The US Soccer Federation and North American Soccer League are holding a joint teleconference at 3pm ET to discuss USSF’s provisional sanctioning of the NASL as a Division II league for 2011. Follow the proceedings here.
Keep in mind I’ll be listening, writing and (probably) snarking all at the same time, so I may not be as “real time” as someone tweeting. But it should be worth it.
(Hold music. I’m told our moderator this afternoon will be Neil Buethe. Good luck, Neil. We’re all counting on you.)
Waiting for #USSFConferenceCallIsLateBecause to start trending on Twitter.
Here we go….(this will all be paraphrased, I’m sure USSF will have a transcript eventually).
Gulati: Thanks for joining us on short notice. We were pleased to admit the NASL on a provisional basis. It’s a difficult environment on many levels, but we’re excited that Aaron and his colleagues have put together a group of investors, so congratulations to them.
Davidson: We’re very happy and excited, this has been a very cooperative journey with the Federation. Very grateful, looking forward to working with them so we have a second division not only for 2011 but for years to come.
Richard Alder, San Antonio Express-News: Looking ahead to 2012, how important with Montreal leaving that San Antonio be in place with 2012?
Gulati (I think): We have no reason to believe that won’t be the case. We fully anticipate they’ll be part of the NASL in 2012.
Brian Quarstad, Inside Minnesota Soccer: On restrictions – or requirements that have been placed that must be met within a year on single team, single ownership. Is Minnesota subject to that?
Gulati: We haven’t put a provision on that. We will sit down and work with them on that, no timetable for that.
Quarstad: Would Minnesota be subject to that, though?
Gulati: We would like to see individual investment groups for all eight teams or however many they have.
Ridge Mahoney, Soccer America: Can you give us your perspective, Aaron, in light of Sunil’s comments, what will you do to maintain competitive integrity going forward?
Davidson: We’ve been very clear all along that it was out of necessity that Traffic had to invest in additional teams to make this all work. We are very cognizant that the sport is the most important thing. In the markets that we’ve actually stepped into – Atlanta and Carolina – they have local operator/investors that are absolutely independent from Traffic. Those teams and Minnesota will retain integrity.
Mahoney: Will this be the year they’ll have to hit standards in attendance and things to prove viability?
Gulati: It’s not for the Federation to say that attendance should be A, B or C or that sponsorship or player costs should be X, Y or Z. If it’s stable, then there will be increased interest. That’s what’s happened in MLS and what Aaron and NASL leadership are hoping will happen with the NASL.
Davidson: No one is under the impression that all of our teams are going to be profitable right away. We want to show we’re headed in the right direction.
Fred Dryer: What are your primary first year goals?
Davidson: The job didn’t start today, most of our teams have been playing for a while. This year is all about focusing on the nuts and bolts and make sure the teams are happy with the direction we’re going so we can build a plan going forward. To run a league where our teams make it through this year and have a stable platform to grow in their markets.
Simon Evans: Last year the Federation got quite involved in the temporary structure. This year, are you stepping back and letting them run themselves? And, Aaron, what will you do differently? Do you have deals with television, sponsors, or is it going to be pretty similar to 2010?
Gulati: This is a more natural situation. Last year was a temporary intervention by the Federation. Neither side last year met the standards, and we would administer the league and admit clubs. So we ran that directly. It’s not something we wanted to do long-term. I’m glad we were able to step back. This year, USL and the NASL will run their own leagues and have relationships with the Federation.
Davidson: Number one priority is to stop the churn rate and to maintain eight teams on a year-to-year basis so you can keep track of teams and a platform for them to grow. We’ve had so much churn at the second-division level that has created a huge difficulty of following the game at the second-division level. The owners own and govern the league and are buying into the NASL brand and you’ll see us promoting it a lot more proudly. The fans will be able to follow their teams and the league.
Neil Morris, Independent Weekly: Are the five US-based NASL team eligible for the US Open Cup?
Gulati: No, because it’s simply too late to include them. The timing doesn’t work. There is no place in the structure, they’re not going to be included.
John Boschini, Soccer By Ives: How important is a second division to MLS and the National Team?
Gulati: It can be very important on both counts. If we want to see American soccer grow and having additional outlets for fans, may be very different cities than MLS or at a different level. Having both the NASL and USL playing is a big plus, it covers a bigger area. I don’t think it’s directly the feeder system for the National Team, but it’s more opportunities. There are American players playing on those teams.
(I should note here that this call hasn’t been particularly enlightening, except for the Open Cup thing.)
Jeremiah from SB Nation: In the past we’ve had pseudo financial promotion of teams going from the second division into MLS and I’m wondering if that’s something USSF prefers? For Aaron, how sustainable is that going forward?
Gulati: I think the model is just completely different than a European or South American model where teams can just come in and work their way up. None of the four teams came into the USL with the primary goal of moving up to MLS, it certainly worked out that way. I think it’s helpful to have staff and administration in place to already be established in the market is a plus. I think in all four cases, the fact local ownership has been there can only be a positive. But that’s going to be a different model from many other teams that have joined or will join MLS? In theory it can be repeated, but it’s not a coincidence nor was it planned that those four teams for any number of years. But in a whole bunch of other places it wouldn’t be practical. The international teams are in a unique situation yet again.
Buethe: Thank you all for joining the call today.
That’s it, boys and girls. Well, that was particularly non-noteworthy, except for the part about the Open Cup, so the very few of you who care about the USOC will go off and have your conspiracy theories about it. For me, I am not sure I buy the explanation that February 14 was “too late” to include the NASL teams in the Open Cup format for 2011 when last year the Open Cup format wasn’t released until May 5. Maybe the NASL just didn’t want to deal with it? I don’t know. But this year’s Open Cup just got a whole lot less interesting.
As for the rest, everybody said all the right (and expected) things. The NASL wants to be stable, they’re effusive in their praise for the Federation and the Federation wants a stable second division. Nothing you didn’t know before last week. Nothing about what they looked at, what the concerns were that forced the removal of sanctioning in the first place.
Thanks for joining us. Take care of your waiters and waitresses.