In the dark, shadowy corners of public Twitter, information about NISA’s operations has been leaking into public knowledge, as football-starved supporters desperately look for any information to get through the offseason. We’ll pull out some of the juiciest bits here and talk about some of the implications for what City might see in 2020 and beyond as a result.
Ownership and Governance
60% of the league is cumulatively owned by member clubs, each of whom appoints a governor to sit on the board. The league president acts as a commissioner, who reports to the board. Presumably this is meant to be a structure where new clubs are brought up to an equal part of this 60% ownership and departing clubs forfeit their shares, but this isn’t explicitly spelled out anywhere.
The remaining 40% of the league is owned by the investors who provided the capital to start the league. The initial false starts with trying to get the league started previously might have provided a drain on this funding. Either way, NISA’s ability to sell shares in the league to get more investment and upgrade league operations is limited if the member clubs want to maintain control of the league.
NISA also reminds us that a $250K performance bond must be posted by every club every season, according to the Division 3 standard of the Professional League Standards (PLS). The idea behind this is to act as a failsafe so that if an ownership group suddenly runs out of money, the league can continue to operate the team to preserve the integrity of the competition. This isn’t necessarily enough to cover a team’s full expenses so much as defray the cost to everyone else. An additional complicating factor is IP ownership- the performance bond fallback is fine for franchised leagues that take control of crests and other club marks, running the team as if nothing happened. In the case of teams like the Philly Fury, the original ownership group still owns their name and logo and the league would have to perform an immediate de-branding or re-branding to continue. The price of freedom is the increased risk of instability.
A NISA roster must meet the following requirements:
- 20-35 players on the master roster
- 7 slots for non-domestic players
- Up to 6 amateurs under 21; amateurs must be registered within the club’s system, including the academy or directly to the first team
- 4 MLS and/or loan players (both terms are used, but I believe they’re the same slots)
- MLS/loan players only qualify for postseason if they played at least 3 regular season games
Lots to unpack here! Let’s start from my least favorite part: the limited number of non-domestic slots. A “domestic player” for NISA’s purposes is a US Citizen, green card holder, refugee, or asylum seeker. So it’s possible for the club to assist players with their immigration paperwork and free up additional non-domestic slots in the process- which is a nice incentive for taking care of your own. These slots are also transferable, so a club with cash to burn could choose to buy or trade for them from a club that has no need or desire for some of theirs.
I’m not a fan of limiting slots like this on either moral or competitive grounds. I understand that the thought process is to require clubs to give playing time to American players, give them more growth opportunities, and so on. But we’ve always run a squad with plenty of internationals, men who played their heart out for the rouge and gold and are every bit as deserving of your love as our Americans. It’s one of the great things about the club’s culture. It hasn’t crowded out the ability of US players to compete with us, but enriched the competitive and cultural environment for them to be in.
There are a number of City players who have signed multi-year deals with the club, some of whom are working through these issues right now, which likely plays a role in some of the player announcements that we haven’t seen yet. With all that said- this might be a requirement from USSF as part of the PLS, since it seems to match up with MLS’s requirement as well. It’s common from other leagues and other federations- but we should be better.
Moving on- the amateur slots are a nice touch. These are meant to be contracts that will not interfere with NCAA eligibility, the endless boogeyman of attracting young talent. As part of that, this is a great part of a pathway for academy players to reach playing and training time with the first team without having to immediately discard their scholarships. I’m a big fan.
The MLS/loan player slots explicitly call out international players as being part of an option. The postseason restriction should reduce the risk of clubs trying to stack themselves at the last minute in theory. In reality I don’t think that’s a huge risk: the NISA playoffs that count are in the spring, well ahead of when MLS teams would start getting eliminated from playoffs and choose to send their players down for more time.
One thing that is not mentioned: a salary cap. I don’t think anyone in NISA would really want one to begin with, but with the Cosmos arriving in the Fall we’ll get to experience firsthand how much Rocco really cares about his US investments versus Fiorentina. Fiorentina doesn’t appear to have a reserve team, but instead loans out large number of players throughout Europe. It would be interesting to keep an eye on the number of international slots the Cosmos leave open, as a few quick loans could lead to a Cosmos team that has power beyond the payroll that’s charged against their own books.
