February 8, 2013
By Charles Cuttone
FOCUSING ON LOCAL GROWTH
NASL looks to create stability, success
First of two parts
|NASL Commissioner Bill Peterson.
Photo courtesy NASL
Just weeks into his tenure as commissioner of the three-year-old North American Soccer League, Commissioner Bill Peterson is satisfied where the league is right now.
"Itís a lot of positive momentum amongst our different teams, a lot of excitement with the recent announcement of Indianapolis and the Cosmos project and the San Antonio Stadium coming to a head," said the former AEG Executive. "I've had a chance to visit all the teams. They've got their heads down. Theyíre focused on putting together a great season for their local fans. There is a lot of focus right now in the NASL, focus on the right things, building our individual teams up, reaching out into those communities, selling what they have to sell, which is a very competitive soccer league. Itís a very positive situation here right now."
The league currently has 12 members, but three of those are expansion teams for 2014. Two of the other teams, the New York Cosmos (also an expansion team) and the Puerto Rico Islanders, will only play the second part of the league's split season schedule in 2013.
Three of the teams that will kick off the season in April are at least partly owned by Traffic Sports, the international marketing and television company based in Brazil, which has its U.S. headquarters in Miami, along with the NASL's league offices.
Peterson thinks the backing of a company like Traffic is a good thing for the fledgling league, much like Major League Soccer was largely propped up by his former employer, AEG, in its early days.
"We are fortunate to have someone like Traffic come in in the early years, when these leagues are starting up and things are a little bit bumpy and be able to keep those teams in place."
Peterson says the league is in discussion with potential local ownership in both Atlanta and Carolina, but there is no rush to sell the clubs. Traffic plans to keep ownership of the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, and is pursuing a long-term stadium situation in South Florida.
"They are both in growth mode and when we settle on the right owners, and the right situations, we will complete the deals. We are in a very good position with those."
The other team that was being supported by Traffic, the Minnesota Stars FC, were sold over the off-season.
"I suspect they are going to do an incredible job not only this year, but in future years. They are very committed to what we are trying to do here at the league, they are very committed to the Minneapolis marketplace. That will be successful," Peterson said.
Peterson has had a busy schedule since taking office and has already visited with all the teams in the league in addition to attending the National Soccer Coaches Association of America Convention in Indianapolis, during which the league announced the awarding of an expansion team for that city.
Peterson has tried to impress on all the teams a number one priority for success. Sell tickets.
"The challenge for us to is focus on the number one priority and that's to build attendance at these games," he said "That's really how you are evaluated and how you are doing, whether an individual team or a league is how many people are coming to watch your games."
Peterson says the new split season schedule, similar to the Mexican league's Apertura and Clausura, will add excitement to the process and help teams market their product.
"We feel we've got a very competitive and entertaining game on the field," Peterson explained. "We think the new schedule is going to make that even more competitive and entertaining, because it will force teams to really focus on figuring out ways to win games. Itís the jobs of the front office staffs to figure out the proper way to build that fan base and to promote what they are doing."
Peterson realizes that success in the stands will be the only way the league see growth on other fronts. Rather than trying to chase national sponsors or television deals, he wants the league and the teams to focus on attendance. Last year, the league averaged 3,810 per game, a slight increase over 2011. San Antonio led the way at 9,176 per game, while Edmonton averaged 1,525 playing in 1,300-seat Clarke Stadium. Puerto Rico, which is sitting out the first half of the 2013 season, averaged 1,864, while most of the other teams were right around the league average.
"My message to everyone in the league is that [attendance] is our first, second and third priorities. If we are successful with that, everything else in the sports world will fall into place for you, whether its sponsorship or television contracts. Those things come to you when you are successful on that ground. That's everyone's challenge. Everyone in the league's challenge to focus on our teams and do anything we can to help them grow."