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MLS and USL Both Adrift as New Seasons Begin

barrett MLS and USL Both Adrift as New Seasons Begin

This may seem like a stark statement but in these tough economic times this is exactly what investors and football lovers must confront this reality. We’ve discussed in recent weeks the poor television ratings MLS has been receiving and the general lack of interest even among the football supporting public in the United States. The vast majority of football fans in this country look at MLS as an inferior product. While MLS’ proponents claim it is more competitive than most world football leagues and that it is a respectable product, the only objective standard for comparing leagues, the IFFHS has ranked MLS the 77th best league in the world.Major League Soccer must succeed for the game to grow in the US, and for player development to continue to fuel the US National Team’s international hopes. However questions must be asked about MLS’ viability on the American sporting landscape. However MLS in 2009 seems less interested in developing American players and helping the sport grow in the United States than anytime recently.

MLS’ TV ratings bear repeating. No US based professional sports league got lower ratings on ESPN last year then even the currently suspended Arena Football League. MLS had twice as many average viewers on ESPN ten years ago when international football of a clear higher quality than the league was not readily available on cable and before the league had completely abandoned the  heavily populated Southeast. FSC averaged 1/5th the viewership for MLS last season as it did for the English Premier League, and also had far fewer viewers for MLS than for Serie A. ESPN 360 which carries MLS has made a point of promoting its Serie A package to soccer fans without mentioning MLS, for obvious reasons.

MLS has lost its national TV package with HDNet, and has been very publicly demoted on ESPN 2 to time slots where the league’s lack of appeal will not do as much damage to the network’s overall profile. FSC, which will face intense competition to keep the EPL rights in the next round of bidding may want to consider dumping MLS to save money when their contract is up. It also needs to be pointed out that Soccer United Marketing, which is an arm of MLS owns the English language TV rights in the US for FIFA events, and the decision by ESPN to pay for MLS rights may have been done with the bigger picture of FIFA rights in mind.

With a low payroll, unattractive football for the European or Latino tastes and an embarrassingly poor record in international competition, the league has plenty of detractors. Without question and irrespective of the league’s clever propaganda, MLS is a decidedly minor league on the American sporting landscape. Several indicators of this are readily apparent. Airport shops in most MLS cities don’t have any team merchandise and many MLS teams are relegated to second tier cable networks or low signal stations for their local TV coverage. Local newspapers in MLS markets cover their teams but bury the stories deep in paper even after important matches. Coverage of the league in non MLS markets is minimal and recognition of the league is almost non existent outside its core markets. Almost always DC United is an exception to these rules so please don’t tell me “United is on Comcast Sports Net, gets lots of ink in the Washington Post, and has its merchandise for sale all over the place.” I know this, and would also state Houston and Seattle are developing into an exceptions also. Markets like Columbus and Salt Lake City face little competition, but in markets like Dallas, New York, Boston and Chicago, MLS are still covered minimally compared to other local sports teams. (When Blanco retires, I’d be really curious to see if the Fire can maintain their recent gains in local recognition)

So MLS is asking the potential investors for $40 million in order to secure an expansion franchise.  Vancouver and Portland have apparently agreed to do this. Both already have teams in the lower tier USL, a league which places less restrictions on its owners and whose success in the CONCACAF Champions League has opened eyes across the region as to its quality. Despite it’s on the field success, USL remains clear minor league whose pyramid has stratified into haves and have nots. Because the league does not have the rules to ensure competitive balance that MLS does, some teams are wild successes and others are complete failures and go out of business quickly. Others like the Atlanta Silverbacks have ownership that do not like the indifferent approach of the league office and the poor marketing of the league and have simply decided to “quit” USL for the foreseeable future, without actually shutting down the organization.

Investing in a USL franchise is somewhat like buying a penny Wall Street stock with little chance of a decent return, while MLS resembles a socialist structure with certain financial results pre-ordained. But are those results still pre-ordained in a recessionary economy, when European and Latin football as so readily available on American TV?

USL is so disinterested in the plights of individual clubs that often times the top brass doesn’t keep tabs or make an attempt to help troubled franchises. The league is also so poorly marketed that it made what can only be described as a feeble attempt to exploit its success in the CONCACAF Champions League when compared to the pathetic record compiled by MLS clubs in the very same competition.

