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NASL could suffer greatly due to MLS and its new CBA deal


The new MLS Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) appears to be a big victory for MLS players and for the league’s management. With four new expansion clubs having paid large fees to join the league and a new TV deal along with several new lucrative sponsorships, Major League Soccer is poised to emerge as one of the global powerhouses in the sport.

The ultimate loser in the MLS CBA agreement is likely to be the ambitious North American Soccer League (NASL), which has tried to make a case at various times in recent years that it can be a concurrent first division thanks to its free market model that includes outright free agency.

Major League Soccer now emerges into its 20th year as a clear American success story. Player wages will increase, freedom of movement will now be allowed in certain circumstances and television exposure will be higher than ever across the globe. From scratch in an industry fraught with risk, owners have in twenty years built an institution that will last for decades to come. MLS isn’t perfect but it took a big step forward Wednesday night.

The NASL has countered that they have a free market approach as opposed to a system that resembles socialism that characterizes MLS’ single entity structure.  However, single entity has worked and now MLS is emerging a powerful and strong force in the global football market. NASL on the other hand will face enormous challenges thanks to this CBA.

The newly agreed upon CBA takes the minimum MLS player salaries away from the levels where NASL teams can poach guys from MLS clubs. This almost completely undercuts NASL’s ability to compete for mid and lower level MLS players. The new CBA also ensures that players in MLS can move within the league after a certain period of time. NASL clubs have benefited directly from signing veteran MLS players with mid-level salaries, whose rights were held by a club they did not want to play for. Tampa Bay Rowdies Goalkeeper Matt Pickens and New York Cosmos defender Hunter Freeman are examples of this. While Tampa Bay, New York and also Minnesota can continue to compete with MLS clubs for players, this CBA probably prices the rest of NASL out of competing for legitimate first division players.

NASL has had a hard time convincing many prospective owners of joining the league thanks to rival-league USL’s affiliate agreement with MLS. While I believe NASL has the stronger case to be a sole Division 2 league in the U.S, the writing is on the wall that the USSF is likely to allow USL and its MLS reserve teams to attain the same status as NASL’s highest-level professional teams that draw upwards of 10,000 a game. USL will probably continue to attract new owners and investment thanks to MLS’ interest, leaving NASL virtually alone on an island.

The weakness of some NASL owners and clubs is also a drawback. MLS’ single-entity structure does not allow for organizations to be so non-competitive financially that they drag the entire league down. While critics will point to Chivas USA, that was an exceptional circumstance. NASL’s freewheeling, market based approach has allowed some high-level professional organizations like the Tampa Bay Rowdies and New York Cosmos, who operate on a level close to MLS in terms of staff competence and structure, to share the same league as teams like the Atlanta Silverbacks and Fort Lauderdale Strikers, who are in real terms, not even completely professional clubs.

With NASL’s growing disparity, it highlights the potential for teams to fail in the very near future dragging the entire league down. This is countered by MLS, where a rising tide lifts all boats and where the new agreement between players and management probably ends the NASL’s dream of truly competing with MLS. When you factor in the USL situation and the ability of MLS and USL to collude in order to essentially control the pro soccer pyramid in the United States, it becomes obvious the NASL is getting close to a point of being completely boxed in – that is unless NASL finally accepts its role as a league that attempts to bring an advanced and innovative competition to fans who are not in MLS markets. NASL Commissioner Bill Peterson is a smart and savvy survivor of the sports business. I would hope he will look at the MLS and its CBA and realize, a time to pivot has come and that the league in order to survive will need to find a niche which accepts MLS’ overall supremacy in the U.S Soccer Pyramid.


