North American Soccer League on television

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North American Soccer League (NASL) was a professional soccer league with teams in the United States and Canada that operated from 1968 to 1984. Beginning in 1975, the league final was called the Soccer Bowl.


North American Soccer League Progression
SeasonTeamsGamesAttendanceNetwork TV
1968 17324,699CBS
1969 5162,930None
1970 6243,163
1971 84,154
1972 144,780
1973 9195,954
1974 15207,770CBS (1)
1975 20227,642CBS (2)
1976 10,295CBS (2)
1977 182613,558TVS (7)
1978 243013,084TVS (6)
1979 14,201ABC (9)
1980 3214,440ABC (8)
1981 2114,084ABC (1)
1982 1413,155None
1983 123013,258
1984 92410,759
TV column includes only network TV.
It does not include cable (ESPN, [1] USA)
or pay-per-view (SportsVision [2] [3] ).

CBS (1967–1976)

National Professional Soccer League (1967)

In 1967, two professional soccer leagues started in the United States: the FIFA-sanctioned United Soccer Association, which consisted of entire European and South American teams brought to the US and given local names, and the unsanctioned National Professional Soccer League. The National Professional Soccer League had a national television contract in the U.S. with the CBS television network (which signed a two-year contract to broadcast a game every Sunday afternoon live and in color). The NPSL kicked off on Sunday, April 16 with a full slate of five matches. However, the ratings for matches were unacceptable even by weekend daytime standards and the arrangement was terminated. Bill MacPhail, head of CBS Sports, attributed NASL's lack of TV appeal to empty stadiums with few fans, and to undistinguished foreign players who were unfamiliar to American soccer fans. [4]

Play-by-play voice Jack Whitaker was joined by the former Northern Ireland international Danny Blanchflower as a pundit. Blanchflower was not impressed with the standard of play and did not hesitate to say so. [5]

The leagues merged in 1968 to form the North American Soccer League (NASL). It has been suggested that the timing of the merge was related to the huge amount of attention given throughout the English-speaking world to the victory by England in the 1966 FIFA World Cup and the resulting documentary film, Goal. While the USSF and FIFA refused to recognize the NPSL, the television contract with CBS [6] guaranteed some element of financial stability.


Toronto Croatia played in the National Soccer League until 1975 when they purchased the Toronto Metros of the North American Soccer League to form Toronto Metros-Croatia . During this period the team attracted many soccer stars, such as Portuguese superstar Eusébio, and were successful enough that they won Soccer Bowl '76 – a 3–0 win over the Minnesota Kicks – at the Kingdome in Seattle. The championship team was coached by Marijan Bilić, an immigrant to Canada who had played for Dinamo Zagreb. The champions' team was: Paolo Cimpiel, Ted Polak, Željko Bilecki, Ivan Lukačević, Robert Iarusci, Eusébio, Mladen Cukon, Carmine Marcantonio, Ivair Ferreira, Wolfgang Suhnholz, Damir Sutevski, Ivan Grnja, Filip Blašković and Chris Horrocks. [7]

However, the NASL was never comfortable with the Croatia link (an obvious ethnic connection). League executives lobbied CBS to ensure they were only referred to as Toronto at the Soccer Bowl on television.

The Pelé effect

It was during the 1975 season that the New York Cosmos acquired the Brazilian star Pelé, whom they had been attempting to sign since the team was created. Steve Ross had apparently not heard of him before getting involved in soccer, but agreed to finance the transfer when Clive Toye [8] compared the Brazilian's popularity to that of the Pope. Pelé joined the Cosmos on June 10, 1975 on a salary of $1.4 million per year, an enormous wage for an athlete at that time. A number of contracts—only one of which mentioned soccer—were set up for Pelé to ensure that he paid the lowest amount of tax possible, including one as a "recording artist" with Warner subsidiary Atlantic Records. "We owned him lock, stock and barrel," Toye retrospectively boasted.

Pelé's arrival created a media sensation and overnight transformed the fortunes of soccer in the USA. The Pelé deal was later described by Gavin Newsham, an English writer, as "the transfer coup of the century". [9] His arrival turned the Cosmos from a motley crew of foreigners, semi-professionals and students into a huge commercial presence. The club's groundsman, on hearing that the Brazilian's début for New York was to be broadcast on CBS, spray-painted the pitch green to disguise how little grass was on it: the match, against the Dallas Tornado, was broadcast to 22 countries and covered by more than 300 journalists from all over the world. [9] From the moment he signed his contract at the 21 Club on 10 June 1975 in front of ecstatic Steve Ross and a crush of worldwide media, the player's every move was followed, bringing attention and credibility to the sport in America. As previously mentioned, his debut NASL match five days later versus the Dallas Tornado at the dilapidated Downing Stadium on Randall's Island was broadcast live on CBS network—the first regular-season NASL match on US network TV in six years.

