The new year started off with some big news for the United Soccer League (USL) when U.S. Soccer granted the league provisional division 2 sanctioning within the american soccer pyramid. The league has made great strides in the last few years and has a lot to look forward to in the near future.
Business of Soccer had the opportunity to speak with USL president Jake Edwards about the current state of the league and what the division 2 sanctioning means for the future.
Edwards noted that the division 2 status is fantastic for the league and everyone involved and is an affirmation of the work that has been put in on and off the pitch in the last few years to get it to where it is today.
There was a disconnect between what we were doing commercially, in broadcast, operationally, in investment and infrastructure…all of these things we’ve been working very hard on and our clubs and owners have been spending fortunes on all the right things to improve the experience for the players for the fans. There was a disconnect between that, and a third division sanctioned league and the perception that goes along with that because it’s not a true reflection of what’s going on and the quality of the players, the owners, the executives, the fans, everything.
This puts the USL a tier just below Major League Soccer (MLS) and on par with the North American Soccer League (NASL), which previously sat alone in division 2. The impact of U.S. Soccer’s sanctioning decision on the NASL and the rest of the soccer pyramid is a topic for a conversation at a later time, but for the USL it opens some doors both on and off the pitch. If you think about trying to attract talented players to the league, or trying to build a case to a corporate sponsor partner to invest in the league, it’s a different conversation to say “division 2”, one step below MLS, versus “division 3”. Edwards commented,
There’s a tangible impact to the conversation with our commercial and media partners around the world due to the new sanctioning.
Edwards mentioned multiple times the level of investment throughout the league and one of the initiatives that was easy to see he’s very passionate about is the launch of USL Productions. The league is going to be broadcasting over 500 matches live in-house with their partner Vista Worldlink in their south Florida studios. Edwards explained,
We’re using this new system of remotely broadcasting all of the games, so everything’s done in one place. We’ve got cameras in the buildings and we link them to a network so we can take content and deliver it instantly from all of those stadiums anywhere we want around the world. We’ll spend upwards of $10 million over the next 3 years in this project and it’s going to massively increase the quality and standardize the level of production across the league and it’s the first phase of a very exciting digital broadcast initiative we’re building over the next few years.
The production is a game changer, it really is for us, because now we can produce TV quality broadcasts at a fraction of the cost by using new technology and new techniques to massively increase the inventory for our teams who can now go out in the market and secure local TV deals and sell up to 32 games locally, and they haven’t been able to do that in the past.
There are many associated with the league who will benefit from this upward move for the USL, but one group in particular that will undoubtedly be rewarded for their investment is the club owners. They have put forward the legwork and the capital to help get their clubs and the league to where they are today with regard to stadiums, training facilities, technology, etc. Edwards said that the league was very diligent in understanding the benefits – financial and otherwise – to making the move from division 3 to division 2. He said,
We’ve spent a year and a half with Nielsen Sport and there is a very real, monetary effect in moving up to division two. It’s not going to happen overnight, but it will happen.
Ultimately the division 2 sanctioning is another step toward the USL and Edwards’s long-term goal of creating a sustainable league that helps grow the game in North America. The league still has a long road ahead of it, with many questions still to be answered, but the USL certainly is making a push towards permanence in the american soccer pyramid. To use Edwards’s words, for the USL, “Right now, it’s go time”.