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CST Roundtable: Division 2

What Does Division 2 Mean?

What Does Division 2 Mean?
In case you missed it earlier this weekend, the United States Soccer Federation FINALLY announced that both USL and NASL would have “provisional Division 2 status” for the upcoming season. It’s been a while since we had a chat so it’s time to dust off the roundtable and have at it.

So now that sanctioning has been completed, what does “Provisional Division 2” status in the end really mean for USL? What will its impact be?

Bill Wolf
Well this is directed purely at USL which makes this question a bit easier. I think first and foremost this is a recognition of the great work the USL and its ownership group has done over the last several years. The league is growing and the quality is improving and the league management set this target a couple years ago and have achieved it. The case made to USSF and the growth this league has shown was undeniable. The immediate impact will be around removing the “provisional” status from the sanctioning. There are coaches who need to upgrade licenses, stadiums that need to be expanded or new locations found, etc. I know there are requirements on having teams in all time zones but I don’t know the details of that or how well USL fulfills that. There are also market size issues. A certain percentage of teams must be in markets of 750k+. I assume any short coming there is solved by continued expansion into larger markets and averaging up the larger markets. Most of this will be behind the scenes though, but it sounds like the USL has a plan in place for every waiver and commitments from every owner. That said, they have to deliver next year or risk being demoted and that would be very embarrassing. What is the impact on FCC and the 2017 is another question. Realistically, this doesn’t change anything for fans. We still show up at Nippert and watch great soccer and cheer on our team. It doesn’t matter what league we’re in. We are Cincinnati. We are Blue and Orange. The front office however will probably see this differently. When negotiating media and television deals, perception is everything. It’s easier to get better coverage and better sponsors. We also know that teams that promote up to MLS see significant bumps in attendance as new ticket holders decide to come because they have the perception that this is a “bigger deal”. D2 status may get a few more people out of their homes to see what all of this is about and those people will hopefully become long term fans. I think there is a long term play here too. A growing league at a higher level will make it easier to attract larger markets and stronger ownership groups. Groups that may have considered NASL because of the perception of being at a higher level may now choose USL. I see continued expansion driven in part by this decision. I also see stronger markets coming in and better quality on the pitch as some of these owners won’t necessarily have MLS goals but will be looking to make USL their home and want to make it the strongest league possible. We will almost certainly move to 3 regions in 2018. We added a net of 2 teams this year and at least one more in 2018 but I’d guess we’ll see a few more teams come on board tipping us in numbers to make a Center region a reality.

Boston Brazzell
FC Cincinnati was already operating on a much higher plane than D3. Fans won’t notice much when it comes to a game day experience. That experience is already top notch. The real benefits will come from our opposition meeting greater standards. Also high caliber players may be more willing to play for a D2 USL than a D3 USL.

Bryan Weigel
I am going to disagree with the caliber of player to an extent. That might be more for international players. USL as a collective have been and will continue to be conservative on their player signings.

Brad Weigel
What Bill said.

Bryan Weigel
As for FC Cincinnati, it is another thing that continues and grows the momentum of the club. Another thing we can sell to local community.

Bill Wolf
Great point Boston. Perception also work on players like it does media. Now that D2 status is a reality, there may be some signings that FCC has been negotiating that will come to reality. When a player is looking at choosing a team, their resume looks better when it says D2 instead of D3. Maybe we see some high level signings coming now that FCC can leverage that as well. Bryan, don’t forget that players who are playing domestic will know the details of the league but if they’d like to look outside the US at some point in the future, then those clubs won’t know as much about the leagues. They’ll just see D2 v D3.

Brad Weigel
I don’t think the player pool will change dramatically because of the division change unless player spending greatly increases which I don’t see happening in the USL.

Bryan Weigel
Not sure foreign scouts just look at a paper and see D2/3?

Bill Wolf
Man I hope not. But colleges look at GPA and ACT scores as part of the weeding process. Scouts probably have some tools they use as well. I’m still sticking with Boston on this. I don’t think you’re going to see us signing Rooney or anything because USL teams do make a point of trying to grow the league and they limit their roster spending to what is sustainable for the most part. I just think that players on the edge will be more willing to join a D2 league than a D3 league.

Bryan Weigel
The players will go where they get paid the most. Look at Joe Cole (Tampa Bay Rowdies).

Boston Brazzell
Money matters but so does status. Young players playing below MLS are hoping for a shot at the big time.

Yosief Tzeghai
I agree with Bryan, and I’m just not sure that the spending culture in USL will now that it’s a D2 league.

