Tuesday, March 28, 2017

NFL Instability Could Boost MLS, NASL

The NFL's reputation has taken a hit as some name-brand teams jump locations to try and find greener grass. After three recent franchise venue changes by the Rams, Chargers and Raiders, an argument can be made that the NFL is in a organizational slump. The 49ers didn't change their name, but their venue change two seasons ago to an hour and half south of San Francisco was just as dramatic as the other three teams. Really, it's four teams that have now moved cities and changed fan bases within three years.

The next NFL team most likely to move cities is Jacksonville. There are rumors to the demise of the Jaguars every year. Any team can try to leave their hometown, if there is a better financial plan ready for action somewhere else. Due to diminishing resources, some first-rate metro areas from the past don't measure up for staying on as an NFL hub. It's hard to imagine the Detroit Lions, Cleveland Browns or Cincinnati Bengals ever leaving, but the ebb and flow of metro area demographics puts some destinations on a more highly desirable list and others on a not-so-desirable list.

Consequently, every franchise location change from the NFL, NBA and the NHL has been an opportunity waiting for professional soccer.

When the NHL Thrashers left Atlanta, it seemed only a matter of time before soccer would replace hockey. Atlanta United FC is now in full swing. And, the Sounders in MLS have made the passing of the NBA Sonics that much easier to deal with for Seattle sports fans. They have been triumphant and hugely supported in the Emerald City.

There is already minor league pro soccer in St. Louis, Jacksonville and San Francisco with the possibility for higher level pro soccer very soon. Also, there is plenty of jostling among potential buyers to bring a team to San Diego. For fans of the Oakland Raiders, pro soccer will probably be there to pick them up, too. The most likely situation is for the NASL to recruit Oakland because MLS has not been overly ambitious in the SF Bay Area to protect its San Jose team.

All of the address changes indicate a crisis for the NFL and pro soccer has the chance to be the biggest benefactor from it. The NFL's vitality is at stake. There is a lack of interest at some levels, for sure. The concussion medical disaster may be to blame, or, it could be football fatigue due to decades and weeknights of inundation. In each case, the NFL team on the move, decided to go for the better deal, rather than work out solutions in its home town.

The business of professional sports in the U.S. will always depend on fan support. The game will survive if fans embrace it. The NFL hasn't had many problems finding and keeping fans. Professional soccer in the U.S. is still trying to figure out how to make things function in a mainstream way. The advantage that the NFL has over pro soccer is the ability to work on its rules of the game. Every off-season, the NFL updates its rules and adjusts them for the interests of player safety or the interests of fan engagement. Pro soccer in the U.S. is dictated its rules by FIFA and can't make changes.

With the NFL struggling, can pro soccer establish enough markets and make its game work well enough to grow its fan base nationally to become a sport of relevance year-round in the U.S.? This is the question yet to be answered.


  1. I think Peter Wilt mentioned in one of his recent interviews that there is a small Oakland group currently looking into NASL