Leaders in Sport: Bill Peterson

Leaders in SportWelcome to Business of Soccer’s latest column – Leaders in Sport. Each month, Business of Soccer will feature a leader in North American soccer who is positively impacting the direction of the sport. For a schedule of the upcoming features, visit www.businessofsoccer.com/leaders.

 

Bill Peterson is in his first season as the Commissioner of the North American Soccer League (NASL). Hired in November 2012 to lead the NASL in its third season since its relaunch, Peterson brings a global perspective and wealth of sports experience to the position.

Bill Peterson, Commissioner of the North American Soccer League (NASL). Photo courtesy of NASL.

Bill Peterson, Commissioner of the North American Soccer League (NASL). Photo courtesy of NASL.

Having began his career in American football with NFL Europe in 1991, the opportunity to work abroad was the first step in his soccer career.

The introduction to soccer occurred three weeks later after my arrival in Frankfurt. We were in Barcelona for a football game – American football – and the night before our game, a couple of guys said, ‘Hey there’s a big soccer match downtown. Why don’t we go?’ And we snuck in the back of Camp Nou.

It was this initial experience at Camp Nou in person for a FC Barcelona match that sparked his interest and later his passion.

It was completely packed – flares going off everywhere. And we’re like ‘we don’t even know who the home team is, so we’re just going to sit here and be quiet until we figure it out.’ But that was my introduction to soccer and the amazing thing over ten years in Europe was that I got to see Champions League Finals. I got to see World Cups. I got to see different high level matches whether it was in Holland, Germany, England, Spain, and we had relationships with some of the clubs.

Peterson worked in Europe from 1991 to 2000, serving as the General Manager of the Amsterdam Admirals in NFL Europe and President of NFL Europe. In 2000, Peterson left the National Football League for the role of Senior Vice President of AEG Sports and Managing Director of the Home Depot Center. His position with AEG Sports included management of several Major League Soccer clubs and assisting in the development of soccer-specific stadiums in the United States.

The 6 years at AEG were also very exciting to be involved in the Home Depot Center, be involved with some of our other teams, but really see the potential this game has in this country and be around it quite a bit. It was one of the appealing things when I got the call about this position, was look this sport has grown so dramatically in this country and it’s established itself.

Having worked in soccer in the United States from 2000 to 2006, Peterson witnessed the contraction of Major League Soccer in 2001 with the Miami Fusion and Tampa Bay Mutiny but also the expansion in 2005 with Real Salt Lake and Chivas USA and in 2006 the relocation of the San Jose Earthquakes to Houston, becoming the Houston Dynamo.

Back even in 2000, there was the question ‘if we’re going to even make it.’ MLS has made it. They’re not going away. Professional soccer is here to stay. So to have the opportunity to maybe put another piece into that history was really exciting. The next thing was sitting down with our owners and getting a sense that they have the same vision, same passion for doing this. I have been very fortunate.

Peterson has in common with Don Garber, Commissioner of Major League Soccer, a substantial part of his career – working for the National Football League (NFL). Garber spent 16 years of his career with the NFL.

I think he is the same way and is there something to be brought from the NFL? Sure.

In the landscape of soccer in the United States, Peterson is seeking to establish the NASL as a top professional soccer league. The league has seven active clubs competing in the 2013 season and soon to be eight with the introduction of the New York Cosmos in August. The NASL will introduce three more clubs in 2014 including Virginia Cavalry FC, Ottawa Fury FC, and Indy Eleven bringing the league to a total of eleven clubs. The league’s twelfth club, Puerto Rico Islanders, are undergoing restructuring and will return for the 2014 season.

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