September 20 – The fractious relationship between the North American Soccer League (NASL) and its national governing body, the US Soccer Federation (USSF) has boiled over with the NASL filing a federal antitrust lawsuit against the USSF in Brooklyn federal court.
The NASL claims that the USSF has manipulated league qualification criteria to benefit its business partner Major League Soccer and its marketing arm Soccer United Marketing (SUM) which jointly sells MLS and US national team rights.
The NASL also claims the USSF is deliberately attempting to put the league and its clubs out of business by revoking its Division II status in the US hierarchy.
An NASL press release stated 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 statement continues: “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.”
Rocco B. Commisso, chairman of the NASL’s Board of Governors and the newly arrived owner of the New York Cosmos, which plays its home games in Brooklyn, said: “The USSF left the NASL no choice except to file this lawsuit. 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.”
The NASL recently announced its 10th club, San Diego, as the latest to join the league’s West Coast expansion movement. The San Francisco Deltas kicked off their inaugural season earlier this year, and a new club in Orange County, are scheduled to kick off in the Spring of 2018. Those teams have ownership groups that are expecting to join a second tier classified league.
For some time the USSF has received criticism for running a closed league franchise-based system for its top tier MLS – a system that breaks FIFA’s rules but which is tolerated without question by the world governing body.
The knock-on effect of the NASL’s complaint is that it highlights the USSF’s non-compliance with FIFA regulations at a time that is an embarrassment for the USSF and its high flying president and FIFA Council member Sunil Gulati as the country bids for the 2026 World Cup. Gulati appears once again to be between a rock and a hard place – an increasing feature of his football politics and governance career – though it is unlikely to impact the US bid taking into the account the ease of manipulation of FIFA’s politically driven ethics and governance system.
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