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How Major League Soccer Is Losing The TV War in the United States

mls logo How Major League Soccer Is Losing The TV War in the United States

The last few weeks should have been some worrying times for Major League Soccer. First, the protracted labor disputes are still unresolved and there remains a lot of uncertainty regarding what may happen in the next few weeks. Second, ESPN announced its lead commentator team for the 2010 World Cup and not one US-born announcer was selected. And third, the number of live Premier League games shown on ESPN‘s family of networks next season will increase to 83 matches.

It’s clear that ESPN is making a major play at trying to win the hearts and minds of soccer fans who prefer to watch international soccer, specifically the Premier League. And my concern is where does Major League Soccer fit into all of this? Shouldn’t MLS executives be mad as hell that it the TV network is betting most of its chips on English soccer? An all British lead commentary crew? Almost double the amount of live Premier League games shown on TV in 2010-2011? To me, the writing is on the wall for Major League Soccer and it doesn’t look good.

Add to that the concern that the United States national team may exit the World Cup in the second round. Or, even worse, in the opening group. The biggest challenge Major League Soccer would then face is that there are no other MLS players who would be left in the tournament for viewers to bond with. If the same happened to England, and they got knocked out early in the tournament, there would be players from practically every country playing each night who also play in the Premier League. The net result would be that even with an early England exit, the Premier League would still be promoted each night because of it’s array of international stars.

It’s therefore imperative that the United States men’s national team do well in World Cup 2010 to help promote Major League Soccer and to produce a “World Cup effect” where millions of Americans become so excited by the games they see on television that they begin attending MLS games in larger numbers when the tournament ends in mid-July.

But Major League Soccer needs to make sure that they don’t take the “World Cup effect” for granted. After the tournament ends, there will be several top European clubs traveling across the United States and playing in front of large crowds to take advantage of the massive interest. These clubs could include Manchester City and Arsenal. And undoubtedly these teams will appeal to many soccer fans in the United States because of the quantity and quality of international stars who would have just finished playing in the biggest tournament in the world.

Honestly, I don’t see Major League Soccer doing well in the soccer TV wars in the United States. Fox Soccer Channel and ESPN have already made it clear that they’re more interested in showing the Premier League than MLS. During a MLS season, or even after a season ends, how many MLS games are shown on repeat on Fox? Fox’s programming is heavily tilted in favor of the Premier League. Heck, the TV ratings on Fox for MLS are the same as for WPS. And WPS pays Fox for that airtime.

The soccer landscape is not all doom and gloom for Major League Soccer. Hopefully the United States will advance deep into the tournament this summer and it’ll give MLS the opportunity to put some of its players in the spotlight and to generate more interest in the sport, the league and its players.

Honestly, though, I don’t see MLS winning the soccer TV war in the States, and that’s OK. Where MLS has an advantage is on a local level where it can give soccer fans a safe and entertaining experience in their own backyard. In cities such as Seattle, Philadelphia, San Jose, Houston, Chicago and elsewhere, why watch a ton of games on television when you go see your local MLS team play in person in front of an enthusiastic crowd and see good soccer played on the field?

That’s what Major League Soccer’s focus needs to be. It needs to create new teams across the country in areas where MLS has no team and where there’s a large soccer fanbase. Otherwise those fans who have no MLS team near them have few reasons why they should watch MLS on TV but plenty more choices to watch games from other leagues and tournaments from around the world.

Take last night, for example. For most 9-5 employees who live on the East Coast of the United States, they would have come home Tuesday with a few choices of games to watch on television. They could have watched Columbus Crew against Toluca in the first leg quarter-final of the CONCACAF Champions League. Or, if they had taped the games, they could have watched Arsenal against Porto or Fiorentina versus Bayern Munich.

Those same decisions of which games to watch Tuesday night would have entered the minds of soccer fans in the Columbus area. Should I go to the game to see the Crew play, or should I stay home instead and watch games on television? The answer was loud and clear last night. The attendance at Crew Stadium was only 4,402 for a very important cup game. Where were the fans? Were they all watching Arsenal against Porto in the comfort of their living rooms?

MLS needs to trust that the United States men’s national team will do this country proud in the 2010 World Cup. And, if so, to accelerate the expansion of MLS teams across this country and to replicate the Seattle Sounders success story wherever possible.

About Christopher Harris

Founder and publisher of World Soccer Talk, Christopher Harris is the managing editor of the site. He has been interviewed by The New York Times, The Guardian and several other publications. Plus he has made appearances on NPR, BBC World, CBC, BBC Five Live, talkSPORT and beIN SPORT. Harris, who has lived in Florida since 1984, has supported Swansea City since 1979. He's also an expert on soccer in South Florida, and got engaged during half-time of a MLS game. Harris launched EPL Talk in 2005, which was rebranded as World Soccer Talk in 2013.
View all posts by Christopher Harris →

134 Responses to How Major League Soccer Is Losing The TV War in the United States

  1. Mike Felix says:

    MLS needs to start winning CONCACAF champions league games if I’m to start taking MLS serious.

    • Matthew N says:

      Columbus didn’t even field a full strength side.

      • Kartik Krishnaiyer says:

        Toluca is one of the worst teams in Mexico right now, so even a half strength Crew side should have done better. I guarantee you Houston would have won that game easily.

        • Randall says:

          You know, I get sick of hearing how great Houston is on this site. Houston is one of the best teams in MLS, but they’re not so much better than the other top teams in MLS that they deserve such a holy standing. Does anybody here remember that the Crew have won back-to-back Supporters Shields as the best regular season team and have won an MLS Cup in 2008? Or that the Crew is the only MLS side left in the Champions League? Or if it happens outside of Houston, LA, NY, or South Florida does anybody here notice? Why not celebrate what the Crew did last night? They showed an MLS team without key players and without having played a meaningful game since last November could compete with a Primera side in midseason form. Although Houston probably would’ve won by 5 goals playing with 9 men, you have to tip your cap to the Crew.

          • Kartik Krishnaiyer says:

            You reinforce the point of this article (which by the way, I disagree with on a few fundamental points) by saying if it does not happen outside “LA, NY, HOU, etc.”

            Those are the BIG TV MARKETS. Those are the markets that drive viewership numbers up. Columbus is a nice homely town, but it doesn’t have the impact to move the needle positively. LA and NY tend to have better ratings for European matches than MLS matches even though they have MLS teams. Miami-Fort Lauderdale which you mention has the highest TV ratings for USMNT but poor MLS ratings because of the lack of a team in that league. Houston has good ratings for all three (Euro, USMNT, MLS) because of the success of the Dynamo. So Houston deserves greater praise than just about any MLS or D2 market in the US right now when discussing TV.

            MLS was struggling before it went into Houston. That’s a fact. The re-location of that team brought one of the best TV and soccer markets into the league and provided an energy that did not previously exist in MLS.
            That is a fact.

            Contrast MLS circa 2005 with MLS circa 2010 and the Houston/Seattle affect is in full force. Are we there yet? NO. But without Houston and now Seattle, the league would be even more anonymous on American TV. Add to that the success of the Dynamo and the multi cultural fan base they have built, and you have signature club written all over it. As a PR director for a D2 league, the Dynamo model is one of the examples, I am trying to adhere most closely to, because they have done it right (absent of course the Stadium) since the Quakes moved there.

            Columbus cannot have the impact in Continental Championship that Houston does. That’s my opinion- a limited TV and soccer market. What the Crew has done recently is remarkable and deserves praise. But understand their is a reason some of us focus on Houston’s success. I am not the only one out there that hails Houston and now Seattle as potential “game changers.”

