The Long Road for MLS Success

The MLS cannot be the NFL.  It seems like a simple fact and is common sense for most Americans but not the MLS owners.  It’s fine to want a piece of the revenue that the NFL gets year in and year out but soccer is not the same monster as football.  Having that in mind the MLS following the NFL route is not contusive for the sport.  It is ridiculous to think that every MLS team is going to grab 80,000 fans for each game, especially since home fans have to dedicate themselves to twice the amount of home games that NFL fans have to.  It is also ridiculous to expect fans to travel from Houston to L.A. for away games.  Having said all this there need to be some changes to the MLS model for it to be its own unique identity.

Expansion

The over saturation of the current market is a huge concern for the MLS.  Rapid expansion and collapse is something 800px-Major_League_Soccer_club_locations_2012that terrifies owners.  However look at the current map of the US where the MLS clubs are located.  There are zero soccer teams in what is considered the south.  Yes there are NASL and USL teams in the south but they’re missing a Major League Team.  This is a travesty considering that one of the nation’s best supported college soccer conferences is the ACC.  There has been significant talk about additions to the MLS sprouting out of Orlando and Miami but this still leaves the Carolina’s, Georgia, and Virginia (your ACC states) without a MLS team.  The MLS has also not capitalized on 10 of the top 20 most populous cities in the US 7 of which have less than 2 Teams of the 4 Major Sports (MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL).  Here is an idea of the direction the MLS could head:

Northeast Southeast West Midwest
Columbus Crew DC United Vancouver White Caps Chicago Fire
Montreal Impact *Miami, FL Seattle Sounders Real Saltlake
New England Revolution **Atlanta Silverbacks Portland Timbers Houston Dynamo
New York Red Bulls **Raliegh Railhawks LA Galaxy FC Dallas
Philadelphia Union ***Memphis, TN San Jose Earthquakes Sporting Kansas City
Toronto FC ***Jacksonville, FL Chivas USA Colorado Rapids
*New York FC ***Charleston, SC ***Phoenix, AZ **San Antonio Scorpions
***Baltimore, MD *Orlando, FL ***San Francisco, CA ***Oklahoma City, OK
*Discussed Expansion Team
**NASL Team
*** Potential Expansion Spots

The great thing about the way these divisions are broken up is that the teams are closer geographically together.  This would allow for away fans to travel to games building rivalries.  As you can see each division would only have to add two teams to what currently exists in the MLS, except for the southeast division.  The concern with south east teams that the heat and humidity during the summer would be too difficult for players and that fans would be less inclined to go to games.  These teams would have to play in a dome or a night games but have a potential fan base due to their population to be a stable environment.  There are alternative ways to this table but they would involve relegation and MLS owners currently seem adverse to that possibility.

The five year plan would be to add the Miami and Orlando teams first while holding the Conferences (East and West) at their status quo.  In addition each division should add one potential team to itself (one of which is already on its way up the New York FC and an existing NASL team the San Antonio Scorpions).  This will mean 7 of the 8 teams in 3 of the divisions to be set.  The fourth would be three teams behind.  The five years following would see the addition of three south east teams being added 2 of which already exist as a NASL team.  Finally the last five years would see the addition of the final 4 teams, resulting in a 32 team, 4 division, and regionally driven league.

Stadiums

loftus               18 of the 20 teams in the Premier League do not draw 50,000 fans to their home games, and is the most popular soccer league in the world.  10 of the 18 teams in the Bundesliga also fail to bring in more than 50,000 a game.  Both of these leagues are way more popular percentage wise then the MLS will ever be in the US.   Here in America consumers have more entertainment options than any other country, and currently the MLS is way down on that list.  Currently the nPower Championship in the UK has 21 teams that average more than 10,000 fans a game, 6 of which draw over 20,000 fans.  Talent, economic, and interest level wise, we are currently closer to the nPower than the Premier League.  Now let me tell you, I’ve been to a QPR game with 17,000 fans whose capacity was 90% and a Chelsea game here in the US that had 18,000 fans in a 70,000 person stadium.  Loftus Road was better.  The majority of MLS teams have average around 20,000 fans, there for we should be building stadiums to play in around 25,000 capacities.  Some of these towns would even be better off with 15,000 people stadiums because of the environment they would provide.  This would put our league in a comparable attendance level as La Liga.

