In a fight for its future, North American Soccer League owners today filed suit against the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF), alleging that the USSF has violated federal antitrust laws through its division structure that saw NASL denied Division II status for 2018.
From a press release announcing the NASL lawsuit:
The NASL’s complaint alleges that the USSF has violated federal antitrust laws through its anticompetitive “Division” structure that divides men’s professional soccer for U.S.-based leagues based on arbitrary criteria that the USSF has manipulated to favor Major League Soccer (MLS), which is the commercial business partner of the USSF. Its business arrangements include multi-million dollar media and marketing contracts with Soccer United Marketing (SUM), MLS’s marketing arm that also jointly sells and markets MLS rights combined with rights to U.S. national soccer teams operated by the USSF.
The complaint alleges that the USSF has selectively applied and waived its divisional criteria to suppress competition from the NASL, both against MLS and against United Soccer League (USL). For example, under the USSF’s divisional criteria, there are European clubs that have successfully operated for decades that would be considered ineligible for “Division I” or even “Division II” status due to arbitrary requirements like stadium capacity and market size.
The complaint alleges that the USSF sought to limit competition from the NASL to MLS and USL, and now seeks to destroy the NASL by arbitrarily revoking the NASL’s “Division II” status for the upcoming 2018 season. The complaint only seeks injunctive relief against the USSF’s conduct regarding its divisional designations.
When deciding not to grant NASL Division II status for 2018, USSF officials said that not enough progress was being made to reach Division II league criteria: 12 teams across three time zones, with minimum standards for stadium sizes, market sizes and owner net worth. Not that every USL team meets these criteria, either, so the argument is that U.S. Soccer is being unfairly arbitrary in applying these criteria. Hence the request for an injunction that would maintain the status quo. NASL is playing with eight teams this year and is adding two California teams, but with the prospect of losing more teams to the USL or the startup Canadian Premier League (FC Edmonton, Indy Eleven and North Carolina FC are reportedly looking at leaving NASL), the decision was made by NASL officials to seize the initiative in a lawsuit.
“The USSF left the NASL no choice except to file this lawsuit,” said New York Cosmos owner Rocco Commisso, Chairman of the NASL’s Board of Governors. “The NASL has taken this step to protect not just the league, but also the game, fans, and everyone with a stake in the future success of professional soccer leagues based in this country.”
You could argue that the drop to Division III will basically kill the NASL: stronger teams will seek to join the Division II USL as Tampa Bay and Ottawa did before the 2017 season. As a Division III league, it would also be hard for the NASL to land the level of expansion teams needed to regain a Division II designation.
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