          • James says:

            So, what you’re saying is that because Houston is a big market team, we should pretend they’re better than the Crew?

            I don’t get it.

        • Charles says:

          umm, they are playing .500 ball in Mexico. with three of the best Columbus players missing ( two key parts on D ), I think Columbus did pretty well.

        • DClee says:

          Well had Houston been able to beat a team that had not scored a goal or won a game in the group stage until they met last October then Houston would have gotten the chance to beat Toluca but considering they couldn’t get past a team that had given up 17 goals and scored 0…ZERO! Letting Isidro Metapán knock them out was awful to watch! One of Houston’s goals was where Isidro Metapán goalie misjudged a ball hit 60 yards away and had it bounce over his head and into the goal. That was a disgraceful loss for a team that talented.

        • Donny says:

          Toluca are the reinging champions and are currently in 4th place.

        • Donny says:

          toluca are the reigning champions and are currently in 4th place.

      • Mark says:

        Toluca didn’t play all their regulars, either.

      • If you were sent into unregulated international play handicapped by league caps designed to randomize domestic match outcomes – would you risk life and limb?

    • Obviously you’re not in the MLS target audience.

  2. edmondi says:

    EPL can’t heart the MLS it will only help because they don’t play in the same time plus who watch a EPL game will have one more reason like soccer and make it popular to USA ( LET’S GO USA AND NEW YORK RED BULLS )

    • Charles says:

      I see what you are saying but I disagree. They are in competition with each other. There are only so many hours in everyone’s day.

      • Nate Pigott says:

        Charles, you may have hit the nail on the head with your “there are only so many hours in everyone’s day” comment.

        The MLS is competing for TV time with every other U.S. sport. Prime Example: The MLS scheduled it’s season opener for the same night as the first NCAA Sweet 16 game.

        ESPN and FOX Sports can air live English Premier League matches in High Definition on Saturday mornings. You know how many U.S. sports are live on Saturday mornings? Golf sometimes, and that’s about it.

        MLS has a tough fight ahead, trying to win over the casual sports fan/TV audience. With a little better scheduling, I think they could find some key time slots that are both convenient for the live attendance and the TV audience.

        • Charles says:

          Yeah, amen, you don’t want your league to have to play second tier, but Seattle is a prime example of how MLS can succeed and most of us watch other sports and other leagues too.

          Then MLS schedules a key Sounder’s game ( US Open Cup ? ) at 1:00 on Sunday.
          Not saying NFL owns that spots, but they have been broadcasting games in that slot for the almost 40 years I have been watching.

          Making the Sounder’s fans chose between the Seahawks and Sounders didn’t do either team any good.

        • Nate

          Shouldn’t MLS stop competing along the same traditional lines, and try a radical new approach in which they can really be different? Of course, I only mean radical as it applies to North America.

          I mean, doesn’t soccer have a tough enough row to hoe without imposing mediocrity on every first div club, and trapping other clubs in lower divisions, waiting for a Sounders/Timbers style mock promotion?

          Sorry, I don’t mean to strafe here, but every time I come back to check out a response, I hit another reasonable sounding response that carries with it a huge assumption – that we can’t handle the total competition of real soccer yet.

        • soccerreform says:

          Targeting the casual sports fan is just another reason MLS fails. There are enough rabid USMNT fans and foreign league fans to more than compensate for the casual fans trying to decide between Shrek 3, mini golf, bowling and an MLS game.

          Posturing soccer as a “low cost alternative” to other sports is the weakest of the three legged single entity chair.

    • eplnfl says:

      I agree with your point edmondi. The MLS has to thank the EPL for what it’s doing to increase the profile of soccer in the US. Given the different schedules it’s a plus for MLS.

      As far as the the game in the CCL last week, lets be frank about the fact that the tournament has not identity. The lack of interest is no surprise. You can claim that MLS may not take the competition seriously and you would be right.

      As for MLS on TV, with new markets coming on board each of the next few years, with the World Cup bump, and soccer now everywhere on US tv, the future is bright. Bigger stars are needed to attract bigger viewer numbers for sure.

      • If soccer were skating, and MLS was Ice Capades, I’d concede the point.

        Total competition is a big part of this game. Adding stars alone doesn’t change it. Seems like this is another lesson we can take from NASL, ASL, and even MLS, especially with a good chance the Beckham experiment is over.

        Everyone gets excited when it looks like we’re going to cross the threshold and get ourselves a serious league, but something is always missing. Today, you can’t argue that it’s the popularity of the game itself.

  3. Randall says:

    Gaffer,

    Good points, this is a troubling time for MLS fans. As for the game in Columbus last night, take it from someone who was there, the sparse crowd was full of vocal, devoted Crew fans. Instead of being outnumbered 4:1 as when Cruz Azul played in Columbus, the Crew fans actually outnumbered Toluca fans. But, the small crowd was largely due to lack of any promotion by the Crew organization, not Columbus fans watching Arsenal/Porto. Because it wasn’t a regular season MLS game, normal season ticket holders didn’t already have a ticket to the game. Also, since the competition is new and different than the MLS, 90% of casual soccer fans have no idea what the Champions League even is…it’s a novel concept for American sports fans to have their pro team in two different competitions. Add to that the lack of any PR campaign by the Crew to make people aware of the game, and that led to the small crowd.

    It really was a shame though, because most people missed a whale of a game that showed the Crew could compete with a talented team from the Primera, even without their captain (Hejduk) and two best players (Schelotto and Marshall). Can’t wait for the return leg in Mexico!

    • Charles says:

      Thanks for the viewpoint. We were discussing this yesterday. Why do no Crew fans show up for a playoff game/CCL for a very good team ?

      They ( unfortunately ) very sparce crowd that showed up was great.
      Sounded like a normal crowd.
      And they were rewarded. Bring back Hejduk, CBS and Marshall and see if they can win on the road.

  4. Andy says:

    I know from my perspective, being a Crew season ticket holder, I just couldn’t ante up the money to pay for an expensive ticket that the Champions League game is when I am still paying off my season tickets. If the game was included in the season package I would have been there. I understand though why it’s separate. Since it is separate, the $25 ticket was a cost that wasn’t practical even considering my fandom of the Crew.

    • Manuel says:

      The Crew and all MLS clubs for that fact should include several season ticket package options that include other tournaments such as the U.S. Cup and CL. The clubs need to start promoting these games and drum up some excitement among the support groups for all games played at Crew stadium.

    • OK, I know I have to stop – but another question:

      Do you think this is another example of MLS disrespect for international competition? I mean – the Sounders are planning to host CCL matches at a stadium that can only handle 1/6th of their average gate.

      That, and the CCL slot trolled out there to the Hunt cup winner.

      Seems like you’d want to offer season ticket holders some kind of break on these matches.

  5. Ossington Mental YOuth says:

    the crowd was small because its columbus, they have little to no interest in the sport and have shown that over the last 14 years, thats unlikely to change drastically, if change at all. That being said its obvious that MLS should get more tv promotion etc but once again thats not likely to happen for a long time as European football is a stronger more popular product. It might happen in the future and itd be amazing for it to happen sooner but its not likely until the product on the field improves and support for the clubs become stronger (i think thatll happen as better markets open up in Van, Port, Philly and hopefully Montreal)

    • James says:

      You have no idea what you’re talking about.

      Columbus might have lower raw attendance numbers, but:

      As of June 2009 “Only five teams (Toronto, Chivas, N.E., K.C., Columbus) are averaging more fans now than in 2008, and only two of them (Chivas +6.51%, N.E. +11.86%) are greater than 3% hikes.” http://jmayers.blogspot.com/2009/06/mls-attendance-shrinking.html

      They had the league’s first soccer only stadium.

