This Article Was Part Of The April 1st Collection on The Nutmeg News
The North American Soccer League formally kicks off their 7th year on Saturday with the Carolina Railhawks taking on Minnesota United at 3:00 pm EDT as the league shows signs of slow growth. With a restructuring of the league in terms of teams and the upcoming loss of Minnesota United to Major League Soccer, the NASL worked on creating new markets while expanding the reach of their product.
A new television deal that broadcasts games on Be-IN Sports and CBS Sports (starting in the fall for this network) as well as the continuation of the league broadcasts on ESPN3 and One World Sport allow fans and casual observers more opportunity than before to catch games, while a very slow expansion has, potentially, opened up additional markets around North America.
While there are some concerns about whether or not the markets that have started are going to be long term liabilities or viable, the NASL's ability to market and spend for players with groups like Rayo OKC give an interesting complexion to the upcoming spring season. Certainly, the ability for clubs to control the players they have coming into the team allows more autonomy and better chance of seeing individual styles flourish in the NASL. However, the league must still fight preconceptions about the level and style of play.
Two of the the NASL's major continued issues are the broadcasting of their games (something that they very clearly worked upon for 2016), and their facilities with most teams utilizing non-soccer specific stadiums. Their stadium problem is likely going to remain a major concern going forward for some time. Until the league can bring in and retain deep pocketed and well connected ownership groups, the look of high school football fields and substandard facilities will continue to detract from the overall presentation of the league.
The divestment of ownership by Traffic of any controlling interests in the teams in the NASL is a major victory for both the NASL and soccer fans in North America. With the organization now out of Carolina, the league can move away from any kind of collaboration with the ethically aloof company.
The NASL has the potential to grow, but that remains the same issue that they have had since the league started in 2009. The potential for the league to grow and be something as an alternative to Major League Soccer is a major attractant to many, but the infrastructure, play, facilities, and ability to watch the game continue to provide obstacles to adoption. A strong competitor to Major League Soccer would offer the possibility of both leagues striving to better their product, better how they relate to fans, and challenge how they position themselves in the market. The issue still remains of what the roadmap is for the NASL going forward, the leadership of the league and how well structured they are to grow beyond having teams play at high school football stadiums.
3:00 pm EDT - CAROLINA RAILHAWKS V MINNESOTA UNITED FC - WAKEMED SOCCER PARK - ESPN3
7:00 PM EDT - FORT LAUDERDALE STRIKERS V MIAMI - FC LOCKHART STADIUM - beIN Sports Connect
7:30 PM EDT - TAMPA BAY ROWDIES V INDY ELEVEN - AL LANG STADIUM - ONEworldsports.com
8:00 PM EDT - RAYO OKC V FC EDMONTON - MILLER STADIUM - ESPN3
6:00 PM EDT NEW YORK COSMOS V OTTAWA FURY FC - JAMES M. SHUART STADIUM - ONEworldsports.com