Soccer Business Bits: NASL/USL Fight, ESPN Loves Soccer & More

We have not actively covered the NASL/USL/TOA dispute over the second division of American Soccer.  However, we do believe that it is definitely a subject of significant interest to American Soccer fans.  Lower division soccer aids in the development of American players, provides more exposure to the game in communities without MLS teams and provides the backdrop to Open Cup.  The ongoing dispute between the parties (which is now a lawsuit in Florida), will have a significant impact on the business of American soccer if the issues are not resolved.  We recommend MatchFit USA’s excellent coverage of this issue.   Also, check out this interview that I did with the good folks at the American Soccer Show about the legal issues involved in the dispute (once again putting on my lawyer hat for a few minutes).

In their most recent issue, the Sports Business Journal is reporting on ESPN’s substantial coverage of the World Cup.  According to SBJ, ESPN is actively working not only to interest viewers in the World Cup, but also its employees.  The World Wide Leader is assigning its employees a specific team to follow in order to raise interest among the mainstream sports fans that populate the company.  The article also describes the substantial commitment that ESPN has made to soccer, but also raises the fairly disappointing EPL TV ratings so far this year.  The article also noted that ESPN has sold 4 of its 8 major advertising slots for the Cup already.  Those 8 advertisers will account for 75% of the advertising during the ESPN broadcasts.

Finally, in a story that broke last week while we were out of action, it was announced that the Big East Conference has announced a three year deal to play the Big East Soccer Championship at Red Bull Arena.  It is great to see MLS teams partnering in this way with established college programs.  This quote from Erik Stover (courtesy of the Jersey Journal) suggests that the new Managing Director understands the importance of college soccer and of establishing relationships with non-MLS soccer organizations. “The Red Bulls organization is excited to bring the Big East Men’s Soccer Championship to Red Bull Arena.  One of our goals is to help elevate the sport of soccer in the United States and our partnership with the Big East Conference is an important step in that process.”

Soccer Business Bits: USL Change, CBA News? & More

broken soccer ballMultiple outlets are reporting that 6 USL-1 teams, including 2011 MLS expansion side Vancouver, have broken away from the USL to form their own six team League for 2010.  Though still waiting for USSF approval, the new league will feature Vancouver, Montreal, Atlanta, Carolina, Miami and Minnesota.  There are also reports that a team from St. Louis will join the new league.

What impact this change (if it goes through), will have is very much in question.  Some MLS fans are prematurely excited at the prospect of MLS teams essentially operating farm teams in the new league, while others think that this move is a precursor to an “MLS2”.  Frankly, we think neither is likely. If this division holds, it will likely have the impact of weakening USL and the new league, especially when Vancouver and Montreal (probably) bolt for MLS and Portland does the same. The lower leagues have already lost a strong team in Seattle, and despite the prospect of new teams in New York and Baltimore, further division is not in USL’s best interest.  Strong lower divisions are important for the survival of soccer in the US and this move seems simply to weaken the overall product.

American soccer fans have marked January 31 on their calendars because it is the date the Collective Bargaining Agreement expires.  The parties have started negotiating, and this is certainly a story we will religiously follow.  For now, we think it a bit early, but since there have been a couple of early shots across the bow, check out this story at MatchFit for details.  One hidden impact of the labor situation will be the decisions faced by college players eying a career in MLS as part of the January draft.  Will players be less willing to enter the draft if there is no deal?

Check out this nice story from MLSnet.com about the MLS playoffs in Afghanistan.

One final note.  Seattle is looking to take its MLS success to a global stage.  Here is a story on the Emerald City’s efforts to bring the World Cup to Qwest Field.