Thursday, February 10, 2011

A Couple of Thoughts On the USL I-League

Any time you spell extreme as Xtreme,
 you have a problem. Yes we're looking
 at you XFL.

This upcoming fall, the United Soccer Leagues are trying to start a brand new level of soccer in the United States: the I-League. The I-League will be an indoor soccer league, to go along with the other American indoor soccer league, the Professional Arena Soccer League (PASL). Many former indoor soccer leagues in North America have failed (see the Xtreme Soccer League, the Major Indoor Soccer League's first attempt, and second attempt), but the I-League can be successful. And for a little bit of added interest for the fine soccer fans in South Carolina; we could get a team.

If any indoor soccer league would ever have a chance to succeed, it would be the I-League. The difference between the I-League is the experience of the USL. Not to pick on the MISL, (as they are still going, with 5 teams) but they are a stand alone league. From 2001-2008 it was sanctioned by the USSF, but not anymore. The United Soccer Leagues are an experienced organization that have enough sense to not expand to quickly. According to the map of their proposed expansion for the next 4 years, they are going to add a region or two every year until they cover the whole of the US and Canada.

The I-League is looking for markets to start teams in, and the 3 teams that have already been announced are the Norfolk SharX, the Rochester Lancers, and a team based in Syracuse, New York. According to the I-League website, the requirements for the franchise's arena are:
  • A capacity of 2,000-10,000
  • The arena must be able to hold a field with the dimensions of 200X85
Any arena that hosts minor league hockey are perfect for this. So connect a couple of dots here.

Look up at the map above. South Carolina is in the area for expansion this year. Barely, but we're there. We have plenty of good arenas for this; the Bi-Lo Center in Greenville, which hosts the Greenville ECHL team, the Road Warriors, or the North Charleston Coliseum, home to the Charleston ECHL team, the Stingrays, are the most likely candidates for this. The only reason I don't mention Columbia's Colonial Life Arena, is because of the 2,000-10,000 seating capacity range that the I-League is looking for (the Colonial Life Arena holds 18,000). The Bi-Lo Center, are much closer to the 10,000 seat range, with the Bi-Lo Center holding 13,000 for hockey, and the North Charleston Coliseum holding 11,000. In this situation, hockey is the most comparable to indoor soccer, capacity wise.

The one edge I would give to Greenville is that they don't have a soccer team, but of course the edge to Charleston is that they do. It has advantages and disadvantages for getting a team. Having another team in Charleston could "mess with attendance" because of economic issues, while not already having a team in Greenville could give them a clean slate for the city. But what comes with already having a team, is a market for soccer in Charleston, while not having a team in Greenville, well gives them a clean slate. Both would be tough fits, and this is all speculation, but you would hope that some city in South Carolina wants an indoor soccer team. But finding the right place, poses the problem.

More information on the I-League can be found on their website:
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  1. I don't see why you're so optimistic about the I-League. It's not as though the USL has been a real smooth operation. And so far the I League has all of about three teams less than a year before its scheduled starting time. Maybe the I League will announce some more new teams but they won't have adequate start up time.

    The problem that you ignore is that indoor soccer is a very tough sport to sell these days where there is all sorts of competition even from other niche sports such as indoor football and indoor lacrosse. There is also a major outdoor league which drains talent and attention from the indoor game.

  2. Good points, but the USL has been around since 1986. I didn't say the USL is smooth, I said its experienced. They know how to run a soccer league.

    I also don't think that the USL will have the league playing this year. The decision to start the league this year was premature. They should have proposed a start time for the league once they have enough teams to form a decent sized league. 6 teams with the USL-2 last year worked alright. Not great but it functioned.

    Indoor is a niche sport, but believe me soccer fans are much hungrier than lacrosse fans, maybe not football fans, but definitely lacrosse fans. But soccer fans have a "craving" for soccer that the I-league will fill during the offseason.