North American Soccer League (NASL) Commissioner Bill Peterson spoke with me today about the significance of NASL’s new two-season structure and also spoke about free agency, salary cap, potential NASL expansion in New England and the world-class stadium proposed by the New York Cosmos.
The Division 2 NASL kicks off the 2013 regular season on April 4.
Interview with Bill Peterson
LE: What’s the benefit of having a split season in the North American Soccer League?
Peterson: One, it starts to align us a little bit with the rest of the world’s calendar and also transfer windows in-between the two seasons and offseason align, and those things help the coaches and technical directors. But the biggest advantage is, if you look at how a coach and a team approach a season, each game now becomes even more important to actually win versus the older model. So teams happy to get a tie and get out of town, that’s not going to happen anymore. If you’re not winning and winning often, you’re not going to make the championship game.
We don’t have playoffs, so whoever wins the spring season is going to the championship game as a home stand and whoever wins the fall season is going to the championship game as the away team. So it’s important to win each week and that creates a lot of excitement for our fans and that’s what we’re all about. The fans are going to enjoy it and I know our coaches are a little nervous about it, which to me sounds like it’s the right structure and ultimately should lead to even more exciting matches on the pitch.
LE: There have been grumblings that the expansion New York Cosmos will start the 2013 season late and only play the fall season. What’s the response from the NASL clubs on this matter?
Peterson: Everyone is supportive. Starting up a team from scratch is a really difficult job. I’ve been doing this a long, long time and watched a lot of teams fail at launching properly because they didn’t anticipate how long it would take to get all the work done. This decision was made before I came on and I think it was brilliant and the rest of the clubs are supportive of it.
I understand the fan grumblings and my response to them is, well, actually the Cosmos only have half the chance of making it to the championship game and they have a tough time trying to find a roster of players and keep them fine-tuned and motivated. If I was a fan of a different team I wouldn’t be worried about it too much. It might be a disadvantage [for the Cosmos] on the field, but it’s definitely an advantage from a business standpoint of having enough time to launch your team.
LE: What are NASL’s stands on free agency and on salary cap?
Peterson: We have free agency. It’s a free market system, so when a player’s contract expires he’s free to do whatever he likes, so in a sense that exists.
We haven’t started to look at any sort of salary cap yet. Our owners are doing the best they can and paying players fair amounts and we’re not in a position now to have a statement about it. Whether we do in the future or not is to be seen, we’ll take a look at it when the time arrives, but we don’t have a feeling on it right now.
Peterson: When you step back and say, across North America how do you want to be perceived, I think as a professional league that’s willing to work hard to connect with our fans and create a structure and environment that leads to exciting games for our fans. We’re a group of people and owners with like-minded goals who want to connect with their communities and create something spectacular for the soccer fans in each of their communities. They’re all committed to their cities. We know the key is satisfying our fans and growing our fan base. That’s what we want to be known as, the people who are willing to work harder for their fans.
What we’re trying to do right now is work hard with local communities to create relevance. We’re working hard to create better stadium experiences for our fans and to become more accessible and provide them more information about our players, our coaches and the goings-on in the clubs. A number of our teams are working hard on relationships with amateur soccer in their communities.
The biggest thing the fans are going to notice this year is the new structure and the excitement that’s going to create early in the season and throughout the season, - teams needing to win each and every week to stay in the run for the championship. We’re also going to open up our first stadium in San Antonio in April and that’s a big deal for us. It’s a beautiful facility and now fans have their own home now in San Antonio and that will generate a lot of interest and excitement.
LE: How do you see the U.S. soccer pyramid right now and what’s your vision going forward?
Peterson: I see two other professional leagues and ourselves, but we don’t worry about other leagues or other people. Our focus is on our teams and we’re only limited by ourselves, so we can be as successful as we want to be. People can put us anywhere in the pyramid they want and I don’t care because it doesn’t really mean anything. Our focus is on how many people can we entertain in Indianapolis, in Fort Lauderdale, in Tampa and in San Antonio. Wherever people want to slide us, that’s their business - it doesn’t affect us or anything we do, so I don’t worry about it.
Q: What about NASL and in the Boston market? The Boston market could be a top market in the United States, considering the huge college population and that Massachusetts is the No. 2 youth market in the U.S. Is NASL looking at opportunities around Boston or in the historic New Bedford/Rhode Island market?
Peterson: The New England market has such a rich sports tradition and offers a number of opportunities for a league like NASL. I can imagine another great rivalry developing between our Cosmos and a team in New England. At this time we're keeping all of our options open and exploring opportunities that make sense from a strategic growth perspective. Although we're spending time on the West Coast and we plan to expand to the West Coast, we've avoided creating any artificial priorities or deadlines. We're looking for committed cities and ownership groups that share our vision and passion for NASL. There are a number of great cities in North America where NASL can thrive, including a couple in New England.
LE: What are your thoughts on the proposed $400 million New York Cosmos stadium?
Peterson: We’re pretty excited about their plans and their commitment to build the stadium. It’s a huge commitment to this league and we think it’s ultimately going to be wildly successful. There’s lots of soccer fans in the New York Metro area and the Cosmos have a great legacy there. The current ownership is committed to winning and putting on exciting soccer matches. So I think it’s going to be wildly successful and we’re excited from a League standpoint that they thought enough of this League to come in and make that kind of commitment.