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The SBI View: NASL’s Miami move puts the pressure on MLS to bolster expansion plans

Don Garber David Beckham

photo by Robert Mayer/USA Today Sports


At long last, little brother stepped up to big brother.

MLS suffered a hit to its expansion plans on Wednesday when NASL came out of left field announcing that it was expanding into Miami. A new club named Miami FC that is partially owned by former Italian national team star Paolo Maldini will take the field next year, meaning NASL will launch a franchise in the South Florida metropolis before MLS and its European great, David Beckham, can.

After watching MLS snatch up its markets for years, including most recently Minnesota, NASL struck back with a move that has now put MLS on the defensive in a market it has struggled to make progress in.

Beckham and his group of investors, Beckham Miami United, have been stuck in relative limbo since announcing their MLS plans in February 2014. Strong local opposition has twice thwarted Beckham Miami United’s chances of finding a suitable piece of downtown land to build a soccer-specific stadium, and with no soccer-specific stadium MLS has said there will be no team.

There has not been much progress made in recent months, at least not publicly, and MLS commissioner Don Garber is scheduled to head to Miami later this week in what will be his latest attempt to try and iron out a deal. Not just any location will do, either. MLS and Beckham’s group want land in or very close to downtown Miami, and a location near Marlins Park has yet to be embraced despite its relative close proximity to the area.

But with an NASL team now being inserted into the equation, the pressure raises tenfold on MLS, Garber and Beckham to find a stadium solution. They no longer have the luxury of waiting for a dream location to pop up – not when an NASL team is entering the fray with the idea of making an impact in the market – and will have to come up with an altered strategy in the coming weeks and months, if not days.

If MLS wants to launch a team in a soccer-loving city known for its glitz and glamour and short attention span in the near future, the league, Beckham and Garber will have to now be more bullish about hammering out a deal. They will also have to be less picky about a location, meaning that the site near Marlins Park could soon become a real option worth considering.

Anything short of those changes in approach will result in a longer wait, which would allow NASL and Miami FC to further steal MLS’s thunder and damage Beckham’s chances of ever getting his team off the ground.

Rest assured, MLS will do everything in its power to avoid a scenario that sees it scrap Beckham’s Miami plans because of the NASL. Losing to an opponent deemed inferior is never ideal, and that’s exactly what the two leagues are at this point after years of verbal jabs and calculated competitive decisions.

The clock is ticking on MLS’s Miami plans, and a decision will need to be made soon on whether the city is still worth one expanding into.


  1. If this move is based on a firm, well thought out, sound, educated strategy and foundation by quality, passionate, well financed ownership, with a workable plan for a good infrastructure, long term growth, development- then good on them and best of luck!!!! If it is a knee jerk reactionary move inspired by the need to one up MLS…. then I fear the apex of this move was yesterday when it was announced.

    • I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I read elsewhere that NASL approached Silva about 3 (?) months ago. So that gives me the feeling that this was somewhat thrown together. But on the other hand, given Silva’s extensive network of international media contacts, how could it be bad for the league to bring him into the fold? The economics of NASL are completely different from MLS – it’s not like they’re putting up $100M for a franchise. This can work and it can grow.

      Think of where MLS was 10 years ago. Now think of MLS 10 years ago attracting people with the stature of Maldini, Ronaldo, Raul, Senna, etc. Sure NASL is behind MLS but they are growing and putting together an attractive product. MLS shouldn’t be too complacent.

  2. The only way MLS makes it in Miami is if the Beckham group turn it into a place to be seen… Miami is all about being seen… The Heat did this for a while…

    If you are relying on the casual sports fan in Miami to come… that likely won’t happen in droves. It needs to be a place where the cool people go. Then it can work.

  3. This whole fight from NASL doesn’t make sense to me. There are no major sports in any country that I know of with two dominant, premier leagues. NASL is not in any way going to be able to overtake MLS. So just as an American soccer fan in general, I think this is a stupid for NASL to keep trying to take on MLS in major markets. For me, it hurts the entire sport in the United States.

