February 11, 2013
By Charles Cuttone
A PLAN FOR THE FUTURE
NASL looks for strategic growth
Second of two parts
With the New York Cosmos set to make their re-entry into the pro soccer ranks later this year, and other expansion teams planned for Virginia, Ottawa and Indianapolis, the North American Soccer League is poised for a period of growth, and hopefully stability.
The league and its new commissioner Bill Peterson have been in talks with a number of markets regarding potential expansion. Any new teams beyond those already announced would not join the league until 2015, giving them plenty of time to ramp up their operations before taking the field.
"At this point we're at a juncture where we can afford to be a little more strategic in our thinking as it relates to expansion," said Peterson, who has been on the job since December.
"We can take our time with identifying the proper ownership groups and stadium opportunities, in generating interest from local governments and soccer communities and go through the whole process to make sure that any potential expansion cities have checks of the sort of key criteria and there's a feeling they are going to be successful."
Giving teams plenty of time to prepare for a season is something Peterson looks at not as a luxury, but as more of a necessity.
"If you look at the last three teams coming into this league, Indianapolis, Northern Virginia and Ottawa, those clubs are well organized, great ownership groups---they are very clear on their plans for the rollout, they have plenty of runway to execute a launch and they are going to come out of the gate really, really strong. That's the opportunity we are going to provide then new expansion cities with."
All three of the new teams come with good sports pedigrees within their ownership and management. Former Chicago Fire President/General Manager Peter Wilt is heading up the Indy team, which will play at IUPUIís Carroll Stadium, in downtown Indianapolis. The stadium, which currently also accommodates track and field, will be fitted out to make it more soccer-specific, and will seat 7,500.
The league's second Canadian team, in the nation's capital, will be owned by the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group. OSEG has partnered with the City of Ottawa to revitalize and manage Lansdowne Park, which will house a 24,000 seat stadium, 9,800 seat arena, the historic Aberdeen Pavilion and Horticulture Building, the Ottawa Farmerís Market, a new commercial district, an office tower, two condominium towers, townhomes and an urban park. OSEG will manage the facilities and own and operate, in addition to the NASL team, a team in the Canadian Football League and the Ottawa 67ís hockey team in the Ontario Hockey League.
The Northern Virginia team will play at new ballpark/stadium that is being built as part of a huge development called One Loudoun in Ashburn, VA. The development will include shops, housing and recreational facilities. The soccer team will share the stadium with a minor league baseball team.
Those are the type of developments the league wants to point to when discussing new franchises.
"We have plenty of people and plenty of communities showing interest, so at this point we will start looking at what makes the most sense geographically, where do we feel we have the best chance for success and we'll make those decisions on what I think is a very comfortable timeline granted to us from the board of governors," said Peterson.
While the league is officially sanctioned as second division by U.S. Soccer, the NASL is not positioning itself as a minor league, unlike the USL PRO, which has reached a working agreement with MLS.
"We're comfortable with the designation," said Peterson. "And that's what it is, a designation from U.S. Soccer. We're comfortable with that designation. But that designation really doesn't limit us from being as good as we can possible be. We could have a stadium with 60,000 people in it and they can call us whatever they want, and we'll be ok with that.
"I understand from a traditional standpoint why they might do that. I understand why we are called second division now. What I want I want to make sure our people understand is that doesnít limit us in any way from being successful."
As part of that operating philosophy, the NASL is leaving player budgets up to the teams. Unlike Major League Soccer, the league does not have a salary cap, although Peterson said all of the team owners are on the same page as far as any team trying to outspend the others.