The Exigent Duality
How to go about business the exact wrong way - 22:03 CDT, 12/03/11 (Sniper)
A few weeks ago, I started writing an opinion piece titled "What the NASL can learn from Europe". It started like this:

"From the formation of the English Football Association in 1863, to the first ever international football match, played between Scotland and England in 1872, to the spread of football to mainland Europe and beyond starting in the late 1870s, Europe has been not only the point at which football originated, but it has been the source from which the game has proliferated.

Indeed, Europe's long and rich history with the sport has led to some of the most beautiful, effective, and mature tactical styles ever employed; one need look no further for evidence than the trophies contemporary Barcelona has won on the back of its flourishing passing game. The European game has also seen its fair share of problems as well-- a widening gap between the rich and poor clubs among them.

In America, the NASL looks a sure bet to once again achieve sancationing as the USSF's official second division after a successful inaugural campaign in which all of the clubs survived financially-- something that is 'probably worth being proud of' according to NASL commisioner David Downs.

Aristotle once said, 'If you would understand anything, observe its beginning and its development.' Now that the NASL has something of a foothold on the beachhead of football in America, it is as good of a time as any to look at what actions the league can take based on the lessons learned in football's best and oldest arena: Europe."

What a great premise for an article, I thought to myself! And as someone who has followed the European game for a long time, I have a lot to warn the fledgling NASL about!

In the article, I went on to discuss how the NASL needs to convince the MLS to establish promotion and relegation in order to make the NASL relevant, how the NASL needs to establish a salary cap to prevent the competitive imbalances that would inevitably form in the league, and how the league desparately needs a television deal to boost the revenue of its clubs; hell, even the USL has a television deal-- with Fox Soccer Channel-- and the USL is America's third division for Pete's sake!

I sent a draft of the article to friend and proprietor of Inside Minnesota Soccer, Brian Quarstad, for his take. I then went to fetch some coffee and a newspaper.

I came back to a reply from Brian that basically went like this: "Uh, I like the opening but none of your arguments are relevant; the USL pays big bucks for their television deal for instance."

Upon reading that sentence, I nearly spit the coffee out my nose.

The USL is paying for their games to be on television?! And that was the moment when I stopped denying just how futile the NASL's-- and USL's for that matter-- approach to the game is.

I've been following Minnesota Stars since their inception, and Thunder before them. My hopes and dreams of a division two league were filled with boundless optimism, and my moods rose and fell like a galleon on the ocean when half the league's clubs split with the USL, formed their own league, went through the rollercoaster of USSF sancationing last year, and took to the pitch this year. But through all of those emotions and attempted positivism, deep down I was never a true believer that the NASL would succeed where the USL failed.

My heart of hearts tells me there is no way in hell the MLS will-- probably ever-- try to reconcile their franchise business model with the grass roots strategy that worked everywhere else in the world. MLS isn't trying to make an English Premier League-- they're trying to make an NFL. And from the top down. Promotion and relegation will not happen in this country, at least not with the MLS involved.

And my warnings to the NASL about runaway rich clubs winning the cup every year like happens in Europe? Most the clubs can't even stay in business much less achieve dominance.

Business 101 states that the key to establishing anything-- a movie theater, a fast food restaurant, a drug trafficking ring, or a professional football league-- is to recognize a need, then fill the void. Business 101 also teaches that the goal of a business is to make money.

It feels to me like the NASL and USL have been trying to open a beauty salon in a city full of men, and then desparately trying to convince all the men that they need to come in for perms and manicures. It's going about business completely backwards.

Last time I checked, 75% of the "division two" clubs in this country since 1995 have gone bankrupt. 75%. And attendance is abysmal-- the Minnesota Stars drew 1521 fans to their home games. I bet there are the football-equivalent of little league games that draw more people than that.

And perhaps that's the point? Beneath the lofty, shining lights of MLS, maybe the amateur PDL is the only form of football that has any sort of market in this country? Because from what I've seen, the two cornerstones of business-- demand for a product or service, and a viable way to make money-- simply don't exist for football at the level the NASL and the USL have been trying to peddle.