    NASL can make a great brand for itself as a second division focusing on markets that could draw 8-10k fans per game. Embrace that you are Triple A baseball and make the most of it. MLS shouldn’t go to 30+ teams and there are a lot of markets in this Country that would be great but probably not targets for MLS. Oklahoma City, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Memphis, Detroit or Cleveland are just a few markets off the top of my head that are plenty large to be great NASL markets but not realistic MLS targets.

    • Your arguments don’t make sense.

      The US is a large country. Geographically, economically and population-wise it’s comparable to Europe. How many dominant premier leagues are in Europe?

      How is NASL “taking on MLS’ in Miami” MLS isn’t there and there’s really no timetable. Should NASL get MLS’s permission before expanding into other markets? If MLS calls dibs on a market does that mean NASL should stay away? Who gets to make that decision – Garber? Gulati seems to be quite hands-off when it comes to refereeing between the leagues.

      Using your words, if a “Triple A” league can “hurt the entire sport in the United States” then what does that say about how MLS and USSoccer are being run?

      And if Oklahoma City, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Memphis, Detroit and Cleveland are good enough for NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL, etc., then why aren’t they good enough for MLS? And if they’re not good enough for MLS, then why couldn’t someone make a valid First Division with teams in those cities?

      • I get his argument and feel the same way. The difference between us and Europe is the interest among the population for the game. And that difference is, unfortunately, vast. We soccer fans in the USA must compete with the NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB for casual sports fans and, more importantly to us, for live televised games. For those, like me, who don’t have a MLS team anywhere nearby, that means I may get to see one or two games a week. MLS Live is great step in the right direction, but its not the same as seeing games on a major network. So, as a fan who just wants to see good homegrown soccer, it seems counterproductive to have these leagues fighting each other. Whereas, if they joined forces, then maybe we could have a real second division to groom the best young players, which would then make the first division better and deeper.

      • So since you don’t have a MLS team nearby, wouldn’t you like to have some level of soccer nearby that you could support – like live and in person? If you can only see one or two games a week, wouldn’t it be nice to have the option of seeing more? I don’t understand the notion of thinking that we should limit ourselves to just one league because that one league isn’t giving us enough of what we want. Competition usually makes everyone better. Besides, consumers in the US television market aren’t limited to one league on TV. They can easily find EPL, Bundesliga, La Liga, etc. How is little old NASL 2nd division hurting the growth of soccer in the US? If anything, having a NASL that pushes MLS to get better only serves to help soccer in the US.

        And we can want them to join forces all we want, but it’s not going to happen. There are too many fundamental differences between MLS and NASL – single entity vs. individual ownership is the main difference, and everything grows from there.

      • You misunderstand or I wasn’t clear. I agree with most of your first paragraph. Yes I would love to see more pro soccer live, and I have zero problem with it being NASL or USL or whatever. I can even buy the “competition between leagues makes soccer in the US better” line except that is only going to work in the LONG run. I guess I sympathize with the original poster in that if there was greater cooperation between the leagues under the US federation starting tomorrow, then we would see major gains in the next few years. Instead I’m stuck hoping my kids may get to enjoy those gains someday.

      • Thanks. We probably agree then. I think we should be looking at the long run and not just sacrificing for short-term gains. I also agree that USSF has dropped the ball in helping the leagues cooperate. It seems that USSF is interested in what MLS wants at the expense of everyone else. If they grant USL 2nd division status, then we’ll know the fix is in.

      • Part of my criticism of USSF revolves around MLS expansion. I mean, I can’t blame MLS or NASL for doing what they think is best for their businesses. But if USSF is supposed to oversee these leagues and is supposed to be the arbitrator, then wouldn’t it make sense for MLS to compensate NASL when it poaches their markets? I know NASL isn’t asking for it and they’re two different entities, but look at it from the “overall – good for North American soccer” point of view. Why should NASL be left empty handed after helping to cultivate that fan base in Minnesota? A few years ago that team was dead and couldn’t draw flies. Credit goes to the current ownership group and to NASL for sticking with them. And congrats to everyone in Minnesota on going to MLS – I wish them well. But if we’re all concerned with growing soccer in the US, then how can NASL be expected to go into markets like Minnesota and Miami whole heartedly if MLS is just going to let them do the heavy lifting of cultivating a fan base, and then steal it out from under them?

