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Thursday, February 27, 2020

MLS owners predict league will surpass MLB, Premier League

NEW YORK (AP) — Three days ahead of the Major League Soccer’s 25th season, owners, executives and players gathered for a day of unbridled optimism and hyperbole.

Los Angeles FC lead owner Larry Berg predicted MLS will surpass Major League Baseball in popularity during the next 10 years and Inter Miami managing owner Jorge Mas maintained it will be of higher quality than the Premier League and La Liga by 2045.

MLS anticipates soccer’s status in the U.S. will be boosted when the Americans co-host the 2026 World Cup with Mexico and Canada.

“We definitely have the demographics in our favor, both in terms of youth and diversity. So I think we’ll pass baseball and hockey and be the No. 3 sport in the U.S. behind football and basketball,” Berg said Wednesday at the league’s kickoff event.

Sort of prediction that seems bound to backfire on those making it, isn’t it?

 

QLE Posted: February 27, 2020 at 01:10 AM | 67 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: hype machine, mls, predictions, soccer

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   1. winnipegwhip Posted: February 27, 2020 at 09:22 AM (#5926728)
Are these people the sports the Gretas of the sports world?

I thought the World Cup of 1994 was supposed to boost the game to incomparable levels of support on the only continent that matters.
   2. Astroenteritis Posted: February 27, 2020 at 09:50 AM (#5926741)
As a soccer lover, I think MLS is right about where it needs to be right now. I hope the league isn't expanding too quickly, but other than that it is doing well. The issue with MLS isn't the popularity of the sport as a whole in the U.S., it's the quality of the league.

MLS can't approach the other big sports in North America until the quality of play at least gets within hailing distance of the top leagues in the world, and that's in the very, very distant future. When people watch MLB, NFL, NBA and NHL games they are watching the best players in the best leagues in the world. When I watch MLS (which I do) I'm watching the equivalent of a low second or high third tier league in many other countries.
   3. Greg Pope Posted: February 27, 2020 at 09:53 AM (#5926745)
I thought the World Cup of 1994 was supposed to boost the game to incomparable levels of support on the only continent that matters.

We certainly heard that at the time. I have no idea whether there was an actual boost in interest after 94. Maybe MLS folds if not for 94.

Still, we've been hearing this for a long time. I'm 50 and I was terrible at baseball as a kid so I played soccer in both spring and fall. Indoor soccer in the winter. And I have no interest whatsoever in watching the sport.
   4. winnipegwhip Posted: February 27, 2020 at 09:55 AM (#5926747)
MLS can't approach the other big sports in North America until the quality of play at least gets within hailing distance of the top leagues in the world


Concur. And I feel that it is impossible for that to happen considering the number of prestigious leagues around the world. Basically the MLS is the Canadian Football League of soccer. It is a league for those who wish to support the game locally or can't get enough of the game they love and are willing to watch something less than the best.
   5. . Posted: February 27, 2020 at 10:01 AM (#5926751)
It's a ludicrous prediction; the TV ratings are bush league. The play is English second division, or thereabouts. I have nothing against MLS and actually kind of like it; I go to games and occasionally watch, but there's no need to make the league more than it is. It's different in kind, not just degree from all the other US/Canada sports in that the league it offers fans is not "major league," much less the only real major league as with baseball, football, basketball, hockey. At some point, it's going to have to take off the financial constraints and bring in far better players, and there are significant doubts about the desire of the American marketplace to support that. Never is a long, long time, but I doubt it ever will. The NY Cosmos of the late 1970s had a far better relative roster than any of the MLS teams do now; a serious argument can be made that the peak of American club soccer was then -- certainly MLS doesn't draw anything like the crowds the Cosmos did then. That's now 40 years ago.

   6. Manny Coon Posted: February 27, 2020 at 10:04 AM (#5926753)
Being a top tier like in 25 years isn't completely crazy, but obviously there is a lot of work to be done. But passing MLB 15 years before that happens seems optimistic; that or they think Major League Baseball is going to tank and tank hard.
   7. . Posted: February 27, 2020 at 10:06 AM (#5926754)
They could be right about MLB tanking hard, but MLS still wouldn't surpass it under current trends. The younger generations eschewing baseball aren't going to drift to MLS; they're going to continue to follow and be fans of the actual major leagues -- as they are now. Why would a 14 or 15 year old Chelsea or Barca fan become a 25 or 30 year old MLS fan?
   8. Manny Coon Posted: February 27, 2020 at 10:09 AM (#5926755)
certainly MLS doesn't draw anything like the crowds the Cosmos did then. That's now 40 years ago.