It was the Cosmos' tenth match of the season and led by the Brazilian, who recorded an assist and a goal; New York came back from two goals down for the 2–2 final score. The contest was also Pelé's first competitive match in eight months since his last outing with Santos FC in October 1974. He would eventually end up with five goals in his debut season during which his biggest challenge became figuring out how to fit into this team of journeymen players with abilities far inferior to his. Still his biggest impact was on the sport in New York and the rest of America as Cosmos' home attendance got tripled in just half the season he was there. They also played in front of huge crowds on the road since everyone wanted to see Pelé - towards the end of the season when he pulled a hamstring and couldn't suit up, 20,000 fans in Philadelphia showed up just to see him in street clothes. Furthermore, the league's profile got raised as other NASL teams - encouraged by Ross' investment in Pelé and the prominence his arrival brought to the Cosmos franchise - started bringing over more big-name aging foreign stars such as George Best who was about to turn 30, 31-year-old Rodney Marsh, 34-year-old Geoff Hurst, and 35-year-old Bobby Moore.


TVS Television Network and Mizlou Television Network (1977–1978)

Soccer Bowl '78 [12] was broadcast live in the United States on the TVS network. Jon Miller handled play-by-play duties, while Paul Gardner was the color analyst. [13] This would be the final NASL game broadcast by the network, as the league signed a deal with ABC Sports in the fall of 1978. [14] Gardner would continue as the color analyst for ABC's coverage, while Miller would move on to a long career announcing Major League Baseball.

Mizlou produced the first "live" coast-to-coast satellite feed, of a New York Cosmos soccer game, from San Jose, California to WOR-TV in New York in the late 1970s.

ABC (1979–1981)

In 1979, ABC Sports began covering the NASL in a deal that called for 9 telecasts of league games, including the playoffs and Soccer Bowl. In 1979, the team from the "Village of Vancouver", the Whitecaps (a reference to ABC TV sportscaster Jim McKay's observation that "Vancouver must be like the deserted village right now", with so many people watching the game on TV) beat the powerhouse New York Cosmos in one of the most thrilling playoff series in NASL history to advance to the Soccer Bowl. In the Soccer Bowl, [15] they triumphed against the Tampa Bay Rowdies in a disappointed New York City.


On October 1, 1977, Pelé closed out his legendary career in an exhibition match between the Cosmos and Santos. Santos arrived in New York and New Jersey after previously defeating the Seattle Sounders 2–0. The match was played in front of a capacity crowd at Giants Stadium and was televised in the United States on ABC's Wide World of Sports [16] as well as throughout the world. After the retirement of Pelé in 1977, much of the progress that American soccer had made during his stay was lost; there was no star at the same level to replace him as the NASL's headline act. After enduring briefly during the late 1970s, attendances dropped after 1980. The sport's popularity fell and the media lost interest. The deal with broadcaster ABC to broadcast NASL matches was also lost in 1980, and the 1981 Soccer Bowl [17] [18] was only shown on tape delay. All of the franchises quickly became unprofitable, and a salary cap enforced before the 1984 season only delayed the inevitable.


ESPN and USA Network (1981–1984)

In the last few years of its existence, the NASL did manage to get some games on a new cable sports network that had begun in 1979 called ESPN. In 1981, they signed a contract to broadcast 20 games on Saturdays. The new USA Network also carried games, usually on Wednesday [20] nights.

Major Indoor Soccer League

The 1982–83 Major Indoor Soccer League season was the fifth in league history and would end with the San Diego Sockers winning their first MISL title. It would be the Sockers' second straight indoor championship, as the club had won the North American Soccer League's indoor league the previous spring.

The league would enter into an agreement with the NASL in the summer of 1982 to begin plans for an eventual merger. [21] Initial plans to have all 14 NASL teams play in the winter would not come to pass, as most teams preferred to concentrate on the outdoor season. However, the Chicago Sting and Golden Bay Earthquakes would join the Sockers for the MISL season.

The MISL continued to make inroads on national television. While the spring would see the end of the league's two-year deal with the USA Network, CBS would broadcast a playoff game live from Cleveland on May 7 that drew an estimated four million viewers.

