New Pro League Grows American Soccer
Just days before the kick-off of the 2020 season, Diane Scavuzzo spoke with the National Independent Soccer Association (NISA) Commissioner, John Prutch on officially becoming the 3rd tier of American professional soccer, the goal of promotion-relegation and the value of NISA’s low-cost structure.
Professional soccer has grown tremendously in America. The MLS has expanded, and so has the USL Championship but it is the addition of the new third division of professional soccer in America that has made the biggest impact.
From providing new opportunities for a player to reach his dream of becoming a pro to bringing the beautiful game to underserved areas in America that are without pro soccer, National Independent Soccer Association (NISA) is changing the face of American soccer for the better.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Soccer Federation Pro League Membership accepted the NISA with a unanimous decision by the Board of Directors and Membership at the USSF AGM meeting in Nashville, Tennessee. A year ago, U.S. Soccer had granted only provisional sanctioning to NISA as a Professional Soccer League in the newly established third division.
NISA played its first games in the fall of 2019 with eight teams split evenly into a West and East coast group. The California United Strikers FC won the West Coast Championship and Miami FC raised the East Coast trophy, earning both teams with a slot in the spring 2020 playoffs.
Now, the kickoff of NISA’s Spring 2020 season is days away — launching on February 28th. The competition format is a single table with each team playing 14 games; 7 home games and 7 away games. And, if you can’t make it out to a game, all the matches will be live stream broadcast on MyCujoo.
NISA Spring 2020 Opening Weekend: February 28 – 29
The schedule for the NISA Spring Kick-Off is:
- Los Angeles Force vs. Detroit City FC: Feb 28, 7:30 PM PT Cal State LA
- Cal United Strikers FC vs. Michigan Stars FC: Feb 29, 6:00 PM PT Championship Stadium
- Oakland Roots vs. Chattanooga FC: Feb 29, 5:10 PM PT Laney Football Stadium
- Stumptown Athletic vs. 1904 FC : Feb 29, 7:04 PM ET OrthoCarolina Soccer Complex
SoccerToday Interview with NISA Commissioner, John Prutch
Diane Scavuzzo: Congratulations on NISA becoming fully sanctioned by U.S. Soccer. How does it feel?
John Prutch: It feels great. It obviously took a long time, and it’s great finally to be recognized as a voting member of the Pro League Council of U.S. Soccer.
Diane Scavuzzo: How is NISA impacting the American soccer pyramid?
John Prutch: NISA provides opportunities for real growth.
NISA has low barriers to entry — significantly lower than the franchise model — with the belief that clubs are better off investing their money in operating their team vs paying to own a team.
We call ourselves an open system — which basically means we are a voice and a platform for independent clubs in this country.
Diane Scavuzzo: How is NISA different?
John Prutch: NISA is different from the closed franchise system in several other ways — Club owners own NISA, control the Board of Governors and control governance within the league vs the franchise system where the franchisor owns the league, controls the Board and controls governance.
We also advocate for fan ownership and for clubs to have an Academy system.
Diane Scavuzzo: What do you mean by an Academy system?
John Prutch: Whether it’s a U.S. Soccer Development Academy (DA) or a club academy, we advocate that NISA clubs have their own youth soccer academies.
Diane Scavuzzo: NISA wants its clubs to provide a pathway for youth soccer players to become professional players?
John Prutch: That’s correct. Our long term goals are to create a critical mass of professional teams with their own pipeline of players, have an affiliation with an amateur system — and be the voice for all independent clubs, men’s and women’s.
Diane Scavuzzo: NISA is looking to expand and launch a women’s division in the future?
John Prutch: Initially, we’ll want to have an affiliation with women’s league.
Diane Scavuzzo: On the men’s side, are you looking to create opportunities for promotion-relegation?
John Prutch: Ultimately, down the road, we want promotion-relegation.
To begin with, we’d like to have an affiliation with an amateur system where we could have an incubator with teams that move up to the professional ranks. Then, as we get to a critical mass of teams inside of NISA, maybe we can establish multiple divisions with promotion-relegation.