      Per capita attendance for their market is much, much higher than any of the other teams. Columbus, as a market, has a ton of interest in the Crew. It’s just a smaller market. LA has less than double the average attendance of the Crew and over 12x the population in the area.

    • It’s no coincidence that total competition of pro/rel and independent clubs have gone hand in hand with the global success of the club game.

      You can get away with caps, and all kinds of top down management, when your league plays a domestic sport, and is widely recognized as the best in the world.

      Two things that MLS, in it’s current cocoon, will never be. On top of that, If you say that MLS corporate going to loosen up and provide us a better product if they start making money – I give you the Big Mac.

      Billions and billions sold. Same as it ever was.

  6. Rabble Rouser says:

    Nice job using a ratings story from June and ignoring the rises on both FSC and ESPN2 for MLS throughout the end of the season. The ghost of Kartik still lives, cherry picking facts to suit the pre-conceived notion.

    MLS games are re-played once or twice during the week on FSC, pretty much the same as EPL matches.

    There is no soccer war. There is a bounty of choices that soccer fans should be celebrating, not creating some false hysteria to try and drive up page views.

    • The Gaffer says:

      Rabble Rouser, only one of the stats shared was old. Feel free to back up your argument by sharing some of the latest MLS viewing figures.

      Cheers,
      The Gaffer

      • The Gaffer says:

        Rabble, I did some additional research and it shows that the average viewing audience for MLS on Fox Soccer Channel is 64,000 which is, to be completely blunt, pathetic. Source: http://footiebusiness.com/2009/10/29/soccer-business-bits-mls-tv-ratings-climbing/

        Yes, the average of 319,000 viewers on ESPN for MLS games is more impressive. But the reality is that those numbers should be much higher for games that are played in prime-time. Premier League games shown on television in the early morning hours have averaged 262,697 on ESPN2 (source: http://epltalk.com/espn2-epl-tv-ratings-august-09-to-february-10/16415 ).

        Cheers,
        The Gaffer

        • usa2010 says:

          Are there any ratings for online viewership?

          Many times I have to view MLS matches online because I am not at home and don’t have access to my MLS Direct Kick, ESPN, FSC, etc.

        • Hal says:

          Keep in mind too, that at this point in MLS’ lifespan, the MLS fans who would most likely watch on TV are also most likely at the games themselves. Eight live games on a Saturday @ ~15,000 avg. = 120,000 domestic viewers who aren’t watching on TV. Add that to the the 64,000 you could have ~200,000 total viewers.

          Plus Fox Soccer Channel doesn’t have the household penetration nor promotion that ESPN does. Also, you’re more likely to have more EPL viewers in the AM watching from home vs. a bar/pub, which doesn’t get counted as accurately.

          Conversely, EPL fans in the US have no choice but to watch on TV. If those 319,000 viewers were all in England, surely a good amount of them would attend matches, bringing that viewership number down.

  7. Phil says:

    I hope an MLS team comes to Baltimore, having DC united 45 min south is not the same.Rumor has it a major international soccer team is coming to Baltimore on July 25th much like last year when M&T sold out the AC v Chelsea game !

  8. Charles says:

    I think three things:
    One, I disagree with the Gaffer on the World Cup effect, there has been no jump in attendance outside of Beckham joining, Toronto joining and Seattle joining MLS. Inspite of having 3 World Cups since inception of MLS.
    Two, EPL is a big threat. I saw some stat like 90 or 95% of males in the US had never been to an NFL game, they are making a lot of their money off of TV.
    Three, I think MLS just needs to stay focused on growing. It is very hard to watch MLS when you don’t care about one of the teams. You should if you want an MLS team to start in your area, but it is hard.

    But the second two points are why the EPL is such a great threat. IF people don’t go to games, AND they can watch a game in England or US ( and England is a better league ) then….

    The only real advantage the US has is time zone, the fact that EPL is such a poorly run league and some people in the US have a local team.

    • The Gaffer says:

      Charles, there will definitely be a World Cup effect that happens after this World Cup when hundreds of thousands of new soccer fans are “born” in the United States. The big question is where do they go after the World Cup is over? Do they go see their local MLS team? If there isn’t one nearby, do they follow the Premier League on television where more games are shown than MLS – and where they may be more familiar with the faces they saw in the World Cup who now play in the EPL?

      I disagree with you when you say that the “EPL is such a poorly run league.” In fact, I would argue that it’s the best league in the world in terms of how it’s taken advantage of being on television in every major country in the world. La Liga, who definitely wants to be as big as the Premier League, can’t even get their TV schedules confirmed until sometimes days before a game is scheduled to start.

      I’m not so sure that the timezone is a big help for MLS. If you live on the west coast, yes. But if you live on the east coast, you can watch most Premier League games on a weekend morning and get your soccer fix before you go out on a Saturday night with your family (when MLS games are on television).

      Cheers,
      The Gaffer

      • Charles says:

        Yes, I would be interested, as I have wondered a bunch of times if the west coast teams are drawing better because the 4:45 AM game is only appealing to me ( very early riser ).
        From the perspective of getting the product out on TV I agree not poorly run. Inspite of that the 20th best team went belly up. Can you imagine the New Orleans Saints going belly up ? No, instead they went from 30th best to NFL Champs.
        I gave myself a year to really watch the EPL, if it weren’t soccer it would be unwatchable. I didn’t make it 1/2 the year. It was extended because of the novelty of Landon. Who do I root for ? ManU and Chelsea, become the frontrunner fan and hate myself ? Or some middle of the pack team that never plays a meaningful game ?

      • Scot says:

        Where is the evidence the “hundreds of thousands of new soccer fans” will be born after the World Cup?

        Americans love to watch “top-level” competition , which is why MLS struggles…everyone knows what it is.

        • The Gaffer says:

          Scot, there is no research done as far as I know, but it’s more of an observation I’ve had running EPL Talk since 2005 and seeing how many new Americans were posting on the boards talking about how they had discovered soccer and gotten into the EPL because of the World Cup.

          More stats about the TV viewing figures from the 2006 World Cup can be found here: http://worldcup.blogs.nytimes.com/2006/06/28/for-abcespn-a-big-tv-audience-gained-and-lost/

          Cheers,
          The Gaffer

          Cheers,
          The Gaffer

          • sucka99 says:

            I think as a less prestigious league, the relationship the MLS wants with European leagues is a hybrid of that like the NCAA with the NFL/NBA as well as that of Minor League Baseball to the Majors. I think they need the promotion savvy of Minor League Baseball and the fan passion of the NCAA. I think if they build towards that, the proliferation of the EPL on ESPN will not be a problem. But there needs to be a concerted effort to do this.

      • We’ve been through this cycle a couple times already.

        MLS average attendance records, even with Soundermania, still languish in 1996.

    • SSReporters says:

      “the fact that EPL is such a poorly run league”

      *facepalm*

  9. Randall says:

    Kartitk,

    First, my comment was more geared towards on the field specifically, that Columbus’s performance didnt deserve to be dismissed in favor of Houston so easily. But, let’s talk about “moving the needle”. What’s the most successful, popular sport in America? The NFL, obviously. And, the NFL is the one sport in the U.S. that isn’t trapped in this idea of big and small tv markets. The Super Bowl between Indianapolis and New Orleans, both small-market teams, was the highest-rated tv program ever!

