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.
The over saturation of the current market is a huge concern for the MLS. Rapid expansion and collapse is something that 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:
|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|
|*** 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.
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.
Portland and Seattle have done a great job promoting their teams in their local markets. This has translated in 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.