The North American Soccer League (NASL) announced Tuesday, September 19, that it has filed a federal antitrust lawsuit against the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) in Brooklyn federal court.
The filing comes two weeks after the USSF denied the NASL’s application for second-division status for 2018, which could jeopardize the league’s future. The United Soccer League has overtaken the NASL as the second division behind Major League Soccer (MLS).
The division structure in the United States is designed in order for league’s to reach certain requirements, including number of teams. The NASL lost four clubs after the 2016 season, leaving it with only eight teams, four below the 12-team minimum.
As a backdrop to this suit, it is worth noting that soccer around the world operates under the controversial mandate of FIFA (the international governing body for the sport) which is alleged to hold an unhealthy degree of control over all aspects of the game, including relationships between teams, leagues, players and commercial sponsors and broadcasters. Moreover, the MLS, which operates under a closed, non-relegation/promotion model typical to professional sports in the US, also raises eyebrows among grassroots purists because top tier slots are non-contestable.
According to a press release from the NASL, the complaint alleges that the USSF has violated federal antitrust laws through its anticompetitive “division” structure that divides men’s professional soccer for US-based leagues based on arbitrary criteria that the USSF has manipulated to favor MLS, which serves as the commercial business partner of the USSF.
“The USSF left the NASL no choice except to file this lawsuit,” said Rocco B. Commisso, Chairman of the NASL’s Board of Governors and the principal owner of the New York Cosmos.
“The NASL has taken this step to protect not just the league, but also the game, fans, and everyone with a stake in the future success of professional soccer leagues based in this country.”
The complaint alleges that the USSF has selectively applied and waived its divisional criteria to suppress competition from the NASL, both against MLS and against the USL. An example provided by the NASL states, “Under the USSF’s divisional criteria, there are European clubs that have successfully operated for decades that would be considered ineligible for ‘Division I’ or even ‘Division II’ status due to arbitrary requirements like stadium capacity and market size.”
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