USL seems to have a model that can only sustain itself temporarily. When clubs fold, often times because of the lack of involvement from the league, new expansion franchises pop up. Next year USL will expand to Tampa Bay and New York and potentially to Orlando. All three should be successful markets, but with a hands off approach, will potential investors, even of a “penny stock” be given the necessary marketing and support tools to make their investment worthwhile?

The New York foray is interesting. I know many in the Football media stateside would disagree often times out of personal sentiment, but the MLS New Jersey franchise has failed to capture the imagination or interest of New York football fans in 13 years of existence. Giants Stadium has served as convenient excuse for a franchise and league that have not been able to capture their own backyard. But will USL really help New York’s new footballing side grow? I have my doubts, even though on the surface it’s a great move.

Tampa Bay has similar issues. MLS failed in the Bay Area because quite frankly after the NASL it was an inferior product. The same case can be made for New Jersey’s continued under performance as an MLS market. After the Rowdies and Cosmos, the Mutiny and Metrostars were minor league products with minor league branding. The Tampa/St Pete area still boasts some of the best youth soccer clubs in the nation and it is no small coincidence US Soccer’s own Academy is in the neighborhood.

USL is actually based in Tampa and if the Rowdies and the Orlando based, Pachuca owned Tuzos enter the league in 2010, the league has potential to lock down the Florida market. But again USL is fundamentally inept at marketing, and has allowed the potential of the Atlanta and Miami markets to be wasted.

Back to MLS: The question those who are willing to pay the league’s $40 million price tag must answer, is whether investing in a league with limited appeal and restrictive rules in a time of economic chaos is really worthwhile? MLS is not going to be the next big thing as many of us had hoped and thought in 1996 and again upon the arrival of David Beckham. However,  it is still was until recently a nice little league whose rules make it easier to win championships and qualify for potential money making international events such as Superliga, the CONCACAF Champions League and the World Club Championship. But the delusions of grandeur on the world stage and outright hubris that MLS has developed in the last three years put the league on a potential course with disaster.  So considering all of this in, is $40 million for an MLS franchise a fair price?

This entry was posted in Leagues: Major League Soccer, Major League Soccer, USL. Bookmark the permalink.

About Kartik Krishnaiyer

A lifelong lover of soccer, the beautiful game, he served from January 2010 until May 2013 as the Director of Communications and Public Relations for the North American Soccer League (NASL). Raised on the Fort Lauderdale Strikers of the old NASL, Krishnaiyer previously hosted the American Soccer Show on the Champions Soccer Radio Network, the Major League Soccer Talk podcast and the EPL Talk Podcast. His soccer writing has been featured by several media outlets including The Guardian and The Telegraph. He is the author of the book Blue With Envy about Manchester City FC.
View all posts by Kartik Krishnaiyer →

33 Responses to MLS and USL Both Adrift as New Seasons Begin

  1. Brian Zygo says:

    Not sure what the chatter is in other markets, but the economic downturn might be a benefit to the Houston Dynamo this summer. The main sports competitor for the Dynamo is the Houston Astros. While the Astros have not raised ticket prices this season, their ticket prices are still higher then the Dynamo ticket prices and there is no way Drayton McLane will allow the prices of food and drinks to drop. Meanwhile, McLane has shown no interest in improving the team’s roster, thinking he can pull the wool over the eyes of Houston fans – but they ain’t buying it, and many are disenchanted with the product. So much so, that even main stream sports talk radio has been recognizing that you get more bang for your buck with the Houston Dynamo. You can take a family of four to a Dynamo game and have good seats for a fraction of the cost of going to Minute Maid Park (f/k/a Enron Field). Additionally, there is a recognition that going to a Dynamo match is an event, similar to going to a Texans game, and credit for that has to go to El Batallon and the Texian Army and the Pulse and the other Dynamo Supporter Groups who give it their all for 90 minutes.

    Hopefully, people in other MLS markets will realize just how far their dollar can stretch if they go MLS.

  2. Lars says:

    Major League Soccer does have some issues that need to be addressed.

