A while back, I read an article on a British website titled, “Major League Soccer: Can the MLS Revolution Survive and Thrive?” I think the answer is yes, it can, but it has to keep changing and evolving with the times. The real question is, can soccer as a whole thrive in America where football, baseball, basketball and even hockey take more sport column inches than the World’s game?
I would like to look at Soccer in America in several parts. In this part, I would like to focus on the MLS, its continuing growth, and whether the current model is the correct one, or even sustainable in the coming years.
Interestingly, the British article focused on the numbers from the game, stating that the League is currently ending it’s 18th consecutive season, which now makes it the longest running professional soccer league in U.S. history, beating the much troubled NASL which broke up in 1984 after 17 years. Averaging nearly 19,000 fans per game, it also ranks third in numbers through gates behind the NFL and MLB.
While no one can deny that the MLS, as a league, is growing, you do have to wonder whether the big money invested in starting new franchises might be used in other ways. How different and ‘local’ can teams be when they are all centrally owned by the MLS? That is something for the higher-ups to debate. On a personal level, I would love to see the League combine the East and West into one table, maybe then splitting into two separate Leagues from there, with a top tier league, a second tier league, and promotion and relegation.
This talk has been ridiculed and the point has been brought up that too much money has been invested into soccer clubs, for it then to be risked with such things as promotion and relegation. Arguments like the European model shouldn’t be forced on the American game, as it has its merits and should be listened to. My question is, does the increasing of teams in the League increase the number of fans, or just spread the number a little more thinly? For example, with the New York situation, will we see new fans come on board for NYCFC or will the New York Red Bulls lose some fans?
On a purely personal preference, I would prefer not to see much money put into a club, but rather start in a lower tier, looking to get promoted into the MLS, building the fan base as they go. As the fan base grew, the club’s success too would grow, and then you would have a real sense of pride when the team eventually made it to the MLS.
No, the promotion and relegation were not used in the NFL, NBA or MLB, but there is one fundamental difference between growing a sport back then, and growing it now. The NFL started back in the 1920’s, NBA in the mid-1940’s , and baseball before both of those. Those sports didn’t have to compete with different brands across the globe, but now, turn on the television and the English Premier League or numerous other European or South American Leagues can be seen.
The internet and even newspapers now carry results from the EPL, just as they do the MLS, and so bringing in big name players may not be the answer. After all, that was done before without the internet, when Pele and alike came to these shores. That didn’t work back then, and it would be a shame for us to go down the same path this time. Can the MLS sustain these high wages when attendance is not increasing significantly? Additionally, it would serve the National side better to have a competitive, domestic league.