By Barry Janoff
October 27, 2016: The United Soccer League, a Div. III pro circuit currently with 29 teams, is beating its own drums these days, and for good reason.
This week, ownership groups for both the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Ottawa Fury said they would move their franchises to the UFL from the North American Soccer League, a Div. II circuit that operated with 12 clubs in 2016.
They will join Reno 1868 FC as expansion clubs for the 2017 USL season.
The moves come as the NASL — which traces it roots back to the late 1960s but was relaunched under new executives and ownership in 2009, with its first season in 2011 — has had to deal with the Minnesota United joining Major League Soccer as an expansion team beginning in 2017.
In addition, the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers are, according to ESPN and other media outlets, "in serious financial jeopardy" and Rayo OKC "faces similar financial trouble."
In 2015, the NASL’s Atlanta Silverbacks moved to the Div. IV National Premier Soccer League and a change in ownership saw the San Antonio Scorpions cease operations in the NASL and then become a USL franchise as San Antonio FC.
The USL said it plans to move from Div. III to Div. II and has a "sanctioning application pending with the United States Soccer Federation," the sport’s overseeing body in the U.S.
In addition, the USL said it has a "strong strategic and working relationship with Major League Soccer" and that, over the past two seasons, "35 USL players have been signed to MLS rosters."
"We are excited to join the United Soccer League in 2017," Bill Edwards, Rowdies chairman and CEO, said this week. "I have said from the day I acquired controlling interest in this club that I wanted to make it one of the most successful teams in North America. The USL is a vibrant league, and this move is a necessary and positive step toward reaching the long-term goals and objectives of the club."
Echoing that, Fury FC president, John Pugh, said, "We're excited to be joining the fastest-growing soccer league in the world,. The USL's goal is to be the top second division in the world and we are thrilled to be part of it. Our growing and loyal fan base deserves and can expect a very high caliber of play and tremendous competition."
In response, NASL commissioner Bill Peterson said in a statement, "As a league in North America, the NASL operates in an environment where owners are free to take their clubs wherever they choose. All we can do is acknowledge that reality and move forward with our business, which is exactly what we're doing right now.
"We have never had a stronger and more unified group of owners who are committed to the league's model, its structure, and its long-term vision. With a half-dozen serious expansion discussions in progress, the league looks forward to adding new owners who share in the Board's vision," said Peterson.
The NASL anticipates operating with ten clubs next season, with the expansion San Francisco Deltas scheduled to enter the league.
The league has several key media and broadcast partners, including ESPN, CBS Sports Network, Telemundo, Univision, ONE World Sports and beIN Sports.
Under Armour produces the official NASL ball. New Era is the league's official cap partner. Players wear jerseys from adidas and Nike.
Minnesota led the league in attendance, but it’s strongest club, at least from a marketing perspective, is the New York Cosmos, which traces its heritage to the NASL in the 1960s. The club has deals that include Emirates, Coca-Cola, Buffalo Wild Wings, Seiko, Toto and First Nationwide.
This NASL plans to not follow in the footsteps of the original NASL, which enjoyed years of success before folding in 1984, mainly due to over-expansion and under financing.
"We have ambitious plans for growth, and we're proud that the flexibility of the NASL model remains an extremely attractive proposition for investors seeking to become part of an authentic, competitive soccer league," Peterson said in his statement. "While we don't want to take anything away from what is sure to be another exciting post-season, we're focused on ensuring that, in 2017, the NASL is one of the most competitive soccer leagues around."
The USL has more than doubled in size since 2014 to 29 teams in 2016, with Nashville SC scheduled to debut in 2018 and "additional expansion on the horizon."
"I believe the USL can be the foundation of professional soccer in North America and can play a significant role in the future of the sport."
According to the USL, league-wide attendance increased by 33% this year as it set a new attendance record of almost 1.5 million fans.
Average attendance for the USL's top-10 drawing teams this season was 6,724, a 25% increase from 2015, per the USL.
In 173 regular-season games, the NASL this past season averaged 4,684 and totaled 810,341.
Over 340 regular-season games, MSL averaged 21,604, led by Orlando FC (60,147) and the Seattle Sounders (53,30).
"I believe the USL can be the foundation of professional soccer in North America and can play a significant role in the future of the sport and the national team here," USP president Jake Edwards told USL.com.
"We have a millennial audience so are taking a digital strategy first. We spent time with Facebook and Twitter in Silicon Valley and we have partnered with ESPN and YouTube to stream our games. Earlier this season, the USL [hosted] one of the first professional games on Facebook, FC Cincinnati hosting Crystal Palace, which 1.3 million watched."
According to Edwards, "As a league we are investing over $8 million in broadcast production and digital content production. We are also taking every team’s website and aggregating them on to a single digital platform so we can share content across all websites to drive digital numbers up."
Back to Home Page