In Part One of this three part series on what it takes to own a lower-level soccer club I presented the NPSL story.
In Part Two I visit with Daniel Cortez, the commissioner of the NSSL (National Star Soccer League.)
The NSSL is planning on making a big splash in the Northwest in 2011 when the NW Conference is supposed to jump up to twelve clubs in Washington, Oregon and Utah. New clubs in Seattle, Tacoma and Spokane are among those that could join next season. It was just this year that the NSSL was granted provisional status as the third national league by the US Adult Soccer Association.
I asked the same series of questions of the NSSL that I did and will do with both the NPSL and the PDL. The NSSL, however, chose to answer in the form of an interview rather than a list of facts and league requirements. Mere minutes after asking for league entry criteria via email my phone rang, and it was Commissioner Cortez on the other end of the line. Read some of our conversation below.
Defending the first NSSL season
“A lot of people criticized us this year when we announced 69 teams would be starting the league in 2010, and actually only 28 did,” says Daniel Cortez, commissioner of the National Star Soccer League. “The reason is because we wanted to know the markets. These franchises that we are joining right now for the 2011 season were mostly franchises that were supposed to start this year. We asked them to wait because we want to enter markets where we and the local owners know everything that is going on.”
I asked Cortez about the league-owner relationship in the NSSL. “The league owns its operations and sells franchises to local owners,” he clarifies. “We work with clubs on logos, names and colors. We want to create something that is marketable for that community. At the end we are trying to pull the people out of the chair, you know off the couch, to go see the team. So we have to understand the market and how the franchise will be developed.”
The NSSL, like the NPSL, can point to a few clubs that have had greater than average success in drawing fans this year. “In the first year (of a franchise) you always want to come out even. We tell the owners to make that a goal,” says Cortez. ” We have a few big successes, such as the Centro Valley Eagles (California). They pull in up to 3,000 people a game in Tracy, California. We have also teams in the south (that are drawing well). In the Northwest the teams are new and there is a lot of competition (other leagues).
Since the league office in Bellevue, Nebraska, lists Hispanic last names, and many of the clubs are owned by Spanish-speaking owners and populated with Hispanic players, it does seem to some that the NSSL is growing as an almost exclusive Hispanic-American soccer league. Cortez bristles at the idea. “We have 28 team owners this year. Out of those…we have five from Europe, three from South America, three from Central America, and the rest are from the US. We are a league for everybody.”
Cortez says the NSSL is different, wants to be different. He isn’t quite able to clarify exactly how, but gives it a try. “We try to establish our teams in a different way. We just signed a contract with Puma, a popular brand in central and south America, to be an official supplier all of our teams with boots, uniforms and such. We are trying to bring something that has not already been known and has been there for so many years. That’s why I think our product has been successful, why we are growing so big.”
About the cost to run a franchise in the United Soccer Leagues’ PDL, Cortez is clear and to the point. “What I see with the PDL is the price. Way too much. The most one of our owners might spend (for a season, to run a club) is about $40,000. That would be with plenty of luxury on your team. We are trying to set it up so it is affordable.”
When I ask Cortez about accusations that the NSSL has made use of NPSL structure and documents in establishing their blueprint, he shakes off the suggestion. “Why would I want to copy anyone else?” He retorts. “If I copy them then I am not as good as them, and I want to be the best.”
If you purchase a franchise in the NSSL, can you hope the league will eventually go professional? “That is our goal,” Cortez confides. “We already have players that we have helped to get contracts with pro clubs. As an example, the California Eagles team had three players that went to Pachuca (Mexico). We try to give team owners connections to good players. When we have players with professional potential we try to help them get to our clubs that can help them along.”
The PDL featured nine clubs in the Northwest in 2010. The NPSL lags behind with only one current side (Southern Oregon Fuego) and plans for an Oak Harbor side in 2011. Meanwhile, Cortez says the NSSL will almost double its Northwest presence for 2011.
“‘We have four clubs in Washington right now, and five new ones coming up for the following year. The Seattle Stars, who were scheduled to join in 2010 will join next year. They wanted to get all of their structuring right so they delayed for a year. Tacoma. We are deciding on a team name right now with the owner. I think in the past he (Tacoma owner) was a board member of the Tacoma Tide. There will also be another new team in the west half of the state. Spokane is also possible in the east.”
Cortez hopes the new teams are met with open arms in the local communities. “Support the NSSL. Support our teams,” he encourages. “Check out what we have to offer. We are glad to be in the Northwest, and to grow. We are happy that in 2011 our Northwest conference will host a total of 12 teams. That’s going to be exciting for us and more matches for the fans to watch. More entertainment for the kids.”
Next: Part three concludes our series with the United Soccer Leagues’ Premier Development League (PDL), and a Q & A with Jeff Mcraney.