The North American Soccer League (NASL) called a media conference call on Thursday September 28th to make a statement in regards to the Federal antitrust lawsuit the NASL has filed against the United States Soccer Federation (USSF). The conference call was divided into two halves, for which we will cover in two parts. The first part documents NASL statements as to a description of the issues at stake with the lawsuit, and the league’s motivations in driving its pursuit. The second part was a question and answer period with media representatives on the conference call.
NASL Interim Commissioner Rishi Seghal; Jeffrey Kessler, main litigator for the NASL, and Rocco Commisso, Chairman of the NASL Board of Governors, spoke on behalf of the NASL.
The conference call outlined major points:
- Statements as they pertain to the future plans of specific clubs for 2018 will not be discussed until after the preliminary injunction hearing
- Without the benefit of a favorable preliminary injunction enjoining the USSF’s decision to de-sanction the league’s provisional Division Two sanctioning, the NASL in its current form is unlikely to continue
- A favorable ruling on the preliminary injunction is necessary to start planning for the 2018 season
- The purpose of the lawsuit is not to bring about promotion and relegation
- The greater lawsuit, addressing the USSF’s antitrust exemption in setting divisional standards, would continue regardless of the outcome of the preliminary injunction
- The financial and governance interrelationships between USSF and MLS are the driver for the USSF’s failure to fulfill its role of fostering all of American soccer, and for its motivation to shield the MLS from risk of competition
Statements from the first half of the call include:
NASL Interim Commissioner Rishi Sehgal:
“We asked U.S Soccer for a period of three years to come into complete compliance with their standards for Division 2; we felt that a three year period would be consistent with what should be our mutual goals of growth and stability for NASL. Instead of granting a three year period the federation took a cold decision that threatens the very existence of the league.
“We have several more markets that want to join NASL however their decision, like our current owners, are predicated on NASL retaining D2 status under the federations current system”.
Rocco B Commisso:
“I naturally expected that we will be given a reasonable chance to achieve our goals. I communicated that expectation to Sunil Gulati, even if I hadn’t he’s an economics professor at my school Columbia University and presumably smart enough to understand the importance of a league that was going to make significant investments to grow the game…no reasonable person acting in good faith can possibly think that we can accomplish our goals if our d2 designation was going to be yanked away within a few months.
“With the belief that the provisional D2 designation was going to be extended as needed the NASL went about recruiting new team owners. Although we received absolutely no support, financial or other ways or even encouragement from Mr. Sunil and the USSF, we kept working to stablize our league despite obstacles that arose because of circumstances within the federations control rather than the NASL. Imagine our surprise when the NASL was summoned on short notice to a September 1st meeting at the federations Board and commanded us to justify our continued existence as a d2 league. We showed up at the federations offices at the appointed time but we were kept waiting for 6 hours without being given an explanation as to the delay or frankly extending to us simple curiosity feeding the people that came. When we were finally admitted to the room it quickly became clear to me and everyone from our side that the board was just going through the motions and had no real interest in what we had to say. One of the independent directors on the board fell asleep while I was talking.”
“The next time we heard from the federation was later that evening when we were told that the federation was denying D2 status beyond the end of the 2017 season. The board gave the USL until October 3rd to come up with a plan to eventually achieve compliance with the d2 requirements.”
“We were told that an appeal of that decision would be fruitless even if we presented a modified plan. Apparently to the minds of those in the board, a league with teams ready willing and able to play, and teams owners ready and willing and able to finance them should be shut down not because of the quality of soccer played on the field but because they want to compete at the highest level against the USSF favored league, which is the MLS. If a league has owners willing to fund its teams, and fans willing to view its games, what exactly is the harm in allowing it to continue at the d2 level regardless of whether it has 8, 10 or more teams or whether it plays in 3 or 2 time zones. Let the fans – not the federation – decide whether they think teams are playing major or minor league soccer and whether the league will ultimately succeed or fail.
“Unfortunately the fed left us with no other choice but to sue.”
“I love soccer, I love this league and I will fight for what is right for a long period of time.”
“The basic claim of the lawsuit is that the United States Soccer Federation as a private organization without any government authority to regulate professional soccer is fully subject to the anti trust laws of the U.S. The professional league standards of the United States Soccer Federation not only restrict competition but they have successfully shielded MLS of any competition at the division at all conferring a monopoly upon it.”
“What all the evidence shows is that the rules that have been put into place have one purpose and one purpose alone and that is to prevent there from being a level playing field and a competitive environment for fans for sponsors for others and to instead again protect the monopoly to MLS which has been able to exploit the monoploy now to the point where they have taken a league and teams a few years ago that were selling for lets say 20 million are now selling for a 120 million…solely based on the monopoly position that they have enjoyed and been protected and given by the standards.”
“In 2015 the NASL tried to become a D1 league under the sanction process and was able to satisfy all the standards at that time but what did USSF do. They delayed the application for months – really through a whole season – saying now we are going to increase the standards. After all we don’t really want MLS to have a competitor. We will make the standards even tougher. Then when an antitrust challenge was threatened, they came back and said ok you don’t qualify as a D1 league because you don’t have teams in 3 different continental U.S time zones. No other federation in the world has rules like this . No other sport in the U.S has private rules like this. We believe these are anti-competitive; we believe they serve no pro competitive purpose there for they are illegal.
“Once the injunction is in place the league will be able to make its plans for next season. It expects to come back if it keeps it d2 bigger, better and stronger on a going forward basis.”