Peterson touts West Coast NASL announcement by “end of year,” Canadian expansion, more

IMAGE, INDYELEVEN.COM

EOS sat down with NASL Commissioner Bill Peterson to discuss a variety of different topics across the American soccer landscape.
In this second of a three-part series, Peterson gives an extensive look at the NASL’s expansion plans, hardships and ambitions.


The NASL is at an interesting crossroads.

In their fourth year of operations, the league has broken division two attendance records, averaging just over 5,000 fans per match this season.  Their players have garnered interest from the U.S. and other National Team programs across the world.  Further, they continue to have their eyes on expansion, particularly out west and within Canada.

However, those accomplishments and aspirations come with several harsh lessons.  For the many strides NASL Commissioner Bill Peterson touts on the expansion front, there are an equal number of situations which have fallen short of expectations.

“Expansion is a process that requires you to be patient and diligent and not get too excited or optimistic or pessimistic because things turn on a dime,” Peterson tells EOS.  “We have lived through that the past two years with groups we thought were in and for whatever reason, they weren’t. We have had others we never heard of now in the league!

“We just have to be very diligent with the process and to make sure people buy are vision have the resources are well respected and will be relevant in their community.”

CALIFORNIA CLUB ANNOUNCEMENT LOOMS

Peterson openly speaks about the league’s need for a west coast footprint.  In fact, he believes NASL may have the ability to announce a California club by year’s end.

Currently, the league’s furthest Western representation within the United States comes in the form of Minnesota United and the San Antonio Scorpions.  Though not offering much in terms of details, he does name San Francisco, Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego as prime markets of interest.

“We have conversations going on in each one of them,” Peterson explains.  “It’s a big undertaking. Those are big major markets. We go slow as well as the people that are interested to make sure we have everything right when we go out there.

“You have to get the community involved, the government involved, short and long term stadium plans, soccer community, the ownership groups. The groups we have are very meticulous on their evaluation of their planning.  We can see teams out there announced by the end of the year.”

THE GREAT WHITE NORTH

While those conversations progress, a separate but equally important series of discussions are happening just north of the border.  The NASL has developed a strong relationship with the Canadian Soccer Association.  Currently, there is no first division sanction within Canada for any league.  NASL, struggling with their own classification under the American soccer pyramid, has found a fast ally in the CSA, whom are hoping to build upon the sports growth in their country.

“Both of us believe there is more opportunity to develop professional soccer in Canada,” Peterson explains.  “Our message to them was we are willing to work with you to explore that and figure out what that means for them. We will be good partners.

“Conversations have started, though it is really early days, but we can see a couple more teams in Canada the next two years. They are not a partner but they are supporting our efforts and our league and we think there are plenty of markets and the game is growing quickly.”

The conversations, Peterson says, may not be as obvious as people may think.

“I don’t know that we talk about first division or second division because they don’t have promotion and relegation!” Peterson exclaims.  “I don’t think they are really thinking about that. They are thinking about professional soccer which then takes away any obstacles to getting done what you want to get done. That is providing high level soccer for their fans. They want to grow their fan base, they want to grow their player base.”

One recent report links NASL to a possible Toronto team, while others link the league towards a steadfast association with the Canadian Football League.  Through the CFL, NASL clubs would instantly find the infrastructure necessary to launch professional soccer throughout the Canadian landscape.

While not addressing those particular reports, Peterson acknowledges the possibilities.

“We have targeted three or four cities that we would like to have some discussions in,” he explains. “Early discussion have happened in two of those at least, and I suspect the other two will happen in the next few weeks and we will gauge where we are from there.

“They have infrastructure there, they have a desire. The teams are doing well so there is a track record. There are a lot of positives, but as in any situation, right owner, right city, and all the things on the checklist have to check off. Its a long process.

“It’s hard to get too excited at this point.”

While downplaying the possibilities, Peterson does acknowledge that, if all goes accordingly, Canada can help push the league to the 18-team threshold “within 18 months.”

“That is just a really healthy relationship,” he said.  “We like the people up there and our teams up there are big assets for us and we will continue to work together to build the game up. It’s very pure. It’s very good.”

ATLANTA, VIRGINIA, OKLAHOMA and PUERTO RICO

As the league continues to explore expansion possibilities, several announced expansion clubs have all but stalled out in their pursuit of a professional side — while one established club sees an uncertain future.

Recently, Atlanta issued a statement regarding the club’s situation following reports of a sale.  A disappointing season both on and off the field and the announced launch of the much-ballyhooed MLS franchise spearheaded by Falcons’ owner Arthur Blank put the Silverbacks in a precarious position.  Ownership is said to be holding onto the Silverbacks name, but are open to selling their club infrastructure whether within Atlanta or outside of the city.

Regardless of that outcome, the NASL hopes to have a team in Atlanta for 2015 — with or without the Silverbacks.

“We are evaluating a lot of different situations with the club,” Peterson said. “Our number one goal and intention is to continue to have a team in Atlanta.   We like the market place and love the fans we have there. We think here is even more room to grow that club and be more successful than we have been, but we have to make some decisions on ownership and the direction of the club and are working everyday on that.