        There is a part of me that would like to see NASL and USL get together, but again, different philosophies. Really what I would like to see is some of the USL markets come to NASL to help solidify and grow that league.

        Ask yourself this question: if NASL folded tomorrow, would the state of soccer in North America be better off?

      • +1
        But I think this is the result of the way MLS is making business. This is a pyramid!
        And NASL is the league thats more free. Didn’t wanna play that business game… like each team is independent now. like any other major futbol league in the world.
        I like that! Each team gets their own sponsors.. you don’t need to wear adidas!! And I like how each team helps their city, their community. Why not pay rent for your local stadium? Money goes to the college stadium or any other local stadium! Help the city! I love NASL! The real soccer league!!

      • I’m with you – I prefer this model. That’s not to say that I won’t watch MLS, but if I could choose a model for the North American First Division, this is the model I would choose. Time will tell if this is the model that prevails, but NASL will have a long, hard battle to overtake MLS. In the meantime, I will enjoy watching the local team make roots in the community, and play an attractive brand of soccer.

  4. MLS expansion is imploding with Miami going nowhere and Minnesoa United falling apart and NYCFC decades away from a new stadium, if it even lasts that long. Meanwhile there are two markets that are ready yesterday – Sacramento and San Antonio. Come on Mr. Garber, forget about Miami and Minnesota and do the right thing! Get over to Sac Town an San Antonio and make an announcement.

    • IMHO SAC is going to happen. On the west coast the NBA had a Vanouver expansion team fail and move to midwest and Sonics long history in Seattle also moving to Midwest.
      MLS soccer has taken off in a huge way in both cities.
      Mayor K.J and the new Kings owners secured the Kings and will be backing the SRFC move and stadium to the MLS with an already strong fan base and will be the second pro team playing opposite season to NBA.
      MLS will boast the biggest strong hold with 7 clubs on the West coast. Add RSL and Colorado in the mountain region and a 3rd game in prime time starts in Pacific/Mountain region will have 1/3 of the league able to watch on SUN MLS on ESPN/FS1

    • With two groups battling over over a MINN team. with, IMHO, MLS is pressing to place a club to fill a market hole. Vikes NFL/MLS stadium is something that would be a wait and see in a similar Atlanta situation.
      The MINN United backed by other big 4 sports franchises need to find a placement for a modern MLS SSS.
      In a hockey strong region the North Stars had to move. The return sees the NHL franchise no in St Paul thriving with everything else in Mininiapolis. A St Paul location may be best for MLS as well.

      SA is stadium ready expandable to Modern MLS SSS. The key may be for Spurs S&E back the MLS move. With some now top exposure of MLS on ESPN and FS1 it would be something Spurs could see as a great addition for their brand. Add a touch of silver to the already Black (& Red) kits and its a perfect fit

  5. If Im Beckham,and im not, i would get on a plane to St. Louis, San Antonio and Indianapolis. I would meet with hopeful ownership in those cities. I would negotiate a buy out or majority stake. And then it would take about ten minutes to secure land for a stadium in either of those cities. The midwest is hungry. Becks has the capital to privately fund the stadium. Forget a glamorous city. Begin in one of those soccer hungry cities and build a strong franchise with rabid support. And be done with the illusion of Miami.

    • I could see Mr. Beckham considering a mid-west team and I agree that he’d be better off going that route. However, the mid-west isn’t nearly glamorous enough for Mrs. Beckham. She needs flashy.