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  1. Kahkakew Yawassanay

    March 7, 2015 at 6:10 pm

    Do you work for MLS? The CBA was another infamous PU folding and settling for a terrible deal. It allowed the MLS to ensure its huge profits in the near future from TV and franchise fees while keeping costs still quite low..a salary cap of 3.5 million is a joke. Simply put, the majority of players are not worth the league average wage…and that is how MLS wants to keep it..the SES means one boss, one calling the shots and one receiving all the profits…The MLS PU needed to strike for a substantial period of time to ensure true free agency and revenue sharing…doubling the cap which would have rid the league of all the inferior would also have sorted out healthy franchises from perpetual losers…once MLS has ended its expansion cities left over will join NASL and be quite happy doing so….MLS is a fad solely designed to make investor/owners profits…nothing more or less

  2. Jason

    March 5, 2015 at 11:33 pm

    Because, up until 24 hours ago, the NASL was JUSTTHISCLOSE to being able to overtake MLS.

    Puh. Leeze.

  3. WSW

    March 5, 2015 at 10:36 pm

    Wait..what’s better 11 players one making 3-7million and others making 60k or 11 players making 100-200k?

    • Jason

      March 5, 2015 at 11:34 pm

      You been arrested lately?

    • Kahkakew Yawassanay

      March 7, 2015 at 6:15 pm

      It is comical that the owner/investor is responsible for paying the huge difference for DP’s salary cap hits…not MLS who owns all contracts…such a double standard…with 95% of players not worth the salaries they were making prior to this agreement, MLS only reassured and reinforced their control…seriously increasing the cap would have resulted in a huge influx of quality ayers driving costs up which would have eaten significantly in MLS’ profits..that is all that matters to MLS..profits, not the is a fad..which is why NASL will do quite well and putter along slowly expanding

  4. Seth Israel

    March 5, 2015 at 6:22 pm

    Stop the alarmist amateur journalist here. This article is pure speculation by Mr. Krishnaiyer provided no facts on to the terms of the CBA agreement. How can you post a possible assumption with out facts Kartik?

  5. Kartik Krishnaiyer

    March 5, 2015 at 5:05 pm

    US Soccer MUST in the future step in and prevent more OKC like debacles!

    • Phil in OKC

      April 11, 2016 at 9:02 pm

      I am a long time soccer aficionado, discovering the game while a Marine stationed in Spain in the early 1970s. The late Johan Cruyff was my favorite player when he played at Barcelona and I followed his career in the NASL and saw him play against the Tulsa Roughnecks in the late 1970s. I am a season ticket holder of both the OKC Energy and Rayo OKC. Rayo sold out their first game last week with well over 6000 fans and led all NASL teams in attendance. There was well over 5000 for last Saturday’s game and the Energy also had over 5000 fans at their stadium, both 7pm starts, so there is certainly a hunger for professional soccer in OKC. I am in favor of the highest and most technical quality of play. The quality of players on Rayo is three times that of the USL Energy, who have maybe one or two players who could start for Rayo. The ownership group for the Energy are local OKC businessmen and for Rayo a split between a local businessman and the owner of Spanish First Division Rayo Vallecano in Madrid. To opine that the NASL in OKC is a debacle, could not be further from the truth. I doubt OKC ever gets an MLS franchise (assuming MLS stops at 32 teams in the future) because there are too many cities in front of it with better demographics (population, TV market, etc.) But OKC will have a significant professional soccer team, and it will be the team from a league that fields the best talent. I would put our Rayo up against any MLS team and the outcome would be in question. Our USL Energy would get rolled, as the MLS Dallas team proved in a pre-season game. The players in the MLS and NASL are bigger, stronger, faster, and more athletic and technically gifted than the USL. OKC will eventually build a downtown soccer stadium to complement the NBA Thunder, but it won’t be an MLS or USL team that will fill it. Debacle in OKC? . . .Really?

  6. CTBlues

    March 5, 2015 at 2:11 pm

    When you have two rivals colluding to control the market it is difficult to survive. I was reading up about the situation in Oklahoma City with the Energy and OKCFC. The group behind the Energy said “since USL holds a player development agreement with MLS, for Oklahoma City bringing USL is a conjugate path for the future to bring in a MLS team.” as if to get into the MLS without buying directly into MLS you have to be in USL or it is easier to get into MLS by being in USL. To me though that sounds like someone that either doesn’t know what he is talking about or is just trying to get what he wants and not stating the facts to people that have no idea how soccer works in this country.