Atlanta is out drawing the Cosmos. Seattle has been drawing crowds similar to the Cosmos for an extended time now.
   9. It's regretful that PASTE was able to get out Posted: February 27, 2020 at 10:17 AM (#5926756)
Would an MLS all-star team win the English Championship? Would it at least finish in the promotion playoff? (England calls its second division, its top minor league, the 'Championship'.)
   10. Fernigal McGunnigle Posted: February 27, 2020 at 10:19 AM (#5926757)
There's a pretty clear roadmap for MLS surpassing the Premier League in the relatively short term, but unfortunately for MLS it mainly revolves around the EPL cratering. Imagine two things: 1.) the long-threatened European Super League happens and Man City, Man United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea, and maybe Spurs leave the domestic league; and 2.) there's a maximalist Brexit that leads the government and/or the FA to put severe limits on the number of foreign players allowed in the league. Twenty years ago there were a lot of people who thought that the weakness of the English national team was a result of all of the foreigners taking their jobs in the EPL. One can imagine that sort of sentiment returning, and the EPL becoming something of a training ground for the national teams of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, while the 5 or 6 ex-EPL teams in the Super League sate the national hunger for top-flight soccer.

You can throw in a long-term post-Brexit economic slump and Scottish independence if you want to go all out. The EPL's revenue craters, the best English players who aren't in the Super League go play in Germany. Soon the EPL is at best on the level of the Russian Premier League (without a Zenit) or the Turkish Süper Lig. And that's something MLS can surpass.
   11. manchestermets Posted: February 27, 2020 at 10:29 AM (#5926760)
An economic slump causing EPL clubs not to be able to afford top overseas players is possible, but I think the scenario of limitations on foreign players is less likely. There's a big overlap between people who chest-beat for Brexit, and who want their team to attract international stars, so it would be a very unpopular outcome.


or can't get enough of the game they love and are willing to watch something less than the best.


I feel seen. I will say that MLS has been an excellent product over the past few years - the games are rarely less than entertaining and the playoffs last year were very exciting. Regarding the question above, I think an MLS All-Star team would have an excellent chance of contending to win the EFL Championship.
   12. Manny Coon Posted: February 27, 2020 at 10:36 AM (#5926765)
Would an MLS all-star team win the English Championship? Would it at least finish in the promotion playoff? (England calls its second division, its top minor league, the 'Championship'.)


MLS doesn't really pay defenders. If you look at last year's best XI, you have guys like Vela and Zlatan as strikers, but domestic players like Walker Zimmerman and Ike Opara as defenders.
   13. Fernigal McGunnigle Posted: February 27, 2020 at 10:45 AM (#5926766)
There's a big overlap between people who chest-beat for Brexit, and who want their team to attract international stars, so it would be a very unpopular outcome.
My idea was that the chest thumpers could concentrate on the big six and their contingents of international superstars sallying off to Europe to beat up the Boche and the Frogs, while the domestic league would become more domestic. Something like the pre-Bosman limits (no more than three foreign players on the pitch) would allow for a few foreign stars but would mean that the league isn't developing a lot of good, young players from outside of the UK.

The biggest clubs still in the rump EPL would be Everton, Leicester City, and someone from London (West Ham?), none of which would be able to attract a ton of the best foreign talent anyway. So if the only real route to top foreign talent would be in developing young foreigners, one could imagine people suggesting that the league shouldn't be wasting time on them and should be developing young Brits instead.

I agree that such an outcome would be very improbable, but the whole scenario is a bunch of very improbable things piled on top of each other, so why not go all out?
   14. Do Not Touch Fancy Pants Socially Distanced Handle Posted: February 27, 2020 at 10:49 AM (#5926767)
One of the biggest obstacles MLS faces: No access to UEFA Champions League football. It is hard to overstate how much of a cash cow that is for the big clubs.
   15. Do Not Touch Fancy Pants Socially Distanced Handle Posted: February 27, 2020 at 10:57 AM (#5926768)
MLS doesn't really pay defenders. If you look at last year's best XI, you have guys like Vela and Zlatan as strikers, but domestic players like Walker Zimmerman and Ike Opara as defenders.

MLS Doesn't really pay anyone, outside of their designated players. When teams have a salary cap of ~4m and 20 players to pay, there is only so far you can stretch that money.

The designated players are of course by design usually attacking minded players (and who are usually big names, past their primes). Because the purpose is to boost the image of the league and generate excitement in the product.
   16. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: February 27, 2020 at 11:00 AM (#5926770)
Sort of prediction that seems bound to backfire on those making it, isn’t it?
I believe they call it an "own goal."
   17. Joyful Calculus Instructor Posted: February 27, 2020 at 11:06 AM (#5926772)
Lololol. Did MLS hire Sarah Huckabee Sanders as a spokesperson?
   18. Manny Coon Posted: February 27, 2020 at 11:11 AM (#5926774)

The designated players are of course by design usually attacking minded players (and who are usually big names, past their primes)


There has been a trend toward younger DPs. Obviously Zlatan fits the classic MLS past their prime player, but he was still good enough to move right back to Milan. Vela on the other hand was still pretty much in his prime or close to it when he came over, same with Lodeiro or Giovinco. Josef Martinez was pretty young when he signed. Diego Rossi was signed as a teen.
   19. Slivers of Maranville descends into chaos (SdeB) Posted: February 27, 2020 at 11:38 AM (#5926783)
It's not really fair to compare the popularity of MLS with Cosmos of 40 years ago -- that had Carl Sagan. How many people are as engaging as him?
   20. Scott Lange Posted: February 27, 2020 at 12:18 PM (#5926801)
When I watch MLS (which I do) I'm watching the equivalent of a low second or high third tier league in many other countries.