    1. They need to get a TV Contract with a national cable network, even if its a small one like Versus. The only way to raise the profile of the game is to have it on a TV station that people can access, while Versus (and other networks) may not be NBC or ABC, they still show the games, and often provide better support for these in terms of commentary and camera angles. Case and point is the tremendous job that Versus has done with NHL and the NHL is actually getting better ratings with Versus than they did with NBC.

    2. Canadian team(s) (maybe I hope) need to have the 13+5 Rule removed entirely. International slots should be the same as the rest of league unless traded for.

    3. Salary cap needs to be increased by at least a million dollars, salary floors need to stay out of the picture. There should be 30 roster slots available, of which 20 are senior contract spots, and 10 are developmental spots. This will improve the quality of the teams, especially when they go into CONCACAF and other important competitions.

    4. A very important one. Start taking the international competitions seriously. If MLS can take these seriously and prove they can compete with the best teams in Mexico and the rest of CONCACAF, they will prove to American and Canadian soccer fans that things are getting better and the product on the field is better.

    5. Bring back the reserve league or buy out smaller leagues to create a place where you can relegate your scratched players to and still keep their contract rights.

    6. Allow the academy system to actually have benefits. Stop forcing players to be waived when one is signed off an academy team.

  3. Lars says:

    As well…

    I know lots of people feel the DP Rule has been used to bring in a lot of overrated aging players from other leagues. I feel, on the other hand, the DP rule does more harm than good. By increasing the wages, we’re likely increasing quality in the MLS. However, I too feel that the DP rule has some negatives. These are mainly in regards to the number of foreign players tagged as DPs and only 1 north american domestic who is tagged as a Designated Player.

    My suggestion is that they add a second Designated Player slot to all the teams (LA’s would be occupied by Donovan who they have as a DP already on top of Beckham). However, the 2nd Designated Player spot would be a Domestic Player spot. So, we’d have a DDP or Domestic Designated Player. This would encourage MLS teams to attract young domestic talent and keep them in the league for a length of time or it could be used to bring aging domestics back to the league and give a better face and leadership of the league in the eyes of the public. It would be a marketing coup.

    However, Major League Soccer seems more intent on improving quality through foreign talent than through domestic talent, even if domestic talent would bring in more cash…

    What do you guys think of this?

  4. Schteve Town says:

    You conveniently don’t mention Toronto in your discussion of local visibility. In a crowded sports market, TFC gear is available everywhere (including the airport), the team is reasonably well-covered in the local (and national papers), and although the television numbers haven’t been that great all games are shown on CBC/Sportsnet and now the MLSE-owned GOLTV Canada. With Vancouver a lock to enter the league, television numbers in Canada should rise. It is interesting to me the number of TFC kits worn by youngsters who previously would have worn the old-country kits of their fathers/grandfathers. All this in two short years.

  5. Chris says:

    Wow, what an article. I had to keep checking to see what site I was reading. With all the tired old “MLS/USL aren’t as good as any other league” arguments, I thought maybe it was an NFL fan site, or some Eurosnob football blog.

    Give the “inferior product on the field” argument a rest. Sure, I can watch the best soccer players in the world, sitting by myself in front of my TV. I can also watch the best actors in the best movies, or turn on the stereo to listen to the best music ever recorded. None of that means I won’t support local theater, local music, or a local soccer team. Going to such live “performances” is fundamentally different than watching them on TV, no matter how good your HD home theater rig is. So I can watch Liverpool on Setanta, but guess when I’ll get to see them in person? NEVER.

    But I can see FC Dallas, or the Houston Dynamo, or, closer to home, the Austin Aztex of the USL. Sure, the Aztex currently play on a high school’s crappy, artificial-turf pitch with bright white American football lines, and the stadium seats are metal benches. Sure, it’s an expansion side in a market that’s dwarfed by what you hold up as the paragon of failure, New York/New Jersey. Their wage bill is probably smaller than Juan Pablo Angel’s car payment. But in the 80th minute, with the score tied at 1-1 and the offense making a final push, the defense back on their heels, the crowd completely wrapped up in every kick, every bounce, every headerm, I don’t give a flying fuck that this “product” is “inferior” to Manchester United.