  7. Tony Butterworth

    March 5, 2015 at 12:14 pm

    ha ha ha ha 🙂 This writer is so ridiculous. Once I read

    “Major League Soccer is poised to emerge as one of the global powerhouses in the sport”

    then I realized it was a parody piece and it was much more enjoyable.

    • yespage

      March 5, 2015 at 1:35 pm

      I caught that one too. Not really competitive with the Mexicans, forget the European leagues.

  8. Paul Scanling

    March 5, 2015 at 12:02 pm

    1. The NASL is a long way from being a stable league. Quality ownership groups are extremely important. Very few of those exist right now. I hope they are working on finding those first.
    2. I agree that the NASL should focus on itself and not worry about MLS/USL or anything else. Develop a strong, stable league with national revenue and the rest will take care of itself. I’m not sure the current commissioner agrees with me.
    3. I’ve read multiple pieces online about how this new CBA was a victory for the owners. Kartik: you are one of the few who think it is a good thing for the players. Television exposure around the globe is not nearly as important as television exposure here in the US and Canada. Their ratings are atrocious. Poker gets higher ratings than MLS. Until the product on the field can compete with the best in Europe, the viewing public will choose to watch EPL/La Liga/etc. Until the viewing public chooses to watch MLS, revenue will not compete with Europe. Without that revenue, they don’t have a chance of being a ‘Major’ league anytime soon. I don’t know how they get out of that conundrum.
    3. As a Silverbacks season ticket holder, I’m greatly disturbed by the way the club was run. I’m not really that optimistic that the league will find a new owner and that we will have a club next season. I hope I’m proven wrong, or that I win the lottery.

    • CTBlues

      March 5, 2015 at 1:57 pm

      NASL should just put a bullet in the back of the Silverbacks head and move on. They need need teams in the Pacific time zone asap.

      • Heimdall

        March 6, 2015 at 1:09 am

        I like NASL’s standards and their median attendance is high compared to USL, but if I want to own a non-MLS professional team, I’m joining USL. If it’s in a city in the Pacific time zone, then it’s even more of a no brainer.

    • Eplnfl

      March 5, 2015 at 9:37 pm

      Paul: while I am not calling it a victory for the players the new CBA is an improvement. Probably 55-45 owner win. I think the leadership at NASL saw a stike on the MLS horizon and felt they could gain from it. That won’t happen and the talk of NASL as a soccer AFL was all hot air.

      I do think that NASL if it now as Kartik suggests accepts that it is the best place for the home of division 2 soccer in America can help move American soccer further up the ladder in the soccer world. In part we in the US will be thought less of as a soccer nation until we have strong lower division soccer.

  9. Alex Gago

    March 5, 2015 at 11:57 am

    Hold your horses, not so fast Kartik! To say that this is the end of the NASL is a little disingenuous, don’t you think? It’s like saying the English football pyramid system doesn’t work and the second division teams are threw they can’t operate under new player salary. Your argument is flawed, This agreement took U.S. Soccer pyramid closer to relegation than we all might think, right?

    • Kartik Krishnaiyer

      March 5, 2015 at 9:11 pm

      By the time we get PRO/REL USL might be D2 and NASL either gone or in a weakened state. The reality is NASL has gotten a lot of 35k to 50k MLS players by competing on those players. 38% of so of the MLS players made under 60k last year. Next year none will. NASL will either have to find owners who can spend more on players or just accept being what they are.

      • Tomas

        March 6, 2015 at 8:03 pm

        I’ve heard that just as before when there were 2 minimum salaries in mls(48K and 36K for the younger players) that there is still the 2 levels for this cba, 60K and 42K.