Bill Wolf
Put yourself in a player’s position…… Maybe you could squeeze onto an MLS team with little chance of starting. Or you can play for FCC and be a leader on the pitch. You want to play so that is a draw and FCC obviously has great fans and a great environment and looks like a good contender for an MLS spot eventually but that’s a gamble. Do you put D3 on your resume or go D1 and fight for it hoping that the MLS recognition helps your career long term. With FCC now D2, that gap isn’t as large from a perception standpoint. Yes, if the pay scale is way off you’ll go with the most money, but not if they’re close. You might choose to play down ONE division for the benefits there.

Nick Seuberling
Do you think people in this city scoffed at the notion that FC Cincinnati was D3? Now that they’re D2, they’re all of the sudden going to change their minds? To me, D2 doesn’t really matter if there’s no pro/rel to begin with. People flocked to FCC games because they supported the club. The naysayers who thought USL is minor league soccer aren’t going to have their minds changed. Do I think USL getting D2 status is good for USL? Yes. Do I think it significantly impacts FC Cincinnati? No, only because their ambitions are much higher than D2.

Bill Wolf
A lot of people came because they love soccer and this town and they wanted to support it, but the attendance grew during the season. We created soccer fans who had never been to or seen a match before. They came because there was a buzz. There are still many people in Cincinnati who have not come to a game. Who don’t know soccer. They don’t know what USL is or NASL is but they will understand that we were D3 and now we’re D2. That’s better. We must be better. Maybe it’s time to check this thing out they’ve been hearing about. Remember marketing is about perception and FCC is VERY GOOD at marketing. This is another tool in their belt.

So now that NASL is also Division 2 and the NY Cosmos have been purchased by new ownership, what’s to stop USL teams from jumping ship to that league? Should this be something FC Cincinnati should consider if they don’t get into MLS?

Boston Brazzell
The NASL is still a pretty risky investment. The owners have a bit more power but also more risk. It will take years to right that ship and the chance of failure still looms over that league. Independent USL teams would be wise to stay put for a while. I see a merger of independent teams more likely. If anything, the NASL will need to find ways to keep teams from bolting to the USL in the next couple years.

Bill Wolf
NASL is still a league in trouble. They only have 8 teams and one is financed by the league itself. Not sure it is that attractive to USL teams. Maybe in a couple of years if the new owners bring spending under control and grow the league into some attractive markets. To be honest, I think the next 12 months are huge for NASL. They need to find an owner for JAX and FTL. They also need to bring in 3 more strong teams and owners so that by 2018 they are at 12 teams and no longer talking about team bankruptcy and players and staff getting paid. If they don’t pull that off, we are right back into this mess again.

Yosief Tzeghai
I think many were expecting a winner and loser. NASL has bought some to time get back on their feet and prove they can keep continuity in they’re league. First and foremost a solid level of teams. As far as USL i provisional division 2 status appease their current needs without damaging NASL. I doubt we will see major changes on the surface just yet especially for FCC. In my mind the main goal was to extend the deadline for NASL to shape up. Instead of pushing off a vote for a week more like USSF has been all winter we they have pushed the decision back for a couple of years. I say that because until there is a bit more stability I don’t see teams jumping ship.

Bryan Weigel
Independent USL teams would possibly leave if the NASL got their cost structure together. Adapting a regional play model could also sway concerns of Independent USL owners. My biggest concern is that foreign owners are the ones wanting to invest in NASL. That has been stated several times by league brass and reporters in several NASL markets. That scares me more that anything about the league. Look at the Cosmos. They weren’t invested in staying in the market because there are no repercussions for the owners. US Soccer would be wise in adding this as a requirement for future Clubs in any division.

Bill Wolf
So the foreign owners are a bad thing in your mind Bryan?

Bryan Weigel
Ex. Ft Lauderdale, Rayo OKC, Cosmos. Yes.

Brad Weigel
I don’t see independent USL teams jumping ship in 2017. If NASL and their owners find a common cause I’d encourage teams like Cincy, Nashville, Sacramento among others to look at a switch. I don’t see the current MLS2 model attractive enough for D2. A more likely solution could take place in 2018+ with a USL1/2 league that still focused on regional relationships vs a nationwide league. I just don’t see that as a financially viable model for a long term minor league.

Nick Seuberling
By that point, FC Cincinnati COULD potentially be in MLS. We’d really be talking about the academy team or FCC2 team that would most likely be playing in USL2 in your scenario.

Brad Weigel
However it manifests itself, I think all leagues outside MLS need to be regionally based.

Bill Wolf
I agree Brad. The US is a huge country compared to England for instance. Our lower tiered leagues can’t afford coast to coast travel and remain profitable. Even MLS tunes their schedule to weigh heavier on local rivalries.

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