“It is a high priority,” he continues.  “We realize we are leaving some fans and employees in the lurch not knowing what is going on, but we are putting our 100% effort in finding the right answer.

“I suspect they will be there [for 2015]. Our owners have been committed to that market for years and we will find a way to keep going there. I can’t promise that today but that is everyone’s intention. The owners of our league believe in that market place and want to find the right solution.”

While that situation is sorted, the Virginia Cavalry, Oklahoma City FC and the Puerto Rico Islanders continue what the Commissioner calls an ownership “re-organization.” Each, Peterson says, are close to finalizing deals.  How close remains to be seen.

He did, however, reveal none of the three were expected to take the field anytime prior to 2016.

“Until it is done,” he warns, “it is not done.”

MLS POACHING NASL MARKETS

Two of the league’s most vibrant success stories have been the San Antonio Scorpions and Minnesota United.  Not only have both sides performed admirably on the field, but they have also been model clubs that have garnered local support and grown their attendance numbers this season.

As they continue their growth trend, MLS interest has picked up, revealing a mutual interest in a relationship.   San Antonio owner Gordan Hartman once said he would leave the door open to an MLS move.  The city Mayor backed the idea as well.

For now, those aspirations appear to be muted.

“[San Antonio owner] Gordon Hartman has said he is not going to another league.  He is going to stay in this league, but if someone else came in and took the team from him, they could go where they want. It’s a free country,” Peterson explains.  “Gordon I think has been clear that as long as he is going to be a soccer owner, he will be one in this league. He has been a very good owner for is. He is very focused, very committed, is a great board member and I hope that he is in this league for a long, long time.”

While that may be the case, a report out of San Antonio paints a different picture.  A potential investment group is said to be looking into the possibility of purchasing the Scorpions from Hartman at a price upwards of $30 million.

Minnesota, however, paints a murkier picture. Vikings Vice President of Public Affairs, Lester Bagley, has declared their intent of bringing MLS to Minnesota. That puts United owner Bill McGuire in a difficult position.

“Will the market support two teams or not? I tend to believe that maybe it could, but local ownership might have a different idea,” Peterson explains. “I don’t know what will happen there and it is a little unfortunate. Bill McGuire has done an excellent job of re-establishing a team and bringing stability to that team and really bringing stability for the fans. He is building a great fanbase that is growing darn near every week. He is competitive, puts a competitive team on the field and I would hate to see that affected in any way.

“I hope he is in this league for years and years to come,” he continues. “He is a great owner and he has been great for soccer up there.”

  • Yoda

    “We like the marketplace and love the fans we have there.”

    NASL fans or Silverbacks fans?

    The league would be wise to find Boris’ price for the name (you know he has one) and keep all ATL fans united.

  • I wonder if Hartman’s lack of appetite to go up to MLS may be due to the amount of revenue he can keep for himself and what gets sent to the league. They generated about a third of a million dollars last year for Morgan’s Wonderland. Maybe the costs involved in moving up to MLS will stunt that.

  • Given the size of the market, Atlanta might be able to support two teams, if there were far enough apart. Minneapolis is a different story. For better or worse, people would gravitate to the MLS side. The United could then either stay and fight the good fight to survive, or relocate to their own market. There are still plenty of cities that can support an NASL team but are not in line for an MLS team. Milwaukee is one of them. The United, the silverbacks or another team suddenly faced with MLS competition could easily establish themselves in Milwaukee and have the entire market of 1 million to themselves. There’s even a great stadium and active supporters group already in place.

    • Jerry S.

      Get your own club, Derek. ;)

      #SaveOurSilverbacks. (Notice it doesn’t say #GiveUsGenericNASLTeam.)

      • Hah! I can certainly understand your desire not to lose the silverbacks. And that’s fine. But business is business. Will Atlanta really support 2 soccer teams during baseball season? Milwaukee is probably 1/4 the size of Atlanta and yet attendance at Brewer games is much higher than Braves games. Atlanta doesn’t exactly have a stellar reputation for supporting their sports teams. Something will have to give and maybe that’s why the current owners want to sell now while the price is still high.

  • Fred

    I wouldn’t mind having some more geographic variety in NASL.

    San Diego? Las Vegas? Phoenix or Tucson? Santa Fe? Tulsa? Milwaukee? St. Louis? Memphis? Nashville? New Orleans? Cincinnati? Detroit? Baltimore? Buffalo? Lotta cities up for grabs.

    • Alistair

      St.Louis and Cincinnati are out of the picture because the USL Pro. They should at Hartford Ct. El Paso, Cleveland and San Francisco.

  • Joseph Linhart

    Fred I would add to that list cities such as Hartford, Chattanooga, Birmingham, Des Moines, Omaha, Winnipeg, Calgary, Hamilton, Quebec City. Many of these places already have USL PDL or NPSL teams that with the right investor and stadium situation could be promoted to NASL or at least USL Pro. I would add that if NASL wishes to further legitimize itself that, in addition to establishing academies and building dedicated stadia, it should look to create a relationship with NPSL much as MLS has done with USL. If NASL does want to work within the pyramid, it can approximate its own or at least aid in player development.

    • Anonymous

      I want these Canadian cities in.
      I like this article.

  • Jason

    So it’s January…no announcements by the end of 2014? Okay, then.