On August 31st, the Financial Times broke the story on the North American Soccer League’s (NASL) legal challenge to the United States Soccer Federation’s (USSF) proposed changes to Division 1 football requirements. The sport’s governing body’s attempt to change and increase the minimum criteria for a 1st division soccer league is an “anti-competitive bait and switch,” claimed attorney Jeffrey Kessler (he of DeflateGate fame) who is representing the NASL in the case.
This past weekend, Erik Stover, COO of NASL team New York Cosmos, doubled down on NASL’s legal challenge against the USSF. Schmidt was candid about a number of topics at a pre-game watch party Q&A session hosted by Jack Demsey’s before the team’s match against FC Edmonton. The hour-long session covered numerous topics including the state of the new Cosmos stadium, questions about the team roster, and, most importantly, his personal thoughts on the NASL’s legal challenge against the USSF.
He also claimed that a recent story in the New York Times about NASL team Carolina Railhawks was placed by people at Major League Soccer (MLS) and the USSF as a means to further discredit the NASL in the American soccer market. The story focused on the arrests of the team’s owner, Aaron Davidson of Traffic Sports, who was one of many persons caught in the initial wave of arrests in this year’s FIFA scandal.
The hour-long session is available in its entirety at the bottom of the post courtesy of the Cosmos Country Podcast. I’ve gone ahead and transcribed the juicier bits about the NASL/USSF situation and the Railhawks/NYT story below as best as I could.
At the 13:45 mark:
Question from audience member: You’ve obviously seen the headlines with Bill Edwards having the pending lawsuit issues against him, we have issues with Carolina with, obviously, Traffic, this new owner in Atlanta, and then we’ve got the two new teams running the league. What are the prospects we can expect from this ownership in general running the league and resolving some of these unknown questions?
Stover: Very good question and it kind of goes into the whole anti-trust thing so why don’t we talk about that for a few minutes.
First, Bill Edwards. I’m not sure what’s real there, what’s not, how much trouble he’s in, how much trouble he’s not. I think it’s interesting that the Department of Justice is not involved in that case. That says a little bit about the validity of it but it doesn’t say everything. He’s done a tremendous job turning that team around. It was an embarrassment how it was run and, so, he’s a very real mover and shaker in the Tampa City *??* area and he makes things happen. So I certainly hope things settle down with whatever is going on with that lawsuit. Only time will tell with something like that and it’s interesting that that case, for a long time…he wasn’t involved in that suit so who knows what’s going on.
I think you’ll be hearing news on Atlanta very soon. Good news for me from my point of view. When I finish here, I’m going to Atlanta to the Board of Governor’s meeting in Atlanta. Monday, Tuesday, there should be several announcements coming out, out of that and if there are several cities in the running for expansion, there’s a resolution to Atlanta coming soon. If it’s not announced within the next week or two, it will be probably before the end of the season. There appears to be a solution for Atlanta.
The interesting thing with Carolina was that team was for sale with Traffic and almost sold well before any of this stuff happened and, ironically, it almost sold before they sold Ft. Lauderdale, so they were moving out of any interest in NASL well before any of this stuff happened. Obviously this FIFA stuff caught us off-guard.
Aaron Davidson, I’ve known him for a few years and thought he was the nicest guy in the world. I certainly never saw a bad side to him but, from what I’ve read, he appears to be very guilty. He was playing the game the way a lot of people, particularly people from South America, play the game: with kickbacks and envelopes and things. It’s unfortunate for him. Nice guy, nice family but he appears to have crossed the line.
Traffic was moving out of the league anyway. We were down to them only owning Carolina and that was for sale for almost a year. There is interest there. I don’t know if that deal is going to close soon. Who knows? I think it’s a nice little setup there where they are, the stadium, the stadium deal they have, the potential with colleges there. There’s a lot of potential there. Traffic, to be honest, has managed it well and managed it well for years. Curt Johnson’s a good president but his hands are tied. Hopefully they’ll get a new ownership in there with local ties and they can move forward. I think that’ll be decided within the next couple of months. I don’t think there’s any list *??* going anywhere but it would be good for everybody if they got a good owner in there. They have a good president, they have a good head coach, they just need some good leadership and a good front office.
At the 23:04 mark:
Stover: So, anti-trust! You’ve seen a couple of articles. I’m not really at liberty to discuss this too much, but one thing I can tell you is those articles only scratch the surface of our position.
Audience member: Our position, you said?
Stover: Yes, NASL’s position on what is fair market practice. In case you missed this, our lawyer is as good as they come. He doesn’t take cases that he thinks he has a chance of losing. Kessler beat the NFL with the Tom Brady-DeflateGate thing. Not a little bit. He whipped their ass. This guy is good. He has won cases like this before. He is one of the most renowned attorneys in this country and just putting his name on the letter that was sent to US Soccer, we know for a fact sent fear through people’s minds.
Again, I can’t really speak specifics to what is in the letter but the bottom line is from when we started, when the Cosmos joined the NASL, there’s been a clear pattern of moving the goals on us. That is something that the Department of Justice looks very negatively upon. We have very compelling evidence for that.
For example, the Premier League would not be 1st division under US Soccer rules because…not Watford…
Audience member: Bournemouth.
Stover: …Bournemouth stadium is below 15, 000. La Liga wouldn’t be 1st division because Eibar and one other stadium isn’t 15, 000. These rules that keep changing time zones and number of teams, the capacity of the stadiums, the size of the city…Athletic Bilbao wouldn’t be allowed into an American 1st division. It’s just crazy and it’s changed every year for three years!
It’s not so much that we’re making an argument that we’re 1st division right now. We’re saying “how can we ever be 1st division if you keep changing the rules? Your committee is made up of nine people from MLS, someone from the USL, three from the women’s league, and Bill Peterson [of NASL].” How can we have a fair opportunity to grow our business?
In any other business in this country…I have an iPhone. It’s not some other organization saying iPhone is 1st division and Samsung is 2nd division and everybody should buy an iPhone. That’s technically what’s happening in soccer at this point.
Where this goes, I don’t know. I’m not involved in the day-to-day discussions. I know that the NASL is very serious and sent a letter to US Soccer and there will be discussions in the near future.
It certainly means a lot for our league. We go to Cuba and the first sentence says “2nd division.” We go to El Salvador and it says “2nd division.” There’s no question that that label on us makes it harder to sell tickets. It makes it harder to sell sponsorships. It makes it harder to do anything we do as a soccer club.
We unfortunately lost to [the New York] Red Bull[s], even though we thought the game was closer than the scoreline indicated, but their players said after the game was “2nd division, 2nd division, 2nd division, 2nd division.” It’s clearly a mandate to try to knock us down and marginalize us.
Their coaches came into our locker room and said “there’s nobody in MLS that would play us like that, who would’ve come out with possession and carve us apart” the way we did. We just made two really bad mistakes, three really, and didn’t finish a couple chances. That very easily could’ve been a very flipped-around scoreline and they knew it. They said that to us. Then they go into the press conference and all they say is “2nd division, 2nd division” so, it’s obviously a tactic being used against us. If we don’t have promotion and relegation in this country, which we’d sign up for tomorrow, there are laws in this country that prevent you, prevent businesses, from trying to put other businesses out of business.
That is really the discussion that’s in front of us. I think it’s going to heat up pretty significantly. That article about Carolina that was in the New York Times, that was placed by MLS and US Soccer. They put that article in the paper, so that’s what we’re going to be dealing with. I know we’re ready for the fight.