Last week, the Fort Lauderdale Strikers announced the sale of the North American Soccer League (NASL) club from Traffic Sports USA to a trio of Brazilian investors: Paulo Cesso, Rafael Bertani, and Ricardo Geromel. The sale was trumpeted as an overdue boon for the sometimes star-crossed second-division South Florida franchise. The team currently ranks last in attendance for the 2014 NASL regular season and annually has one of the lowest budgets in the league, but it is also fighting for the fourth and final berth in The Championship, the NASL’s four-team postseason tournament.
The Strikers adopted the moniker of its NASL forerunner, which played from 1977-1983. But today’s iteration was originally founded nine years ago by Traffic Sports USA under the name Miami FC when the team was a member of the United Soccer Leagues (USL).
At the end of the 2013 regular season, Traffic Sports USA still held a majority stake in three NASL clubs: the Strikers, the Atlanta Silverbacks and the Carolina RailHawks. In Dec. 2013, Traffic Sports USA announced the sale of its interest in the Silverbacks. The sale of the Strikers means that Traffic Sports USA now holds a majority ownership stake only in the RailHawks.
Aaron Davidson, President of Traffic Sports USA and Chairman of the NASL Board of Governors, attended last Friday’s event announcing the sale of the Strikers. Davidson spoke further to INDY Week by telephone Sunday evening while awaiting a flight from Miami to Chile, where Traffic Sports holds commercial rights to next year’s Copa América.
Davidson says the process to sell the Strikers began with approximately 20 interested investors that was whittled down to 10 “serious” potential buyers, including a couple of groups that wanted to relocate the club to Miami.
Davidson says negotiations with the Strikers’ new Brazilian owners, who pledge to keep the club in Fort Lauderdale, lasted approximately six months. He says there were two timing considerations that came into play, starting with the emergence of a David Beckham-led effort to land a Major League Soccer (MLS) expansion club in Miami.
“Once the Beckham situation started to gain traction,” Davidson explains, “it was clear to us that if we’re going to take on Beckham’s group and team seriously in South Florida, we needed to ramp up our ownership group.”
However, Davidson also admits another impetus was increased pressure from the United States Soccer Federation (USSF), which promulgated revised Professional League Standards earlier this year stating no owner may control more than one team in a division after 2014.
Indeed, a complete copy of those Professional League Standards (PLS), dated Feb. 28, 2014 and provided by USSF to INDY Week, corroborates this requirement. Section I(g)(iv), under the subheading “Team Organization,” states:
No owner may exercise control over more than one team in a division in such a way that the integrity of any game or competition would be jeopardized or appear to be jeopardized. Effective December 14, 2014, no owner may exercise control over more than one team in a division. A “single-entity” league must have separate and distinct individuals or organizations in charge of each team’s management and operations.
Contrast this with the language of the same subsection in the original PLS from Aug. 2010:
No owner may exercise control over more than one club in such a way that the integrity of the game or competition would be jeopardized. If it is necessary for the viability of the league for an owner to own more than one team, the league and the owner must present the Federation with a plan how such owner will relinquish ownership of all but one team as soon as possible. However, all teams must maintain independent operations to maintain the integrity of all games and operations.
This standard now clarifies that no owner will be permitted to exercise control over more than one team in a division effective Dec. 31, 2014. While the standard still states that “no owner may exercise control over more than one team in a way that compromises competitive integrity,” that appears to be a guideline whose application is limited to 2014.
USSF also conspicuously removed the option for a league and owner to present a plan for how such an owner will relinquish ownership in multiple teams “as soon as possible.” The overall PLS still contains a waiver procedure (Sec. I.(i)), but the addition of the Dec. 31, 2014 deadline appears to undercut any waiver allowance to the one-owner, one-team requirement.
At the same time, the updated standard clarifies that a “single-entity” league, such as MLS, “must have separate and distinct individuals or organizations in charge of each team’s management and operations.”
Davidson says Traffic Sports USA and the NASL are now in full compliance with this one-owner, one-team requirement.
“We do not have an equity stake in the Strikers, but we continue to have a strategic interest,” Davidson says. “[The new owners] are 100 percent on the hook for the funding, and [Traffic Sports USA] does not have an equity stake. But we do have a strategic interest going forward.”
Davidson would not elaborate when pressed for details about Traffic Sports USA’s ongoing “strategic interest” in the Strikers.
The sale of the Strikers will obviously be a shot in the arm for the team and the NASL, which now has separate and distinct owners for each of their members clubs. However, it’s fair to consider whether this sale would have occurred when it did without the added pressure of USSF’s revised PLS, as failure by Traffic Sports USA to divest their interest in either the Strikers or RailHawks by the end of 2014 could have jeopardized the NASL’s status as a sanctioned D2 league.
There are several other changes for Division II Men’s Outdoor Leagues from the original Aug. 2010 PLS. For instance, by year six of any such league, U.S.-based teams “must be located in at least the Eastern, Central and Pacific time zones.” This alters the previous language, which only required those teams to be located in “at least three different time zones.”
The NASL is currently in its third year of being sanctioned as a Division II Men’s Outdoor League by USSF. Even after expansion clubs in Jacksonville, Fla. and possibly Oklahoma City, Okla. begin play in 2015, the league will not have a U.S.-based team outside the Eastern and Central time zones.
Click below to read the entire revised USSF Professional League Standards, which detail the distinct requirements for Division I, II and III Men and Woman’s Outdoor Leagues, as well as an Indoor Professional League.