Antitrust lawsuit: NASL dug its own grave despite USSF-MLS collusion

What do investors in soccer do when they’ve made one bad business decision after another? And to make matters worse, when they’ve shifted from one rhetorical strategy to another? Sue their governing body, of course!

This is the path the North American Soccer League (NASL) has chosen to justify the league’s complete failure to create a stable and successful second division that works within the confines of US Soccer. After seven seasons as a sanctioned Division II league, NASL was informed on September 1, 2017 that they would not be approved as a D II league by the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) for 2018.

While the peculiar structure of soccer in the United States is something that should be reformed, NASL has fallen badly within a current system that they have willingly participated in and within which they have sought and received investment and protections in the marketplace. NASL’s goal to challenge first division MLS while perhaps noble was always doomed to failure whether or not the USSF put its thumbs on the scale or not. But it was perhaps unwise of the USSF to continue to overtly do business with MLS and its marketing arm, Soccer United Marketing (SUM), and allow SUM to negotiate TV and marketing deals on the USSF’s behalf that favor MLS. Regardless, NASL has dug its own grave and while an antitrust lawsuit against the USSF from another entity might have more standing, NASL is the wrong party to file such a suit as they have for seven years benefitted in one way or another from the USSF’s governance of the sport in this country.

The lawsuit filed on Tuesday alleges “that the USSF has selectively applied and waived its divisional criteria to suppress competition from the NASL, both against MLS and against United Soccer League (USL). For example, under the USSF’s divisional criteria, there are European clubs that have successfully operated for decades that would be considered ineligible for “Division I” or even “Division II” status due to arbitrary requirements like stadium capacity and market size.”

This is completely disingenuous. First, NASL has been granted Division II status for the last seven seasons and has required waivers in each of those seven years. These waivers have been granted by the USSF time and again and have included at various times, NASL not having the correct number of teams to be a sanctioned Division II league or enough US-based teams or being in the required three time zones with its US based teams. Second, European clubs are subjected to standards similar to the USSF’s divisional standards but ones that apply to those nations. For example, clubs in the English Championship and Premier League are required to have certain sized stadiums, and coaches are required to have UEFA Pro licenses.

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