The USL is one of the most prominent Division II professional soccer leagues in the world, reaching a population of more than 75 million people to fuel the growth of professional soccer across North America.
In 2016, more than $100 million were invested league-wide into stadium infrastructure to create venues that deliver an unforgettable fan and competitor experience. The USL has national media partnerships with ESPN and SiriusXM, and recently invested $10 million to create USL Productions – which includes a state-of-the-art facility that will produce and distribute nearly 500 league matches and more than 1,000 hours of original content to national partners, local affiliates, USL’s Match Center and international markets.
A growing league, the USL has more than doubled in size since 2014, with Ottawa Fury FC, Reno 1868 FC and the Tampa Bay Rowdies debuting in 2017. Nashville SC, Fresno FC, Las Vegas Lights FC, North Carolina FC and a new club operated by Atlanta United of Major League Soccer are set to join the league for 2018, with Birmingham, Alabama, Austin, Texas and Memphis, Tennessee, set to join the league in 2019. Beyond league play, the USL regularly features international exhibitions against leading Premier League, Liga MX, and Bundesliga clubs, among others.
Headquartered in Tampa, Fla., the USL provides unparalleled club support with a growing team of more than 50 professionals across 17 departments, ranging from operations to marketing, communications and sponsorship.
The USL was formed when two existing professional leagues were combined into a single league property before the 2011 season. The league was designed to help ensure the long-term stability of professional soccer in North America, and featured 12 teams in a pair of six-team divisions during its initial campaign. Among the league’s founding members are five longtime USL clubs with more than 100 years of operation among them – the Charleston Battery, Harrisburg City Islanders, Pittsburgh Riverhounds, Richmond Kickers and Rochester Rhinos. In January of 2017, after a thorough application review process, the U.S. Soccer Federation granted the USL Division II status beginning in the 2017 season, recognizing the significant investment and high level of operating excellence of the USL and its member clubs.
The league’s footprint is national, but its schedule is highlighted by a regional approach designed to build rivalries. The USL’s teams are divided into two conferences – Eastern and Western – with each team set to play 34 games over 31 weeks during the 2018 regular season.
Bethlehem Steel FC
Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC
Harrisburg City Islanders
Louisville City FC
LA Galaxy II
New York Red Bulls II
OKC Energy FC
Orange County SC
Orlando City B
Ottawa Fury FC
Phoenix Rising FC
Portland Timbers 2
Real Monarchs SLC
Reno 1868 FC
Rio Grande Valley FC
Sacramento Republic FC
Saint Louis FC
San Antonio FC
Seattle Sounders FC 2
Swope Park Rangers
Tampa Bay Rowdies
Toronto FC II
Tulsa Roughnecks FC
Fresno FC (2018)
Las Vegas Lights FC (2018)
Nashville SC (2018)
North Carolina FC (2018)
In 2017, the top eight teams from both the Eastern Conference and Western Conference advanced to the 2017 USL Playoffs, as four weeks of postseason action decided the league’s next champion. The fixed-seed format concluded with the USL Cup Final, which was held at the home of the conference champion with the best regular season record.
Since the start of the 2015 season, the USL has more than doubled in size going from 14 teams to 24 in 2015 and 30 in 2017, giving the league a combined MSA reach of 75 million people, 25 percent of America’s television households.
Introduced in 2015, the USL mark serves as the central pillar in a new design philosophy for the league. Inspired by the geometry of the field, its design cues are more akin to a 21st century startup than those of a monolithic sports league. Starting with the logo, the USL overhauled its identity to step forward as a league brand that is fit for its partners, clubs and fans as the dawn of a new era advances for the USL. The simple shapes of the USL lettering appear as a stencil and hint at its flexible use. The new logo is not a corporate logo: It is a tribal mark, something to be taken to the heart of each club’s community, personalized, and worn with pride by allowing club versions.
The USL has implemented initiatives to improve the quality of the league both on and off the pitch with the vision, by 2020, of establishing one of the most internationally respected and sustainable professional soccer leagues that is both attractive and rewarding for players, investors, partners and fans. In 2015, the USL announced a groundbreaking multi-year partnership designating global design, architecture, engineering and planning firm HOK as the Official Stadium Design Partner of the league. HOK is leading a stadium development, design and standards initiative supporting the league’s strategic initiative to house all USL clubs in soccer-specific stadiums across North America by the end of the decade. As the league’s official stadium design partner, HOK is applying its venue design expertise to guide soccer-specific stadium development for expansion clubs and the renovation of current USL stadiums to increase capacities and amenities. HOK also consults to the league and its clubs on maximizing venue revenue, developing ancillary programming and creating operational efficiencies.