According to 538's Global Soccer Rankings, MLS is the 20th best league in the world, with only the English Championship (#9) as a second-tier league ranked higher. Germany (21), Spain (23), and France (26) are all pretty close. Kick Algorithm (which I know nothing about) has MLS 17th, with the best second tier leagues in the world being England (#23), Germany (#27), Spain (#41), and Italy (#45). So "low second or high third tier in many other countries" seems wildly unfair. I don't see a great argument for anybody's third tier being better than MLS, and outside of England, I don't think you can plausibly argue that anybody's third tier league is even within shouting distance.

The designated players are of course by design usually attacking minded players (and who are usually big names, past their primes)

As #18 said, this is also off-base. The list I just pulled off Wikipedia shows 64 current designated players, with an average age of 26.5. 25% are 24 or younger, and 4 are teenagers. (Of course, they were all younger when they became DPs than they are today.) I'm not sure when you would say players' primes end (I suppose it depends on the player), but 80% of DPs are younger than 30.

One of the biggest obstacles MLS faces: No access to UEFA Champions League football. It is hard to overstate how much of a cash cow that is for the big clubs.

This I agree with completely. Access to the Champions League brings both dramatically more money and also dramatically more respect/interest from fans and players alike. It's hard to see how MLS ever becomes a top-five league without access to the top club competition in the world, and it's hard to see how they force their way in to such a competition without being a top-five league, so... maybe there's a ceiling there.
   21. Jeff Frances the Mute Posted: February 27, 2020 at 12:30 PM (#5926808)
The next media rights deal will be telling for MLS. The NHL is negotiating at roughly the same time so it will be interesting to see if they end up anywhere close.
   22. Pat Rapper's Delight (as quoted on MLB Network) Posted: February 27, 2020 at 12:35 PM (#5926810)
Big words from a sports league that -- even according to their commissioner -- still isn't making a profit on actually playing soccer games. The only way anyone is making money is by divvying up the ever-increasing expansion fees. The league's continued expansion isn't being driven by a demand for soccer. It's being driven by a market shortage of sports teams for billionaires to own as vanity projects coupled with small-time politicians in third-tier cities who want their names on plaques at vanity projects of their own.

To quote Neal deMause, the current business plan for MLS makes it either a ponzi scheme or the WeWork of sports.
   23. Howie Menckel Posted: February 27, 2020 at 12:38 PM (#5926812)
Inter Miami managing owner Jorge Mas maintained it will be of higher quality than the Premier League and La Liga by 2045.

um, some of us don't likely have that sort of time left.....
   24. . Posted: February 27, 2020 at 01:26 PM (#5926833)
The NHL is negotiating at roughly the same time so it will be interesting to see if they end up anywhere close.


If you include Canada, there is no way MLS is going to come close to NHL TV dollars.

MLS ratings were down like 20% in the regular season last year from already paltry levels. Playoffs dropped like 50%, even with the "more exciting (LOL)" one game knockout gimmick. The opening round averaged 178,000 viewers; there's barely an adjective to describe how bad that is. Not even close to the NHL, even in the US -- not even 1/10 the NHL.

As to quality, it's two guys, it's the eye test, it's eight years ago now, but me and a soccer-loving friend went to the Trophee de Champions game at Red Bull Arena in 2012 (Lyon-Montpellier) and it took about five minutes before we acknowledged to each other the obvious difference in quality of play and how we hoped it wouldn't ruin MLS for us. The width and creativity from the wings, and the short passing buildups as opposed to the MLS bludgeoning long ball, were just night and day. No comparison. There's no way to measure the French second tier against MLS without seeing it, but the difference between MLS and the French first tier was obvious and huge. Surprisingly so for me. Maybe the eight years has closed the gap a bit.

I've been to some live Prem games since then, again, not even close. I was at a very early season QPR-Swindon Town League Cup game in 2016; that was closer to MLS quality. I don't have a strong opinion either way but if I had to bet and my life depended on the right answer I'd say the League Cup game was better quality, but there you had two teams in different tiers which makes for a strange game in a way.
   25. . Posted: February 27, 2020 at 01:37 PM (#5926835)
To quote Neal deMause, the current business plan for MLS makes it either a ponzi scheme or the WeWork of sports.