    Look, there is immense room for improvement in both leagues, no argument there. The marketing, especially, has a long way to go. So soccer hasn’t swept other American sports off the map overnight, no big surprise there. But MLS is apparently doing something right, as it continues to steadily grow, and despite the high franchise fee, there are multiple cities fighting hard to win a team. If nothing else, I’m just saying: don’t take what we have here for granted.

  6. Jeff says:

    Some of the above comments are typical of the US Soccer mentality that if you critique the product you must be a euro snob.

    The author of this article has actually written numerous pieces about eurosnobberry being a problem.

    While I don’t agree with everything in this article most notably the convenient omission of TFC, the Impact and the Whitecaps as exceptions to his ironclad rules.

    But his disappointment with MLS is shared here. The league has gone from a good developmental league to being full of arrogance, over selling their product to appeal to euro snobs and quite honestly throwing too much money at washed up foreign players and expanding too quickly diluting the talent base here at home.

    USL I don’t know enough about to comment on, but I personally am fed up with MLS.

  7. Ed Wall says:

    This is tabloid journalism. In presenting a slanted and bleak picture, the article conveniently left out the obvious counterpoints to the author’s basic premise. It’s somewhat similar to an English tabloid that recently printed a photo of empty seats at a LA Galaxy game, and attributed the lack of fans to Beckham’s absence. (The tabloid failed to note that the photo was taken at preseason game versus an unknown Asian opponent).

    Contrary to the author’s premise, MLS is clearly experiencing an increase in overall interest, measured by ticket sales and team revenue. Prior to 2002, the league was in serious trouble. Most of the original owners had pulled out, leaving just three remaining owners for a 10-team league. At that time, most MLS teams were valued at less than $10 million.

    Since 2002, the league has grown from just three owners to a total of 14 this season (with three more to join in 2010-11). It is no coincidence that the upswing occurred following the 2002 World Cup. Aside from generating renewed US media interest in international soccer, the key role played by MLS players in the successful run of the US team to the quarterfinals helped to legitimize the league. (This was quite the opposite of 1998).

    Meanwhile, the healthy TV ratings enjoyed by the EPL or Serie A should not be viewed as a problem for MLS. Rather, it indicative of the tremendous level of potential support for top-flight soccer in the US. While soccer used to be the “sport of the future” based on the premise that kids will someday grow up to be soccer fans, those kids have grown to be EPL fans. The challenge for MLS will be to draw those fans to its games, as Toronto has done. The glass if half full.

    As for the MLS ratings on ESPN2: it should be noted that those ratings are not all that different from that of the National Hockey League (a league that is 70 years older than MLS). The schedule change for this season occurred because MLS ratings did not increase following the move from Saturday afternoon to Thursday nights. However, that’s not surprising, since those Thursday night games were often scheduled at 4 pm Pacific Time, essentially writing off the west coast market.

    Taking all of that into account, here are some key points that balance the author’s assertions:

    –The four newest MLS cities (Salt Lake City, Houston, Toronto, and Seattle) have generated unprecedented levels of fan interest in each of those cities. The support for each of those four franchises is a pretty clear indicator of the potential for expansion candidates such as Vancouver and Portland. A key factor in each of those teams’ success is the fact that they chose to play in convenient, inner-city stadium locations, similar to DC United (although RSL’s new stadium has required them to move out of the city).

    – At least three teams (LA, Seattle and Toronto), and possibly a fourth (DC), will draw over 20,000 fans per game this season. This represents unprecedented growth for the league.

    – Forbes magazine recently published a detailed assessment of MLS financial performance on a team-by-team basis. Based on 2007 revenue and net income, most current MLS teams were valued by Forbes at around $35 million each, while Los Angeles was valued at $100 million. Taking these numbers into consideration, and noting the upward trend in revenue in recent years, the $40 million expansion fee for 2011 seems reasonable.

    – MLS cities with stagnating levels of support are Boston, New York, Columbus, KC, Dallas and Denver. Those teams have several things in common: (1) they have had teams since 1996, and several were risky choices to start with; (2) attendance dropped during the MLS decline, between 1997 and 2001, and has never recovered; and (3) with the exception of Columbus, those teams play in inconvenient, suburban stadium locations. Perhaps for that reason, Columbus seems the most likely to recover. (New York should also see some improvement with their new stadium, although it’s still not in the City).