    The onus is on both MLS and the local franchises to promote soccer and the MLS to the individual market. Of course, it’s easier to market in more diverse, soccer-friendly environments like South Florida, Houston, Seattle, etc. But, the city of Columbus has shown a willingness to support the game of soccer, just look at how packed Crew Stadium is every time the USMNT comes to town, or in the playoffs. The problem with last night’s game was that it wasn’t promoted by either MLS or the Crew. Nobody except the diehard Crew fans knew what the game was about or even that a game was being played. The Crew’s front office had no PR campaign (radio, tv, print) and did nothing to attract casual fans (lower ticket prices, include the game in a season ticket package, etc.).

    I’ll grant you Houston and Seattle are model franchises in MLS, and the front office in Columbus could learn a lot from them. But, just because places like Columbus, aren’t “needle movers” now, doesn’t mean they can’t be with the proper support from MLS. MLS needs to resolve the labor dispute immediately, then try to latch on to ESPN’s soccer push, even if it’s just as background to the EPL and World Cup, to grow the game across the country. Combine that with better local marketing, and the league could have the chance to grow the game nationwide, even in places that are easily dismissed like Columbus.

    • Charles says:

      All of you single entity haters will love this.
      There is an article out there about the structure of MLS and how no advertising of games would/could/should happen.

      It goes something like this….
      Lets say that Columbus spends ZERO to advertise and only draws 5,000 fans ( last night ) but
      IF Columbus shares in Seattle’s ticket revenue, they don’t care about the 5,000 fans, because 1/2 of the money is kept with no adverrtising expenses and all the Seattle money is profit with zero advertising expenses.

      IF Columbus spends money on advertising, it isn’t shared it is 100% theirs, then they risk not selling enough tickets to make up the difference between sharing 1/2 the revenue with MLS and keeping 1/2.

      The big risk is that the rest of the league passes them by, increases the salary cap to where all but they can afford. They lose all their games and all their fans and go belly up.
      But we are not there yet…or even close. I do think that MLS should force a higher salary cap, but when 1/2 of your members are against it and players union is fighting other battles…..

      • I wish I could give this a hundred more thumbs up.

        Why not cross the bridge here? Salary caps are an integral part of the MLS plan, and you have to keep them to keep a closed league from stratifying into a morass of boredom – cellar dwellers and superclubs.

        Salary caps and other single entity controls are totally inapplicable in an open league with pro rel. Who wants to be relegated in a crap shoot? It’s not fair.

        Yet, we have this debt of gratitude to MLS owners, combined with a fragile as a snowflake view of club soccer that gives some a guilt complex when we consider opening the leagues, and exposing them to the total competition that is a hallmark of the sport.

        MLS conundrum. It’s been there since day one.

  10. sucka99 says:

    “Where MLS has an advantage is on a local level where it can give soccer fans a safe and entertaining experience in their own backyard.”

    I think this is the most important thing for MLS. Work the local markets – especially those with a big soccer following. TV is good and all, but the best prospects for organic growth are to work the local audience. Make a night out at the stadium a good experience. Even if MLS has to go to an NHL-type TV model, the focus should be locally. Get the team all over the news. Support community efforts for everything. Get local political big wigs involved and excited.

    • If there’s one thing I give MLS credit for, it’s trying every possible marketing gimmick, no matter how corny.

      I think we have to respect the fans ability to appreciate the product on the field, and give them a stake in their local club.

      Thus, pro/rel and independent clubs.

      Maybe it’s the last gimmick MLS hasn’t tried, and it’s the one with the killer track record.

  11. Juve says:

    The Columbus organization should be embarassed of it’s fan support at the CL match. Pathetic. And of course, I’m speaking of the lack of fan support, not about the few who were there who are obvious good fans.

  12. H_M says:

    More people watch MLS than EPL on ESPN and Fox Soccer. Gaffer and Krishnaiyer like to selectively pick numbers or in some cases make them up entirely. It is simple logic. Do you watch a team that is local or one that is across an ocean? MLS wins every day or the week. The Mexican League because of its close proximity is the real threat. They are strong but they work with MLS via Superliga, and Interliga so I don’t mind the Mexicans as much as I mind the eurotrashsnobs.

    • The Gaffer says:

      H_M, more people DO NOT watch MLS than EPL on Fox Soccer. That’s a lie. Fox Soccer Channel’s TV ratings for the Premier League are significantly higher than MLS — approximately 3-4 times larger in terms of audience viewing figures.

      ESPN’s audience viewing figures for MLS is higher than the EPL games it shows.

      Also, I disagree with your comment that it’s simple logic when you said “It is simple logic. Do you watch a team that is local or one that is across an ocean? MLS wins every day or the week.” Think of it this way – if a soccer fan who lives in the United States has a TV set with cable or satellite, he or she has a gateway in to watching much more EPL on TV than MLS. Is there a MLS team locally to that person? Some, yes. But for a large portion of soccer fans in this country, there is no local MLS team.

      Cheers,
      The Gaffer

  13. Gaelen says:

    I agree with most of the points, but the US doing well will allow who from MLS to be in the spotlight? Left back or the second forward are the only positions where a MLS player has any chance to play at the World Cup. Findley, Ching, Casey, Pearce, Bornstein, Rogers, and Beckerman are the only MLS players who I can conceive of making the squad and I think at most 4 of these players would make it (I think more likely 2 or 3). Also Findley, Rogers, and Beckerman are the only players young and exciting enough to be promoted. I didn’t list Donovan, since they’ve already promoted him, and he could be gone from the league this summer anyways.

    I think the MLS should be more concerned that this is the least MLS based squad the US has had since the league’s inception and how that might hurt the “World Cup Effect.” There were 16 in ’98, 11 in ’02 and ’06, but only 6 current MLSers at the Confederations cup (Donovan, Kljestan, Casey, Wynne, Bornstein, Pearce) some of whom are unlikely to make the squad now.

    • World Cup success does not translate well to MLS. No huge impact in 98, 02, 06, and there’s no reason to think this year will be any different.

      MLS average attendance records still reside in 1996.

  14. Tom says:

    Charles, I think your argument that the single entity system does not incentivize teams to promote games is really interesting. I know, as supporter of a team that would be a have not, I’d like the single entity system to be faded out. Teams would worker harder and more creatively to promote games and develop players. Plus it be great to have a few super teams on the schedule (besides LA)- for instace, it would be exciting for Rapids fans if Seattle or New York came to town with salary 5 times ours. There’d be a buzz if we managed a tie or win. The biggest Rockies baseball games of the season are when the Yankees or Red Sox come to town. Maybe the Rapids would never win the supporter’s sheild, but we’d still have a chance in the play-offs. And the hatred may make for better TV!

    Gaffer- I agree with you, I love the early Saturday morning games. When it ends you go out and have your day!

    And I agree that the MLS becomes watchable when you have a team. I lived further from Denver when the Rapids started and didn’t go to more than a game or two a season, and I found MLS games boring on TV. Then I moved closer and went to more games, found myself more interested in the team and watched them on TV. Next thing you know, I’m watching other MLS games on TV because I remember when those teams came town.

    • Charles says:

      You are putting me on your side. I am for single entity in some sorts. NFL is the best league in my opinion.
      I am not for the superteams. I can’t see how anyone can watch the EPL, like watch Hulk Hogan, gee, I wonder if he will win ?

      I put it out there because for information, but it does show a limitation for places like Columbus in a single entity model. Are they really going to get Cosmos/Seattle numbers if they advertise ?

