NASL/USL PRO Battle for OKC Not Quite Finished
It was announced today that Tim McLaughlin, the head of the 2015 NASL expansion franchise to be based out of Oklahoma City, has joined the Energy FC ownership group as an equal partner with Bob Funk in USL PRO. What does this mean? Well, the highest ranking member at one of two lower-division expansion franchises in the same city has switched sides. It is the latest development in a battle for professional soccer in Oklahoma City that started more than a year ago.
On Valentine’s Day, 2013, United Soccer Leagues announced that a Premier Development League franchise had been awarded to an Oklahoma City based group consisting of Brad Lund and others from Sold Out Strategies, McLaughlin, and other local business professionals. This organization christened themselves Oklahoma City FC, and made public their intent to move up the ranks and eventually enter USL PRO.
Another local businessman by the name of Bob Funk, along with his organization Prodigal LLC, announced the intent to own a USL PRO franchise in Oklahoma City. Bob Funk and Prodigal LLC are known locally for operating the American Hockey League’s Barons and for being the former owners of the AAA baseball RedHawks. The PDL group of Lund and McLaughlin, believing they would likely lose out in the USL PRO application process to the arguably more experienced Prodigal-backed group, began exploring options to receive rights to own and operate an NASL franchise in Oklahoma City.
The battle for professional soccer in Oklahoma City began in earnest when both the Prodigal and Sold Out Strategies groups submitted proposals to the Oklahoma City Board of Education to lease Taft Stadium. On June 17, 2013, the board awarded the use of the stadium to the group headed by McLaughlin, Lund, and Sold Out Strategies.
USL issued a cease and desist letter, seemingly in response to the stadium decision, to Sold Out Strategies, Brad Lund, and his partners. The letter threatened legal action, based on what USL perceived to be a violation of the franchise agreement that was signed when the group was granted rights to a PDL team in Oklahoma City. USL argued that the Sold Out Strategies group was forbidden to establish an NASL team in Oklahoma City according the franchise agreement.
Sold Out Stratgies, along with Lund, Debray Ayala, Sean Jones, and Donna Clark, disagreed with USL’s interpretation of the franchise agreement and filed suit against the league in United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma (Case No. CIV-13-672-HE). The complaint indicated that the plaintiffs were walking away from the pursuit of a NASL franchise “until they can obtain a judicial determination that the USL’s restraint of trade is unenforceable.” It also stated that McLaughlin was moving ahead with plans for NASL in Oklahoma City, but the plaintiffs were not joining him out of fear of legal repercussions.
In July 2013, USL PRO and NASL publicly announced the groups that had been granted expansion franchises in Oklahoma City. USL PRO awarded rights to Prodigal LLC and Bob Funk Jr, and the team planned to begin play in 2014. NASL did likewise for OKC Pro Soccer LLC, headed by Tim McLaughlin, but that team did not plan to begin play until 2015.
Since that time, most of the news has been generated by the USL PRO club. The team was branded as Oklahoma City Energy FC, complete with colors and a crest. It was announced that the inaugural season would be played at Pribil Stadium on the campus of Mishop McGuiness Catholic High School. They signed Jimmy Nielsen, retired goaltender and captain of Sporting KC, as their first head coach, and an affiliation with SKC was announced. The roster is nearly full. With a handful of preseason friendlies under its belt, OKC Energy FC is just about ready to begin the 2014 USL PRO regular season.
It has been mostly silent from the NASL side for some time now. A temporary team crest was announced and a team website went live. The website has since expired, the Twitter account hasn’t been updated since December, and the Facebook page has disappeared.
As of several months ago, momentum seemed to favor the Energy, with their social media presence, local marketing presence, and additional announcements surrounding logistics. The general consensus, though, was that the NASL team wasn’t far behind. McLaughlin’s departure for the USL PRO club, however, appears to be a big setback.
Apparently, the NASL ownership group has lost more than its leader. The rights to lease Taft Stadium have come to OKC Energy FC along with McLaughlin. The Energy will go ahead with plans to host matches at Pribil Stadium in 2014. The team will move to Taft Stadium in 2015, at which point the group’s PDL team will move into Pribil Stadium.
Presumably, the Sold Out Strategies group has continued to maintain its distance from NASL, pending the outcome of legal proceedings. Thus, McLaughlin’s switch appears to have left NASL without an ownership group in place for Oklahoma City. It would be erroneous, though, to think that NASL has abandoned the battle. League sources have confirmed to Reckless Challenge that they continue with plans to field a team in Oklahoma.
Additionally, Brad Lund indicated to Reckless Challenge that his group hasn’t completely left the picture, stating, “Our plans haven’t changed. Stay tuned.”
While USL PRO and OKC Energy FC have a leg up at the moment, NASL has not departed the fray. The strategy for regaining level footing has yet to be revealed. In the mean time, soccer fans in Oklahoma City will be left to enjoy the only game in town, OKC Energy FC.