Laidig on the NASL Part II Contributor Dave Laidig is back with Part II of his look at the NASL.   For more on Dave, and to look at a small sample of his always excellent work, click on the “Contributors” tab on the top of the page.

Addressing the league’s financial health, the NASL will move to a split season format with a spring session and a summer session of round robin, home and away play. The table leaders for each session will meet to challenge for the Soccer Bowl trophy.  This format will replace the current post-season series with one game, dramatically reducing travel costs.  Further, the break between sessions in July can allow teams to seek revenue from various friendlies as well. If nothing else, the scheduling change can serve as a US-based test of alternative schedules that MLS may wish to monitor and evaluate for its own purposes.

Reflecting the overall trends of stability and measured growth, the league’s attendance has been steady.  The league average in attendance was 3,779 per game in 2011, with Montreal as high performer with an average over 11,500 per game.  This year, the league average was slightly higher at 3,810 per game, with newcomer San Antonio the top performer with 9,176 per game.  In other words, because the top performer in 2012 averaged less than the top performer in 2011, the loss of the Impact to MLS was offset by gains made throughout the NASL – which is a positive sign.

Overall, the league has passed its initial start-up stage, and is now moving towards deliberate growth.  The tenuous nature of the league has been stabilized, and key achievements in negotiated expansion, and obtaining ownership for all of the existing teams has been realized.  However, some obstacles remain.  For example, as with MLS at its conception, there are owners with more than one team.  At some point, these teams will need their own (preferably local) ownership groups.  Further, now that continued existence seems to be less worrisome, the league will need to focus on the business fundamentals; team-controlled stadiums, attendance, and marketing.  Because NASL offers live streams of its games for free – compared to the USL-1 which used to pay Fox Sports for coverage of its games, a TV deal does not seem to be likely anytime soon. But the teams can certainly increase revenue through the pursuit of local sponsorships, and by increased attendance.

And perhaps that is the biggest achievement of the last two years is that the path forward is now clearer, and more conventional. This is especially true after MLS has demonstrated a path for league viability. All soccer fans should support the NASL as it continues to grow, even if those fans that have their own favorite European or MLS team.  As its own soccer league, a healthy second division supports soccer in this country by providing a place for over 200 professional players to train and develop, as well as independently offering professional soccer to markets that MLS can’t reach.  And if that isn’t good enough, it’s also a good way to spend a summer evening.