    In getting to the heart of the author’s basic premise, regarding the $40 million franchise fee: the fact that MLS teams have more than tripled in value from 2002-08 suggests that investors can expect a decent return. Perhaps a key question to ask is this: how much is the Seattle franchise now worth? Those owners paid a $30 million expansion fee for a team that is likely worth at least $60 million today.

  8. Bishopville Red says:

    Schteve Town:

    In theory, Canadian numbers might rise, but there’s also a good train of thought that says it will kill a Canadian team. Part of the Montreal Expos demise was a very poor division of canadian TV revenue. Basically, Montreal thought they sorted out a great deal, they didn’t, Toronto trumped it, and Montreal was penned in to a very small TV demo.

    You can’t ignore TV, but I think MLS needs to do tons more with new media. Host free weekends of internet streams. Host free stream shows devoted to each of the clubs, straight off the clubs’ individual, and the league’s umbrella websites.

    I don’t know what MLS has for podcasts, but i guess that’s part of the point. podcast the guts out of your teams.

    Actively work harder to include the supporters clubs more thoroughly. Trade off for appropriate, “fan friendly” songs and chants, but openly encourage, and work with them to create a fantastic atmosphere that you’ll never get at a baseball game. Big tailgates, lost of noise, bouncing stands. Go for a total footy atmosphere. And once that kicks in, the next point will draw the newbies.

    I agree wholeheartedly with raised caps and roster sizes. to offset the additional, MLS clubs need to try to grab more friendlies with name clubs. Figure out the ethnic mix of your community and pull in the biggest names you can from their domestic leagues. Pull on the Premiership to get as many EPL clubs over here playing as possible. More fixtures, more recognition, more reasons for fans who aren’t currently coming to go check out the local football scene.

    Just some thoughts.

  9. Brian says:

    I’ll take your opinions seriously when you learn how to spell and don’t come into an article with an opinion that you will prove dishonestly just to try and pretend that you are an expert, i.e. don’t tell me about all the teams that are succeeding, let’s focus on the ones I think suck.

    This is nothing but an extended Big Soccer post.

  10. vic says:

    Very good article. The responder Lars also provides good comments, though
    the one about getting a national TV contract is naive. Uh, the reason soccer fans are not going to MLS is not because they dont know about the league but because they know too much about the league (and are then able to consider it an inferior product). The picture is very bleak for MLS. Only a few teams will average near 20k this season. Others, such as KC and NY will be a drain on league profits. MLS has actually done a good job with what they have. But how long can that last? Lars is right in terms of MLS needing to take international competitions seriously. However, the soccer snob doesnt care about CONCACAF competitions. The eventual answer for the whole league lies with
    Libertadores. The soccer snob knows who Boca JRs are. They know Santos and Sao Paolo. Play those teams in NY, LA, Chi, Hou, DC, and the greater soccerfan community will take note. MLS should be on their knees in front of some CONMEBOL organizing body for some “guest” slots to that tournament. When that happens, then MLS can free up teams to some extent on their salary cap (so that invitees to Lib. wont be too humiliated by the South Amer. competition). Of course Libertadores needs to altered a bit to take advantage of the international market in the post-Champions-league-and -pre-Premier-league-start months. Also, dont expand beyond the Cascade region. Some of the profit drainers may have to be moved or folded. KC should probably try the other side of Missouri, but I’m not sure they would get much more support there. MLS will only work in the South East in Tampa Bay…but only with a team resembling the one in the NASL. If its not that level it wont work.

  11. Ian says:

    I’m not at all surprised by the reaction to this very critical but very accurate article.

    MLS fans, supporters and employees live in an alternate reality. Winning twice and losing ten times in the only meaningful international competition in this region wasn’t bad enough: now the league is extorting $40 million from investors for a league FEWER and FEWER people care about.

    Do some math. Adjust the average attendance from 1999 plus the additional teams to 2008, and then calculate the loss of viewership per telecast and the total loss of the network audience from when ABC used to show 13 games a season on the weekend and you’ll find less people watched MLS in 2008 than in 1999. How is that increased interest?