      No. So they don’t and it crushes soccer growth for a pretty good league ( don’t flame me for thinking MLS is half way decent, I don’t care )

  15. Robert says:

    I believe MLS needs to open up its doors and really start marketing at the Local level. In previous comments the NFL had one of the highest rated Superbowls from small market teams like Indy and NO. I believe MLS needs to expand and cap the 1st division at 20 teams but anyone and any town who can support a professional soccer team should be able to play under the MLS umbrella. every team will pay a franchise fee to earn its badge in MLS. Can you imagine how fast soccer will spread in this country if we had clubs in markets that are considered “too small” but can support a soccer club?

  16. Frank says:

    Miami -Fort Lauderdale has the highest TV ratings for USMNT. MLS need to put up an expansion in South Florida.

    • Rey says:

      No that just shows we are soccer snobs in south Florida. We like World Cup, Boca-River, US games but MLS, USL, and local soccer don’t havens chance.

      • The Gaffer says:

        Rey, I disagree. It’s a tough market, but every other MLS market (or prospective market) has the World Cup, Boca-River and other games, so I don’t think that’s a good excuse for South Florida.

        I live in South Florida and I care about MLS and USL (and the World Cup and Boca-River).

        Cheers,
        The Gaffer

      • vic says:

        absolutely true! This is also true of San Fran, and probably other highly cosmopolitan areas. Lets face it, the 2 reasons soccer has worked in Seattle is because they have been starved for years, and because the ownership there has managed to align love of soccer with being against the rest of America. SF, Portland, Sea have intense anti-rest-of-America attitudes. This is a very political move I wouldnt underestimate. Garber has got to go. In place of him, MLS needs someone very very saavy on the international context of soccer- at the club level, as well as at the international level. However, The Gaffer’s article pins too much on the success of the national team. When those EPL teams visited, Garber was under the impression that those fans would then try MLS. He was wrong. The new MLS commissioner, along with the USSF or whoever need to tell the visiting high-profile Euro teams that in order to tour in the US, every game needs to be against a MLS opponent. No compromise. If it means that DCU, LA Gal, Tor, have to play two international friendlies, then so be it. Its all about money, and the European teams know they are the big draw. They’ll come anyway cause they know the stadiums will still be filled. As for international club play, look how quickly Conmebol cow-towed to the Mexicans in this years copa libertadores to make up for the swine flu fiasco. I didnt think the Brazilians or Argentinians would make those concessions to the lowly Mexicans. Why did they do so? Dinero/Mullah/Greenbacks from the TV revenue in Mexico. Concacaf CL isnt going to attract squat. Garber needs to have Univision or Telemundo televising copa libertadores on regular tv. When the dough comes in from that, cause it will since hispanics and others will watch in high numbers, then conmebol/traffic sports will be looking to extend copa lib to at least a MLS team from below the 34th parallel (LA, LA2, Hou, Dal, future Mia, future Atl), no matter how embarrassing the result would be. MLS needs that sort of international context to judge the level of play. Eventually, a MLS teams will break through against the Brazilians. When that happens, everyone will take notice.

        • Charles says:

          You are crazy about Seattle drawing because they are anti-rest of America.

          Soccer has succeeded in Seattle for one reason. Fans. The sport is mainstream here. Not are you a soccer guy or a football guy.
          Go to a bar and watch the World Series before going to the Sounder’s game. They had some Euro game on, but it was the World Series for petesake.

          Not ownership, who have screwed up more things than they have gotten right, although they have put a professional product out. Nice stadium, nice experience…but all that was post facto.

          Not marketing, not some grand scheme, not because it was different than any other MLS team. Not some crazy attitude toward the rest of America. Many of us, almost all of us, are Seahawk’s fans too.

          But remember the Sounders drew more fans than any MLS team does now…..in 1980. Thirty years ago…and they were outdrawing ( per game ) my Mariners too.

          • OK one more post and I’ll promise to stop:

            Why did MLS avoid cities like Portland and Seattle, that had a spectacular record of supporting pro club soccer? Why did they brand the Tampa Bay and NYC clubs differently than their NASL predecessors? Why do they limit crowds at Qwest today?

  17. man99utd says:

    Only my two cents, but here goes. The MLS is run like any other America sport. You have a set number of teams and that’s it. If I do not live in or close to one of the MLS teams I’m out of luck. I have no “local” connection and so no incentive to support any of them. America is too big of a country to only have a 20 teams. Why is the EPL so popular, besides the obvious? Because every team in England has chance, albeit slim, to make to the EPL via promotion from the lower leagues. I know this may sound unworkable in America, but if my “lower division” side had a prayer of making it to MLS then maybe I would throw my lot in with them and hope for promotion. Otherwise I will never support a random MLS team just to see it “grow”. As a result, there is no reason for me to break my family connection with Man Utd.

    • The Gaffer says:

      It’s a catch-22 for MLS. In order to become more popular in the States, it needs to create more teams. But in order to get higher TV ratings, it needs to provide a better “product” on the pitch. That is an extremely tall order especially when European and Latin American soccer are on television so much and that the MLS “product” is always going to seem inferior for most casual soccer fans who watch their sport on television.

      That’s why I believe MLS is losing the TV war in the United States.

      Bottom line, MLS needs to focus on improving its product and expanding more teams. Growth will come slowly but steadily.

      Cheers,
      The Gaffer

      • How can you improve the product, when salary caps must be set low enough for the smallest market, least supported clubs to meet in order to maintain the randomized match outcomes that sustain the closed league game?

        It’s like a classic math problem:

        Halve the distance to your destination a million times. You still won’t get there.

    • Jammer says:

      Not just America, Canada too. Even with 30 teams, there will be significant markets and areas left over for NASL or unserved.

    • Another post under which I can’t stop pushing the “thumbs up” button.

  18. Jammer says:

    Yes, I agree that for MLS it’s all about local markets, and attendance over TV ratings. Attendance can fuel expansion. When you have more teams in more cities, it will get more national tv coverage, years down the road. If TV was a priority, they wouldn’t schedule their games on Saturday evening. But it’s a lovely time to go to a game.

    From what I have seen on TV, Champions league games always get low attendance, even in say Houston. I don’t have the #’s to back that up.

    Some good news from KC. Previously, Wizards games have been on the metro sports cable channel, which also shows high school sports. Now they will be broadcast on a UHF affiliate, and in HD. I don’t know where to find audience numbers for local broadcasts, but they are part of the equation also. Even if they are more a marketing tool to get people to come to games.

    • Seattle draws for CCL, and they still try and stuff games into tiny stadiums.

      MLS marketing is a weird world. I think there’s a lot of evidence that they’re trying to steer people away from CCL, just like their limiting Sounders crowds. I think it’s all about a growth curve that limits expectations, a knee jerk suspicion of anything that smells like Cosmos, and shielding the old owners from embarrassment.

      When the slow growth curve can’t be challenged – can’t we admit there’s a problem?

  19. The Sky is falling says:

    Don’t pay attention too much to what ESPN is doing for EPL. I watch EPL but it’s not the same as watching MLS, I don’t know what it is ,but I enjoy MLS 2 to 1 over EPL and I watch Everton because of Landon though. Great game at C-Bus last night.

  20. Robert says:

    i think we are all on the same page by expanding MLS at the local level. it needs to ditch the “closed” league system because its killing the sport. MLS does not need to have promotion/relegation to succeed the just need to expose other markets and not punish those who don’t live in a MLS city. I live in San Diego in which i consider to be a soccer crazed cities. There are pick up games all the time at local parks and number of adult leagues going on thorugh out the year but for some reason MLS has overlooked this market.

  21. brian says:

    Enough about a team in south Florida, there was one, Fusion FC and it failed! Just because a region or city can show good numbers on TV for USMNT or EPL doesn’t mean they will go out to see a game.