Twenty-five of the USL’s 27 American teams competing during the 2017 season were situated within the Nielsen Top 90 TV Market Universe with four teams in the Top 10, 12 teams in the Top 25 and 19 teams in the Top 50 markets across the country. The USL’s two Canadian teams are situated in that country’s Top 5 television markets. All USL matches are broadcast live and in HD exclusively on Match Center at USLSoccer.com. In addition, USL Television Network revealed 17 regional affiliate partnerships in 2017, up from two in 2016. The accessibility of live video showcases the league and its players, coaches, and fans, while connecting its clubs and partners to a global audience, and present them with opportunities to reach additional fans from throughout North America and the world.
Rob Hoskins, Chairman; Alec Papadakis, CEO/Managing Partner; Jake Edwards, President; Justin Papadakis, Chief Operating Officer; Tom Veit, Chief Revenue Officer; Lizzie Seedhouse, Senior Vice President, Digital & Content; Steven Short, Vice President, Division III.
The USL fan skews young (64% between ages of 18-44) and male (79%), comparable with MLS fans and the general population; a high proportion of them are college educated (91%), employed (87%) and with a high annual income (42% have household income of at least $100K). USL fans are passionate about the game of soccer with a high number being current and former players with a strong interest in various soccer leagues. USL fans are highly engaged with the league with more than three-quarters attending at least two games in 2015, while 45% are season ticket holders. The USL fan is tech savvy with more than one-third consuming USL-related news via digital and social platforms on a regular basis.
The Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, recognized as U.S. Soccer’s National Club Championship, is an annual competition open to all amateur and professional soccer teams affiliated with U.S. Soccer. The tournament has crowned a champion for 103 consecutive years dating from 1914. In 1999, the competition was renamed to honor American soccer pioneer Lamar Hunt.
A record 18 USL teams entered the tournament in 2017: the Charleston Battery, Charlotte Independence, Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, FC Cincinnati, the Harrisburg City Islanders, Louisville City FC, OKC Energy FC, Orange County SC, Phoenix Rising FC, the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, Reno 1868 FC, the Richmond Kickers, Rochester Rhinos, Sacramento Republic FC, Saint Louis FC, San Antonio FC, the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Tulsa Roughnecks FC. With a record number of 99 teams participating overall, the USL began Open Cup play in the Second Round (May 17). This year’s winning team received $250,000, a berth in the 2019 CONCACAF Champions’ League and had its name engraved on the historic Dewar Challenge Trophy, one of the oldest nationally contested trophies in American team sports. The runner-up earned $60,000, and the team that advances the furthest from each lower division took home a $15,000 prize. The USL’s Rochester Rhinos are the last non-MLS team to win the U.S. Open Cup (1999) and the USL’s Charleston Battery were the last non-MLS team to advance to the Final (2008).
Major League Soccer and the USL announced a multi-year partnership in early 2013 designed to enhance the development of professional players in North America.
Four years later, the partnership between the two leagues has proven to be a resounding success. The LA Galaxy II, the first team in league history to be owned and operated by an MLS club, entered competition in the USL in 2014, opening the door for additional teams to either launch a USL affiliate or partner with an independent USL club.
In 2017, expansion side Reno 1868 FC, led by Indiana Pacers owner Herb Simon, partnered with the MLS’s San Jose Earthquakes to bring professional soccer to Nevada.
Overall, there are 10 USL teams owned and operated by MLS clubs and 11 USL-MLS affiliations among the USL clubs set to compete in 2018.
Owned and operated by United Soccer Leagues, LLC, the PDL is the developmental leader in North American soccer’s evolving tiered structure. The PDL featured 72 teams within four conferences throughout the United States and Canada in 2017. Sixteen of the PDL’s 2017 members were owned and operated by a professional club, or held a partnership with a professional club. The PDL provides elite collegiate players the opportunity to taste a higher level of competition while maintaining their eligibility. In addition to league play, PDL teams compete in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup as well as various exhibitions.
Learn more about the PDL at www.uslpdl.com