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Monday, August 31, 2009

RailHawks and seven other teams and prospective franchises threaten to bolt USL after sale to NuRock

Posted by on Mon, Aug 31, 2009 at 5:46 PM

UPDATE 6:39 p.m.: Moments ago, the USL announced an executive restructuring. The gist: "NuRock's Rob Hoskins will serve as Chairman with Alec Papadakis being named CEO. USL's Tim Holt has been named President of the organization with founder Francisco Marcos transitioning to the position of President Emeritus and Senior Director of International Development."

Last Thursday, Nike sold the USL to NuRock Soccer Holdings, an Atlanta-based concern. As the days passed, it became increasingly clear that Nike's failure to sell the league to a group of USL club owners caught everyone by surprise.

This afternoon, the Carolina RailHawks released a statement that is something like a thrown-down gauntlet. Titled "Team Owners Association Chills Relations with USL After Nike Sells USL to Non-Team Third Party," the message couldn't be more plain.

Selby Wellman, a member of the RailHawks' ownership group, is listed as the spokesperson for the dissident owners' group.

The bottom line is that five of the 11 currently active USL-1 clubs have not committed to playing in the league for the 2010 season, including Carolina, and that they are aggressively pursuing all alternatives—which presumably include an oft-rumored breakaway league. Clearly, the sale to NuRock displeases these owners and they feel that NuRock will not be the solution to frequently expressed concerns about the leagues' organization and marketing.

The statement was issued on behalf of the Team Owners Association, a group of owners formally established in January 2008. Member clubs include existing USL-1 franchises Carolina, FC Miami, the Vancouver Whitecaps, Montreal Impact and Minnesota Thunder; a former USL-1 franchise, the Atlanta Silverbacks; one 2010 expansion franchise, the Tampa Bay Rowdies; and one prospective future franchise, St. Louis.

Notably absent are USL stalwarts Portland (which, like Vancouver, is joining the MLS in 2011), Rochester and Charleston, along with FC New York (which is slated to begin USL-1 play in 2010).

There are many questions that remain unanswered, and we hope to find out some soon. Following is the text of the statement by the Team Owners Association. Here is our post on the announcement last week that NuRock had bought the USL pyramid.



Atlanta, Carolina, Miami, Minnesota, Montreal, St. Louis, Tampa and Vancouver

to Aggressively Explore all Options for Future

August 31, 2009. Following extensive negotiations with USISL, Inc., the parent company of the United Soccer Leagues (USL), to restructure the USL First Division (USL-1) into a league owned and controlled by its teams, the Team Owners Association (TOA) today announced that it has accelerated its pursuit of all league options for the 2010 season and beyond.  The TOA, led by the Atlanta Silverbacks, Carolina RailHawks, Miami FC, Minnesota Thunder, Montreal Impact, St. Louis Soccer United, Tampa Bay Rowdies and Vancouver Whitecaps, reached this decision following the announcement by Nike, Inc., the parent company of USISL, Inc., that it had concluded the sale of USL to a third-party (NuRock Soccer Holdings) which does not own a team in USL-1.

The TOA has been and remains committed to a restructuring of USL-1 into a truly professional soccer league which complies with the international rules established by FIFA, the governing body of international soccer.  These rules include the requirement that the league be owned and controlled by its teams.  Despite this rule, USL has historically been owned by a single corporate entity responsible for, among other things, league governance.  The TOA believes that this ownership structure has stunted the growth and recognition of both the league and its teams during USL's nearly 25-year existence.  Consequently, over the past several years, the TOA has engaged in discussions with the owners of USL to restructure USL and is therefore extremely disappointed with Nike's decision to sell USL to a non-USL-1 team owner.  Accordingly, the TOA now reconfirms its commitment to achieving a team-owner controlled league and will pursue all avenues to do so.

"The TOA and its teams thank the fans, media, coaches and players for their unconditional support and patience as we explore all options for the future," stated Selby Wellman, majority owner of the Carolina RailHawks and spokesperson for the TOA.  "The teams are confident that this process will lead to decisions and changes that are essential for the further growth of soccer in our respective markets and throughout North America."

About TOA

The TOA was formally established in January 2008. Carolina, Miami, Minnesota, Montreal and Vancouver are all playing in USL-1 this season, but have not recommitted to USL-1 for 2010. Atlanta withdrew from USL-1 after the 2008 season due to the continuing uncertainties of the negotiation and restructuring of USL.  Tampa is scheduled to begin playing in USL-1 in 2010. St. Louis Soccer United, owner of the St. Louis Athletica in WPS, is committed to establishing a men's professional team.  Notwithstanding the fact that Vancouver will be joining MLS in 2011, the Vancouver ownership group is committed to playing in 2010 and to exploring establishing a team in another market for 2011 and beyond.

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