We’ve reached the final installment of my three part series on what it takes to join one of the national soccer leagues that would allow for the founding of a soccer club without having to spend millions to do so.
In Part One I looked at the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL).
In Part Two I talked with the commissioner of the National Star Soccer League (NSSL).
The third national league affiliated with the United States Adult Soccer Association (USASA) is the Premier Development League (PDL) run by the United Soccer Leagues. It is also by far the longest-running and largest of the three leagues. The PDL contained 67 clubs over 8 divisions in 2010. The league has roster limits which include clubs having no more than 8 players over the age of 23 on their rosters. Right now the PDL allows a few clubs, such as the Kitsap Pumas and Hollywood United Hitmen, to play in the amateur league with paid (professional) players.
The PDL is currently the dominant league at their level in the Northwest, where the division had 9 clubs in 2010 (Kitsap, Portland, Abottsford BC, Victoria BC, Vancouver BC, Tacoma, Spokane, Yakima and Washington (Seattle.)
I contacted Jeff McRaney, Senior Development Director of the PDL, to get his feedback on the questions below.
Who is the point of contact for joining your league?
Jeff McRaney – Senior Director, Premier Development League, PH # 813.963.3909 x.229 – Fax # 813.963.3807, [email protected]
SSE: What are the estimated start-up (first year) costs for joining your league?
McRaney: “We have a detailed business plan presentation which is provided to all legitimate franchise prospects.”
What are the combined yearly league fees?
Note: McRaney left this question unanswered, even after prompting. I went to a local source familiar with running one of the Puget Sound PDL sides. Running a PDL club is more expensive than running a club in the NPSL or the NSSL, due in part to higher league fees. The quote I got from the local PDL person was that it takes around $50-$70,000 a year to run a PDL club on a budget. Owners can of course spend more at their discretion on advertising, uniforms, etc. This does not include player salaries for the few clubs that are pro.
SSE: What are the minimum financial / market / field / stadium requirements?
McRaney: “USL currently has a 13 page grid and an entire section of our Operations Manual that covers Minimum Standards for our franchises. Like any other franchise business, our efforts are to offer a successful business model and adapt it to varying markets. Venue seating capacities are at 1000 seats minimum and there is a more lengthy list (including Press Box, lighting, PA system, etc.) of other venue requirements.”
Why is your league the best choice for starting a soccer franchise?
“As the parent company of the PDL, United Soccer Leagues has become the largest organization of elite-level soccer leagues in North America by building on the vision, commitment, and passion of players, fans, and investors. Now in its third decade of operation, USL continues to be a driving force in the growth of soccer in the United States, Canada, and the Caribbean. The PDL differentiates itself significantly by offering more to our business partners and franchise owners than any other organization.”
First, the franchise system, which has become even more of a focus under our new ownership, offers several things.
Successful Model – The PDL business model is successful and replicable. Our model has already been widely adapted throughout the US, Canada, and Bermuda. Owners don’t just own a team, but a business.
Protection – USL franchises (including PDL, W-League, or Pro teams) are given a territory in which to operate without interference from other franchises. This alone provides additional opportunity to be successful in a defined market. Our large presence across so many markets does prevent new PDL franchises from entering an already occupied market, which may be one reason the New York area has been challenging to add teams into.
Premium Team Services – In addition to marketing, PR, and league administration, the PDL offers a National Technical Director, strategic partnerships, revenue generating ideas, and a professional registrar. The USL staff includes professionals with decades of combined experience in soccer from the pros to the US National Team programs as well as experience from other high level organizations such as the NHL. With the recent addition of our legal department, our centralized staff all operate out of our headquarters in Tampa.
Other aspects of the USL & PDL advantage include:
NIKE, UMBRO, Fox Soccer Channel, Hands On Sports, Game Face, Beswicks, Demosphere. These are just a few of the partners that provide value added benefits to USL franchises. USL business partners are a part of something bigger than just a league.
Development & Competition
The PDL is a developmental league. I doubt there is a better purpose that a league can serve than to develop players and the game itself. Not only does it complement the college playing experience, but 75% of the players taken in the 2010 MLS Draft had played in the PDL. In the past five years combined, 70% of all MLS draftees played in the PDL. The 2009 list of All-American honors announced by the NSCAA had 44 players in the NCAA Division I, II and III ranks who received recognition after playing in the USL Premier Development League, including 24 of the 33 Division I selection. Nine of the 11 players on the Division I First Team were PDL alumni, including six players from the four College Cup semifinalists.
Network & Opportunities
The USL pyramid in and of itself offers opportunities like no other organization. The combined USL network is the largest of its kind. The Dayton Dutch Lions entered into the 2010 season as a PDL team. Following a successful season, they have already moved up the USL ladder into our professional ranks for 2011 competition. Dayton and their Dutch partners FC Twente, who spent most of 2010 at the top of the table in the Netherlands First Division, certainly understand the value and opportunities that the USL and PDL offer. Further, the PDL is connected with numerous youth clubs through our pyramid of leagues that offers the best male and female players the opportunity to compete and develop at accelerated levels through one integrated system. It is difficult to find this type of flexible system anywhere else.
There is no question why players like Brian Ching, Jason Kreis, and Anton Peterlin chose to compete in the PDL. Anton went straight from the PDL to Everton after a successful 2009 season. With teams in Canada and Bermuda, the PDL offers unique competition like no other league combining domestic and international opportunities with the chance to compete annually in the US Open Cup.
Fox Soccer Channel has televised the PDL Championship 9 years in a row with the 2010 competition being played in PGE Park in Portland. For those unfamiliar with PGE Park, the MLS will be playing in the same stadium next year. In addition, the USL has several “USL Breakaway” shows televised throughout the year highlighting our franchises and youth programs.
While these are just a few key competitive advantages of owning a PDL franchise, there are certainly more reasons that we can share with those desiring to expand their business portfolio or the game of soccer in North America through investing in the USL system. —Jeff McRaney
My closing thoughts on the three leagues
There was a time when the PDL was the only choice for a national league at this level (4th division). Now would-be owners have three choices. Some clubs have actually switched back and forth between the PDL and the NPSL over the years.
One of the PDL’s biggest assets has been that if you want to take a club ‘up the ladder’ as far as you can go, the United Soccer Leagues has a built-in pyramid to do so. However, recent events have rendered this advantage less powerful. Right now the second and third divisions are either stuck in a quagmire with the United States Soccer Federation, or underpopulated and in need of new blood. Both of those levels (USL-1 and USL-2) have been run by the USL. Last year the NASL was born and some second division clubs left the USL to join the start-up. The same thing happened back in 2003 when a few PDL clubs left the USL to start the NPSL. So where is the advantage in joining the USL when no one is clear on what kind of higher level league there might even be to move up to within that system?
The NPSL appears to be the ‘winner’ in this series, in terms of costs and willingness to openly share what it would take to own and run a soccer club at this level. There is also the new NPSL winter league option to consider. Some clubs find the current summer session almost too short at this level to build a franchise. I wish the NPSL had a larger presence in the Northwest. Perhaps over time in will happen.
The NSSL will be very interesting to follow. While I think dreaming big is essential for soccer leagues and their club owners, I also would like to have gotten more concrete information from the NSSL offices. They are a young league and eventually the proof will be in how many clubs they retain.