Ponzi scheme. The core business is no good. The concept is good enough to lure speculative vanity money.
   26. winnipegwhip Posted: February 27, 2020 at 02:15 PM (#5926846)
I do think the MLS offers a better product than the Premier League at times. That time is usually between 7PM and 1AM Eastern Time daily.
   27. Sebastian Posted: February 27, 2020 at 03:46 PM (#5926871)
That should be pretty easy. Get your annual wage bill up into the 2–300 million USD neighbourhood and take it from there.
   28. KronicFatigue Posted: February 27, 2020 at 04:33 PM (#5926886)
What's the last example of a start up league rising above the established gold standard in that sport?
   29. jmurph Posted: February 27, 2020 at 04:44 PM (#5926889)
What's the last example of a start up league rising above the established gold standard in that sport?

An interesting question but I'm not sure that's entirely fair. The order of the top 6 European leagues has changed at various times (in recent years it wasn't unpopular to have La Liga ahead of the Premier League, for instance, though the financial might of the latter has really taken off), for instance, and I think there's at least a theoretical case that an American league, with all of the financial might that other American sports leagues enjoy, could someday be in that mix.

I'm extremely skeptical that happens, for the record, I think nearly everything about MLS is bad and has not been getting any better. But I understand why people think it's possible.
   30. Walt Davis Posted: February 27, 2020 at 04:48 PM (#5926893)
Hey, the Major League Rugby season just got started, you guys should be obsessing about that. They are apparently trying to make some sort of splash as they've signed a few big international names including All Black Ma'a Nonu.
   31. . Posted: February 27, 2020 at 05:00 PM (#5926897)
I actually like rugby, but it's just never quite sank in. London Irish moved a match against Saracens to Red Bull Arena, I took my kid, and thought it was great. I've watched occasionally on TV and at times thought it would take more deeply, but it just didn't. But there's a lot to like about it; it's a lot like mid-70s to early-80s college football. I could see myself running it up the flagpole again. For whatever reason, I've found it hard to identify and follow the best players and they're more scattered outside Europe than soccer players are. And I haven't found a particular team to warm up to, which is also a big part of it.
   32. Pops Freshenmeyer Posted: February 27, 2020 at 05:02 PM (#5926899)
Why would a 14 or 15 year old Chelsea or Barca fan become a 25 or 30 year old MLS fan?

MLS is involving itself in youth travel sports with its academies and affiliate youth teams. They are building grass roots relationships in a way other U.S. pro sports leagues do not.

I don't know if it will prove successful over the long term but playing your travel soccer under the Sporting KC organization's umbrella is a pretty good reason to become a Sporting KC fan.
   33. Pops Freshenmeyer Posted: February 27, 2020 at 05:03 PM (#5926901)
I have no idea whether there was an actual boost in interest after 94. Maybe MLS folds if not for 94.

There was a huge boost in youth participation levels. Those have since plateaued, however.
   34. Scott Lange Posted: February 27, 2020 at 05:07 PM (#5926905)
What's the last example of a start up league rising above the established gold standard in that sport?

Well, in the US, the leaders have tended to absorb their strongest competitors - the ABA, the AFL, and even the American League come to mind. It's not impossible to imagine a Global Super League that absorbs clubs from MLS in some decades-away future.

But more recently, cricket is the obvious example. In 2008, the Indian Premier League was invented, offering a faster format than traditional cricket. Within a few years, it was the biggest cricket league in the world by far. Now, you can argue that the analogy is flawed because MLS isn't offering a different format than other leagues, and you might be right. But the sample size of "established top-level sports league structures" is like 10 maybe*, so it's already tough to draw meaningful lessons from that history, particularly if you're going to exclude the example(s) that go against you.

* What sports would qualify here? Soccer, baseball, basketball, ice hockey, rugby, cricket, auto racing... I'm already running low...
   35. It's regretful that PASTE was able to get out Posted: February 27, 2020 at 05:10 PM (#5926906)
What's the last example of a start up league rising above the established gold standard in that sport?


The American League in 1901-1904.

   36. Manny Coon Posted: February 27, 2020 at 05:10 PM (#5926909)
and has not been getting any better


I think it has pretty clearly been getting better. Payrolls are up, a few teams actually make money, academies are better funded, they have managed to develop and sell some younger players like Davies or Adams to better teams, bringing in more players from Latin America has raised the level of play (DP money is spent on young or prime age players from Argentina or Uruguay rather than washed up Europeans). MLS is much better than it was than it was 10 years ago, even if it still has a long way to go.
   37. Pops Freshenmeyer Posted: February 27, 2020 at 05:11 PM (#5926911)
* What sports would qualify here? Soccer, baseball, basketball, ice hockey, rugby, cricket, auto racing... I'm already running low...

In US open wheel racing, the IRL was created in 1996 and drove CART out of business within seven years, becoming the top league. That can also be credited to special circumstances since IRL was the Indianapolis 500 deciding to eat everything else.
   38. Fernigal McGunnigle Posted: February 27, 2020 at 05:14 PM (#5926915)
What's the last example of a start up league rising above the established gold standard in that sport?
The Indian Premier League was launched in 2008 and is now the world's dominant cricket league. Though cricket's a small world and India's a really big country.

