When Carmelo Anthony decided to buy NASL club Puerto Rico FC in 2015, many wondered why the New York Knicks star didn’t invest in Major League Soccer — the top league in the U.S. and Canada.
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The small forward, who is a nine-time NBA All-Star, admitted that he did consider partially investing in an MLS club, but ultimately decided to go with NASL because he wanted full control of a club. Anthony subtlety hinted that MLS’ single-entity structure factored in his decision making.
“Well I like the actual business plan. I like that in the NASL, everyone runs their own business,” Anthony told NBCSports.com in an interview last Thursday. “You build your business up in the way you want to. Not being told by someone else how to build it. That was one of the keys that kind of intrigued me when I was thinking about NASL or MLS.”
He added, “It was just an opportunity from a business side, and being able to make my own rules and my own team. Run my own club and build it the way that I want to. Having 100 percent ownership of it. Whether that’s marketing or sponsors, the kicks [that players wear], concessions. Whatever it might be, I own all of it.”
Anthony’s comments suggest that MLS’s single-entity structure deterred him from deciding to join the league.
That is different from England’s Premier League or Spain’s La Liga, where all 20 clubs are independent businesses who can make their own decisions on those issues. For example, all MLS clubs use Adidas as their kit makers, whereas Premiership clubs constantly negotiate for deals independently on jerseys, warm-up outfits, etc.
The NASL is similar to the England’s top flight in that sense. Anthony’s Puerto Rico FC wears Nike, the same brand that he has a sneaker deal with for the NBA whereas the New York Cosmos’ kits are made by Under Armour. There is also no salary cap in NASL, whereas MLS has a small salary cap of $3.66 million with exceptions against that number in the form of Designated Players and Targeted Allocation Money.
While NASL’s setup may allow owners more liberties, there are some drawbacks.
For one, MLS’s single-entity structure has made the league more financially stable as clubs have revenue sharing and better sponsorship options. NASL famously folded in the 1980s due to the financial imbalance of the league. MLS is also recognized by U.S. Soccer as the top division of soccer in America, an issue that NASL has publicly criticized
It is the combination of those factors have made MLS clubs significantly worth more than NASL’s clubs, with the Seattle Sounders being the most valuable soccer club in the U.S. at $245 million. MLS franchise fees recently peaked at $100 million with NYCFC and continue to rise, whereas NASL’s fees are in single-digit millions.
Anthony even hinted that he would be open to one day seeing his club in MLS.
“I just want to put something great together, a great product,” he said. “Not be labeled as just a NASL team, MLS team or whatever. I think if in the future or something, if that conversion were to start…and I think that may happen at some point soon….Right now, I’m trying to build this up with NASL and I see so much growth there.”
Anthony also weighed in on another big debate in the American soccer landscape; should there be a promotion/relegation system in the U.S.?
The 32-year-old, who is friends with European soccer stars like Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar, Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain and Thierry Henry among others, admits he’d love to see the system come stateside – as long as it’s done in a way that works for all involved.
“I’m not against Pro/Rel, and in some instances, I’m all for it…if it’s done right. If it’s planned out right, I’m all for it. If it’s all one big division one, I’m all for it. I’m not against at all, but it has to make sense…If it helps the sport for the whole country, I’m all for it and I support it.”
MLS commissioner Don Garber has repeatedly said that his league doesn’t need Promotion/Relegation to be considered a real soccer competition.
There are obvious reasons for that. Imagine if a team like the LA Galaxy got relegated and replaced by NASL team that’s worth $3-7 million. Less owners would be inclined to spend the huge amounts needed for franchise fees in MLS. Anthony understands those concerns, which is why despite the fact that his own club would stand to benefit financially if there was a MLS/NASL promotion setup, he thinks the system should first be experimented with the NASL and USL leagues.
“Imagine if NASL was Division 1, and USL was Division 2? Like you told teams from USL, hey you have a shot of playing in the NASL next year…So I think it what it comes to is things like stadium size and fan bases,” He said. “Because it’s like you can’t take like a big team, I don’t want to name cities, and see them get relegated to a division where they are playing teams that have like 2,000 fans a game. And obviously, you’ve got to think about that as well.”
Considering that in the NBA, there are several teams that are accused of tanking to get high draft picks, would the concept work in basketball?
“You can’t use it in a basketball sense, it only works in soccer,” Anthony quickly replied.