The NASL Board of Governors met in Dallas last week to discuss a variety of topics concerning the up and coming league. Part of those meetings included presentations from 4 prospective ownership groups in different expansion cities from all over the country. A press release sent out last Thursday by NASL confirmed that soccer fans in Oklahoma City and Jacksonville will have home soccer teams to cheer for in 2015.
Oklahoma City businessman Tim McLaughlin presented to the NASL Board of Governors on behalf of OKC Pro Soccer LLC, which had secured the rights to Taft Stadium to play home matches (For more on McLaughlin and OKC NASL expansion efforts, click here). Both McLaughlin and NASL Commissioner Bill Peterson expressed their excitement about having a team in the OKC market:
We look forward to working with the NASL to give our community a soccer team and game experience people will be talking about for many years to come. We are especially excited to know that bringing this level of professional soccer to our market will also help the local schools whose historic Taft Stadium we will play in when it is remodeled and refurbished to its former glory. We will create a revenue source for the local community because every ticket we sell will benefit inner city schools. To say we are excited and overwhelmed is an understatement.
The Board of Governors has recognized a carefully crafted bid from OKC Pro Soccer LLC, who waited patiently to build a strong platform that will ensure NASL soccer thrives in Oklahoma City. Like their Jacksonville counterparts, they have almost two full years to prepare an unrivaled coaching staff, player roster and venue to create a team that local fans will be proud to support.
Jacksonville was the other city and ownership group awarded expansion team rights. Mark Frisch and Dario Sala, a former professional footballer, of the Sunshine Soccer Group successfully presented their case to the Board. This means that there will be a soccer triangle in the state of Florida for the NASL, as Jacksonville will join current teams in Fort Lauderdale (Strikers) and Tampa Bay (Rowdies). Peterson commented on the thirst for soccer in the sunshine state, and in Jacksonville particularly:
I have seen first hand the desire the Jacksonville community has for a professional soccer team to call its own and believe this is a great move for soccer in Florida. The Sunshine Soccer Group is creating another in-state rivalry for our teams the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Fort Lauderdale Strikers, appealing to the global soccer passion for local derbies that are always special occasions.
Jacksonville will make the 6th team for the NASL that will make its home in the southeast region. Other teams in the southeast are Virginia Calvary FC (2014), Atlanta Silverbacks, Charlotte RailHawks, Tampa Bay Rowdies, and Fort Lauderdale Strikers. Assuming no more expansion announcements will come between now and 2015, this will mean that 43% of NASL clubs will be located in the southeast.
Peterson has said that the goal of NASL is to become a top professional soccer league in the United States (previous Business of Soccer interview with Peterson here). Coincidentally, that is also the mission of MLS, or somewhere very close. As a competitor to MLS for the “top” league in the U.S., NASL have built a strong foothold in a region of the country where MLS have zero presence. This expansion strategy from NASL is known in the marketing world as a “Blue Ocean” strategy. When developing a new product, or in this case a new team, it’s often wise to consider capitalizing on markets where there is high unmet demand. In this case, we know there are very high interests in soccer in many southeastern cities, yet there are no MLS teams to meet that demand. Enter the NASL and its now 6 teams once Jacksonville enters the league in 2015.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber commented in a live tweet Q&A that the southeast is the top focus for MLS expansion in the near future. Miami and Orlando seem to be the front runners for an expansion team, if you give any stock to the rumors. Former LA Galaxy midfielder and Premier League star David Beckham has expressed his sincere interest in bringing a team to Miami. It would be interesting to see what a Miami MLS team would do to the soccer market in south Florida with neighboring Fort Lauderdale Strikers only a few miles away.
NASL also targeted a “Blue Ocean” market with other teams in the country such as Minnesota United FC and Indy Eleven (2014). Some may argue that the NY Cosmos addition does not play into the “Blue Ocean” expansion strategy. However, if we consider the timing of the announcement of the Cosmos, there was only the NY Red Bulls MLS team in the New York market, the largest by population. It was not until 2013 that MLS announced they would add yet another New York team with the addition of New York FC, funded by the Yankees and Manchester City. At the time that NASL went after the New York market with the Cosmos announcement, most would agree that one team to service the NY soccer demand was not enough and that there was more than enough room for another team.
Focusing on markets that have yet to be tapped is somewhat risky, however, because there is not always proof of return on investment from other successful teams, hence the whole “Blue Ocean” concept. However, the reward of being first to market is an enticing and often lucrative one, and at the rate NASL is growing, they seem to be reaping the benefits. League leaders have made it clear that they are calculated in their expansion strategy, and thus far, placing their bets in non-fragmented markets seems to be working quite well.