With the NASL near death in the summer of 1984, a handful of teams made plans to switch from outdoor to indoor soccer once the NASL season ended in October. [22] Along with the Sockers, the Chicago Sting, Minnesota Strikers and New York Cosmos formally made the leap in late August. [23] With the addition of the Dallas Sidekicks, the league went back to a 14-team, two-division setup.

This would be the final year the MISL would have games aired on network television, CBS broadcast Game 4 of the championship series live on May 25. [24]

Commentators (USA Network)

Local stations

WTTW in Chicago carried at least one Sting soccer game (against New York and Pelé, at Giants Stadium) in the early days of that franchise.

WTOG in St. Petersburg, FL aired numerous Tampa Bay Rowdies road games in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Additionally, many of the Rowdies home and away indoor matches were also broadcast. [25] [26] [27] [28] [29]

List of broadcasters

TeamTelevision stationTelevision announcers
Atlanta Chiefs (1979) WTBS [30] Bob Neal [31] and Terry Hanson
Boston Minutemen Seamus Malin, and Roger Twibell
California Surf KHJ-TV [32] Gil Stratton and Dick Calvert
Calgary Boomers Ed Whalen
Chicago Sting SportsVision [33]
Roy Leonard, [34] Howard Balson, [35] [36] and Ken Stern [37]
Cleveland Stokers WEWS-TV Paul Wilcox
Dallas Tornado WFAA [38] Verne Lundquist [39] and Brad Sham [40]
Detroit Express WKBD-TV [41] Jim Forney and Jimmy Hill
Edmonton Drillers CFRN-DT [42] Al McCann, Brian Rice, Randy Hahn, [43] and Vic Rauter
Fort Lauderdale Strikers WCIX Roger Twibell
Houston Hurricane KHTV Mario Machado and Hans von Mende
Jacksonville Tea Men WJXT Frank Timoney and Arthur Smith
Los Angeles Aztecs KNXT
Gil Stratton [44] and Norm Jackson
Tom Kelly [45] and Dan Avey
Los Angeles Wolves KTLA Chick Hearn [46] [47]
Minnesota Kicks KSTP-TV
Bob Bruce, Rod Trongard, and Trevor Iseman
Minnesota Strikers KITN-TV Frank Mazzocco
Montreal Manic TVA Claudine Douville, Pierre Donais, Francis Millien, and Michel Champagne
New England Tea Men WSBK-TV/WLVI
Bill Alex, Steve Glendye, and Scott Wahle
New York Cosmos WNET
WOR-TV [48] [49]
Trans World International
Crane Davis and Kyle Rote Jr.
Jim Karvellas, [50] [51] Howard David, Seamus Malin, [52] Lee Arthur, and Werner Roth
Jim Karvellas, Steve Albert, Dick Stockton, Spencer Ross, Tom Kelly and Clive Toye
Tom Kelly and Clive Toye
Oakland Stompers KRON-TV Art Eckman [53] and Jack Hyde
Philadelphia Atoms Gene Hart [54] and Walter Chyzowych
Philadelphia Fury WPHL-TV [55] Al Meltzer [56] and Walter Chyzowych
Rochester Lancers WOKR-TV Jack Palvino, Ron DeFrance, [57] Chuck Schiano, and Tom Pipines
San Diego Sockers KUSI-TV [58] Randy Hahn [59] and Alan Mayer
San Jose Earthquakes Gill Cable [60]
Bob Ray, [61] Hal Ramey, [62] Dave Chaplik, Jon Miller, [63] and Pat Hughes
Seattle Sounders KCTS-TV Bob Robertson, [64] [65] Steve Fimmel, Cliff McCrath, Simon Ostler, and Keith Dysart
St. Louis Stars Dan Kelly
Tampa Bay Rowdies WTOG Bob Wolff [66] and Tom Keene
Team America WATV-LD Bob Carpenter, [67] Gordon Bradley, and Mike Lange
Toronto Metros-Croatia/Blizzard Global Mike Anscombe, Bruce Buchanan, Bob Irving, Shep Messing, Fergie Olver, and Jim Tatti
Tulsa Roughnecks KTUL Chris Lincoln, [68] Bob Carpenter, [69] [70] Gordon Bradley, and Al Miller
Vancouver Whitecaps BCTV Bernie Pascall
Washington Diplomats WDCA Jon Miller, Don Earle, [71] and Terry Hanson
Washington Diplomats (1981) WTTG Jim Forney and Jimmy Hill

See also

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