Monday, July 4, 2011

The Potential Partnership of MLS and the NASL

Partnership equals profit.

The debate will always rage between the fans of a European game and the MLS system faithful: the debate of relegation. This article is not about that. Relegation is not a reality in modern American soccer, so let it rest. Instead the focus is on the relationship between Major League Soccer (MLS) and the second tier North American Soccer League (NASL).

Major League Soccer is of course the top division of soccer in the United States. As it stands, the NASL is sanctioned by USSF as a full professional, tier 2 league spanning the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. The NASL is revitalization in namesake for its predecessor league that ended in 1984.

The question is though, what can the two leagues do to build a relationship that will benefit one another?

The obvious answer is that there should be some level of partnership between the two either on a league-wide or club to club basis. This is akin to Major League Baseball’s concept of “farm teams”.

This would likely be an excellent avenue for the two leagues to consider. MLS or MLS teams would be able to purchase and sign players, then loan them off to lower division teams. This gives the NASL a chance to market players as “stars in the making”. There’d also be an opportunity for MLS veterans to prolong their professional careers, while bringing leadership qualities to younger and less developed players. The benefit would be two fold.

The two leagues are not equal and they dont have to be.
Consider as well the possibility for reliable and consistent preseason friendly matches where fans can be introduced to players from both teams in a home-home series. We’ve seen this a few times in the Carolina Challenge Cup hosted by the Charleston Battery, but the relationship could certainly be strengthened.
Add to that, the possibility of the Major and Minor teams meeting in tournaments like the US Open Cup and you’ve suddenly benefited another aspect of US Soccer. This year, the NASL is not involved in the Open Cup, however in the future, all will benefit from the extra competition.

Barbara with 14 goals this season
in the NASL for Carolina.
How about players excelling in the lower division NASL and an MLS team having first crack at their “farm team”? Currently, the Carolina Railhawks sit firmly atop the NASL table. All but the most elite (and financially supported) MLS teams would benefit from an in-form, quality striker like Etienne Barbara. How about a mercurial mid-fielder like Jonny Steele? Both are doing well and could be loaned/ temporarily traded to an MLS team for money/players and the benefits are two-fold. 

There also exists the ability to strengthen a brand on a smaller scale with local clubs. Having a parent, MLS team partnered with an NASL team that is not in the same city gives the MLS team a chance to push their brand to more youth clubs through local clinics, camps and the already stated friendly matches.

It would certainly benefit the NASL to find a way to bring some of those third tier USL teams into the fold. Then you’ve got a respectable New York Derby. Imagine the LA Blue’s in a direct relationship with the Galaxy… great potential for drama, upsets and healthy relationships.

Though slightly outdated, the map shows the NASL/USL teams reaching where MLS does not. Potential. 
Financial benefits of these relationships would speak for themselves, but there is a question of whether or not an MLS team would pay an NASL team in any way shape or form. Unlikely and frankly unnecessary. With the right marketing tactics, the MLS teams can support its NASL counterparts. Consider that Facebook and Twitter is a fast and free way to reach fans and let them know how their players are doing. In an age where technology is cheap and strengthens the outreach and accessibility of fans and teams, this should be commonplace.

The only real deterrent at present for MLS is that they’ve just recently reestablished the Reserve League. The argument for the Reserve League, and a valid argument at that, is that teams are able to give their players time while maintaining their own system and mentality. This is certainly important, but what we’re talking about is easing younger players into professional life, giving veterans a chance to lengthen careers and providing players with the sometimes necessary change of scenery. With the right balance and marketing, there does not need to any clash between the two systems.

The potential benefits for profit, both financial and player production is there. It is only up to the teams and the leagues to seek out and capitalize on the potential. 

There are other benefits to a partnership as well...
What are your suggestions for strengthening the relationship between the two leagues? We’ll check back in a few weeks with part 2. 

1 comment:

  1. This sounds great in my opinion and I'd love to see this happen.