Marketing

Portland and Seattle have done a great job promoting their teams in their local markets.  This has translated inrobbie-keane Nationwide if not Worldwide recognition of their brands.  The LA Galaxy has done something differnet to make their brand recognizable and that’s bringing in stars.  With names like David Beckham, Robbie Keane, and Landon Donovan the Galaxy were able to reach out to American and European soccer fans with names they already recognize.  With the rise of the FIFA video game franchise in recent years, Americans know a lot of the best players in the world and it’s time for the MLS to capitalize on this.  There is one thing getting in the way, the Salary Cap.  This NFL idea only works in a league that makes its money as a league.  Soccer clubs worldwide profit for extending their own brand which in extension raises the popularity of the league.  We should not prevent investors from coming in and buying big name players from Europe and South America.  This will increase viewing, there for increase advertising revenue, there for increase league revenue, allowing smaller teams a longer transfer leash, which will lead to a better overall quality of the league.  Phew, that was quite the sentence but you can see the point.

The MLS has a lot of other small things that they need to focus on through the next couple years.  Allowing more internationals in the game would benefit the league by increasing competition.  The money flowing into the developmental programs needs to increase and be spent on hiring foreign coaches with experience.  The transfer window also needs to change to allow us to compete in the European markets.  However, this article focuses on the big issues in the MLS and where they should be going.  Hopefully, they realize they are not NFL.

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15 thoughts on “The Long Road for MLS Success

  1. Great article but I think your section about “expansion” needs some work… First off your map is outdated, it is missing recent expansion teams Vancouver, Portland, and Montreal…

    When you talk about you’re 5 year plan, you want to add New York, Miami, San Antonio, Orlando, and “2 others”, likely Atlanta and Phoenix(?). I have no problem with this except that I don’t see the MLS expanding to 25 teams at any point (without expanding to 26 or 28).

    While I like the idea of expanding to conferences, the placement of DC is a significant flaw in the current idea (which I am sure you realized but did not see an alternative to). Lets start off smaller with the 24 teams and think about the idea of 4 conferences of 6 teams each. We know Orlando City is an expansion team, and we both find it likely that the other 3 are Miami, San Antonio, and Atlanta Silverbacks. Each of these teams have been discussed and with a great praise from the MLS. San Antonio has the fans and the culture, Atlanta the money and the fans, and Miami… the money and Beckham. This also lends itself to a very nicely to 4 conferences of 6 teams…

    West: Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, San Jose, LAG, Chivas
    South: Houston, FCD, SAS, OCSC, Miami, Atlanta
    Northeast: NYCFC, NYRB, DCU, Union, Montreal, Revolution
    Midwest: RSL, Rapids, SKC, Crew, Fire, TFC

    This preserves the most rivalries breaking apart notably only RSL from the west, and Columbus Crew from the east (but Columbus needs a new image anyways, maybe breaking from the east is what they need! And RSL is only just fostering these rivalries, I definitely believe they will be okay 😉 )

    What this also does is lend itself very nicely to future expansion. In your format, an expansion side in Baltimore would have been separated from DCU (murdering a huge rivalry), and would have introduced San Francisco, Jacksonville, and Memphis (none of whom I believe has a legitimate shot at expansion before some other cities). Each division in my format has a potential 2 expansions which are all high possibilities…

    West: Sacramento Republic, Phoenix
    South: Charlotte, Raleigh
    Northeast: Baltimore, Richmond
    Midwest: Indianapolis, Minnesotta

    I think if you look at further expansion even beyond these 8 (which would lead to your suggested 32 teams already) you will see that the distribution is fairly even over the 4 conferences.

    With the 24 team league, I see this schedule distribution most effective:
    in conference: 2x home and away
    out of conference: 1x home or away

    I don’t see any more than 38 matches in a season as possible, so any further expansion would mean each team would not play 1 or 2 teams (for 28 and 32 team league respectively) per conference.

    Of course with the growing number of teams, we will have to accept more internationals, however it is important to remember the importance of having Americans populating, starring, and growing in the MLS… our National Team depends on it!

