Football as a sport is on the precipice of a paradigm shift in the United States.
Soccer is now on its way to becoming one of the most popular sports in the nation, with ESPN televising over 90 games a week, a figure almost equal to the number of NCAA Division I football games, and ESPN being paid $500 million annually by the NFL to broadcast NFL games.
The NFL has also shown some early signs of looking to grow its soccer footprint in the United States. In January, it was announced that the NFL would make $1 billion over the next five years through partnerships with several leagues around the world to expand their presence in the US.
Currently, there are over 1,600 youth teams playing in the US, and according to USA Soccer, there are over 11,000 registered youth players in the US. However, a lack of playing time from coaches is the main barrier for the youth to develop as football players.
That is, until the MLS comes calling.
For soccer fans looking for a better way to watch their favorite team, the NASL is now looking to bring their game to the US with the launch of the NASL’s first ever partnership with Major League Soccer. It is one that is set to provide the NASL with the infrastructure, training facilities, and marketing power needed to truly thrive in the US soccer scene.
The NASL’s first deal with MLS is not the first partnership for the league. For nearly a year, the NASL had a close relationship with USL PRO (the third tier of American soccer) which provided NASL fans with the highest level of play in North America. Since then, USL PRO was the league that provided the biggest push towards expanding the NASL. With the arrival of Major League Soccer (MLS), the NASL was able to finally expand its footprint to the US and Canada. It took an investment of more than $5 million from ownership to help the NASL start the move north. As a result, the NASL was able to host more international friendlies in 2015 than it did in any prior season.
That’s a start.
The NASL’s Expansion Strategy
The NASL has a plan. They want to grow their footprint into Canada, the United States, and Central and South America. That’s a mammoth undertaking. With a couple more teams in North America, the NASL is hoping to host more international friendlies to bring the league into the spotlight and increase the interest in the sport at home.
A few of the cities are already vying to be the NASL’s third or fourth team: San Francisco, Minnesota, Jacksonville, and Miami. The league hopes to have a decision made on the new teams by 2018. The Atlanta group will be working on a stadium plan while the NASL has announced a preliminary location for Miami, though that is subject to change as Miami City Football Club and Miami Sports Park are in negotiations about a new stadium. But in terms of the expansion timeline, the most immediate issue will be securing new owners for the NASL.
The four teams the league expects to put on the field in 2017 and 2018 are Tampa Bay Rowdies (2014 NASL Champion), Indy Eleven (2012 NASL Champions), Miami FC (2014-2016 NASL Championship), and Jacksonville Armada (2015-16 Fall Season Champion). The expansion fee is expected to be $100 million.
In October 2016, the league confirmed that former soccer superstar David Beckham had agreed to bring an MLS team to Miami.