The Sun Sets on the North American Soccer League
The 2018 North American Soccer League (NASL) Season has been in question since September 2017 when U.S. Soccer revoked their Division II status. While the failed litigation and the subsequent cancellation of the season surprised few, it is a sad story of a once flourishing league and, in part, of the American Dream.
On February 27, 2018, the North American Soccer League (NASL) announced that it had canceled the 2018 season after failing to receive a preliminary injunction preventing the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) from revoking the NASL’s Division II status.
While lawsuits against USFF and most of the members of its Board of Directors are waging on, the NASL maintains it is exploring playing options for the 2019 season, but the future looks dim for the proud league and its team owners.
Rocco B. Commisso, the Chairman of the NASL Board of Governors is also the principal owner of New York Cosmos, believes that the USFF has unfairly asserted its ruling power in an anticompetitive manner and he is far from giving up the fight.
Now, the NASL has sued the U.S. Soccer directors — and the named defendants are USSF’s soon to retire president Sunil Gulati, soon to be president Carlos Cordeiro, CEO Daniel Flynn, and board members Valerie Ackerman, Chris Ahrens, Carlos Bocanegra, Lisa Carnoy, John Collins, Don Garber, Jesse Harrell, Angela Hucles, Stephen Malik, Richard Moeller, Donna Shalala and Timothy Turney.
USASA’s president John Motta is the only voting board member who was not named in the lawsuit. Motta is also the only member of the board who voted to sustain NASL Division II sanctioning.
Unlike Major League Soccer, which owns their clubs and has shareholders, the NASL is structured on a club level with the teams owned individually. Commercial profit and loss decisions are left to individual team owners.
Is the MLS league model better? Its careful orchestration under the leadership of Commissioner Don Garber has certainly enabled the value of its league to rise significantly and the entry price expansion teams are willing to pay is clear proof.
Has there been discriminatory action or proper sanctioning when it comes to the maintenance of Professional League Standards? These standards are the set of requirements which leagues must satisfy to obtain USSF sanctioning. Is the lack of promotion and relegation in our country shielding the one top-tier league sanctioned by the U.S. Soccer? Does the MLS receive preferential treatment and need this protection? Would capital be flowing if the fear of relegation loomed?
While the questions of antitrust issues are for the US District Court – Eastern District of New York and the U.S. Court of Appeals, and perhaps for other courts to answer, the heart of this issue is how viable is the NASL and what is in the best interest of the sustainability of professional soccer in the USA?
The NASL has been shrinking for years, regardless of their valiant efforts.
There is also the all-important question of the indomitable American spirit. Should the governing body of soccer in the USA put a league essentially out of business or allow natural market forces to determine the ‘invisible hand’ of economics?
If Adam Smith was writing his book ‘The Wealth of Nations’ today, what would he say?
If owners of clubs like the Cosmos wish to pay to play and field a team, why not? Why does the Federation want to impact free enterprise by revoking NASL’s Divison II sanctioning and offering a lower standing? Is the failing NASL that much of an embarrassment?
Perhaps it is just natural market forces that pushed Indy Eleven to leave NASL to join the USL. USL’s CEO Alec Papadakis has created a strong league and San Diego based 1904 FC will probably join next spring.
Many experts say the NASL is a dying league and the USFF decision just solves the league’s languishing and eventual inescapable demise. But obviously, the death of any soccer league is not good for soccer in America.
The bottom line:
Are soccer fans growing tired of NASL’s fight?
It almost seems more people discuss the plight of the NASL than those who attended the league’s games.
Here is the statement issued by the NASL:
On September 1, 2017, the USSF’s Board of Directors took a decision to revoke the NASL’s Division II status jeopardizing the future of the league and its member clubs.
On September 19, NASL filed an antitrust suit in Federal Court in the Eastern District of New York seeking a preliminary injunction to preserve the NASL’s Division II status while the Court considers the underlying claims.
On November 4, the District Court denied the NASL’s motion for a preliminary injunction and on February 23, 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the District Court’s decision.
NASL Interim Commissioner Rishi Sehgal issued the following statement:
“The focus of the antitrust suit to date has been obtaining a preliminary injunction to save the 2018 Season. Unfortunately, with USSF’s decision and the loss of the preliminary injunction, playing the 2018 Season is no longer a possibility. The focus of the antitrust suit now shifts to securing the long-term advancement of soccer in this country, not only for the NASL, but for all soccer fans, clubs, and communities impacted by the USSF’s restrictions on competition.”
“Also, the NASL is prosecuting a breach of fiduciary duty action against certain USSF Board members for conflicts of interest and derelictions of duty which have harmed the NASL and countless other constituents in U.S. Soccer. The NASL and its clubs will look at all avenues to return to the field for the 2019 Season.”
During the NASL’s hiatus from competition, three NASL members, the Jacksonville Armada FC, Miami FC, and New York Cosmos, will be fielding teams in the National Premier Soccer League with play scheduled to begin on April 15, 2018.