    • There is no way either David or his wife would consider a city other than LA, NY or Miami. They are all about world cities and want to keep their sexy image. Sorry but St. Louis, San Antonio and (especially) Indianapolis are not even on the list. Just sayin.

    • Yeah, I’ve thought of that, but as others have already stated, there are only a few other US cities that would fit Beckham’s ‘brand’.

      If they wanted to try a 2nd team in Chicago, I can see Mrs. Beckham being happy there. San Francisco is another international city that I could see appealing to Beckham, but what does that do to the San Jose franchise, especially after they’ve built their new stadium? Maybe San Diego would work, but would Beckham want to go there?

      Other than that, I don’t really see any other cities working out.

  6. We’re missing the most important part of this story…where is this NASL team going to play? The big hangup with Beckham and Co. is getting the stadium built, otherwise the enterprise is full steam ahead. Is this NASL Miami going to have their own stadium? If they are then all of a sudden we have a serious threat to MLS. If, however, the NASL team is going to rent a small college stadium or something then I can’t imagine them being able to compete with MLS Beckham with a shiny new stadium, regardless of how long it takes to get it going.

  7. And in other NASL news, “We are back” says Eric Cantona suing the New York Cosmos for unpaid wages.

    Ruh Roh!

  8. First in matters. Attention matters. MLS would need to come in big and with class or else look like they playing to the level of local competition..

    Meanwhile Sac just broke the U.S. Cup 2nd round attendance record.

    When’s Garber gonna grab the mic and in the words of Tupac say.. Sacramento where you at?

    • MLS is taking Sacramento for granted. They figure that club is in their back pocket, and they can add them whenever they want – so why not focus on the NASL turf battles first?

      • MLS is making a mistake by continuing to ignore Sacramento. The momentum is there from city, county and community leaders to supporters. Everyone, it seems, is all in for this to happen. MLS needs to strike while the iron is hot in Sacramento. Because leadership can change and people may not be on board like they are no in the future. Plus, if the Raiders don’t get their stadium Oakland, and it’s looking like they won’t, it won’t be long until the As start looking to relocat and people in Sac-Town have made it clear they will give them a home. If the A’s are available for relocation, you can bet all the momentum MLS has will switch to the As and will quickly forget about MLS.

      • Maybe a Sacremento town that “will switch to the As and will quickly forget about MLS” – as you state – does not give enough confidence yet to Garber/MLS about a franchise’s longevity there.

      • Momentum is about land and stadium and cross promote with the Kings. Not the fans. Ask the Chicago fans how much a downtown stadium matters.

        Land is available right now in the heart of Sac for the taking.. Who knows realistically speaking how long the land owner and city admin will wait before moving on.

        Sacramento wants to go to the dance. MLS should realize they aren’t the hottest chick in town.

    • If Beckham comes out today and says, “We still haven’t found a stadium”

      It will be relayed around the world in 5 minutes. This announcement is most likely known by less than 10,000 people a day later.

      I am not trolling NASL, I hope they crush it, but that is a reality that NASL, their fans and all of us in American soccer have to understand.

      • +1

        I am all for expansion too, at the right pace, and I think NASL is gutsy to do this move. It may be a sly way to ratchet up their brand but the endgame here is nothing changes in the US soccer hierarchy.

  9. NASL can be a smart scary and good D2 but they gotta stop smoking BS. We get the part they have free agency and an open structure but they don’t have a long term plan.
    First NASL needs to divide into conferences like MLS,which helps the traveling and scheduling part.
    As a matter of fact, NASL can reach 22 teams easily but their way if expanding and recruiting markets hurts them a lot.
    If NASL was smart, they would go for a team in Chicago, Dallas, Denver,Orange County which might be already touched by MLS but not really if you ask the fans.
    Besides those,the west needs NASL but I guess the west is not good enough for NASL.
    But if we all think this Miami NASL team will hurt Beckham, we are totally wrong. Beckham will instead get more fire up and squash this team with everything he can, and that might be recruiting another billionaire to his ownership and if Miami doesn’t happen,I see Becks and his group buying red bull sooner than later.

