Devised as a Division 3 league by founders Peter Wilt and Jack Cummins, the NISA plans a launch next year with 10 teams, eventual growth to 24 teams, and at some point down the road, an integrated system of movement through promotion and relegation within a system separate from MLS and the USL.
“Back in November, I told NASL and USL, ‘You need a link league between the two of you’ to get both leagues relevant,” said Wilt, former general manager of the MLS Chicago Fire and ex-president of NASL club Indy Eleven, during a phone call Wednesday. “Right now, they’re both kind of islands and kind of independent.
“It’s ironic that we’re calling ourselves an 'independent soccer association' when the idea is to align NASL and NPSL and create this alliance that will lead to promotion and relegation.”
As per pro formas prepared by Wilt, NISA teams will operate with annual budgets of between $1.5 million and $3 million. (NASL team budgets range from $3 million to $6-7 million.)
He believes institution of the NISA, which will include current National Professional Soccer League (NPSL) teams as well as new investment groups, will drive growth of the NASL, which is fielding just eight teams this year under a one-year waiver from U.S. Soccer. A Division 2 league is required to have a minimum of 12 teams. (The NPSL operates as a de facto fourth division though it is not officially designated as such.)
“This Division 3 league is going to help the NASL grow,” says Wilt. “It will serve as an incubator of sorts for some teams that maybe play a couple of years in Division 3 and then even before promotion and relegation maybe buy their way into Division 2, and then when we’re fully populated at 24 teams the only way to get into Division 2 is by being promoted.”
Wilt had been working as an advance scout for the NASL, researching and consulting with prospective investment groups. He found a level of interest not suitable for either the pricier NASL nor the 30-team USL, which is a hodgepodge of independent teams and others either operated by or affiliated with MLS franchises.
“A lot of them don’t have the financial wherewithal to do NASL, but they do want a pro soccer team,” says Wilt. “While pitching it, the response was phenomenal. We got maybe three dozen different markets saying, ‘Yeah we want to do this.’
“At the end of the day, a lot of their eyes are bigger than their stomachs. But I was real pleased with the response.”
To facilitate a launch next year, Wilt and his partners must obtain sanction as a Division 3 league from U.S. Soccer, and present to the federation letters of intent as well as proof of payment for entry fees and deposits of funds. He is targeting a U.S. Soccer quarterly meeting in September to officially get off the ground. He hopes to have 24 teams as early as 2021.
“I think what both leagues need to do is cap their capacity,” he says. “For Division 3 that will be 24 teams and for NASL I think that should be 20 teams. That will create scarcity, demand, so the value of the franchises will go up and the only way to get them is to get in at the bottom and work your way up, or buy an existing team.”
Wilt says he is in regular contact with a U.S. Soccer official to keep the federation updated. He does not see this operation as competition for MLS and the USL, but as a “parallel process.” (The USL is also looking to launch a Division III league. It has been actively checking out mid-sized soccer markets and intends to start play in 2019.)
In a press release were included these items, the four pillars of the NISA foundation:
-- An affordable pro
division national soccer league with regional based competition.
-- An independent league with team owners controlling their franchises.
-- A plan to limit the League to 24 teams and incorporate promotion and relegation once fully populated.
-- A strong league office that serves its teams with quality staff supplemented by expert consultants.
“These pillars are critical to differentiate NISA," said Wilt in the league statement, "and provide the framework for a sustainable league that will ensure success for itself as well as for other independent leagues that share our vision for an open structure that will provide all soccer clubs with a pathway to fulfill their ambitions."