In soccer you could argue that the Bundesliga is the most successful startup. It replaced a mishmash of regional leagues in 1963, and a decade later Bayern Munich won the European Champions Cup three years running.
   39. It's regretful that PASTE was able to get out Posted: February 27, 2020 at 05:15 PM (#5926916)
In 2008, the Indian Premier League was invented, offering a faster format than traditional cricket. Within a few years, it was the biggest cricket league in the world by far


IMO, right now MLB just might be susceptible to the same sort of competition. Start a league that forces players to play quickly and uses rules that create very few of the Three True Outcomes and loads of balls in play, and even with vastly inferior players you just might have a starkly more entertaining product than MLB.

As always, bankrolling such a venture is high impossible. But if I were forced to stake my fortune on a startup American sports league, I think MLB would be my first choice of which big league to compete with.
   40. Scott Lange Posted: February 27, 2020 at 05:17 PM (#5926918)
I think nearly everything about MLS is bad and has not been getting any better.


Wow, I'm really curious what makes you say that. I may have a skewed perspective here in Atlanta, but the progress over the years seems obvious to me. Attendance was at a low of 13,756/game in 2000; it has since steadily risen to around 21,000. I don't have historical versions of 538's club index, but it certainly appears that the talent level and team quality has been steadily rising. The amount of young talent capable of making a global impact has increased as well - I'm not an expert, but I don't recall players of the caliber of Alphonso Davies and Miguel Almiron emerging from MLS 20 years ago. And teams actually have academies that produce youth players now. And of course, the product the league offers aside from the players has come a long way as well - from zero soccer-specific stadiums back in the day up to 16 today; from shootouts to, well, no shooutouts.

None of that constitutes improvement to you, jmurph? Or...?
   41. Scott Lange Posted: February 27, 2020 at 05:19 PM (#5926921)
IMO, right now MLB just might be susceptible to the same sort of competition. Start a league that forces players to play quickly and uses rules that create very few of the Three True Outcomes and loads of balls in play, and even with vastly inferior players you just might have a starkly more entertaining product than MLB.

As always, bankrolling such a venture is high impossible. But if I were forced to stake my fortune on a startup American sports league, I think MLB would be my first choice of which big league to compete with.


Brilliant. Make a Kickstarter - I'm in for $100.
   42. Greg Pope Posted: February 27, 2020 at 05:30 PM (#5926926)
But more recently, cricket is the obvious example.

I'd be interested in learning about cricket. Is there any way for me to watch any of it in the US for free? DirecTV seems to have a paid cricket package. Does ESPN or anyplace have it running at 2 AM? Or do I need to search out something streaming?
   43. . Posted: February 27, 2020 at 05:35 PM (#5926929)
MLS is involving itself in youth travel sports with its academies and affiliate youth teams. They are building grass roots relationships in a way other U.S. pro sports leagues do not.

I don't know if it will prove successful over the long term but playing your travel soccer under the Sporting KC organization's umbrella is a pretty good reason to become a Sporting KC fan.


That's the theory. My possibly anedoctal but direct experience (kid playing travel soccer under an MLS organization's umbrella) is ... maybe not the polar opposite ... but not supportive either. It's not that he's not a fan of the MLS team, he is, just not a particularly big one and it's far behind his European teams' fandom. We'll see though; it could be one of those loyalties that kicks in more when you reflect on your childhood than when you're actually in it. The club has certainly pulled out a lot of stops to make all of us, kids and parents, fans; my assessment is that the reality isn't matching the theory. Could the kids be fans of the club in an improved league 15 years from now? Absolutely. If the league is still essentially a minor league? Probably not so much.
   44. kubiwan Posted: February 27, 2020 at 05:39 PM (#5926930)
Major League Rugby


I am the only one amused that Major LEAGUE Rugby plays union, not league?

FWIW, as a complete newb, I found league far easier to watch than union. I watched the first half of the last union World Cup final, and had no idea what was going on most of the time....
   45. Manny Coon Posted: February 27, 2020 at 05:42 PM (#5926932)

I'd be interested in learning about cricket. Is there any way for me to watch any of it in the US for free? DirecTV seems to have a paid cricket package. Does ESPN or anyplace have it running at 2 AM? Or do I need to search out something streaming?


ESPN+, which I got with the Hulu/Disney+ bundle had a New Zealand/India match on for several days in a row recently. It just kind of went on forever and ever, definitely a good choice if you have a lot of free time.
   46. Do Not Touch Fancy Pants Socially Distanced Handle Posted: February 27, 2020 at 05:49 PM (#5926935)
Test cricket does go on forever and ever. As in five days. And then it ends in a draw.