    • The Gaffer says:

      Brian, but why did the team fail? Was it because of low attendances? Was it because of a poor team on the field? No, it was because the investor who owned the team decided to pull out of funding it, and no one else stepped in.

      I agree with you that it doesn’t mean that people will come out and support the team. There’s no guarantee. But if it was marketed correctly and had the financial backing of someone who was willing to be in it for the long term, it would be a different story.

      That there is no MLS team in Florida is a travesty.

      Cheers,
      The Gaffer

      • Charles says:

        There are some huge cities that MLS can expand to, many of them listed here. IF, big IF a city can be profitable, MLS should be there.

        For those that want pro/rel sorry.

        But for many that want a MLS team, keeping making it happen, one thing I think will happen is MLS will blow by 20 teams fairly quickly if Portland and Vancouver succeed like they can.

        Is 2010, NY bring in Henry, sells out games, Toronto expands, LA draws with Donovan, Seattle of course booms? Followed by 2011, Vancouver draws like we know they can, maybe Portland draws too?

        OR

        Is it 2010, NY 15k, LA 20k, followed by Portland and Vancouver being another 15k MLS team?

        The first one being a ton of growth, ton of interest in investing, a ton of money to improve quality of play, the second being business as usual.

  22. jleau says:

    Gaffer, you’ve made this arguement before and I think you are way off base. I seriously doubt that the MLS is losing fans to the EPL and I know that the small crowd at Crew Stadium had nothing to do with an Arsenal/Porto rerun.

    The MLS needs soccer fans and showing any form of soccer on TV helps create them. The NFL doesn’t fear college football and there is no reason too. Plenty of room for both.

    If a critical mass start caring about soccer (the average audience for iCarly is about 1.3M and that’s a small show on a kids network that only appeals to pre-teen girls) the MLS will do fine and will out draw the EPL. Never underestimate an Americans interest in watching other Americans. There isn’t a huge audience for anything foreign here. I love the EPL but it’s not here and I can never connect to it the way I can the Sounders.

  23. WSW says:

    Tampa had a game with 21,000 fans for a international friendly most of the fans were US fans.

    Mexico played New Zealand in California and 90,000 fans showed up. A month earlier US played Honduras with only 11,000 fans. It is what it is.

    Start paying the salaries they deserve and soccer will improve in MLS.

  24. CA says:

    By the way, Sounders have already sold 13,000 tickets, and are expecting 20,000 total, for a charity game tomorrow against Portland Timbers.
    http://blog.thenewstribune.com/soccer/2010/03/09/sounders-back-at-qwest-for-first-time-in-2010/

    In my opinion professional soccer works in Seattle/western washington because we have SO MANY people playing the game here in schools, colleges, and leagues. Also, having a history of pro/semi-pro teams-Sounders, Tacoma Stars- means that fans have a connection and attachment to professional soccer.

    Being interested in, and passionate about, our local professional soccer team is not a new thing in Seattle/Western Washington.

    • Dead on. You know what made soccer popular in Washington and Oregon?

      Our last superclub. The New York Cosmos.

      There’s two more ready to burst in the Pac NW. Let’s let them.

  25. usa2010 says:

    Fans who watch EPL in the USA are mostly, in my experience, new fans of soccer who are not closely connected to the American game or to a local team. In other words, they are not “taking away” fans from MLS, they are growing the soccer fan base in the USA.

    It’s simply a matter of time and effort to get them into MLS as well. I see no reason for doom and gloom. More local teams and time will do the work.

    Single entity needs to be modified to encourage better integration of clubs into the local community; there should be no incentive for clubs like Columbus not to market a CCL game to their home town fans.

    • The single entity is a fortress against modification.

      You really want to integrate clubs into the local community? Give them independence, and an unlimited future. Give supporters a stake in their club by allowing clubs to build as far as supporters can take them, not as far as their league, or their federation, lets them go.

  26. usa2010 says:

    About Seattle being a “pent up demand” market: this is true of Tampa Bay as well. Three years ago over 30,000 showed up for a friendly against Ecuador – and Ecuadorans were not the majority of fans. Last month over 21,000 showed up (on a rainy mid-week night game) for a friendly against El Salvador, and El Salvadorans were not the majority of fans.

    Last week 1,500 fans showed up for a pre-season match, filling up tiny Pepin Stadium, for a friendly warmup match between the new Rowdies and University of Tampa. Not bad at all; most MLS and USL preseason friendlies draw flies in terms of attendance. I think it is very likely that the new Rowdies team in Tampa will draw very well indeed, by USL/NASL standards.

    The old Tampa Bay Rowdies drew very large crowds, over thirty years ago, that MLS has yet to match. This isn’t just a Seattle thing, or a Pacific Northwest thing. Florida also did very well attracting large soccer crowds back then, both in Tampa and in Ft. Lauderdale. MLS in Florida, by contrast, was a fiasco because Tampa had no owner (it was run into the ground by MLS mismanagement) and Miami had a bad owner. And yet, there were teams in MLS that had worse attendance than Tampa or Miami, and yet they are still in MLS while Tampa and Miami are gone, in spite of the fact that Florida has been a hotbed of soccer for the past 35 years. MLS not being in Florida is just as crazy as (until recently) MLS not being in the Pacific Northwest.

    • Clayton says:

      I’m from Tampa and completely agree. Tampa has a large soccer following and, unlike Miami, is a great sports city. If only the Glazers would’ve invested in MLS back in 2000 instead of ManU, the MLS would still be in Tampa.

      • Charles says:

        I hope that you and USA2010 are right, but realize I believe that Seattle was selling out Gold Cup games in a big stadium, 67k.

        that being said….the Rowdies name is too good to sit there.
        BRING BACK THE ROWDIES !!!!

      • Funny how some of our sports and entertainment moguls choose that risky open league model with promotion and relegation over the entitlement rich MLS.

    • Peter C says:

      I’ve read supporters of soccer in Florida repeatedly state that “there were teams in MLS that had worse attendance than Tampa or Miami”.

      The fact is that during its four years of existence, no team drew fewer people than Miami. Tampa outdrew only Kansas City(and Miami) in its 6 years in the league. (And since the Hunts owned KC, they weren’t going anywhere.)

      Continuing to mis-state the records of Tampa and Miami only damages the credibility of any arguments, valid or otherwise, for a return of MLS to either city.

    • You’re hitting on the mock promotion effect that Seattle has, and Portland will, experience. Just think if we had the real thing?

      Let’s see if the Union matches up. When they struggle to average 10k, you start to see how embarassing it would be for Seattle to open Qwest field.

  27. CA says:

    “MLS not being in Florida is just as crazy as (until recently) MLS not being in the Pacific Northwest.”

    Agreed! But it all comes down to having investors willing to spend the dough.

  28. Clayton says:

    Gaffer,
    Why would MLS want to prevent ESPN from showing more soccer? MLS should love the fact that ESPN is doing more to promote international soccer…considering the alternative is ESPN COMPLETELY IGNORING SOCCER ENTIRELY. ESPN’s promotion of the EPL will help create new soccer fans, some of whom will be Eurosnobs and some will become MLS fans. MLS needs to worry about growing its own business and making their product more watchable instead of focusing on some imaginary “TV War” with the EPL. Case in point: I came across MLSTalk.com through, wait for it, EPLTalk.com. Crazy how that works isn’t it?

