Corporate Structure and Ownership
The legal entity that operates the United Soccer League is known as United Soccer, Leagues, LLC. The league offices are at 1715 North Westshore Boulevard, Suite 825, Tampa, Florida 33607.
The United Soccer League is owned by NuRock Soccer Holdings, LLC, a Georgia Limited Liability Company with its principal business address in Atlanta, Georgia. NuRock controls 99% of the membership interests, while the other 1 % is held by Robert Hoskins.
NuRock Soccer Holdings LLC purchased the United Soccer Leagues from Nike in August 2009. NuRock had been a franchisee of the United Soccer League with a Premier Development League team in Atlanta.
NuRock is led by real estate developer Robert Hoskins and former NASL player Alec Papadakis, and NuRock Soccer Holdings, LLC is a part of a larger organisation known as The NuRock Companies — of which Hoskins is the founder.
In 2018, the USL announced a rebranding, which took effect immediately at the close of the 2018 season. The rebranded USL is modelled after a recognised and respected international structure – one central brand, three leagues. Unlike Major League Soccer (“MLS”), which operates under the single entity, limited liability legal structure, the USL operates a pure franchise model which is highly centralised and top-down in its execution.
The vision of USL is to a future where stability reigns in the world of lower division soccer in the United States. Stability is not one word that most would use to describe the lower divisions over the years. It seeks to strengthen its contribution to U.S. Soccer’s efforts toward becoming a world powerhouse and its pursuit of winning a World Cup.
The Three Leagues
USL CHAMPIONSHIP ( 2nd tier of US Soccer)
In 2017, the USL was given provisional accreditation as a DII league. In 2018, the USL was sanctioned as the sole DII league in the United States. The fee in 2018 to buy a franchise is believed to be $7 million. That fee can be expected to rise, given the historical rise in franchise fees in both USL and MLS over the past several years. According to USL documentation, the current expected initial investment by a new team is at least $10.6 million (including the aforementioned $7 million expansion fee)
By Comparison: In 1998, the Miami Fusion are believed to have paid $20 million to join MLS. In 2018, FC Cincinnati is believed to have forked out $150 million. That means in 20 years, MLS’ valuation of clubs has risen 7.5-fold. In half that time, the USL’s 47-fold increase has far outpaced even the top professional league in U.S. Soccer.
Currently, the USL has 33 teams, divided into two sides (called conferences) ‘East’ and ‘West’. Teams play 34-games from in a fixture that runs from March through October. Like MLS, the USL also ends the season with playoffs. The USL Championship is a fully professional league and all players are paid.
Affiliation with MLS: Some of the teams are affiliated with MLS clubs, as the current rules permit MLS clubs to field reserve teams in USL or affiliate with USL clubs. In fact, most MLS clubs have either an affiliation or field reserve teams. This agreement is subject to revision in the future.
Note: Many of the early USL clubs signed a five-year franchise agreement with the league. That five-year term, depending on the club, may expire at the end of 2018 or 2019. The USL has recognized this potential difficulty and in 2016, took measures to incentivize owners to remain in the league. An increase in the expansion fee was one, while another is a smaller $10,000 fee required to renew membership for another term. The present term is for 10 years.
USL LEAGUE ONE (3rd tier of US Soccer)
During the 2017 and 2018 seasons, US Soccer had no third division. That gap is now filled with the arrival of USL One. Officially launched on 14 December 2018. USL applied for Third Division status for its League One in August 2018; the USSF granted a provisional third division status on December 14, 2018.
Employing the successful methodology utilized by the USL to establish the largest professional soccer league in North America, the USL League One expansion efforts center on markets that meet the following criteria:
- Strong local ownership
- Primary owner with a net worth in excess of $10 million and 35% or greater share of the potential franchise
- Soccer-specific stadia
- Seating Capacity: 3,500
- Pitch Size: 110 yards x 70 yards
- Viable market size and support
The expansion fee for USL D3 teams is believed to be $500,000, and teams are expected to spend between $2.4 million and $5.1 million during their first season of play. USL One is also regarded as a professional league.
For the 2019 season, there will be ten teams competing (9 from the US plus Toronto FC II) in a 28 fixture season. Expansion clubs for 2020 include the Rochester Rhinos and Harrisburg, PA side Penn FC. The latter club is in the process of finding a suitable home stadium and opted to sit out the 2019 season.
USL LEAGUE TWO (4th tier -unofficial)
(f/k/a Premier Development League “PDL”)
USL League Two continues the mission of the PDL, the leader in pre-professional soccer in the U.S. and Canada. The League holds a vital role as it continues to provide the elite platform for those pursuing professional careers domestically and internationally.
League Two aims to be more than the leading national U23 league: League Two bills itself as “the defined and proven pathway for players to progress to the professional ranks of soccer while becoming a staple within the community in which the team operates.”
League Two clubs have partnerships with MLS and USL Championship Clubs. At present, there are 74 clubs in League Two.
USL League Two is divided into 4 conferences: Eastern, Southern, Central and Western.
The USL League Two regular season takes place during the summer from early May to mid-July. Each team plays a 14 matches against their respective divisional opponents, seven games at home and seven away. Following the conclusion of the regular season, a postseason tournament takes place. These playoffs take place in late July, with each conference champion advancing to the national semifinals and the winners of those matches advancing to the League Two Championship match in early August.
A note about division sanctioning: The United States Soccer Federation (USSF) promulgated criteria and sanctions the first three divisions of soccer in the US. Below the three official divisions as designated by USSF, there are other active leagues; some of these are intrastate competitions or independent leagues. Most, though not all, of these are sanctioned by the United States Adult Soccer Association (USASA).
1. USL website
3. Florida Secretary of State, Division of Corporations. http://search.sunbiz.org; Georgia Secretary of State, Corporations Division.
5. independent research