If you want something a bit more beginner friendly, you probably want to start with twenty20 cricket.
   47. the Centaur Nipple Paradox (CoB). Posted: February 27, 2020 at 06:26 PM (#5926937)
The only match I've ever watched was a T20 match.
Can't remember exactly who it was playing.
I figured out most of it along the way and it was pretty epic, back and forth the whole time.
Ended on what I guess we would call a "walk off".
I was like ... wow ... that was pretty great ...
But I have no impulse to ever watch cricket again.
   48. winnipegwhip Posted: February 27, 2020 at 07:16 PM (#5926946)
But if I were forced to stake my fortune on a startup American sports league, I think MLB would be my first choice of which big league to compete with.


Sounds like an opportunity for those minor league teams that Manfreds Final Solution wishes to eliminate. Those owners should combine and head to some bigger markets
   49. It's regretful that PASTE was able to get out Posted: February 27, 2020 at 07:25 PM (#5926947)
Sounds like an opportunity for those minor league teams that Manfreds Final Solution wishes to eliminate. Those owners should combine and head to some bigger markets


I don't know about the feasibility of gunning for bigger markets right away--but there may be quite a few baseball stadiums without a team soon. There may be an pportunity there.
   50. Lance Reddick! Lance him! Posted: February 27, 2020 at 09:13 PM (#5926958)
But if I were forced to stake my fortune on a startup American sports league, I think MLB would be my first choice of which big league to compete with.

NBA would be much easier to pick off -- the star players are draws unto themselves, and this country is lousy with indoor arenas not tied to NBA teams. Frankly, it's astounding it hasn't happened during the previous lockouts.
   51. Richard Posted: February 27, 2020 at 09:46 PM (#5926963)

According to 538's Global Soccer Rankings, MLS is the 20th best league in the world, with only the English Championship (#9) as a second-tier league ranked higher. Germany (21), Spain (23), and France (26) are all pretty close. Kick Algorithm (which I know nothing about) has MLS 17th, with the best second tier leagues in the world being England (#23), Germany (#27), Spain (#41), and Italy (#45). So "low second or high third tier in many other countries" seems wildly unfair. I don't see a great argument for anybody's third tier being better than MLS, and outside of England, I don't think you can plausibly argue that anybody's third tier league is even within shouting distance.


Germany, maybe, but no one else.

MLS has always seemed to me top of League One/bottom of the Championship sort of standard (with Bradley Wright-Phillips being the poster boy for this comparison), but it's been a couple of years since I watched a game. My son watches it sometimes and is unimpressed: his view is that most MLS teams would struggle in the Championship, and he's seen a lot of that league over the last few years. To take the next step, as others have pointed out, they've got to get rid of the salary cap or modify it so they can get more better quality foreign players into the league, and the TV contracts that would go with that. But as things presently stand I don't think its achievable given the revenue generating capabilities of the teams in the bigger European leagues.
   52. puck Posted: February 28, 2020 at 12:06 AM (#5926985)
Maybe MLS folds if not for 94.


Uh, MLS had not yet started playing in '94. '94 was the reason for it coming into existence.

   53. puck Posted: February 28, 2020 at 12:25 AM (#5926987)
A common statement about MLS is that it has been improving every year, which sounds ridiculous, but seems basically true. I've been a season ticket holder for 10 seasons so I've seen some games. I have no illusions that it's close to a premier first division league. Arsenal finally came to the States for their preseason tour and the Rapids were the poor sister stop. With upcoming games vs teams like Bayern Munich, Arsenal played the young players vs the Rapids -- Saka, Martinelli and Nketiah were the more famous ones. The Rapids started few of their 1st team players (as the friendly was two days after a league game) but it was pretty clear how much more talented those guys were than the average MLS starter.

And obviously there are problems in quality of play since MLS teams rarely defeat Mexican clubs in the knockout rounds of CONCACAF's version of the Champions league. There are handicaps to MLS there (the first knockout rounds are usually in the MLS preseason, such as this week's games; season starts this weekend) but when Mexico wins 14 straight titles, that tells you how much better they are, and no one thinks the Mexican league is a top league. The salary cap does cause issues. There are all sorts of mechanisms for fitting in the star players but the cap means the end of your roster and even some of your starting lineup is just going to be poor. Pretty much no one has two good fullbacks (even relative to the level of the other positions in MLS), many teams don't even have one good fullback. So the Mexican teams can target those holes and destroy them.

But if you think the level of play is bad now, you should have seen it 20 years ago (when the league almost did fold). Or 10 years ago.

Why would a kid become a fan? Well, you can root for more than one club, and there's something to be said for going to a game live. To each his own though.

MLS has been conservative with the money so they can keep teams from goign belly up. Currently ambitious clubs (like the new ones) are able to spend a lot more money than teams in the past were. That's a lot of how Atlanta has done what they've done. Teams never used to be able to afford transfer fees, which is why the best transfers tended to be the over the hill guys like Robbie Keane who still had enough left to play 25-30 games. Now teams are investing in the sorts of 2nd tier but still talented South Americans that normally would have stayed with the richer Brazilian or Argentine clubs, or would have gone to Mexico.

