The announcement by the North American Soccer League of two new teams yesterday increased the scope of the region’s second division in the United States. Jacksonville and Oklahoma City will begin play in 2015.
With the New York Cosmos about to kick off action in the NASL on August 3rd, this is a high-profile time for the league. The flood of expansion franchises that have joined the league since last July can be directly correlated to the boost the league received from the return of the Cosmos brand. New York will be the first of six new teams to begin play in the next two years.
Next year, the league will see the commencement of NASL play in Ottawa, Virginia and Indianapolis.
Second Division soccer has long been a money losing proposition in the United States. This reality is reflected in the difficulty the NASL had in selling new franchises prior to the Cosmos entry. In the first three and a half years that NASL existed as a functioning entity dating back to January 2010 when the league office opened, the league added two new teams, Edmonton and San Antonio, while announcing Ottawa for a 2013 start (delayed eventually to 2014). Since the Cosmos admission, that number has grown in a rapid period of time.
Jacksonville is a market where soccer has been successful and is a great addition to the NASL. The Tea Men of the old NASL played to big crowds before self-relegating to the second division ASL after the 1982 season and playing out its days there. More recently, the Jacksonville Cyclones of the A-League in the late 1990s were successful but lacked a suitable venue and were folded after the 1999 season. Jacksonville will become the fifth professional team in Florida joining Tampa Bay and Fort Lauderdale in the NASL. USL PRO has teams in Orlando and Plant City, Florida (VSI Tampa Bay FC).
USL PRO previously announced plans to begin a new professional team in Oklahoma City for 2014. In classic USL PRO style, the team is being given less than a year to ramp up operations and thus will have less time to properly prepare a viable long-term operation than the NASL startup. USL PRO has become infamous in the business for announcing new teams with twelve months of their initial kickoff, whereas the NASL has yet to announce a new club in such a short window.
This year, USL PRO has begun a long-term affiliation agreement with MLS, which established that the league is a third division with reserve league status. The Tampa-based league can hang its hat on this in attempts to sell franchises as an affiliation with MLS is potentially worth more to owners who want to eventually see their teams in MLS than the NASL’s hybrid model of complementing the nation’s established major league in some areas while trying to compete in others. However, franchise fees for the NASL are reported to be much higher than those for USL.
While the NASL is growing, concerns remain about three of its teams that are owned by Traffic Sports. Carolina, Atlanta and Fort Lauderdale have yet to find new ownership groups and eventually Traffic Sports may be required by the USSF to divest in one or more of these teams. Additionally, Traffic, which is one of the largest soccer marketers in the Americas, may not want to continue to fund multiple teams who are bleeding cash.