    • Thanks for your input. Obviously there are many different ways you can go depending on where the expansion teams fall. A lot doesn’t really rely on what the best option is any way but rather finding willing owners wanting to build an expansion. I tried to keep the expansion teams to the largest US cities while keeping in mind that many of these cities already have competing massive sports teams in the area (ie. Minnesota with the Vikings). The other factor I wanted to keep in mind was distance between teams and i feel like leaving the Carolina’s out of the expansion is a loss of a huge potential fan base.

      I think we’re on the same boat here with MLS expansion and both want to see what’s best for the league and American soccer. Thanks for your ideas and input!

      • I think if the MLS didn’t want to compete with other sports they wouldn’t be in New York, Los Angeles, or really any of the northeast… Minnesota Vikings have also expressed interest in a partnership which helps 😉 I agree with you on the Carolinas which is why I have them as the South’s expansion teams… I think they come in about the time your Carolinas teams come in. I could see one of my NC teams replaced with Charleston…

    • Let me fix my potential scheduling since I realize my maths are wrong…

      there are a few ways the league could go… either, as you say, regional, or what I see more likely is national…

      for a 28 team league:

      in conference: 1.5x home and away (18 matches)
      out of conference: 1x home or away, minus 1 team (20 matches)

      for a 32 team league:

      in conference: 1x home and away (14 matches)
      out of conference: 1x home or away (24 matches)

      of course for a more regional league, the 2x home and away would stay and the out of conference would be only 14 or 10 matches…

      • Thanks again for the map, it is now updated. Cities like New York and Los Angles are large and diverse enough to have an environment that can support multiple sports teams. However, they are the exception not the rule. Also, it is hard to predict where the expansion teams fall because it really is determined by potential owners. I do believe regional divisions breed rivalries and therefor interest in the sport. I really wanted to get away from a more NFL (ie National) because of the previous failures of another growing niche sport, the NHL. A more popular sport, the NBA, has also had problems building a National based league.

        Your answer could very well be the right one and really only time will tell. However, when an expansion team is created without any natural rivals in the area (ie Phoenix Coyotes, New Orleans Pelicans) have struggled. There are other factors as well, such as the culture in the area not accepting of the sport, however a natural rival would help ease the transition.

      • I agree with you that it is largely up to owners where expansion team goes. Why do you see Jacksonville, Memphis, San Francisco getting an expansion before Indianapolis, Sacramento, Minnesota, or Detroit?

  2. I would love to see teams in Indianapolis and Minnesota. They are two of the best sports areas in the world. I chose Jacksonville for one, the owner of the Jaguars involvement in the game with Fulham, along with the large population, makes Jacksonville a likely spot for future expansion (unless that Jags move to London). Tennessee is another hotbed for sports and I felt was one of the better options for a Southeastern teams, but a Nashville or Louisville would work just as well. San Francisco is one of the more metropolitan cities in the US and I feel their population would be well inclined to accept a soccer team. They also have a die hard sports base in the city which would help a new team.

    The City of Detroit has gone completely bankrupt and would be hard pressed to fund a new stadium. Even though Detroit is an amazing sports city, they have a lot of issues that need to be solved before making that move.

    I was up in the air about Sacramento. I was really between their and San Francisco. However with the failing of the current NBA team, the Kings, I am unsure of how great of a city Sacramento would be for an expanding league.

    There are a book of arguments that can be made for any city here in the USA. However the big factors, financial stability, population, past sports experiences, played a huge roll for where I proposed to put the teams.

    • The thing is, great cities for fans doesnt mean, like you said, that an owner is wanting to do something in the city. I havent heard anything from Jacksonville, Nashville, or San Francisco about a potential team, but if you have please share! 🙂 As for Sacramento, just look a few miles north for a city whos basketball team failed but football team has the highest attendance in the league 😉 Detroit has gone bankrupt and I agree it would be a weird situation if they were to get a team… but it has been talked about. If the owner of the Jags has expressed an interest can you send me something on that too? I dont think them moving to London is likely in the next few years, but if they did I think that could help a possible team, not hurt 😉

      • I completely agree the jags are a joke so far this year! Again these are potential sites that I see as good ones 10 years down the road not as something that I have an in on! Thanks again for your interest and keep reading I’m sure you have a lot of great input on a lot of our articles!

        Cheers!

      • ya, it is true that we have to look not 5 years but 8-10 years for more expansion past the 24… a lot will have changed by then

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