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Bedrock Ownership Spurs USL’s Growth

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 05/21/17, 12:06PM EDT


Investment has guided league to forefront of global Division II leagues

Photo courtesy Michael Rincon / Phoenix Rising FC

The United Soccer League has grown to become the largest Division II soccer league in the world in 2017, with 30 teams competing for the championship as the league’s continued growth has seen it more than double in size since 2014.

At the heart of that expansion, according to USL President Jake Edwards, is the outstanding ownership groups that have become an integral part of the league’s success on and off the field.

“The ownership we have now, I would stack up against any Division II league in the world,” Edwards told the Los Angeles Times’ Kevin Baxter in a feature story released Sunday. “And we’ve worked hard to achieve that, to attract those kinds of owners.”

Collectively, the USL’s ownership – excluding the clubs owned by Major League Soccer clubs – has a net worth of more than $4 billion, and on top of that many bring experience from top-level professional sports across North America. 

The likes of NBA owners Spurs Sports & Entertainment (San Antonio FC) and the Indiana Pacers’ Herb Simon (Reno 1868 FC), and those who bring experience from Major League Baseball like Carl Lindner III (FC Cincinnati), a previous owner of the Cincinnati Reds, have been joined by major business leaders including Kona Grill CEO Berke Bakay (Phoenix Rising FC).

Among the newcomers to the league is James Keston, whose first full season with Orange County SC is taking shape well on and off the field. Keston’s club will soon move into a new 5,000-seat stadium as Orange County undergoes a resurgence in the Southern California hotbed. The team’s efforts are reflective of a league-wide upgrade of organizations who have unveiled new facilities this year, including Rio Grande Valley FC’s 10,000-seat H-E-B Park and Rising FC’s 6,000-seat Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex.

“You’re seeing great ownership come in,” Keston told Baxter. “In the next two years you’ll hear a lot more everywhere around the United States about ownership groups that want to come in and want to spend real capital and want to build soccer.

“MLS is one model. USL is a completely different model. People like me – especially ones who saw MLS 10, 15 years ago and found it very interesting – now look at USL and see that same interesting growth and say there are amazing things we can do with this business.”

Photo courtesy Albert Evangelista / Orange County SC

For Bakay and his newest addition to Rising FC, three-time Premier League champion Didier Drogba – who have welcomed crowds above capacity to each of the club’s first four games this season – the opportunity provided by the USL to establish a strong business off the field and a high level of competition on it is gathering steam quickly.

“Whoever wants to come here and play, I will advise them to come,” Drogba told Baxter. “Because I think the league will become even more competitive.”

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