    The argument against USL in this article I must admit are weak and probably thrown in just so that all you MLS apologists and psychopaths don’t accuse Kartik of being a “USL snob.”

    Bottom line: if you live outside an MLS city chances are you don’t watch the league. I personally have given up on the league. I live in Florida and will continue to support the US National Team and USL but don’t like MLS’ duplicitous policy and lies about expansion and contraction.

    MLS is waste of my time as a soccer fan. It’s a cleverly packaged product but a joke by international standards. When an MLS team loses a competitive match 4-0 to Joe Public AT HOME as New England did last year, the league cannot claim it’s a serious force in world football: but yet they continue to do so.

    BTW, I sent an email to Don Garber about Miami. Was I the only one? I doubt it. Another MLS lie.

  12. Glubber says:

    Pet peeve alert:

    “Disinterested”? Sounds like you probably mean “uninterested”.

  13. Jason says:

    Lars, are you insane?

    Is ESPN not a national cable network?

    What am I missing?

    The rest of you…well, just wow.

  14. Jason (not the one before me) says:

    Christ, it’s like reading Trecker.

    Blah, blah, the league is terrible, blah, blah, it can’t do anything right, blah, blah, blah.

    MLS is focused on getting its teams into stadiums where they have some measure of control. The league is still building the foundation, and you guys are complaining about the bay windows on the second floor.

    My only objection to MLS is that expansion has gone too fast. There was talk of pausing after it got to 16 teams. Well, here we are going to 18 (even though I think Vancouver and Portland are going to be good choices. Much better than Miami would have been). And I read that possibly there will be another round of expansion. You simply can’t double the size of any league in 10 years and not have an effect on the talent level. Especially not MLS, which sees lower leagues also expanding, and has worldwide competition that none of the other US sports leagues have to deal with.

    The league definitely needs to stop at 18, and have a good think about what to do next.

    But this, “OMG, it’s so terrible, and I’m never going to watch it again”, well that’s the sound of the instant gratification that has our entire country in a major fix.

  15. Lars says:

    MLS games are not on ESPN. They are on ESPN2 which has to be paid for, last time I checked.

  16. LI Matt says:

    Depends on where you are.

    On my cable system, ESPN2 is on the “basic” level. Meanwhile, FSC is on the higher-priced digital level, and GolTV is an extra on top of that (need to get the sports package for the English version, or the Spanish package for the Spanish version).

  17. dave says:

    @Lars: ESPN2 has been on every basic cable package that I’ve subscribed to (both on RCN and Comcast) over the past ten years. YMMV.

    And if ESPN2 isn’t “national” enough for you, why are you suggesting Versus? Versus is in far fewer households than ESPN2 is.

  18. Beau Dure says:

    Lars — Incorrect. Search again. Try “eight-year contract.”

  19. eplnfl says:

    Kartik:

    With all due respect I do not feel this is one of your better pieces. I know that you are caught up in the NCAA BB excitement right now and have been on the road but this is a shallow piece for you. I would guess that you are still hurt by the South Florida situation and MLS, which you are correct in thinking that MLS killed two birds with one stone by not coming to town, and that the USL maybe hurt greatly by the MLS pulling out at least for now of the market.

    I will give you that ESPN and the MLS have not at this point in time been a big hit. However, that is not the whole story. MLS is still on the ESPN system, but not in a specific time slot which we all agree would be better. FSC still is on board with the league and it is a summer time staple. It is just pure conjecture on your part that FSC may have to dump MLS. You can easily speculate that when ESPN takes some EPL rights away from FSC that they will need MLS or even WPS even more. You fail to point out the Spanish language coverage for MLS which will be an important part of the future sports television scene. Not to mention 10 years ago there was no broadband money available which their is now. Not to mention additional TV revenue from events like Superliga.(Ok, it’s made up but it brings in TV $$$$$$$$)

    You have failed to develop what is going on in local media markets. I know you have knowledge that my Chicago Fire has an excellent local TV package. All Fire games not on a national package can be seen free over the air and in HD! The media coverage in the Chicago’s leading paper the Tribune has increased not decreased and the Tribune has an excellent full time soccer writer now who has kept MLS and the Fire and International soccer in the pages of the Tribune all winter. He also has an active and interesting local soccer blog. The Fire rumor has it is having a good pre-season sale of tickets which I personally have contributed too. We are still missing a local English language radio outlet which a minus. Yes, I am worried what will happen to the Fire fan base among Mexican Americans when Blanco retires.