We are in discussion with amateur leagues but again, it’s a bit premature to disclose who we’re in discussions with, but hopefully over the next few months that’ll become evident.
Diane Scavuzzo: Regarding the expansion of NISA, what are the plans for expansion in the next 12 to 24 months?
John Prutch: In the fall of 2020, we will probably play with 10 teams. Next spring, we’ll probably add four teams and play with 14 and then expand probably to 18 to 20 teams the following season.
We’re looking also to fill in the middle of the country. You’ll see us announcing teams the central part of the country for the spring of ’21.
Diane Scavuzzo: Are there restrictions on how many NISA teams can be in one market?
John Prutch: No, we just added a second team besides the Cosmos in New York, and we will do this in other markets as well.
We do not have territorial rights, which we think is very positive.
We don’t want to overload a single market but from a philosophical point of view, we don’t want to restrict growth.
Diane Scavuzzo: NISA is a reflection of the American spirit — and of democracy in action. Tell me, what inspires you?
John Prutch: Democracies are messy sometimes because everybody has a vote, but I will tell you at the end of the day, it is the best way to run an organization.
We have been very fortunate with very good owners inside of NISA who put aside their personal agendas for the benefit of the league.
The owners in NISA make decisions based upon what’s in the best interests of the overall league.
As a result, we’re going to be much stronger down the road than other organizations because of that system. This all inspires me.
Diane Scavuzzo: What is the greatest challenge facing NISA?
John Prutch: Sometimes it’s difficult for new teams or amateur clubs to move up to the professional ranks — there’s a learning curve and I think that’s the biggest challenge.
Another challenge that is really an opportunity is the size of our country. There are 137 metropolitan areas in the USA that are not represented by professional soccer. Our goal is to try and fill as many of those holes as we can. There’s a big part of this country that does not have an MLS team or a USL team.
NISA can come into these markets and be successful.
Diane Scavuzzo: What is the anticipated cost of travel for a club in NISA?
John Prutch: It really varies on many factors. Whether we play as a single table, as we are this spring, or if at some point in the future, we go to a conference schedule. For now, an estimate of travel costs for the average team is between $80,000 and $100,000.
Diane Scavuzzo: How financially stable are the teams competing in NISA?
John Prutch: We want to make sure our clubs competing are ready to play — both from an investment perspective as well as from an operations point of view.
Will there be failures in the future?
There are clubs that fail in every league. MLS went through it. USL went through it.
But NISA is committed to the success of our league.
Diane Scavuzzo: Why do you believe you are a good commissioner for the league?
John Prutch: I think there are two reasons. One is I’m an investment banker, and I have been in the sports industry for a long time. I have deep knowledge and understanding of how sports teams operate from a financial perspective. The second reason, and maybe the biggest reason, is because I have a real passion for this.
This whole idea of NISA was created by Peter Wilt and me on an airplane four years ago.
Peter brought in his partner Jack Cummins, but when Jack passed away, and Peter decided to leave, the idea was going to die. We picked up the baton and decided to run with it.
I like to say, “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?”
Diane Scavuzzo: NISA provided a lot of opportunities for soccer players to become soccer professionals. Do you see this as one of the benefits of NISA?
John Prutch: Yes, NISA has created over 200 additional professional players in America.
NISA gives an opportunity for young men who have been striving to accomplish a dream and just haven’t been given the chance.
This is very rewarding for us.
Diane Scavuzzo: Do you think that these new pros are going be able to compete effectively?
John Prutch: I do. It’s amazing, one of the things that’s hard to do with a player in any league or in any sport is to measure their heart.
Sometimes these players have been trying for years to become professionals. Commitment to a dream is something that just doesn’t get measured, and I think these players will show this on the field.
On a final note, I think everybody that reads this article should buy a ticket and get to a game. I think soccer fans will be surprised with the high quality of the clubs
For more information, please visit NISA