by JAKE NUTTING
The North American Soccer League have sent a shot across the bow of the U.S. Soccer Federation.
A story posted by the Financial Times in the UK reveals the league has sent notice to the American soccer governing body over grievances surrounding significant changes to the Division I league standards.
No one from the league office was directly quoted in the piece, but Jeffrey Kessler, a sports and antitrust attorney representing the NASL, commented on the current tension between the federation and the second division league in a leaked letter to the outlet.
The NASL’s main issue seems to be with proposed changes to the standards for Division I in the U.S after just amending the standards in early 2014. The new requirements dictate that to be Division I, a league must now have at least 16 teams (Up from 12), 75 percent of the teams in the league must have a population of 2 million (Up from 1 million) and all stadiums must have a seating capacity of 15,000.
From the piece:
“Doubling the population criteria now is an anti-competitive bait and switch, with the purpose of entrenching MLS’s monopoly position at the very time when the NASL is threatening to become a significant competitor,” Jeffrey Kessler, an antitrust and sports attorney representing NASL, wrote in a letter to Sunil Gulati, head of US Soccer, and seen by the Financial Times.
“The financial damage is significant,” Mr Kessler told the FT. “Simply put, the actions by US Soccer are hindering the league’s earnings potential with advertisers, broadcasters and other business partners, who will pay top dollar only for Division I, regardless of the quality of play or passion of the fans,” he said.
The NASL applied for first division status in January but the application has apparently been put on hold.
It’s important to note that none of the proposed changes mentioned in the piece would impact the standards for the second or third division. The NASL may be angling to be considered on the same level as MLS in Division I, but it may have competition in the short term in its own ranks. The third division USL, a league that has aligned itself with MLS for a strategic partnership, has made clear its intention to pursue second division status as early next year.
Another sticking point that has vexed the modern era NASL is the unequal representation on the USSF’s board of directors. While MLS has a healthy representation on the council, the NASL contends has none. Further, they contend that the federation may be too closely tied to MLS due to the marketing partnership between US Soccer and the MLS-owned Soccer United Marketing.
No representative from US Soccer or MLS provided the Financial Times with a comment.