    Others can speak about their own towns but I think that some of the above comments have addressed what is going on in their own local market, but I will point out we have a good amount of local radio programing devoted to the local MLS teams some of which I often turn too, since we lack it in Chicago.

    So, I know you’ll be back in full stride with the start of the season.

  20. sockernut says:

    This article was crap.

  21. JOHAS says:

    A well thought out and written piece.

    I happen to know MLS has almost ZERO local media penetration compared to the other four major team sports and also compared to the NASL.

    Yet they do better than USL which is like AA baseball in its media penetration.

    Watch your local newscast or sportscenter and wait for the MLS highlights. Unless Blanco or Becks is playing you’ll have to wait all night.

  22. dave says:

    Plenty of local media coverage of the New England Revolution in the greater Boston area. Revs games are on local TV and radio. There’s coverage in the Boston Globe. The Revs may get drowned out by the coverage for the big four Boston sports club, but it simply isn’t true to say that there’s no local media coverage.

  23. John H says:

    MLS Snobbery in full force.

    The criticisms of USL were more damming and less valid in this piece yet NOBODY has even dared to refute them.

    This makes me believe that the MLS has cleverly paid propagandists like undrafted and certain soccer bloggers that have talking points emailed to them anything negative about the league is written.

    I spend a lot of time in both New York and Boston and you get less coverage of those local MLS teams in the local papers than in the national USA Today.

    So MLS lovers please don’t tell me your league really matters to most soccer fans in the big cities.

    Houston may be an exception. Chicago is not. EPLNFL must be aware that the Fire don’t even have an English language radio contract! They don’t even have a local talk show! They also inflate the attendance at Toyota Park regularly.

    Basically I think everything written about MLS in this article is accurate and needed to be said, NOW……………………………..

    to the USL portion of the article.

    USL unlike MLS does not interfere with its teams and tell them who to buy and who to sell and what uniforms to wear and who can market their apparel. So your criticisms of USL not “saving” ailing franchises is hypocrisy. You rightly accuse MLS of being socialistic and over the top in promoting itself. Yet you attack USL for being low key and too market oriented. Perhaps you’d like USL to be run like MLS?

    Of course not………………..

    Back to the TV ratings thing. MLS got a 0.0 rating on FSC for a playoff game last year between Chivas and RSL. EPLNFL, FSC is not made of money. I don’t think the author has any inside knowledge but unless FSC is a charity how can they justify paying for MLS rights again? A 0.0 rating means basically NO ONE was watching. I guess they were all at the game, because the HDC holds 100,000 people and it was filled to the brim that night.

    You’ve actually stated before that MLS gets half as many viewers as it did ten years ago. Actually it gets less than half as many. I looked up the old ratings and MLS averaged in the neighborhood of 720,000 viewers for about 40 telecasts on the ESPN family of networks in 1998. Last year the league got an average of 245,000 viewers for a total 28 telecasts. Less telecasts and less than half as many viewers per telecast means less than half the viewers!

    I’m sure all the lost viewers now attend MLS games in person.

    A good piece, but next time leave USL out!

  24. dave says:

    I might also add, if New England has “stagnating levels of support” then there’s several other clubs in MLS who would kill for that kind of “stagnation”. Considering the bad location and huge size of Gillette stadium, the Revs aren’t doing that bad. If Kraft can get his SSS built in Somerville on the new Green Line extension, most of the Revs problems will be solved.

  25. dave says:

    @John H: “blah blah blah.”

    Yes we’re all a bunch of robots repeating MLS’s talking points. Unbelievable. Where’s that “rolling my eyes” emoticon when I really need one?

    You can talk about TV ratings all you want, but MLS now has three clubs actually making money, and many more that are close to breaking even. Back when MLS was getting higher TV ratings, every MLS club was bleeding money and the entire league was financially unsustainable.

