From A-League Commissioner Richard Groff
(posted to the na-soccer list):
Sorry that I have been so busy to inform this list of the expanded A-league. The negotiations were final 45 min before the press conference. The ten A-league teams are very pleased. The 24 owners will decide all rules related to the competition and policies related to the schedule. Only 14 top level USISL select teams will move up. Team owners will own a franchise territory that can be transferred and will manage their own players. Most importantly there will be revenue sharing of TV, sponsorship,licensing, and promotion income. The A-league will be in 24 top markets with a potential of 2,000,000 fans.
From Brad Pursel, A-League:
The A-League announced on Thursday an agreement to combine ten A-League teams with fourteen USISL Select teams to form a 24-team North American soccer league in 1997.
"The formation of the 24-team A-League will bring professional soccer in the United States and Canada to a new level," said A-League Commissioner Richard Groff.
"Our mission is to attract 2,000,000 fans and grow the sport of soccer in North America," Groff explained. "Expanding the A-League to include the best fourteen teams from the USISL will strengthen the entire professional soccer industry in the United States and Canada."
The A-League schedule and competition policies will be guided by the twenty-four member owners commission, lead by a seven member owners executive committee. The A-League's current television broadcast partner, Prime Sports Network, will continue to broadcast 24 live A-League matches of the week on Friday evenings during the 1997 season.
Umbro (North America), who is a corporate partner of both the A-League and the USISL, will continue their critical support and provide sophisticated marketing experience to the expanded A-League.
From David Brackman or Todd Foley, USISL:
TAMPA, Fla. - In a move that will transform the landscape of professional soccer in the United States, the United Systems of Independent Soccer Leagues and the American Professional Soccer League have agreed in principle to merge their organizations, creating a brand new, nationwide, strong, unique and united Division II professional soccer league. The merger will be announced at the United States Soccer Federation Annual General Meeting in Arlington, Va. on July 11.
The new league will be named the A League and its logo will incorporate the USISL's sizzling ball. The new A League will become a division of the USISL, with the APSL dissolving by the end of 1996. The new A League will become a somewhat separate entity with separate governance from the rest of the existing USISL. The new league will have a maximum of 24 teams when it begins its first season in April or May 1997. All of the teams in the APSL, which presently is also known as the A-League, would become members of the new A League. The bulk of the other teams in the new league will come from the USISL Select League, which was recently granted provisional Division II status by the United States Soccer Federation, while a few may also advance from the USISL Pro League or Premier League.
"This is a landmark of sorts because it marks one of the first times in American soccer history where rival forces have done a sensible thing," Marcos said. "That is remarkable. We were able to put aside personal differences and personal agendas. It should be cause for A-League and USISL executives to congratulate each other and themselves. But ultimately the ones who benefit most from this are soccer in North America and its fans. Not only is this an advance for the sport, but a positive deal for our investors. From a personal point of view, this merger allows us to complete our blueprint for the USISL's soccer pyramid and now just simply get after it - whatever "it" means." Still to be decided is the actual name of the Division III league under the USISL umbrella, currently known as the USISL Pro League, as well as the names of the amateur leagues which the USISL operates: the Premier League (outdoor men's league), the "W" League (outdoor women), the USISL Indoor League (men), and a pilot youth league. Already being considered is a USISL alphabet soup of monikers: the A League, B League, C League, W League, I League and Y League. An owners committee of the new league will consider the naming possibilities at its next meeting, July 17 at the USISL All-Star Game in Blaine, Minn., and make recommendations.
Many details related to the merger of the USISL and the APSL still must be finalized, however a consensus has been achieved on several major points, which are summarized below:
These USISL teams have applied for Division II status:Arizona Phoenix Myrtle Beach Boyz California Jaguars New York/New Jersey Stallions Carolina Dynamo Nashville Metros Central Jersey Riptide New Mexico Chiles Charleston Battery New Orleans Riverboat Gamblers Connecticut Wolves Orlando Lions Delaware Wizards Raleigh Flyers El Paso Patriots Reading Rage Hampton Roads Mariners Richmond Kickers Long Island Rough Riders South Carolina Shamrocks Milwaukee Rampage Tampa Bay Cyclones Minnesota Thunder Worcester Wildfire
- Name issue: The new A League is a division of the USISL, which stands for United Systems of Independent Soccer Leagues. The new A League is sanctioned as a Division II professional league by the United States Soccer Federation, the sport's governing body. The USISL also consists of: a Division III professional division, currently known as the Pro League; a men's outdoor amateur division, currently known as the Premier League; a women's outdoor amateur division, currently known as the "W" League; a men's indoor league (amateur); and a pilot youth program. The other leagues under the USISL umbrella will be renamed. The names "APSL" and "Select League" will disappear after their 1996 seasons.
