USL Series Part III: Explanations and Analysis

usl-soccer-field

Part III of the series USL at a crossroads is now available at Major League Soccer Talk and Inside Minnesota Soccer.

As has been the case the past two days, excerpts and analysis are available here.

“We recommitted to the league for 2009 and because of that we worked hard at educating the market that USL was a better fit for the So. Florida area,” said Davidson. “One of the questions that the League Owners Association wanted asked was; where was the USL front office when Miami FC and Traffic were fighting off MLS expansion? So when the 2009 USL-1 schedule was published (privately to the USL teams) we told them (USL) we weren’t happy with the progress of the league restructuring and the lack of defending Miami FC against the MLS bid, and that Traffic was seriously reconsidering their commitment to the league for 2009,” said Davidson. “The league had not given our owner [Julio Mariz] the hope, expectation and confidence to continue with the league. So we notified them that we were considering withdrawing. Nevertheless, the league went ahead and announced the schedule.”

On this front USL cannot be blamed. Atlanta had withdrawn partly because they felt the league did nothing to help them fight off an MLS bid for the city from another ownership group. Miami FC was making the same noises when the Barca Miami discussion was going with MLS.  I did see a league schedule as early as February with Miami FC on it, and this was before the club had formally decided to play in 2009.

This drama came months after Boris Jerkunica had withdrawn the Atlanta Silverbacks from the 2009 season. The Silverbacks had long advocated a more aggressive marketing posture from the league and had in fact built their own soccer specific stadium. Representing a top 10 national media market, Atlanta could have been the focal point of USL growth.

Instead, Jerkunica’s repeated efforts to implement more owner control over the direction of USL were defeated. But Atlanta maintained an interest in USL by fielding a W-League side and making it known that they intended to return to USL-1 and PDL play in the future.

Atlanta was perhaps the model USL-1 survival story. A big market with every other professional sport and a huge interest in college sports and NASCAR also. Yet, the Silverbacks had built their own stadium, formed a competitive woman’s and youth team and were semi-successful on the pitch.

The Atlanta market was different than the likes of Charleston and Rochester where USL was so successful. Yet, the Silverbacks made a go of it for many years.

—–

The TOA began working with Cooper, who had outbid their own efforts and found him to be on the same wavelength.  With radical changes about to be made to the league under Cooper’s direction, a closing on the deal that appeared imminent was suddenly off.

As late as Wednesday night, the day before NuRock was awarded the USL, Cooper’s group were working on contracts with Nike. At the same time, Cooper was proposing a massive realignment of USL’s professional divisions in line with the owners wishes.

——

This move, which was done legally but without properly notifying many owners, created a further rift with USL’s Tampa based leadership, which could be irreparable.

It is important to note that the league is run lock, stock and barrel out of Tampa. No important decision about USL is made by anyone other than the staff at the league HQ. Furthermore, USL-1 owners complain that they never see the staff as compared with MLS clubs which see SUM and MLS staffers all the time. MLS may be based on 5th Avenue in New York, but they reach all of their markets effectively from a organization standpoint, whereas USL clubs that want to deal with the league must send their staff to Tampa.