    You want to know why the TV ratings are lower now? We’ve got many more options for live sport on TV (and the internet) now than we did ten years ago. It’s harder to draw in large audiences for smaller sports, so these comparisons are quite meaningless – especially when we don’t know the full details of the financial arrangements between ESPN, FSC, MLS, and the advertisers.

    Speaking of FSC and advertisers, talking about low audiences for FSC is hilarious since that channel is in very few households and would probably be running FA Cup classics repeats or penis enlargement infomercials if it wasn’t covering MLS matches over the summer. A TV rating of 0 for FSC on a Saturday night is normal, with or without MLS.

    Bottom line: MLS is making more money and has been doing so at an increasing rate over the past four or five years, and can demand much more in expansion fees as a result. MLS would have gladly taken lower TV ratings ten years ago, to be in that kind of financial situation.

    You are simply cherry picking isolated bad bits of information to get the conclusion you want.

  26. eplnfl says:

    First of all, hats off to Kartik for starting another good but John H you clearly did not read my response where I said that The Fire has no local English radio. Second, if the Fire is inflating attendance then it’s not on nights that I attend or watch on TV. Given the size of the stadium it’s easy to judge and most of the summer weekend nights last season the place was near capacity. Fact and I have the pictures to prove it.

  27. eplnfl says:

    basic rule: never post prior to going to bed, so excuse the typo’s

    Kartik another good post to get everyone motivated,

    John, additionally you did not address my points on other media outlets creating more cash flow for MLS both local and national.We have discussed this before that when MLS is up against NCAA FB viewers will be hard to come by. What was real silly was that on Thursday’s in the Fall ESPN would have it’s NCAA FB spotlight game and then program MLS basically against it on ESPN2. It won’t work for MLS and ESPN should of known better.

    Come playoff time for MLS you have NCAA FB all day and all nights on Saturdays and NFL Sundays all day and all night, and MLB now runs it’s playoffs until the snow falls and the NHL has started and the NBA is getting underway. Why is the summer the prime time for MLS , is because it is them v. MLB and MLB is a sport that saw it’s peak years almost 50 years ago. MLS is a sport for a new generation.

  28. I don’t think ESPN is the best thing for MLS… just my opinion. Check out http://www.playahatin.com

  29. Lawerence says:

    Actually this is a great piece!

  30. Super Rookie says:

    Great article Kartik.

    Even better that you are a true City fan!

  31. Sal says:

    Has the MLS folded? No Is it growing? Yes. Are they building soccer specific stadiums and expanding? Yes. Are some teams now profitable? Yes, the ones with their own stadiums. Does MLS still pay to produce and air their games? No, ESPN, Fox Soccer Channel, Goal TV and local affiliates now do. So, who says it’s not successful? Maybe it has to catch up with Europe’s 100 year history but it’s getting much closer and it’s only 14 years old!

  32. Tom says:

    Outside of bringing in new franchises, the MLS is in no way growing. Toronto, Dallas, LA, for sure, are in the black, but I honestly have a hard time seeing how some of these franchises will be able to sustain themselves in the coming years. Attendance figures have stagnated, the Beckham coup brought an immediate influx of cash but has apparently done very little to increase the popularity of the league, most teams still lose several million a year, and now we have this recession thing going on. Maybe it would be a good idea to develop USL-1 into a competing top-flight league, if only to ensure that the successful MLS clubs have some place to go if the league were to suddenly collapse. At any rate, the 40 million dollar franchise fee, which is almost twice what the Columbus crew is worth, is beyond absurd.

  33. MLS is growing says:

    This article is poorly researched. The mls is on its way to making money and the trend is continually going in the right direction. The MLS is growing slowly and safely this is important if the leauge wants to grow into a top 10 world leauge (and it will) The report on buisness actually puts values on these franchises now and excpects them to be worth an average of $80-100 mill in three years. As it grows the payrole will continue to go up as the payrole goes up the quality will improve. also as the payrole goes up more canadians and americans will consider trying to become professional soccer players. I think the mls is hear to say. Did you no that toronto fc has more people at each game then an average nba team (not as many games though) and I beleive that if TFC or Vancouver when they come build 35000 plus seat stadiums they will still fill the games.

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