    • El Paso,

      RedBulls are not moving. It most likely isn’t even possible. They mortgaged a city to build that stadium.

      In addition, MLS wants MORE teams, not the same amount. They will be closer to 30 than 20, VERY soon.

  10. Whats price for a NASL expansion team? If I’m NASL, I call all the billionaire sports team owners and offer them to buy in cheap.

    • I’ve heard reports from various sources over the last couple of years that it costs around $2M to $3M for a team in NASL. Plus letters of credit, etc. to show that ownership has a certain net worth (I don’t remember the number – maybe $10M?) and could run the team for a period without turning a profit. I think a lot of these rules are promulgated by USSF for Division 2 status.

  11. Bold move. It’ll be interesting to see how this shapes out, especially with four Florida teams in a 12 team league. I also thought Hartford and Hamilton were going to come in 2016 as well? Plus what about Virginia, OKC, and Baltimore? The new Detroit team, then mix that in with this new San Fran team coming into the works and a potential LA franchise as well and thats 19 teams after MU leave for MLS. Personally, I don’t see why NASL doesn’t go after USL teams who show potential, but have been spurned by MLS, ie Sacramento, Rochester, and Austin, who are already established and would immediately be competitive, bringing up the league level, aka what MLS does to NASL.

    • Hamilton was scheduled to enter the NASL as a second tenent anod owned by the CFL Hamilton TiCats. The stadium however scheduled to be completed by 2014. Is a year late so a Hamilton is still likely but will be pushed back.
      Hartford has plans to reno a stadium but is held up by poitical reasons.

      As for USL teams making the jump IMHO i can see that happen with unaffilated teams. Expansion pro soccer was popular for USL due to it D3 status it was less financial as a D2 team. With the USL moving to D2 that will change that.
      Pitt Riverhound could be a possibility. A new 4K seat stadium already made to be expanded to 6K and a 3rd phase that would include more if needed.
      Austin playing at a HS football stadium would likely have to find or build a more soccer venue.
      Stadium issues are holding up some other clubs as well.

    • Lol u lady’s just dont get it… NASL doesn’t care about what MLS does… they not like MLS who are always chasing the NASL….
      This thing about stadiums… C’mon! This is how real futbol clubs starts! From scratch!! How you think the big clubs started?! Look at the oldest leagues!! oldest teams!!! Its all about community!! the city!! And the people!!! That’s how a real Futbol Club is born!!
      Go NASL!! The future is bright For soccer in the USA!!

      • You have a good point. Some of the more successful fan bases on MLS spent several years in the 2nd or 3rd division – look at Portland, Seattle and Orlando to name a few. So Miami fans are supposed to just show up because Beckham builds a nice stadium and buys a couple of big stars? Sure they’ll show up, but will they be loyal like the people who sat in the rain when only 3,000 fans showed up? Will they stick around when the team is in 8th place? Great point about starting from scratch.

  12. The NASL can put some expansion team there and play in a high school football stadium with no TV exposure, fine. Not remotely a threat to MLS. When they build a $200m stadium and start making millions in TV revenue and getting 20k fans a game, then they can be “pressuring” MLS. Of course NASL can be up and running before MLS in any market it wants — there are no criteria for owning a team, there’s no need to build a stadium, and the expansion fee is peanuts. Who cares?

    When are people going to get that there is no NASL-MLS rivalry? NASL is a minor league, and there isn’t a single NASL owner that wouldn’t move his team to MLS in a heartbeat if MLS would have them.

    • Pedro…I’m not pro NASL or pro MLS however I can see some of your points, but there are some that aren’t valid.

      If there isn’t MASSIVE upgrades done – playing in the reported high school stadium would be simply embarrassing for not only Miami but the NASL as well, and it would hurt Beckhams “”fu?ture “te?am?””?

      However, what I like about NASLs recent expansion teams and new owners is that they are investing and at the same time are seeing the benefits. (i.e 8k+ in Jacksonville, and Tampa, and even some better attendances in FTL).

