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Fans lose interest in NASL

It's been called "the beautiful game." Soccer, the most popular sport in the world, draws an unwavering devotion from its fans. Yet soccer as a spectator sport has never quite caught on in Canada, despite growing youth participation rates and a series of professional leagues. Still, we've had star players and tasted World Cup play, and many immigrant communities have imported their passion to Canada. CBC Archives looks at soccer in the Great White North.

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Things are getting desperate for the North American Soccer League in 1984. Facing the loss of over half its teams and a rapid decline in interest from fans, the league has tried rule changes including bonus points for scoring goals and shootouts to break ties. But even as the NASL holds out hope for the next season, the owner of the newly crowned champions - Chicago - is defecting, taking his squad to an indoor league. "It's a matter of economics," Lee Stern says in this clip from CBC-TV's Saturday Report. "We have not drawn (spectators). The whole league hasn't drawn. Don't ask me why."
• The NASL operated from 1968 to 1984 with teams in Canada and the United States. The league came into existence with the merger of the United Soccer Association and National Professional Soccer League. It started play with five teams and by the late 1970s ballooned to 24 teams. The premier franchise was the New York Cosmos, who drew crowds as large as 70,000 in the late 1970s after recruiting aging international stars such as Péle (Brazil), Giorgio Chinaglia (Italy) and Franz Beckenbauer (West Germany). Despite the Cosmos' impressive gate receipts, the league's overall average attendance never topped 15,000. Some clubs averaged fewer than 5,000 spectators a game.
  • The North American Soccer League (NASL) ceased operations before the beginning of the 1985 season. Four of the teams - Chicago Sting, Minnesota Strikers, New York Cosmos, and San Diego Sockers - had joined the Major Indoor Soccer League for its 1984-85 season.

• The NASL operated an indoor soccer league for several seasons between 1979and 1984. This league ran in conjunction with the outdoor league.

• According to a March 24, 1985 story in the Ocala (Florida) Star-Banner, the league "has ended in temporary surrender to financial woes and a lack of public interest." At the time the decision to suspend operations was made, the league consisted of just two teams, Toronto Blizzard and Minnesota Strikers.

• Other rule changes that aided in the "Americanization" of the game included counting the game clock down to zero as is typical in North American sports, rather than upwards to 90 minutes as is traditional in soccer; as well as a 35-yard line for offside calls instead of the usual halfway line.

• A new North American Soccer League (NASL) was founded in late 2009, with teams in Canada and the U.S. If sanctioned by the United States Soccer Federation (USSF), this new NASL would parallel the United Soccer Leagues First Division (USL-1) but would be beneath Major League Soccer (MSL) in North America's professional soccer hierarchy. The league came to be after five teams split from the United Soccer Leagues organization following the sale of the USL to NuRock Soccer Holdings earlier in 2009. Those teams are Montreal Impact, Vancouver Whitecaps, Carolina RailHawks, Miami FC and Minnesota Thunder. The Rochester Rhinos and Tampa Bay Rowdies soon followed suit. As of January 2010, the USSF decided not to sanction the league. Instead, it elected to operate an interim USSF Second Division league for the 2010 season, comprising 12 teams from both the NASL and USL-1.

• Professional soccer has had a tenuous history in Canada. This 1992 report looks at an eerily similar predicament facing the Canadian Soccer League.

Medium: Television
Program: Saturday Report
Broadcast Date: Oct. 6, 1984
Guest(s): Roberto Bettega, Graham Leggatt, Howard Samuels, Lee Stern, Clive Toye, Bruce Wilson
Host: George McLean
Reporter: Vic Rauter
Duration: 4:16

Last updated: October 7, 2014

Page consulted on October 7, 2014

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