  10. Nature Guy

    March 5, 2015 at 11:48 am

    I think one effect of the MLS salary increases, especially at the lower end, will be that it will compel the NASL to raise its basic salary structure, too, especially at the lower end, in order to maintain whatever competitiveness there’s ever been in the level of play between the players of both leagues. (Not to do so may well mean hiring bottom level (entry level) or totally aged-out players seeking to continue playing a few more years. IMO, if the NASL doesn’t increase it’s wage structure (especially at the lower end), it will, indeed, fall behind into relative obscurity.

    • Heimdall

      March 6, 2015 at 1:28 am

      NASL teams has to overcome not being MLS by offering more money or a better role. Raising minimum salary just increases the appeal over USL. To improve NASL teams, they need more MLS starters or fringe starting talent. Increase in low end spending won’t get this done, but upper end spending increase might.

  11. Kei

    March 5, 2015 at 11:21 am

    “The CBA appears to be a big victory for MLS players”

    And this sentence appears to be a monumental distortion of reality.

    The “28-8 Rule” is tantamount to self-allocation, which still puts management firmly in control of player movement. There’s scarcely any incentive for a high school prospect or a standout college player to pursue a career in a league where they may not be able to choose their own destinations until the prime of their careers.

    If NASL can find enough ambitious investors (whether ownership or media), and convince enough young talent to buy into their approach, then they may yet find second wind in their #SoccerWar against MLS.

  12. StrikersFan

    March 5, 2015 at 10:45 am

    Wow Kartik. It pains me to say this because I know how knowledgeable you are, but I have to disagree with a few points.
    1. New CBA is a “big victory” for MLS players. I have a real hard time with this one. Yes it marginally helps the guys at the bottom of the salary structure, and yes I understand that means a lot higher percentage of the overall players than it does in most US sports leagues. But to trade that very modest gain for not pursuing true free agency….I can’t fathom that. What’s the average career length of a player in MLS? How many of them are ever going to meet that 8 year rule? And if they are lifetime or journeyman MLS players (can’t think of who else would actually be in the league that long) how much actual value will they even get from finally attaining “free agency’ at that point in their career? This one I strongly disagree with you on, other than the effect it will have on NASL teams possibly poaching the occasional disgruntled MLS player.
    2. USL gaining D2 status. Unless USSF has no qualms about appearing to be completely under MLS control, this can’t happen. What was the point of, rightly mind you, instituting proper D2 standards to stop the churn (mainly by the USL!) of failing teams in D2, if you’re going to allow a league to attain that status who IS GOING TO HAVE many teams that don’t come anywhere near being able to meet most of the standards? Either the USL thinks they’ll be able to get waivers passed out like 5 cent candies all over the place, or it’s just more of their usual anti-NASL rhetoric making noise with no substance.
    3. “Bill Peterson is a smart and savvy survivor of the sports business.” Ok, my well-known bias aside (still blocked on Twitter by the by) – REALLY Kartik?!?!? The guy is an arrogant tool. During his tenure he’s said some of the most imbecilic things ever to come out of the mouth of a professional sports commissioner. The smart thing you want him to do, which is never mind “competing” with MLS just focus on yourself and being the best possible league you can be and let that take you wherever it may – he’ll NEVER do it. He’d rather you kicked him in the family jewels 100 times. And we know this because of the person who is pulling the strings on The Crown Commish of Clownishness – AD.

  13. Kartik Krishnaiyer

    March 5, 2015 at 10:21 am

    Let me state here that as a former longtime NASL employee I support the league completely. I am just analyzing the situation here as someone who fears NASL is a big loser in all this. I have noticed recently so many of the proponents of NASL and particularly Cosmos fans aren’t mired in the reality of the soccer business in the United States. The reality is NASL is a HIGHER LEVEL, more professional (though not completely pro by my standard) league than USL. But it is nowhere near MLS in terms of any standard. The quality of play is actually the place it is arguably closest to MLS. The ability of MLS now to offer more money to kinds of players who choose NASL and the MLS/USL partnership which by the way HAS HAD a serious impact in NASL Expansion (why do you think NASL is struggling to close ownership deal for expansion teams? Bill Peterson is a smart guy but external forces he cannot control are over taking him IMO) and the writing is on the wall that NASL’s shelf life is about to expire without a major pivot or some new external factor entering the picture.

