Sizing Up Major League Soccer
Major League Soccer is the highest level of professional football in the United States. Whilst the League has enjoyed growing domestic support over the past decade, it does not have much of an international profile, and member clubs have virtually no following outside North America.
However, the 2007 departure of David Beckham from Real Madrid to an MLS club, the LA Galaxy, earned Major League Soccer an unaccustomed moment in the international media limelight. Beckham’s move to the league highlighted the steadily improving quality of its player base as well as its growing financial power.
International Media Coverage
Major League Soccer enjoys comprehensive domestic coverage by major cable networks in the United States, with both Fox Sports and ESPN providing live coverage of Major League games. However, there is relatively little coverage of live Major League Soccer in the United Kingdom and Europe, with matches available only on ESPN and Fox via satellite and cable television.
Differences in time zones also reduce Major League Soccer’s chances of attracting interest from Europe, as the majority of Major League Soccer Games are played in the early hours of the morning. For this reason, most Europeans are only exposed to Major League Soccer via televised highlights packages and the vast majority focus their attention on local competitions such as the Champions League or the UEFA Cup Football Tournament.
Global Perceptions of Major League Soccer
Needless to say, limited international coverage of Major League Soccer means that most international football fans are poorly informed about the league, as well as the names and quality of competing clubs and players. To date it is world-class players transferring to Major League clubs that makes front-page news, rather than the reverse.
Furthermore, many football fans still regard the United States and professional football as a somewhat odd coupling, a perception that is reinforced by America’s use of the outdated cockney abbreviation for ‘association football’ as part of the description of its top-flight professional league.
Football fans are well aware of the dominance of traditional American sports in that country, and few believe that association football is taken seriously enough in North America to enable a highly competitive and well-supported league to emerge.
The Future of the League
In the foreseeable future Major League Soccer is unlikely to attract significant interest from Europe, bar the occasional poaching of promising young MLS players by wealthy European clubs. Instead, the League could capitalise on the central and South American market, particularly following the formation of the Super League, which pits American and Canadian clubs against top clubs from Mexico.