Premier vs. Professional: USL Sues to Defend Relevance of its Business Model

August 3, 2019

 

United Soccer League (USL) brought an oddly-timed lawsuit against United Premier Soccer League (UPSL) in May for trademark infringement. It's the etymological clash of titans battle where we learn once and for all the definitive relationship between 'Premier' and 'Professional'.

 

Legal takes interpret this as USL attempting to constrain or destroy the 'adult soccer' sanctioning authority of the USASA (United States Adult Soccer Association) that legitimizes both UPSL and NPSL in the eyes of FIFA and allows these leagues to sign internationally-recognized contracts with professional players.

 

Both leagues are in different places but have mulled moving into differentiated quality. UPSL is ahead in this process. In recent years they've created an internal promotion/relegation process, by setting up divisions through which UPSL teams may compete and rise (or fail, and sink).

 

On purely aesthetic grounds, 'UPSL Pro Premier Division' practically begs for some eye-rolling.  

 

Currently, NPSL has a simple conference-based structure, where success in one one's conference allows for entry into single-elimination conference, regional and then national playoffs. 

 

As these two leagues attempt to route around the damage inflicted by USSF with its professional league standards and MLS market protections, it has bumped right up against USL's entire business model.

 

USL shelters under MLS' market territory protections by acting as its feeder system. It tactically approves clubs to ensure no oxygen exists for ambitious, independent clubs seeking a toehold anywhere. It charges significant entry fees that can reach several millions. And USL is slowly realzing that the benefits of being MLS's feeder system is a poisoned chalice, as Americans fail to distinguish quality in USL different from the attribute of 'minor league'.

 

UPSL and NPSL entry fees are a fraction of USL's. These leagues act more like a container of best-practices and deliverer of back-end office support. if a 'NPSL and UPSL Pro' offering gains footing, it will demonstrate that USL may not be worth the expense and loss of autonomy.

 

And so, a lawsuit. Yet one more demonstration of the consequences of a toxic, distorted hothouse environment and regulator subversion by MLS/SUM shareholders. Making these sorts of moves suggests that the assumptions around the relationship between MLS and USL is diverging along different interests. The USL served MLS interests through its expansion and cross-divisional proliferation. It plugs all the 'market holes' the MLS has not yet, or won't ever, expand into, and allows the USL to suck the oxygen out of any room that a possible future MLS competitor might find initial purchase. USSF gave USL runway to do this. But now, USL might attempt to move into a phase where it slowly becomes a competitor of its own. Given MLS' general decline in viewership, depending on seemingly increasingly desperate expansions, the next two years will prove interesting. 

 

FTP will explore this further as more information becomes available. 

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