Rishi Sehgal discusses pro/rel, NPSL

Photo credit: NPSL

“How do you manage to tweet all day?” Rishi Sehgal, interim commissioner of the NASL, teased. Given the trouble the NASL finds itself in, it was a relief to find Sehgal in a jovial mood as we caught up with him via a phone call. Sehgal had just returned from a trip to New Orleans, where he discussed a possible formalized collaboration between the NASL and NPSL. We asked him about his appearance at the Annual Owners Meeting (AOM) and other issues related to the NASL.

Nipun Chopra: Until now, the alliance between the NASL and NPSL has been largely behind the scenes. Was your appearance at the AOM an attempt to place it center stage?

Rishi Sehgal: It was an attempt to find ways to formally collaborate. To bring two organizations together that have some shared values to find ways to support each other. Especially since we are two entities that are outside the system.

NC: What do you mean by that?

RS: Well, the U.S. Soccer-MLS-SUM relationship. This way, if there’s overlap, NPSL and the league (NASL) can find ways to work together. We don’t have all the answers to what make soccer more successful in this country, they don’t either. So a lot of things could come out of that if we start collaborating and talking in a formal and serious way. Until now, both organizations have had their eyes diverted in different directions, but now it’s time to either actually do it or move on.

NC: What are the areas of collaboration you foresee between the NASL/NPSL? Would the NISA be a part of that?

RS: I think it’s hard to know specifically right now what we would work on. What I would like to do with both leagues is to bring together a task force comprising of ownership – people on the sporting side, people with business expertise and get to know each other a little bit more. There’s a lot of things that we do that are similar and a lot of things that are different. For example, we are professional while they are amateur, we play a longer season while there’s is a few months long. We both kick the ball (chuckles), so let’s find what we have in common and we can go from there.

As for NISA, I don’t fully know what NISA’s future is so I don’t want to comment on it, but certainly we are open to collaborating with every league.

NC: Would the NASL be interested in a promotion/relegation system where it is the apex of the pyramid at Division 2? Or is it true that some owners would only be interested in pro/rel if they themselves had the ability to be promoted to Division 1?

RS: So, there has to be nuance here. We would be interested, but the way the leagues are administered would have to change. We’re not interested in working in a promotion/relegation system under the current status quo.

Look, if the Division 2 league is consistently held down forever through the anti-competitive practices of MLS and U.S. Soccer, it makes it impossible for us to grow. I don’t know if anybody is going to be interested in investing in their club. The benefit of promotion/relegation is it encourages investment by owners into their clubs and into soccer as a whole. By the way, I’m not saying we are ready for promotion/relegation tomorrow; not by any stretch. It will take some time, but we have to decide if this is something we’re going to do then we can start preparing the pathway and framework to make it work. I don’t think it works together even if we wanted to create, because we still have the challenges from U.S. Soccer and MLS that are holding the game back.

NC: Arguably, MLS owners have a lot to lose if promotion/relegation is instituted. Based on your response, would it be fair to say the NASL is afraid of the same issue in a system where the NASL is the apex of a pyramid?

Rishi Sehgal

Photo credit: NASL

RS: If everyone is in the same system, everybody benefits from it. There are pathways to the top which drives more interest in the game generally. That should increase the value of their media rights, sponsorship and overall revenue. I think everyone would make more money if we work together. Now, I don’t think that works today. If we set up the system beneath us (NASL), it’s not the same thing. Could it still work? Potentially. But, does it necessarily work the same way without MLS? No, I think you need to have Division 1 in the same set up.

Yes, you can have promotion/relegation anywhere. You can have it the way my high school league in Toledo, Ohio does. But, it’s not the same.

NC: If the NASL wins the appeal, would they have D2 next year without concern for meeting current D2 standards?

RS: If we win the appeal, the court will have found that we will continue to keep our Division 2 status, which is the status quo.

NC: After the final in San Francisco, you talked about changes in ownership structure for the NASL. Can you elaborate?

RS: We cannot discuss that at this point.

NC: What about the possibility of new ownership for the San Francisco Deltas?

RS: We are talking to a few potential groups to bring a team back, but I don’t think it would be called “the Deltas.”

NC: There were widely rumored settlement talks. Did they happen? Why did they fall apart?

RS: I cannot comment on settlement talks.

NC: The six potential NPSL teams would be supported by current NASL owners. Is that true?

RS: No comment.

NC: Is the NASL interested in Columbus as a potential NASL market?

RS: Absolutely.

NC: Have there been any talks with potential owners about this (Columbus) market?

RS: Nothing official.

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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