Riding on the heels of the successful outdoor North American Soccer League in the late 1970s, three groups (including the NASL) raced to be the first to launch an indoor circuit. After garnering the support of several arena owners, Ed Tepper and Earl Foreman won out, establishing the Major Indoor Soccer League In October, 1977. The MISL would field six teams that would play a 24-game schedule from December, 1978 to March of the following year.
The league differed from its outdoor counterpart not only in the size of its field and some of its playing rules, but also in its emphasis on home-grown talent. From the beginning, the MISL encouraged its teams to feature American lineups by mandating that a certain number of players had to be from North America, though it was a rule often skirted with Canadians, green cards and naturalization.
The league proved to be remarkably successful early on, growing from the six original teams to 14 just four seasons later. The MISL featured franchises in just about every major market in the country at one time or another, and several routinely drew over 10,000 fans per game, outpacing local NBA and NHL clubs. The league also drew attention for its innovative promotional efforts, which were soon copied by their basketball and hockey competition.
Unfortunately, the MISL's success was not universal. The league lost at least one franchise after every season but one, and twice saw its New York franchise drop out during the season. From the outset, the MISL had to battle competition, which increased costs for everyone. First, the league had to take on the NASL, which quickly established its own indoor circuit after seeing the MISL's success, for players and attention. Already strapped with mounting debts, the NASL soon folded, sending several teams over to the MISL in the process. After winning that battle, it was not long before another ciruit, the American Indoor Soccer Association showed up to compete for players. The resulting salary war eventually helped spell the end of the MISL.
Over the league's 14 seasons, its 32 franchises drew more than 27 million fans to its games, an average of 7,644 per contest. Still, many wonder what the MISL might have been had the league been able to control its costs and survived another couple of years until the World Cup was played in the US. Indoor leagues such as the National Professional Soccer League (the renamed AISA), the World Indoor Soccer League and the defunct Continental Indoor Soccer League have been unable to duplicate the MISL's attendance numbers, television exposure or popular attention.
"I could never get the motor revved up again," said Foreman, the league's co-founder and final commissioner. "What happened? I don't know. If I had the answer, I'd write a book."
Not only do the current indoor soccer leagues owe their existence to the MISL, another sport does also. While watching a New York Arrows game at Madison Square Garden in 1981, National Football League marketing executive Jim Foster scribbled a rough concept for an indoor football game on a manila envelope. He would go on to found the Arena Football League.