Even so though, it's hard to see how MLS is affording this. The TV contracts are miniscule and the ratings are not there. It's hard to see how they're going to become a top 10 league. The biggest thing you can say is the potential market here is huge.

   54. puck Posted: February 28, 2020 at 12:38 AM (#5926990)
I am surprised LAFC rallied to advance past Leon. They were down 2-0 from the first leg in Leon, won 3-0 in LA. LAFC set the MLS points record* last year. (*34-game season, post shootout rules.) I haven't been watching much Liga MX year so I don't know much about Leon, but it looks like they were using starters. (The days of Mexican clubs starting reserves in the knockouts of these competitions is over.)

OTOH defending MLS Cup champion Seattle got bounced out by a Honduran club. Hoo boy. 4 MLS clubs advanced.
   55. Walt Davis Posted: February 28, 2020 at 12:45 AM (#5926992)
I am the only one amused that Major LEAGUE Rugby plays union, not league?

Nope ... maybe the only one in North America though.

FWIW, as a complete newb, I found league far easier to watch than union. I watched the first half of the last union World Cup final, and had no idea what was going on most of the time....

League is certainly more immediately recognizable to somebody who knows football -- think Big 10 football ca 1971 with even less passing and no blocking. It can be hard to tell what's going on in a union game because there are lots of strange (to us fer'ners) rules about what you can do in a ruck, etc. So one tackle and you see 3 guys fighting over the ball, one side wins and all proceeds as normal; then on the next tackle you see 3 guys fighting over the ball and the ref blows his whistle and gives it to one side ... and you have no idea how those two battles were different ... at least not until the slow-mo close-up replay.
   56. manchestermets Posted: February 28, 2020 at 08:38 AM (#5927005)
League is certainly more immediately recognizable to somebody who knows football -- think Big 10 football ca 1971 with even less passing and no blocking. It can be hard to tell what's going on in a union game because there are lots of strange (to us fer'ners) rules about what you can do in a ruck, etc. So one tackle and you see 3 guys fighting over the ball, one side wins and all proceeds as normal; then on the next tackle you see 3 guys fighting over the ball and the ref blows his whistle and gives it to one side ... and you have no idea how those two battles were different ... at least not until the slow-mo close-up replay.


It's actually something of a running joke about rugby union in the countries where it's seriously played that the referee is the only person in the stadium who actually knows the rules. Totally agree that league is not all that far from football - essentially every possession starts as a first down and goal where you get six downs, there's no forward passing and the next play starts as soon as the previous one finishes.


It's hard to see how MLS ever becomes a top-five league without access to the top club competition in the world, and it's hard to see how they force their way in to such a competition without being a top-five league, so... maybe there's a ceiling there.


I'm wondering if there might be a path to this, and while it's obviously unlikely it's not completely out of the question. The obvious issue is that the US isn't a member of UEFA, but that's not insurmountable - Australia got fed up a while back of being the biggest fish in the tiny Oceania pool, and joined the Asian confederation. The downside of that of course would be that World Cup qualification would be out of the reach of the men's team for the foreseeable future. And I'm not sure the best MLS teams would get through the qualifiers for the Champions League group stages which is where the big money starts to roll in. Does MLS have revenue sharing? If not, one MLS team who did qualify for the group stages would suddenly have a huge financial advantage over the rest of the league.
   57. jmurph Posted: February 28, 2020 at 09:27 AM (#5927016)
Does MLS have revenue sharing?

The entire league is still a single-entity structure, isn't it?
   58. jmurph Posted: February 28, 2020 at 09:29 AM (#5927017)
I think it has pretty clearly been getting better. Payrolls are up, a few teams actually make money, academies are better funded, they have managed to develop and sell some younger players like Davies or Adams to better teams, bringing in more players from Latin America has raised the level of play (DP money is spent on young or prime age players from Argentina or Uruguay rather than washed up Europeans). MLS is much better than it was than it was 10 years ago, even if it still has a long way to go.

None of that constitutes improvement to you, jmurph? Or...?

(Merging two comments from Manny and Scott)

I'm happy to concede to you two on your knowledge of the particulars, and my comment was probably an exaggeration. I guess I'd just say the aesthetic difference in the quality of play of the 30th or whatever best league in the world to the 20th is not really noticeable if you also have easy access to the best 4 leagues in the world on a regular basis. It still looks terrible to me, and I've tried, numerous times in three different cities, to get into a team. The Bradley Wright-Phillips mention upthread is a great example, Vela is perhaps an even better one. Altidore is a good example. And the league has addressed the lack of overall talent by... adding more teams? Why are there 26 teams, with 30 players? I'm certain this makes sense for the primary investors and owners, not sure about overall league quality or long-term financial health.

   59. . Posted: February 28, 2020 at 09:44 AM (#5927021)
The entire league is still a single-entity structure, isn't it?


