Home NASL & USL More NASL & USL NASL goes to court: Launches suit in wake of Div-2 sanctioning decision

NASL goes to court: Launches suit in wake of Div-2 sanctioning decision


The North American Soccer League is suing the United States Soccer Federation.

Here is the text of  a release just issued by the league:

The North American Soccer League (NASL) announced Tuesday that it has filed a federal antitrust lawsuit against the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) in Brooklyn federal court. The NASL is a men’s professional soccer league that has operated since 2010.  

The NASL’s complaint alleges 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 complaint alleges that the USSF has selectively applied and waived its divisional criteria to suppress competition from the NASL, both against MLS and against United Soccer League (USL).  For example, under the USSF’s divisional criteria, there are European clubs that have successfully operated for decades that would be considered ineligible for “Division I” or even “Division II” status due to arbitrary requirements like stadium capacity and market size.

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. The complaint only seeks injunctive relief against the USSF’s conduct regarding its divisional designations.

Rocco B. Commisso, Chairman of the NASL’s Board of Governors and the principal owner of the New York Cosmos, which plays its home games in Brooklyn, stated:  “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.”

Earlier this month, the USSF rejected the NASL’s application to continue as a Division-2 league for the 2018 season. Losing the divisional status as a “2” would put the future of the NASL in jeopardy. This past winter, the league was given a one-year waiver to continue operation as a Div-2 league, despite the fact that its membership had dropped to eight teams, including FC Edmonton.

The USL, which has a mix of independent clubs, teams affiliated with MLS sides and “2” teams that are essentially minor-league clubs to the MLS parent clubs, was granted Div-2 status before the 2017 season by the USSF. The Tampa Bay Rowdies and Ottawa Fury moved from NASL to USL for the 2017 season.

The USSF is the arbiter of divisional status, even though there is no promotion and relegation in the United States. The factors that determine divisional status include number of teams in a league, the sizes of markets and the stadiums. Canada Soccer does not care about the American divisional rankings, as FC Edmonton, the Fury and the three Canadian MLS sides all compete for the Canadian Championship.

Meanwhile, FCE owner Tom Fath has confirmed he has attended Canadian Premier League meetings, as that league looks to get off the ground in either 2018 or 2019.

But here is where it gets interesting. FIFA’s article 17 states that no football association can be influenced by third parties. FIFA also stands against what it sees as government interference in the affairs of football authorities. A confederation can be suspended if it is found to be in violation of that FIFA rule.  If the USSF is in court, even if it holds a winning hand, it’s not a good look for the joint 2026 World Cup bid between Canada, the United States and Mexico.  If that’s the ace in the hole — the spectre of Article 17 — that the NASL was waiting to produce, the league has now played its card. And, by playing it before the United States has to play vital World Cup qualifiers later this autumn, the NASL amps up the game of chicken.

FIFA directs its confederations to solve its disputes through the Court of Arbitration for Sport. It is through CAS where Miami FC — an NASL team — is co-plaintiff in a case against FIFA. The claim is that FIFA is breaking its own rules by not forcing the USSF to have a system of promotion and relegation. Miami FC’s suit  was the nice-guy way of bringing a soccer matter to court. The NASL’s motion in U.S. federal court is a measure that runs afoul of the way FIFA likes to see its confederations settle their affairs.

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One Comment

  1. Ian

    September 20, 2017 at 2:51 pm

    Great article Steve. Glad to hear the lawsuit is forthcoming, it sounds like they have good legal grounds.
    The conflict of interest and arbitrary nature of the USSF’s actions is obvious. And this situation is distracting and demotivating to the owners, players and fans who invest all the time, money and energy in the league.

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