A comparison between NISA and USL D3

Future D3 leagues have similar finances, but differing ideology.

Image credit: NISA

In March, Brian Straus of Sports Illustrated revealed that 2019 would see the formation of a new league — a yet-to-be-named USL Division 3 league. USL has been very transparent with its expansion process so far. Visits to Lexington, Des Moines, Lansing, Fort Wayne, etc., have occurred in the public domain.

Meanwhile, as Soc Takes and Midfield Press’ Chris Kivlehan have revealed, a D3 league aligned with the other side of the soccer pyramid is poised to begin in 2018. While it is rumored that clubs joining NISA will include mostly NPSL clubs, the exact identity of these teams remains a mystery. It remains unknown how many NISA-committed NPSL clubs currently qualify for the USSF D3 requirement of having a principal owner with a net worth of $10 million.

Identities aside, it’s interesting to compare the initial expectations of both leagues. While the financial and structural expectations of each league are similar, there are certain unique features differentiating each league.

All the data included in this article about USL D3 relies on information given to Soc Takes by a source about an internal webinar for potential USL D3 owners. A request to USL D3 personnel for an interview was not answered at the time of publishing. All the data obtained in this article about NISA has been provided by Peter Wilt, member of Club 9 sports and the public face of NISA.


As things stand, USL D3 aims to run from March to October and plans on starting with 8-12 teams. In this regard, NISA appears to be very similar. Looking ahead, USL D3 expects to expand to 16-20 teams by 2021, while NISA plans to be at 24 teams by that time.

USL D3 expects team expenses to be between $1.2-$1.9 million annually; this includes salaries (staff and players) of $750K-$1.2 million annually. The annual USL D3 fee is $75K, while the initial expansion fee is $500K. As a comparison, Wilt revealed that the he expects team budgets to be between $1.5-$3 million annually, and a “low to mid six figures per team league startup fee.”

USL D3 (in $) NISA (in $)
Total cost 1.2M-1.9M 1.5M-3M
Salaries 750K-1.2M Unknown
Initial expansion fee 500K “Low to mid six figures”
Annual league fee 75K Unknown
Performance Security 250K Higher

There is also a performance security fee of $250K for USL D3 — a USSF-identified minimum. The NISA performance bond “will be higher than the U.S. Soccer minimum” according to Wilt.

Stadium and travel

USL D3 requires incoming teams to have a stadium (or plan for a stadium) with a capacity of at least 3,500 (higher than the USSF D3 requirement for D3 stadiums: a capacity of 1,000 and natural grass or turf).

In terms of NISA, Wilt clarified: “NISA expects teams to play in stadia with a minimum of 3,000 seats and have no other sports lines exposed. Grass fields with 120 yards x 70 yards are preferred, but exceptions on size and surface will be made while clubs look for a better venue in the future.”

Both leagues do not require stadia to be soccer-specific. Both leagues expect to limit travel to minimize costs. Although Wilt has previously admitted that that will likely not be possible in the first year.


Image credit: USL D3


The obvious difference between the two leagues is antecedent on differences between the NASL and USL models themselves. While NISA would allow teams to “control their brand including names, logos and marks” per information provided by Wilt, USL D3 is expected to follow the PDL model where the league will control the rights to the name of the franchise for two years after termination of the franchiser (USL)-franchisee (team) agreement. The exception to this rule is if the PDL as a whole collapses (falling below six members, or a few other possibilities), in which case the PDL franchise would be able to move freely to another league.

Additionally, while NISA has been very open about its desire to institute promotion-relegation, the status of USL D3 on pro-rel is somewhat unclear at this point.

A remarkable and impressive revelation of NISA is regarding fan ownership. According to the same Wilt-provided documentation cited earlier, “NISA is advocating for and actively supporting its teams to offer minority shares to the public.” It is unknown if USL D3 will offer this option.

Conjecture and conclusions

USL D3’s desire to expand into newer markets such as Lexington, Greenville, etc., is impressive. Lexington, in particular, is interesting. Once the home to the Lexington Bluegrass Bandits in the USISL (disclosure: author’s “surrogate family” was once involved in operating the Bandits), the city has a rich history of high school and college soccer. The possibility of professional soccer returning to Lexington has been met by excitement locally. NISA, possibly due to the 2018 launch, will draw mostly — maybe entirely — from already existing NPSL markets, and as such is having a smaller impact than introducing new markets.

While the general cost of both leagues appears to be the same, USL D3’s costs appear lower, particularly in terms of expected annual budget and the security bond. This is most obvious at the higher end of expected costs: $1.9 million for USL D3 vs. $3 million for NISA. The reasons for this are unclear; perhaps the USL, having been a D3 league until last year, simply has a better handle on how the budget would work. Perhaps Wilt, cognizant of issues seen with NASL clubs, would rather over-budget and over-prepare his teams than risk them collapsing.

It would be reasonable to suggest that USL D3, given their longer incubation time, will have stronger, better-vetted markets. But the fact that NISA is beating USL D3 to the starting line may yet be significant and pivotal in the ultimate stability of the league. Did NISA do their due diligence? Did they beat USL D3 to key markets?

The answers to those sorts of questions will become clear in about 12 months.


You can follow Nipun on Twitter: @NipunChopra7.

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Nipun divides his time between his two great loves - neuroscience and soccer. You can find him discussing both of those, as well as regular updates (pupdates) on his wonderful doggo, Octavia on Twitter. Get in touch with feedback/story suggestions at @NipunChopra7 or nipun.chopra@SocTakes.com
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