You can add the Tampa Bay Rowdies to the list of teams potentially moving from NASL to USL, as the future of the league could be significantly reshaped for the 2017 season and beyond.
Early this summer Ottawa Fury officials responded to rumors that the team would be shifting to USL for 2017. But those rumors have persisted, and now SI.com is reporting that Ottawa may be joined by the Tampa Bay Rowdies in a move to USL for 2017.
Now, it’s not as easy to shift leagues as most fans think: first, the team needs to walk away from the NASL membership investment and perhaps pay a penalty: most pro sports leagues, especially on the minor league level, have penalties in place for departing one league for another. Then there’s the issue of buying a membership in the new league. That doesn’t mean moving leagues is impossible — just that it’s a little more difficult than just changing the letterhead and league logo on the website.
But there’s no doubt NASL faces some serious issues. First, the league’s leading team in terms of attendance is departing for MLS in 2017, as Minnesota United will begin play next season at TCF Bank Stadium. Second, two NASL teams are in serious disarray. We’ve documented the issues with Rayo OKC, and now there are reported that Fort Lauderdale may be going under, as the league may take over Strikers operations after team owners stopped funding operations.
And then there’s the issue of U.S. Soccer Federation sanctioning. NASL officials have applied for an upgrade to first-tier status, while USL has applied for a move to second-tier status (currently NASL’s status). A decision on these moves could be made as soon as Friday by federation officials. From SI.com:
The NASL has argued that being labeled ‘second division’ has hampered its ability to attract fans, sponsors and the political support required for venue upgrades. It threatened antitrust litigation last year, but in an interview this week NASL commissioner Bill Peterson told SI.com that the league no longer is considering legal action.
“We took a decision over the winter that we wanted to step back and try to re-engage with U.S. Soccer and discuss the [sanctioning] standards and where we fit in and our feelings about them … in a more productive manner than pulling the trigger on any sort of legal activities. And that’s what we’ve been doing,” Peterson said. “It’s incredibly important that the Federation and the NASL have a positive relationship because there are so many different aspects and facets to the game. It doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything, but it does mean we have a partnership … [A lawsuit is] not looming there as a threat, and it’s not something we want to do.”
Image courtesy Tampa Bay Rowdies.