The MLS Expands…Again

By Iron Chef Leftovers

I almost spit out my coffee when I saw that the MLS wants to expand again and add another team in the New York City area. Here is a quote from the ever delusional MLS Prez, Don Garber:

“This market has 19 million people in the region and is soccer hungry,” said MLS commissioner Don Garber. “With the Red Bulls here, we have the opportunity for a rival — a derby, if you will — that will break through the clutter of sports teams in this market and will work on the local, national and global levels.”

Ok, sure. The market has 19 million people but it has never really embraced the MLS. The team has averaged about 75% capacity over the 3 seasons they have occupied Red Bull Arena and their average of 18,804 per game there is only slightly higher than it was at Giants Stadium. Red Bull Arena sits right on 2 mass transit lines, has easy highway access, plenty of parking and is in the middle of an area that has a high immigrant population, which usually means more soccer support. The problem that the MLS has is that those people know what good soccer looks like and the MLS isn’t it. There is a reason why you don’t see the US National team playing home games in NY/NJ during the World Cup qualifying – it turns into a virtual home game for their opponent.

That being said, is the talent level in the MLS really that good that they can dilute it down further without compromising the “quality” of the product? I don’t think they can. The season is early, but the attendance is down league-wide this year – Only DC, Montreal, Dallas and Portland have seen any increase in attendance (well technically KC also, but their average has gone up 9 per game). Even the Sounders have seen a significant drop in attendance this year. Last year they drew 66,000 for a game against Portland. This year – just a shade over 40,000.

What this is all about is money and brand. The new NY club will be owned by the Steinbrenners (of NY Yankee fame) and Sheik Mansour bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan (owner of Manchester City). Since both of these owners have very deep pockets and the MLS has very liberal rules about skirting the salary cap when it comes to foreign players, you can expect this team to be stocked with over-paid, past their prime players from Europe who have name recognition, a la David Beckham. That is not good for the long term success of the MLS and is exactly what brought down the NASL.

Considering that teams like Chivas, New England, Dallas and San Jose don’t draw well, the league might just be better served moving one of those teams to NY. Honestly, the league would probably be better served putting another team in Seattle over NY – right now, I believe the only cities that could support a second team attendance wise would be either Seattle or Portland.

2 comments to The MLS Expands…Again

  • A.J. Coltrane

    We’ll see. I won’t surprise me if the MLS is the #2 spectator sport in America, something like 30-40 years from now. Kids are now playing it more than ever, and the demographics of the country are changing in a manner that is more favorable to soccer.

    As far as how the wealthy teams will spend their cash — maybe they’ll spend it well. There’s no better boost for attendance than winning. To paraphrase Branch Rickey: “I don’t need stars. I need a winning team. Then the players on that team will become stars.”

    Ultimately it’s all about the TV money. That’s true for every league, and it’s only going to get “more true” going forward. What will people tune into in the year 2050.. assuming that TV as we know it still exists.

  • Blaidd Drwg

    If the MLS is around in 30-40 years I will be shocked; heck I would be shocked if the league has at least 20+ teams by the end of the decade (I would be willing to bet the league contracts about 4-6 teams by the end of the decade). The league is starting to go down the same path the NASL did and we know how well that ended. The real problem with the league is that with the talent level, there should not be more than 14-16 teams but they see potential dollar signs so the keep adding them. Don Garber is delusional about the league’s success – in general he points to the attendance increase over the past few years but what he never mentions is the pathetic TV ratings the league tends to pull nationally. The reality is that people who don’t live in Dallas or Kansas City don’t give a crap when those 2 teams are playing and even most of the people who are fans are probably at the game.

    Sure winning will boost attendance, which is why Seattle has done so well. But the reality of it is, you don’t have a strong enough fan base anywhere to sustain a team that is a consistent loser. Look at Chivas – in the 2nd larges market in the country and don’t come close to selling out because they suck. Heck, LA Galaxy’s attendance is down almost 10% despite a winning record. Not having Beckham on the field probably has a bigger impact on the attendance than how well they are playing.

    MLS soccer is never going to be better than the 4th most popular sport in the country. Even then, I am not sure if it will ever pass the NHL, which is saying something.

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