By FRANCO PANIZO
MLS commissioner Don Garber has taken what is seemingly a full-steam-ahead approach in terms of expansion, but the plan is not one NASL commissioner Bill Peterson shares for his league.
In fact, Peterson threw some thinly-veiled jabs at MLS for its rapid-fire expansion strategy on Thursday.
Speaking to reporters via a conference call, Peterson went into detail about NASL’s expansion plans and was a bit critical of MLS in the process given how quickly the first division North American league is expanding these days. Peterson not only took issue with how quickly MLS is trying to grow, but also where they are looking to go.
“Can somebody tell me, is he going to have 32 teams or 42 teams?” Peterson asked rhetorically of Garber without mentioning him by name. “How many is he going to have? Every day he announces another city. I’ve got to send him an update of where we’re going so he can announce that next.”
If Peterson’s attitude towards MLS sounds vastly different from the one he had in the initial months after being appointed NASL commissioner, it is because he believes MLS is beginning to try to start a competition with his league.
Peterson has said in the past that NASL needs to focus on building its own fanbase and that the league is not in competition with MLS, but things appear to be changing on that front as MLS eyes several cities and markets for expansion, including ones like Minnesota and South Florida that already have NASL teams.
“(The attitude towards not competing with MLS is) starting to change a little bit now when technically we were in New York before they made that (New York City FC) announcement,” said Peterson. “Now, they’re talking about Minnesota and Atlanta and San Antonio and other places, Miami. I can’t follow it.
“I think every market is a little bit different. I think in some cities we feel very comfortable that we can continue doing what we’re doing and growing the way we’re growing and that there will be no adverse affects to what we’re trying to accomplish. Other cities, they’re trying to figure that out but it’s a little difficult because (MLS is) not very clear – not that they have to be – on what they’re doing or where they’re going. There seems to be some NFL alignment with teams and stadiums. If that’s the way they’re going, that might not affect us at all. That’s the opposite direction of where we’re going. … We’re trying to build something that really aligns with the rest of the world.”
Peterson added that NASL’s current expansion focus lies on the Midwest and West Coast, but said that approach will not prevent other cities in other parts of the United States from getting into the league so long as they meet the requirements.
“We’d like to see our footprint expand throughout the whole country, so San Francisco, Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego,” said Peterson. “We have some level of conversations going on with potential owners in every one of those markets. It doesn’t preclude us from talking to people on the East Coast. There’s at least two conversations occurring there as well that I can’t share right now, some stuff in the midwest.
“We don’t have a timeline. I’m fortunate that the owners have said, ‘Bill, take your time and make sure we get the right owners in the right cities.’ It’s hard to handicap expansion and what we won’t do is create any false timelines or put ourselves in a corner where we think we have to make decisions. We’ve admitted two teams in the last eight months, Oklahoma City and Jacksonville. That’s pretty good progress and we’re just going to keep working at it.
“The good news is there is a lot of people approaching us. It creates a lot of work, but there’s a lot of people approaching us with interest in joining the league. It’s interesting to me to find some people who really want to go back to the legacy clubs and talk about Aztecs and Sting and we’re evaluating that and there are others who want to start a new legacy, if you will, with NASL. The conversations are very robust and very interesting and we’re quite confident we’ll accomplish what we want to over some period of time in the next few years.”
Two markets currently slated to have expansion teams in NASL in the near future are Oklahoma and Virginia, but both have run into issues in recent months. That has left uncertainty as to if they will be ready in time for their 2015 starts, but Peterson is of the belief that they will.
“Oklahoma City, we’re going through ownership realignment,” said Peterson. “We have a group there that is continuing and going forward. We have to ramp up a couple of things behind the scenes and then we’ll clarify that for everybody in more detail, but we’re very confident, we’re still expected to play in 2015 and I believe that will happen.
“Virginia is also going through some ownership reorganization that started with the delay in the stadium being built, (which) led to some issues I would say. We’re working closely with them. We feel like we’re going to come out of this in a very strong position and it’s just part of starting businesses sometimes. It doesn’t always go to the plan that was originally laid out, but in both cases we’re still very confident we’ll be playing in 2015 and actually being in better shape then when we first started.”