- Governance: The Chief Executive Officer of the USISL Inc. and the Commissioner of the new A League will be Francisco Marcos. He may name commissioners for the other leagues of the USISL. Richard Groff, the interim commissioner of the current A-League, will terminate his duties in that position by the end of 1996. The new A League will have an executive council of four to six owners who will be elected on a regional basis. They will in turn report to a USISL Inc. board of directors, which will be comprised of five people.
- Umbro: Umbro is currently the major sponsor of both the USISL and the A-League. Umbro and the USISL are expected shortly to formalize and complete an agreement where Umbro will become a 60 percent equity partner of the USISL. A USISL Inc. board of directors will be formed with three representatives from Umbro as well as Francisco Marcos and one person he will designate.
- Number of teams: In its first year, 1997, the new A League will have a maximum of 24 teams, possibly less. It could grow to as many as 32 teams over the next three or four years (by 1999 or 2000), but never by more than four teams per season. As many as 10 but as few as seven current APSL franchises will become members of the new A League. There are seven existing franchises and three expansion teams on the current A-League roster. All expansion teams that meet the criteria for the new A League will be admitted. The new A League will also include between 14 and 17 current USISL teams, the bulk of them coming from the current 21-team USISL Select League. Half a dozen teams of the USISL Pro and Premier leagues have also applied for membership to the new league, and it is possible a few may make the cut. The lineup for the new league will be finalized by the conclusion of the USISL Annual General Meeting Aug. 28 to Sept. 1 in Richmond, Va. But Aug. 1 is the expected deadline to announce the first list of about 10 USISL teams that will be moving up to the new A League. The winner of the USISL Pro League has the right to move up under the league's new rules. The Pro League championship game is Aug. 24 at Charleston, S.C.
- Membership criteria: The criteria for membership in the new A League are established and approved the United States Soccer Federation Board of Directors. General criteria include: an average annual budget of $500,000; stadiums with seating for at least 5,000; and provisions for minimum full-time front office staff members. Player compensation guidelines are still being determined by the USSF and it is expected that minimum player compensations will be established.
- Season: Not all the details are finalized, but the teams in the new A League will play 24 to 30 games in 1997. The season will begin no earlier than mid-April and will end sometime between early September and early October. Teams might begin the season with a series of Open Cup or exhibition games, but won't begin the regular-season schedule until the first week of May.
- Promotion/relegation: Long a tradition in soccer-rich countries, the USISL will introduce the concept of promotion and relegation to United States professional soccer. Beginning with 1996, the Division III (USISL Pro League) champions will earn the right of promotion to the new A League, if the club meets other criteria for Division II membership. Until the league reaches its cap of 32 teams or three years elapse (end of 1999), there will be no mandatory relegation. Until the cap is reached, a maximum of four teams per year may be promoted to the new A League. Those four teams could be: 1) the USISL Division III champions; 2) a selected team from the USISL roster of teams; 3) the top points-getter during the Division III regular season; 4) a selected team from the USISL roster of teams. Once the new A League reaches its cap of 32 teams, there will be automatic relegation of at least one team. Promoted teams will be guaranteed at least two years at the higher level (so a last-place finish the year after being promoted would not result in relegation).
- Television: It is expected that the new A League will take over the current Prime Network package presently held by the APSL, which is in the first year of a four-year agreement with the sports broadcasting network. The current A-League broadcasts are sponsored by Umbro, Microsoft and Arizona Tea. It is also hoped that the USISL will retain its weekly TV broadcast, USISL Match of the Week, to aid in the promotion of its Division III and amateur leagues. The USISL is midway through its 17-game weekly broadcast schedule, a one-year arrangement with Prime Network, and its annual All-Star Game will be broadcast live on Prime on July 17 from Blaine, Minn.
- Rules/regulations: The USISL and the current A-League agree on most on-field rules and many policies, but the rules and regulations will have to be standardized before the 1997 season begins. We will work it out. It is a matter of identifying the differences - for example, the USISL takes tied games to overtime but the APSL goes directly to a shootout - and reaching a compromise. A joint committee will make its recommendations to the USISL executive council by the USISL Annual General Meeting Aug. 27 to Sept. 1. All rules must be approved by the USSF.
- Draft: The APSL has conducted a player draft while the USISL has not, although the USISL was planning to do so for the 1997 season, since it was granted Division II status by the USSF. In the future, there will be a draft, although the details of how it will work have yet to be determined.
- MLS: The USISL and Major League Soccer are presently in the midst of negotiations to extend their successful development agreement. It is anticipated the new A League will be an important component of those negotiations. If the current A-League teams do not wish to be part of the MLS-USISL agreement, they may be excluded. It is hoped everybody in the new A League will be a part of a new agreement. Eighty USISL alumni were on MLS opening day rosters and about three dozen players have already shuttled between the USISL and MLS only halfway through the 1996 season.