    If MLS can avoid a strike and continue to expand into great soccer markets like Seattle, Toronto, Portland, Houston, etc., then the TV ratings will improve. When you see a packed house going crazy for an MLS team in Seattle, it reinforces the idea that it’s something worth watching. Just like seeing an empty stadium in Columbus last night reinforced the idea that nobody cares about the MLS. If more MLS teams had great stadium atmospheres, more people would watch the games on TV. The recent HD movement in MLS will help too, but I digress.

    The point is, MLS should be happy to ride the EPL’s coattails. All of my college friends were big fans of American sports. We got into soccer mainly through the FIFA video game and by watching the occasional EPL game. Every once in a while I would give MLS a chance. It wasn’t until I saw that opening Sounders home game that I became an MLS fan. I began telling my friends to watch Seattle when they were on, and most of them were impressed by the crowd and their style of play, and became Sounders fans. ESPN promoting the EPL will hugely increase the amount of soccer fans in the US, and some of them will eventually want to check out their domestic league. Why battle over your portion of the pie, when you can just sit back and let ESPN triple the size of the pie?

    • The Gaffer says:

      Clayton, MLS would not want to prevent ESPN from showing more soccer. But ESPN may want to prevent MLS from showing more soccer if the TV ratings aren’t very impressive, which means that advertisers would not be as interested.

      It’s great that ESPN is promoting soccer but where does that leave MLS? I’m concerned that more and more new soccer fans will become attached to the EPL and other leagues to the detriment of MLS.

      I agree that MLS needs to focus on growing its own business and making their product more watchable, which is exactly what I said. They should be worried, however, at the emergence of EPL on US TV to the detriment of MLS.

      The soccer pie will increase in size but there’s no guarantee that MLS will benefit from that. There has been little increase in attendance numbers based on the Beckham Effect and EPL clubs playing friendlies in the States.

      Cheers,
      The Gaffer

      • DCUDiplomat96 says:

        I dont see the Issue on how MLS is losing ground because of EPL being on ESPN, Im sure they kinda Benefit alil Bit. but ESPN is one network, MLS yes Im talking to you MLS. MLS needs to find chennale like a TNT or USA or VS on top of what they have with ESPN, yeah you have FSC, but FSC doesnt get to alot of Homes.. Plus MLS problems is well outside the Television… as soccer as a whole, MLS(soccer) is not the fifth popular sport here in the states, I find it hard to believe. Too Much going on here sports wise, I do belive MLS will have alot more tougher than than the Bigger leagues because the USA is a multisport friendly Nation. Americans standards are much higher, you have to win to succeed. MLS has ways to go.

        • With all the same, warmed over closed pro leagues out there, all the more reason that professional soccer should strive to be as different as possible than their domestic closed league brothers, and not more like them. Carving out a niche requires that you’re different.

          Carving out a niche as NFL light has been a joke since day one, and that’s where MLS is right now.

          I don’t mean to target you specifically on this one, DCU, but that whole “Americans Like a Winner” thing is just nuts if you think about it. I mean, everybody has success winning. It’s not an American value.

          • DCUDiplomat96 says:

            the European Standard wont survive long here in the US, one u have to have a winner, and contenders, you dont have that in the European leagues. I find it Stupid to watch a British head coach of a soccer team tell the Fans that he hopes to Finished 10th Place?? are you serious?? then if you think about nobody isnt going support a team struggling in relegation. Especially if they are so accepting of not trying to strive to win a Championship. Basically if MLS follow the european standard for the sake of a handful of Diehard eurosnobs, then the league will fail, thats just the truth.

    • You don’t think the American pro sports establishment, including their in-house broadcaster, ESPN, would prefer soccer to remain a foreign sport?

      • The Gaffer says:

        That’s an excellent question, but I don’t believe ESPN wants soccer to remain a foreign sport. Reason being is that they’re pouring so much money, resources and energy into promoting the World Cup this summer that they’re banking on the sport becoming more popular in this country. Even SportsCenter will be taped live from South Africa.

        Cheers,
        The Gaffer

        • You don’t believe it, but only cited promotion of foreign examples that will be broadcast in foreign accents. I think you can argue that ESPN has found a way to make money off it, whilst still keeping it at arms length. I think it’s safer to the establishment if the game virtually explodes – on TV. That way it only draws viewers, and not fans.

          • sucka99 says:

            I think ESPN is blowing out this World Cup and getting more into soccer for 3 reasons – in this order:

            1. To show off their ability to host a world competition on multiple media platforms to sweeten their IOC bid for the next Olympics TV deal

            2. To raise their profile in Europe’s biggest sport as a pretext to breaking into the only continent they’ve yet to conquer

            3. To capitalize on the shifting demographics (partly with ESPN Deportes) that puts more soccer fans in America.

            If ESPN steals the Olympics away from NBC they may not even bid for the next World Cup up for offer.

          • most excellent point, S99.

        • DCUDiplomat96 says:

          soccer is always a Foreign sport to the American people as foreign as Football is to the Brits in London when the NFL has their annuals World Cup like the Olympics will have thier moment for about a Month then back to Basball and soon Football season..

  29. rideacruiser says:

    Great post. Here are my thoughts:

    If MLS fans (should also be called US Soccer fans) want to have their digital voices heard–that is in the way of TV ratings–then turn on the games when they’re on. If you don’t get the channel, go to the pub and watch it. If it’s not your team, watch it anyway. Watch CL games, watch US Open games. Go to any game you can afford. Convince your friends to watch and go to games. What this results in is a soccer-crazed lifestyle. Know of anywhere where this is the norm?…try everywhere but the US. The World LOVES the game and that’s why talent, ratings and every other aspect of the game is better there than it is here.

    If we want things to change, WE have to change. It is a lifestyle and major social movement that we are asking for, so let make it happen. Wear your scarves with pride. Ask unabashedly for FSC at every bar you frequent. Demand that big games be played on the big screens (and help them understand the significance of your requests).

    I’m pleased with the strides the sport has made in the last few years. I was in Seattle to scream our boys to victory–that’s right, a loyal, royal, RSL fan here–and I loved my experience of soccer in that town. It was almost like being overseas again. Salt Lake is coming around bit by bit, but we still have a long way to go with attendance, media coverage, general public support, etc. The front office did just include next year’s CL games in the season ticket package…very nice indeed!

    Go RSL, and US Soccer!

    • Hanging curveball here:

      Why do we have to change, and subscribe to MLS – a league that has commandeered the first division of a pyramid designed to foster the creation of the best clubs an owner and supporters can build?

      Why do we have to support a league that imposes mediocrity on it’s own clubs in a last ditch effort to push the game into our local, domestic, closed league model?

      After the evidence continues to pile up that soccer is indeed popular in this country, while our canned first division sits in a permanent incubator, why isn’t it they who have to change?

      • sucka99 says:

        Because anything popular in this country has to be exploited for financial gain and control. It’s how things work here. You will NEVER have something remain completely organic that’s popular. Everything must fit into some corporate structure. And even if you do – you STILL have to deal with FIFA and CONCACAF. Blatter and Warner. Good luck.

        C.R.E.A.M.

        • All we have to do is lose the apathy.

          There are still independent businesses in the USA that compete with one another. Everything doesn’t have to be Applebees or WalMart.

          I can even argue it the other way:

          They don’t call it the Barclay’s Premier League for nothing. You can have corporate involvement, and total competition. They aren’t mutually exclusive.

  30. NeoGeek says:

    ESPN lost the their UEFA CL matches to FSC, so yeah, they need to replace it with something. Fact of the matter is that MLS matches draw more viewers than the EPL. There is no crisis. I will be purchasing Direct Kick, I will be purchasing online viewing priviledges through MLS. I will watch more MLS matches than ESPN will manage to air of the EPL and I’m willing to bet I’m not alone.

