Rebranding: What to Take Away from USL Rising

The league office announced today the undertaking of an ambitious rebranding. No more will the third division of American soccer be called “USL PRO,” and fans will no longer see the flaming soccer ball league crest. The league has been rebranded as simply the USL, emphasizing the united nature of the teams that compete within the third tier of the American soccer pyramid. But while there was certainly style (such as the sleek new logo), there was also quite a bit of substance behind this calculated move.

A major talking point, if not the most important one of all, is the USL will try to once again become the second tier on the American soccer pyramid. The last time this occurred was back in 2010 during the formation of the NASL. Both leagues applied for Division 2 status, but due to contractually binding obligations neither league was granted the honor. The NASL would go on to receive Division 2 status a year later.

Now, however, there is significant investment in the league. From a financial standpoint, a Division 2 league must be ensured with a $750,000 performance bond to meet demands such as player and staff wages. Thanks in part to the eight MLS-owned teams, this requirement should be easily met. Ownership groups are also required to provide proof that they can financially support a team for three years. Given that the USL requires financial forecasts before granting a franchise, this should also be easily met.

You have to wonder, however, how much of a factor these financial requirements played into the self-relegations of the Charlotte Eagles and Dayton Dutch Lions. Both cited financial reasons behind moving down to the Premier Development League, and the relegation could have been expedited in order to apply for Division 2 sanctioning this year instead of 2017, the generally agreed upon time that the league would apply.

An additional requirement is that each team compete in a stadium that seats at least 5,000 spectators, as well as have 75 percent of teams compete in metropolitan areas of at least 750,000 people. To this end, the league office has stated as part of the rebrand that they plan to have all the league’s teams become either the primary tenant or owner of a soccer-specific stadium by 2020. While that is a short time table, just five years out, it should be attainable.

With the addition of the MLS-owned teams, the population requirements should also expect to be met. Add into that teams such as Tulsa, who has a metro population of 1.1 million, and St. Louis, who has a population of 2.8 million in its metroplex, and it’s easy to see that this requirement won’t hinder the league in its application. The other requirements for Division 2 status are listed here, and credit goes out to IMSoccer News and Neil Morris of WRALSportsFan for digging it up.

With those major initiatives being somewhat buried under the redesigned logo and fan-oriented reworks, what else rose to the surface?

As someone who likes to look into stats, it’s refreshing to see that the league plans on doing live stats this year. Last year during broadcasts that was not the case, or it was done rather poorly. Additionally, since the entire website got an overhaul, the compiled stats should be infinitely easier to access and pore through.

Oh, and about those broadcasts last year, those are getting an upgrade this year as well. The league made great strides last year putting the games on Youtube as live events. This year, the league is upping the standard and broadcasting all of the games for free in high definition. As our good friends in Jack’s Militia point out, if you were to go out and buy a $35 Google Chromecast, you could host a watch party on your TV or at a bar and get every game. So not only can you watch every road game for your team, you can now grow the game by getting a watch party going easier than ever before.

So we’ve got a two ambitious league initiatives, a new league crest, a new competition format, and more to look forward to this season. All in all, this is about all one could ask for in a rebrand. If you’d like to see what other changes are coming, I strongly encourage you to click around the new website as it’s rather impressive. Just 39 days until First Kick!

(image courtesy of USL)