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Leagues: NASL

NASL’s Bill Peterson moves pro/rel conversation forward


NASL Commissioner Bill Peterson gave a wide-ranging interview on an array of topics related to the second division in the United States and Canada to The Telegraph newspaper this week. The most talked about and controversial comments by Peterson relate to promotion and relegation within the league system in North America.

For five plus years, the NASL has courted the fourth division NPSL as a potential partner. These discussions, which began in June 2010, intensified after a partnership was announced between first division Major League Soccer (MLS) and third division USL. This partnership involves the loaning of players and the parking of MLS reserve teams within the USL structure.

Commissioner Peterson states in the interview that he will appeal to the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) to try and push for promotion and relegation. Currently USSF bylaws do not provide for promotion and relegation based on league place. However, five of the last seven new franchises in Major League Soccer were formerly lower division sides that were “promoted” to the top division for strictly economic purposes. Additionally, five former second division clubs are currently playing third division soccer having self-relegated for economic reasons at various points over the last decade.

Peterson’s feeling that the NASL could set up a promotion and relegation scheme with the NPSL is a bit naïve. While Chattanooga FC drew close to 20,000 fans for this past weekend’s NPSL final, most NPSL sides hardly have enough market penetration or the types of facilities that will sustain a second division club financially for even one season. Additionally, the NPSL itself has always been a bit of an ad-hoc league with various regional divisions having virtual autonomy under which to operate and schedule matches. This likely would not fit cleanly with the NASL’s team-driven yet strong league office model.

Regional considerations must play a role in any discussion of promotion and relegation in North America. Most fans in this part of the world that advocate promotion and relegation look to Europe for inspiration. But the trip from Newcastle to Swansea , the longest possible trip in the Premier League, is shorter than any road trip Orlando City currently makes in MLS.

Travel budgets are the single biggest expense for second division clubs and the sprawling nature of NASL’s map is one of the reasons several clubs have self-relegated to the more regionalized play of division 3 USL. Peterson rightly understands this dilemma and that is why, despite the constant pressure to add teams on the west coast, he is wisely waiting until he has several sides ready to play before pulling the trigger. A single geographically isolated club like Edmonton in NASL or Orlando in MLS can rack up incredibly expensive travel bills. For smaller sides that barely get by as is, the increased exposure of being in a higher division is unlikely to completely offset the need to travel cross-continent.

Simply put, the infrastructure to implement a promotion and relegations scheme does not currently exist within the United States or Canada, and changes will need to be made structurally over time to make it possible.

Still, a large number of American soccer fans and players would like to see promotion and relegation eventually implemented. The logistical challenges are immense, but by starting the conversation, perhaps Peterson can frame a discussion that logically looks at how to achieve this goal over a 10 or 15 year period. Investment in lower division soccer in North American must increase and at some point MLS’ number of teams must be capped. With this in mind, promotion and relegation remains a commendable goal, but currently too many inequities exist in lower division soccer, especially when it comes to travel, to push for an immediate change. However, if NASL and USSF were to team up and state, let’s say, by 2025 or 2030 promotion and relegation should be implemented, perhaps that would give NPSL enough time to improve their structures and investment while allowing MLS owners to get used to the idea.

The other possibility is that NPSL and NASL implement promotion and relegation without MLS and USL participating. That might provide a short-term novelty but probably has long-term viability issues particularly for the promoted NPSL clubs. It also would essentially break the league structure within North America in two and that is something that the USSF should be working to avoid at all costs.

The promotion and relegation conversation continues to evolve within American soccer circles. Every passing year brings more discussion and that’s probably a good thing. However, the system is not strong or mature enough yet for implementation anytime soon.

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  1. Alexasnder Gago

    August 15, 2015 at 7:34 pm

    I can’t wait for the merger to go down. Looks like a couple of NPSL clubs will move to NASL from the west cost. The rest of the NPSL clubs will be NASL 2.0 Bill is correct Pro relegation of this size will spawn huge interest in the clubs that move to NASL from NPSL as new fans from these clubs will fill up seats and coverage and new TV soccer coverage, infrastructure will be built benefiting soccer fans, clubs and USSOCCCER. a WIN! WIN! for everybody. a HUGE business deal for all owners. Congrats Bill !

  2. WSW

    August 13, 2015 at 11:38 pm

    Why are MLSer’s even commenting, has nothing to do with them or their wannabe-delusional NFL system.

  3. R

    August 12, 2015 at 2:01 am

    Left unmentioned is how behind this idea the actual NASL clubs are. How many of them would be fine with being busted down to the fourth division after paying that $5 million dollar expansion fee? It’s easy for them to argue for pro/rel when they’re talking about a route to MLS, but how many of them will actually take the risk of going down to NPSL based on principle? This could ruin teams.

    • Kartik Krishnaiyer

      August 12, 2015 at 4:45 pm

      Good point and most NPSL teams don’t have anything near the financial wherewithal to get through a year in NASL.

  4. Alexasnder Gago

    August 11, 2015 at 3:28 pm

    What a bunch of opinionated crap. You must by naïve to think travel expenses and break the league structure is the reason why Pro relegation is the reason why we don’t have the pyramid system. While journalism is supporting argument back up with fact is once again tabloid journalism, opinionated NASL is not going away anytime soon Kartik so get over your grievance for getting fired at NASL.

    • Tim

      August 11, 2015 at 4:47 pm

      Only two years ago the NASL had a team trading players for hotel stays and travel expenses….Id say they are a long long way from pro/rel or any type of legitamicy. The NASL game of the week will be very appealing coming from (insert high school football stadium name here).