    • Alex Gago

      March 7, 2015 at 1:20 am

      But analysis without facts is opinion! What you presented here is purely an opinion editorial piece not an analysis on soccer.

      • super390

        March 7, 2015 at 9:58 am

        I think – as an outsider – that the MLS has deliberately closed off the NASL as a path for wealthy owners to develop their franchises for promotion the way it was for Montreal and in the pre-USL breakup days for the northwest teams. Putting a team in Atlanta and forcing the Silverbacks out (inevitably) is a declaration of war. Investors will be scared of the NASL’s future prospects. That’s based on the history of past sports league wars. And if MLS is the USSF’s baby, then you will see more bad calls in Hunt Cup interleague matches, roadblocks for NASL teams seeking lucrative friendlies, etc. FIFA is a gangster syndicate and USSF and MLS are your friendly neighborhood affiliates.

  14. nickp91

    March 5, 2015 at 8:40 am

    If I was Peterson, I would be looking at expansion with extra scrutiny now. Instead of owners that meet D2 standards, I’d start at D1 standards for money. The $20 million dollar owner is now out of the equation – the NASL needs $100 million dollar owners to buy in and compete. Why? Because small moneyed franchises are going to drag the league down.

    • campaign expert

      March 5, 2015 at 10:04 am

      NASL already had increased its net worth requirement to $40 million. But I think they have been realistically looking at people over $100 million in net worth for a long time. 2 of the 3 new owners have net worth over $400 million (Minnesota and Tampa Bay).

      • Kartik Krishnaiyer

        March 5, 2015 at 10:54 am

        Correct and those two organizations operate on a really high level. But others don’t. Fort Lauderdale’s new owners are unable to compete even in this NASL landscape for players and technical staff, and probably should drop to D3 if NASL attracts even more Edwards or McGuire type owners. Atlanta and Carolina have to constantly get creative to be competitive as well. NASL is becoming a tiered league and while at the top that is good, at the bottom it’s a real problem.

        • Tomas

          March 5, 2015 at 6:47 pm

          Is it their unable or they don’t wish to at this time? One of the 3 Brazilian owners sold his company for over &700 Million. They can adjust going forward when they see the need to.

          • Tonto

            March 7, 2015 at 12:32 pm

            How many is a Brazilian?

  15. Vamos Viktor

    March 5, 2015 at 4:25 am

    It’s as if this piece was written by MLS’s minister of propaganda. You’re mostly correct in valuations of NASL’s struggles with certain teams and aspects of it’s bottom line. However you’re grossly misstating MLS’s cache globally. It’s becoming a growing trend for soccer voices in America to point out the disparity between MLS’s wage bill, which doesn’t look to have grown by much, and it’s stated goal of becoming a top league by 2022. Don’t get me wrong, i believe in MLS and am a diehard fan. However reality is that world soccer legitimacy, heck or even challenging Liga MX for North American dominance begins and ends almost exclusively with cold hard cash.

    I anticipated the owners wanting to spend more than the reported 15% hike. What matters more is what each subsequent year’s growth will look like. Such disconnect between league rhetoric and club wage bills reduces such lofty talk to mere hyperbole.

    • GarryLewis

      March 5, 2015 at 9:24 am

      You do know he worked for the NASL right?

      • Kirk Vangilder

        March 5, 2015 at 12:25 pm

        Yeah I’m sure he voluntarily left his director-role with the NASL to write articles like this on World Soccer Talk.

  16. Tomas

    March 5, 2015 at 2:10 am

    I think your overstating the new MLS CBA’s effect on NASL – slight increase in minimum salary from 48K to 60K and quite limited restricted free agency at 28 and 8 years in MLS. NASL will continue to strengthen and improve ownership. They can contend with this 5yr CBA no problem but need to continue to work hard. Avoid head to head markets with MLS though going forward.

    • Jimmy Smith

      March 5, 2015 at 4:18 am

      The previous minimum salary was $36,500.

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