Yes, and they don't have a chance in hell of ever getting to anything close to top quality while that is the case. The only way it's even remotely possible is if they let the market shake out as it will and a few "super" clubs develop. That will mean some of the later additions to the Ponzi scheme will have no chance, but they can't have both a "competitive" team in Nashville or Austin or wherever and world-class clubs. Can't be done; isn't done in Europe.

Why are there 26 teams, with 30 players?


Because the soccer business itself can't come close to making money for the original investors.
   60. Manny Coon Posted: February 28, 2020 at 10:33 AM (#5927039)
"Can't be done; isn't done in Europe. "

Can't is strong; it's done in basketball, baseball and football. The league as a whole just needs a lot more money to get there and their goal of being a top league 25 years, isn't exactly the most aggressive time line for that.

I do think some less successful franchises might need to be culled at some point. Chivas USA was culled and the more successful LAFC took their place. Chicago's lack of revenue for their market size seems pretty inexcusable, same with Houston and Philadelphia. Columbus might not be a viable market. Austin or Nashville might be ok; Portland is a small market but is doubling up teams like Chicago in revenue; Kansas City is also one of the higher revenue teams in the league.
   61. Pops Freshenmeyer Posted: February 28, 2020 at 10:35 AM (#5927043)
Just today a young man passed up a Clemson football scholarship to sign with Dallas FC. It's cool to see a guy take a pay cut to join MLS...
   62. Do Not Touch Fancy Pants Socially Distanced Handle Posted: February 28, 2020 at 11:20 AM (#5927071)
Shots. Fired.
   63. Barry`s_Lazy_Boy Posted: February 28, 2020 at 11:57 AM (#5927084)
It's cool to see a guy take a pay cut to join MLS...

He was only the kicker. Now, if Dallas FC steals an incoming QB recruit....
   64. Fernigal McGunnigle Posted: February 28, 2020 at 12:05 PM (#5927089)
Chicago's lack of revenue for their market size seems pretty inexcusable
Chicago's move to Bridgeview in the southwest suburbs was a disaster. They basically chose a (pretty nice) soccer-only stadium over being at all close to anything. They're moving back to Soldier Field this year, so maybe that helps, even though it's not a great soccer stadium. Their more permanent and bigger problem is that the city has two baseball teams, one of which is very popular with the demographic (white, younger, urban, upmarket) who drive a lot of soccer fandom in a place like Atlanta.
   65. Manny Coon Posted: February 28, 2020 at 12:16 PM (#5927101)
Chicago's move to Bridgeview in the southwest suburbs was a disaster. They basically chose a (pretty nice) soccer-only stadium over being at all close to anything. They're moving back to Soldier Field this year, so maybe that helps, even though it's not a great soccer stadium. Their more permanent and bigger problem is that the city has two baseball teams, one of which is very popular with the demographic (white, younger, urban, upmarket) who drive a lot of soccer fandom in a place like Atlanta.


The Galaxy generate almost 3 times as much revenue playing in Carson and competing with the Dodgers, Angels, Lakers, Clippers, Ducks, Kings and LAFC. LAFC also doubles up Chicago's revenue. LA is bigger than Chicago, but not by that much.

Here is a article from Forbes about MLS team valuations and revenues:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/chrissmith/2019/11/04/major-league-soccers-most-valuable-teams-2019-atlanta-stays-on-top-as-expansion-fees-sale-prices-surge/#6acbe5c451b5
   66. OsunaSakata Posted: February 29, 2020 at 01:25 PM (#5927258)
Just because fans can catch higher quality soccer on television is not an impediment to attendance or TV ratings of MLS. College basketball and football are quite successful despite higher quality professional options in the same country. Georgetown averaged 7,200 in attendance last year. The Capital City Gogos, a G-League team in the same city stocked with better talent, has an arena capacity of only 4,200.
   67. puck Posted: February 29, 2020 at 02:34 PM (#5927270)
I do think some less successful franchises might need to be culled at some point. Chivas USA was culled and the more successful LAFC took their place. Chicago's lack of revenue for their market size seems pretty inexcusable, same with Houston and Philadelphia. Columbus might not be a viable market. Austin or Nashville might be ok; Portland is a small market but is doubling up teams like Chicago in revenue; Kansas City is also one of the higher revenue teams in the league.


Kansas City might be the most interesting franchise because of how new ownership completely changed the club. For the most part (Galaxy aside) the original MLS clubs lag behind the most successful expansion teams. KC's new ownership was able to completely rebrand. Their stadium is not in an urban area (it's next to the NASCAR track and some big boxy stores). Colorado's stadium is not in a great place (it's not visible from the major highways, and it's not next to other stuff that tends to draw visitors, so you never drive by it). But Denver seems like a good soccer market--national teams and friendlies do well here. The Rapids being horrible for 6 of the last 8 seasons really isn't helping.

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