      • Kartik Krishnaiyer

        August 11, 2015 at 5:00 pm

        The Restrepo trade was the only one of that kind reported. But that type business was the norm in NASL and USL for years. And it made sense. I defended the Strikers on it. Got value for a player and actually got to use multiple times the following season including in the NASL final. People found humor in it but that is simply the reality of American lower division soccer. Most of these teams aren’t close to MLS level in terms of business and marketing even if the on-the-field product is closer in terms of quality (which I believe it is).

    • Kartik Krishnaiyer

      August 11, 2015 at 4:58 pm

      Do you have any idea how high the travel budgets are for the teams? Upwards of 50-60% of team budgets are spent on travel. An NPSL team that has a small facility and buses teams to every game in the region if promoted to NASL would have to increase team income about ten fold just to pay for travel with the EXISTING amateur or semipro team. NPSL teams don’t travel outside their immediate region. In fact for years, NPSL held off on Florida expansion until they had enough teams to start a Florida division because even the cost of travel from Huntsville or Chattanooga to Orlando or Tampa was cost-prohibitive. That’s why Peterson having learned some of his early barbs at MLS were ill-founded and how hard it is at the lower division level in the US is smartly waiting for several teams to be ready for west coast expansion.

      As having a grievance, most MLS fans think to this day I am unabashedly pro-NASL. Problem is soccer fandom in this country has divided into an NASL camp and an MLS camp. Just yesterday on Twitter someone asked me to stop watching and covering both leagues and “pick a side.” So basically being on the side of soccer growth in this country isn’t good enough. Wanting watch local teams in this state which cover both leagues is wrong. Somehow you should “pick a side.” With that mentality we’ll never grow the game.

      • Tim

        August 12, 2015 at 8:03 am

        I actually watch a lot of NASL on ESPN3…I just get annoyed with all this pro/rel will be the solution to make US soccer big. At this point it does not make a bit of sense and the idea that you should support one league or the other is also crazy.

      • yespage

        August 12, 2015 at 8:46 am

        As having a grievance, most MLS fans think to this day I am unabashedly pro-NASL.

        Most people that can read know you are pro-NASL.

  5. AdamEdg

    August 11, 2015 at 2:52 pm

    Why are you giving any credibility to Peterson’s comments?! The NASL has virtually no influence on the USSF and certainly cannot dictate the implementation of a pro/rel system that sidesteps the established top tier league in the US. Given that three of the five leagues (MLS, USL, PDL) in the country are currently in a relationship that does not favor pro/rel, and a fourth (NPSL) seems a bit hesitant, this appears to be another example of the NASL pretending to compete with our true, sanctioned top tier league. Once again, the NASL is puffing their chests and making gestures about competing with MLS. Only this time they are doing so by favoring a system that is impractical and does nothing to actually (in a realistic sense) improve the game.
    Is English soccer better because of pro/rel? No. It’s better because the teams have a hundred years of history being the ONLY game in town. They are established. They have serious money. But, in many ways, the EPL is absolutely terrible. There are 4, maybe 5 teams in a given year that have a shot at winning the league – and they are ALWAYS the same teams. Even if you follow City, ManU, Chelsea, or Arsenal, how exciting is it to watch your team play recently promoted jobbers and a revolving cast of mid table dwellers fro most of the season?
    The closest approximation in the US would be MLB or NFL teams. Nobody is arguing that a pro/rel system in baseball would make the league better… Euro hockey leagues have pro/rel. Does that make them better than the NHL?
    “…a large number of American soccer fans and players would like to see promotion and relegation eventually implemented…”
    I would love to meet one. Seriously, I would. Especially if he/she could give me a valid reason why this system would be better – in any capacity – than having the constantly growing and strengthening system we currently enjoy. Look at this season, as an example. Who would have predicted that RBNY would be good?! And enjoyable to watch?! If we had pro/rel, we never would have witnessed the rebirth of KC and the amazing teams they’ve had since the rebrand.
    The fact is that the soccer leagues we currently have – even NASL – owe their existence to the structure of MLS. For the first time in history, we have a stable first division; it’s on its 20th season of play! And we have fairly stable minor leagues going too. The affiliation with MLS has certainly helped USL find its feet. That league is growing at a steady and logical clip, with an emphasis on regional play. The amateur ranks (NPSL & PDL) will continue to suffer some level of instability, but there are a growing number of teams that have become institutions in both leagues and the number of one and done operations seems to decrease every year.
    The only league that is having stability issues is… yup the NASL. Having your primary investor and several key people arrested by the FBI for corruption is never a good business strategy, but I do feel sympathetic for everyone affected by that. But that doesn’t change the fact that their best markets (and in some cases, owners) are being lost to MLS expansion with a couple more actively seeking MLS. Their inability to follow the directives of USSF with regard to geography is a reflection of their inability to attract owners rather than a conscious decision based on principles. Of course they want a pro/rel system with a widespread league like the NPSL. It’s the quickest way to meet that objective. I don’t hate the NASL, by the way. I support all levels of soccer in the US, but I definitely see their motivations as a hindrance to the progress being made by the other four leagues.

    • Matt Blanton

      August 12, 2015 at 3:24 am

      One of the best comments ever AdamEdg. Promotion/relegation is such a joke, I only feel bad for the people who discuss this idea for MLS. Please give it up and see the true potential that a 30 team league can truly have on the American soccer landscape. We are already on the best path. Please forget about the English way, it does not pertain to us. Can you imagine a billionaire who has invested untold amounts of money on the fledgling MLS only for it to become slightly successful enough for 3rd division/poor teams with LITTLE INVESTMENT to speak of trumping the brave founding fathers of this soon to be great league??? IT MAKES NO SENSE, Why would you stick your middle finger up to these brave souls in favor of absolute CHANCE that a 3rd or 4th division team with little investment and a bit of good luck would be better for a top tier league.

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