      Basically what I’m saying is that if you look at MLS’s recent expansion teams (teams after TFC-2007) about 50% of the teams were affiliated with the NASL.

      So they must being doing something right if the owners are wisely investing. seeing the rewards. then jumping ship to the MLS, as soon as the Don visits the city, and gives them a pass after a glorified view of the city that they didn’t see before.

    • “Of course NASL can be up and running before MLS in any market it wants — there are no criteria for owning a team, there’s no need to build a stadium, and the expansion fee is peanuts. Who cares?”

      This is so incorrect I don’t know where to start. First, there is a minimum net worth requirement including a requirement for liquid assets to be able to get approval for a NASL team. Second, NASL is in the business of SSS as much as MLS, these owners aren’t fools. Whatever stadium Miami FC starts in the ownership will be looking for an opportunity to control the revenue and rights. Finally, in NASL, the expansion fee is a fraction of MLS’. Why? Because it is not a money grab…

      I love my MLS; don’t get me wrong (Go Dynamo!). However, let’s not pretend that a NASL side moving into an area where it is well known MLS is trying to move doesn’t affect Team Beckham’s strategy. Miami might be better in the NASL where a crowd of 8k-10k fans is good, because a MLS Beckham team ain’t pulling 20k in Miami.

    • Not true. Here in Indy we pull in just under DCU’s average attendance every game. The only reason we don’t have 15,000 per game is because the venue won’t hold it or we would. Plans to build a SSS look promising for passage in the state legislature next year (first year state government complained we hadn’t played a game yet so let’s wait and see, this year it passed the house and out of committee in the Senate, next year will most likely see full passage and signage by the Governor) to seat 18,500 – just slightly lower than Buzzard Point.

      San Antonio would also be able to get there right now too.

    • The rumor is they have an existing stadium lined up. Traz-Powell Stadium which is owned by the Miami-Dade Sports Commission would be a good site and the right capacity, 7500.

      • I read the expected venue is FIU.

        This just leads to more reasons for MLS to go farther north into Palm Beach County. Dade is too difficult of a market, concentrate on the more stable season-ticket base of Broward & Palm Beach. Put them at FAU.

  13. Let the NASL test the waters down there, ala Atlanta and Minneapolis. MLS can back off for now and wait to see what success Miami FC has. I predict 2500 fans a game and then a move to a better sports town.

    • +1. MLS would be wise to avoid this trap. Let NASL have it, if the market is worth something, come back later. Spoiler, it wont be.

    • I have never been negative on the Miami market, as I don’t have an opinion on it.

      But when you look at the market, this is the first positive that we have seen. Beckham and Co have been the only one that I have seen even interested in the market. Minnesota had two VERY serious investors. Other areas have rabid grass roots and big money chasing MLS.

    • LoL
      That would of course, be immediately following the inferiority complex inspired defensive outburst, a single entity rant and bold predictions of an entire second tier league leapfrogging another based on a single US Open trophy and of course, being the self appointed defender and paragon of capitalist virtue. Lets face it…. US Soccer on the whole is a bit too sensitive and has a long ways to go before it is comfortable in it’s own skin.

    • And the NASL intern has been outed!

      Please now write us a puff piece on how the Cosmos are going to bypass FIFA altogether and make NASL the world governing soccer body. They’ll do it with their 45 year old players, photoshopped without their walkers as well as their stadium in the Atlantic ocean, photoshopped to appear hovering above Manhattan!

      Its a win-win-win!

      • You forgot the Cosmos are going to monetize their assets and promote synergy through the elimination of the reign of terror of Don Garber and Sunil Gulati.

      • Yes, you are right! Kim Jong Un is already a huge fan and has a visit planned with his toy nuclear submarine with the NASL logo on it.

      • I’m all for NASL becoming soccer’s world governing body if the first thing they’ll do is put an end to the slaughter of the Nepalese migrants in Qatar.

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