see why the NASL and MLS couldn't develop a MLS2 league. Even without relegation, a strong partnership between the 1st and 2nd division seems to make a lot of sense. For MLS you're widening the brand (I really don't think the NASL guys are married to the name "NASL" anyway, it was probably more for convenience than anything else), and for a league that's quickly reaching it's "maximum" at 20 teams, an expansion into the second division makes sense. For the second division, you get more stability and some of the MLS credibility.

You guys are making way too much sense.

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I suggested in a column a few months back -- and still believe it might be the case -- that NASL had to get some tactic endorsement from MLS to even go ahead, given that at that time two of its key franchises were eventually moving to Major League Soccer.

So there might be something in the background we're not aware of.

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