Game-day: substitutions, half-time
Neither of these really demand a full section, so I threw them together. NISA allows 5 substitutions, which is FIFA standard for lower leagues but down from NPSL and NCAA. Many lower leagues such as USL choose to use the standard of 3 for the top-flight, but NISA has chosen to take advantage of the rule. (Thanks to Sean Grogan for pointing this out!) Long-term I think dropping down to 3 would be nice, but trying to bootstrap a combo of entirely new clubs with clubs that existed in a slightly more relaxed environment could mean challenges finding enough fit players. The expansion to 5 is especially useful in the context of the amateur slots- you could give playing time to several players in your system in the same game while still keeping a typical number of substitutions for the rest of the squad.
Half-time is down to 15 minutes now. Less time to rest, less time for a beer run. Personally, I try not to keep drinking into the evening at games, but I can imagine the lines for people who want a drink and a snack are going to be hell.
Spring Playoffs 2020
The current format probably won’t ever be repeated with the weirdness of the fall showcase. In the fall, there were two playoff game winners, who become the #1 and #2 seeds for the final spring playoffs. The playoff winner with the higher regular-season standing becomes the #1 seed, with the other winner becoming #2. The spring regular season is used to seed #3 and #4.
The semi-finals are a single-elimination game. Getting to host is the fall winner’s reward for actually playing with NISA the whole time instead of trying to go through NPSL Pro. I’m not thrilled about this being written in stone already given the travel distances, but the split-format has to choose seeds somehow, I guess.
The final match is a home-and-home series, with the higher seed hosting first, followed by the lower seed. This has been seen in other competitions like the Copa Libertadores until recently. I think giving each side’s supporters equal time at their home stadium is great, and it also negates home field advantage from becoming a deciding factor. It’s definitely going to be a new experience for American sports fans, and I expect a lot of controversy over how it should just boil down to the one game- but it’s no weirder to me than when the Members Cup settled things with a single table.
In the future, I’d like to see the fall regular season be what determines the entrants for the spring playoffs. Take the top 2 from each contest, use PPG from each contest to determine seeds, go down the line if you have any duplicates. At the very least, please don’t subject me to years of playoffs whose main purpose is to participate in a different set of playoffs months later.
The Smoke Ban
Smoke is banned by the letter of the law, just like DCFC’s published stadium policy bans cursing at people by the letter of the law. Nothing will ever come of it, but at least we got memes.
NISA requires every stadium to be broadcast-ready, with stricter requirements for “Linear” (presumably just a catch-all for “TV”) than for regular streaming. (Go on, make your MyCujoo joke.) Streaming mandates 2 cameras: a midfield game camera for the wide-shot, and either a tight follow for close-ups or a handheld. For linear, all 3 of those angles are required as well as 2 off-sides angles.
A major complaint in 2019 from distant City fans was the downgrade in production quality, in addition to the MyCujoo debacle. The widely-held assumption was that the budget to go pro meant sacrifices had to be made elsewhere, but that was little comfort for those who could only get their fix by streaming. With the MyTV20 deal, City should fall into the linear category and we should hopefully see a return to pre-2020 production standards. Rumors state that streams will still continue for distant fans, but there has been no official announcement of this. If true, hopefully this would include YouTube.
The other interesting requirement is for two redundant 40mbps Internet connections, which can include satellite. If one fails, the stream must automatically switch to the other. This is good! My only concern is that “40mbps” does not specify that it’s about upload. But surely nobody would get a download speed at that rate and fail to provide proper upload, right?
And the rest…
The full document that this was all pulled from is considerably longer. If you’ve ever wanted to know how many bananas have to be bought for the opposing team on matchdays, or what exactly the fine is for accumulating too many yellow cards in the same match that you get sent off for a straight red, it’s all in there. This blog post is long enough as it is, but there’s plenty of potential content for a Megamix B-Sides for the thoroughly bored supporter.