Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Does NASL need MLS's USSF subsidy?

As most readers of this blog I'm sure already know the Atlanta Silverbacks folded up shop this week when the NASL suspended operations of the club that had existed since 1998.

Kartik Krishnaiyer did a great job covering the contentious history of pro soccer leagues in the United States and the predatory practices they use to raid each other... and how the United States Soccer Federation has done nothing about it in this GREAT PIECE.

The United States Soccer Federation (USSF) has sat by while the three professional leagues in the US and Canada have engaged in predatory practices for their own survival. While some critics of the North American soccer market claim it is the most tightly controlled and regulated on the planet, the opposite is in fact true. With no vertical integration in the pyramid and divisional designations largely meaningless, the leagues have engaged in a war against each other. 

There is a question that I can't get out of my mind since this happened...

Would the Atlanta Silverbacks still exist if the USSF paired its USMNT, USWNT and Youth National Team broadcasting rights with NASL instead of with MLS's subsidiary Soccer United Marketing (SUM)?

Looking back through the history of SUM we can see that it was founded in 2002. The same year that MLS dropped to 10 teams. Via its partnership with USSF and the marketing of the largest domestic soccer rights property in the country it was able to leverage the NTs to help grow MLS's footprint (and make some seriously needed coin!). This subsidy from USSF likely saved MLS in the short term and MLS's growth since has directly mirrored the growth of SUM. (Read more on SUM/MLS and their ties to Chuck Blazer here)

With MLS now bringing in 100+ million dollar expansion fees and on solid footing is it now time for the USSF to pair these National Team broadcasting rights with lower division soccer in the United States (especially since they are actually separate competing leagues and not a truly unified pyramid structure) to help them grow these leagues media footprint (and infuse cash!) and result in growth of game in the United States? Can we as a soccer nation afford to continue to have our Federation pick and choose winning leagues and clubs?

Billy Haisley of Deadspin recently wrote an article talking about how USSF policy is holding back the NASL's Ft Lauderdale Strikers as well.

This is the real shame of America's lack of promotion and relegation. That system allows ambitious owners to buy up lower division clubs for not too much money, invest in them in ways they believe will bring sporting success, and potentially, reach the pinnacle of the pyramid. It allows for innovation, like the Strikers' plans for international fame or the New York Cosmos' announced strategy of bringing in good players from abroad but mainly focusing on finding and developing the best youth talent. But without the possibility of promotion, there's a ceiling on the return on these clubs' investments, and in turn the number of clubs with the ability to improve the game as a whole.

Just think about these facts... The USSF has chosen to subsidize MLS. The USSF has also chosen to not give a subsidy to any other professional league in the US. The USSF has set policies that limit competitors to MLS's potential growth. The USSF has also set policy that stifles innovation and investment in hundreds or thousands of clubs as well.

We then wonder why lower division (read that actually as MLS's competition for the soccer marketplace since we already know the USSF Divisional structure is arbitrary) struggles so much in this country.

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