    Now please, excuse me as I prepare to watch my Sounders kick Portland’s arse tomorrow at Qwest. I’ll be completely drunk and wearing the new Sounders FC rain jacket that will be doubling as my wind cheater. Hey Portland… “You’re in the MLS because of us! Oh you’re in the MLS because of us…”

    • Charles says:

      You are not alone in Seattle.

      Man I am lucky to live in Seattle !!! People are ticked off because they are airing a two hour recap of last season but not showing the preseason game live (only parts of it I think )

      Tailgate under the viaduct in 8 hours……

      You’re in MLS because of us, you’re in MLS because of us !!!

  31. CTBlues says:

    They need to add a team in Hartford, CT. They would play at Rentschler Field which is the home of the Uconn Huskies and a football team that is part of a new football league called the UFL. We have the USMNT coming on May 25th to play a friendly against Czech Republic. And a one major thing the pitch is real grass not field turf!

  32. You went about as far as you could in this story without talking about the entitled little business model that holds our first division back.

    We’ve been bouncing from World Cup effect to World Cup effect for two decades now. We’ve bought almost twice as many tickets for this years extravaganza than the citizens of any other nation.

    Still, MLS can’t touch the popularity of the game.

    Why not open this conversation up to the lurking dependence on a closed league model in which MLS has to impose mediocrity on every club for the league to survive? A culture so strong, that Seattle shuts down season ticket sales three months before opening day, with the stadium half open?

    Seriously, can’t we hold them to a little higher standard than bare survival? When does it get annoying enough to watch MLS send it’s teams into international play handicapped by backasswards caps designed to randomize domestic match outcomes?

    It would be lame if this strike stuck a fork in MLS. Though, after 20 years on a ventilator, maybe it would be humane.

    Maybe it’s not getting TV ratings because watching a teenager in an incubator just isn’t very dramatic.

    Kartik?

    • Roger says:

      agree 100% soccerreform.us

      Reality shows that there is a system used all around the world,in all the important soccer leagues, that could give a chance to have a club to every city in North America.

      The reasons that we are being given are all dubious. Why pro/rel would fail here? It has proven suscessfull from Europe to Asia,Lating america,Africa. EVERYWHERE !!!
      Soccer is a global game.The right aprouch should be to be humble and join the international soccer family; not to try to fix something that is not broken and pretend to rediscover cold water.

      • Jason says:

        “Why pro/rel would fail here? It has proven suscessfull from Europe to Asia,Lating america,Africa. EVERYWHERE !!!”

        Dear God, you, too?

        Seriously, we can’t have this debate anymore. People like you refuse to look at the economic reality, a very large part of which is the second division isn’t economically viable enough to institute pro/rel between it and MLS. Also, an AMERICAN (or Canadian) who drops the kind of coin you have to drop to get an MLS franchise isn’t going to vote for a system that could see it playing Charleston the year after a bad year. And Charleston (bless their hearts) simply can’t afford to be promoted to the first division. They’d never be able to.

        There is a pot of gold awaiting you in the EPL if you get promoted. There is not one in MLS. There’s not going to be one.

        People like soccerreform.us, who’s a complete and utter whackjob, and you, completely miss the point. You don’t think. You believe “it’s cool over there, surely it would work here! Not only that, it would make people throw money at the sport to start new lower-division clubs because they could dream of being in MLS!”

        Idiotic. You’re an idiot and he’s an idiot.

        • Jason

          I thought we were about to have a rational conversation here, I really did.

          You try to have it both ways – You take MLS and our closed pyramid’s inability to generate excitement with supporters, and assume it won’t change when we adopt a model with a proven track record of success. Couldn’t MLS’s problems have a teeny bit to do with a business model that, amongst other things, imposes mediocrity on it’s own clubs? Seriously?

          You’re saddling the game with problems that are very specific to MLS.

          I know, here’s where you tell me the sky is falling, and that Portsmouth is almost bankrupt, and the open league model is doomed.

          But, there club soccer stands, the most popular game on the planet.

        • Roger says:

          to the insults I will not address.No need.

          Both of your points are good examples of the manipulations we are usually submited when it comes to the promotion and relegation issue.

          The first is using a club like Charleston es an example of why we should no implement promotion and relegation.”They are too small” “not ready for a first division”.
          Clubs like Charleston,Carolina,Rochestrer,Montreal and others,have being existing under very unusual cirscumstances. No chance of promotion,no qualification spots for their top teams to any linked championship.They have being playing on a phamtom league,completly isolated from the soccer world.Yet,thay have manage to build a loyal fan base,win the US Open Cup,go deep on CCL.

          The true potential of such clubs could only be known when we have the soccer system that we should have.Using their actual realities as an example for no implementing the system that could give them the chance for growth is stupid.

          As of your point about the “economic reality”.It does not look like you are aware the countries that use pro/rel,it is not only England and Germany,it is also all the countries on Conmebol,ALL.
          On our own Confederation other than tiny islands all the other countries use it. The situation does noy change much if you go to Africa,wich nations are mostly poor. Promotion and relegation is use by nations rich and poor; Big and small; with diferent cultures.

          Promotion and relegation makes too much sense to keep being ignored!

      • DCUDiplomat96 says:

        Most Places arent like the US most of those countries dont have a strong competition is sports and a large college sports scene. so its hard to compare.

  33. A little off topic here but why does Seattle get so many more fans than any other team in the MLS?
    I heard they get 30,000 plus watching those games, is there something special about football in that city compared to the other cities in the U.S?

    • Miami Ultra says:

      I think it may have something to do with recently losing the SuperSonics and the city needing something to rally around. That and the ownership is a good one and the promotion and operation of the team has been stellar.

      And @ Peter C, yes, The “Miami” Fusion was the worst over it’s tenure in the league at drawing fans. But that last year it was better than KC, Tampa and San Jose. And only marginally behind Dallas. The fact of the matter is they were really no worse than a good handful of teams in the league at the time. Florida was just unlucky not to have have AEG, the Hunts of Kraft to keep our teams afloat. It could just as easily have been the Wizards, Burn, or Quakes that got the axe. Miami drew 11,177 per game in 2001. That beats what SJ, KC and Dallas pulled in 2009, and you have to go up the list to the #8 team in Chicago at 15,487, past NY, NE, Colorado and Columbus, to find something that is noticeably better that what the Fusion were getting. Put teams back in Florida and they’d at worst be in the middle of the pack. And the TV ratings would offset any lagging in attendance.

      Plus Tampa and “Miami” were woefully misbranded. Call them the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Ft. Lauderdale Strikers and they likely still exist today. Just ask the Sounders, Whitecaps, and Timbers how well sticking with historical names works.

      Putting teams back in Tampa and South Florida might not help MLS “win the TV battle”, but it certainly couldn’t hurt. Just give us teams with competent and well funded ownership(or in TB’s case any ownership) this time.

    • Look back to the NASL, and the two Soccer Bowls contested between the Cosmos and Sounders. Tampa Bay is drawing big crowds for the second div Rowdies – another NASL legacy. Also, Portland and Seattle were two of the only three operating professional outdoor clubs following the collapse of NASL in 1986.

      They then bounced through our evolving pyramid for a couple of decades, before being marked for mock promotion by MLS.

      MLS has realized that mock promotions are like the real thing, except safer, since they can still impose mediocrity on the team through majority ownership and the single entity. We’ll see how long it lasts.

    • AgentJ says:

      Seattle, and the Pacific Northwest in general, has been a soccer scene for decades. Right now, the state has the most recreational and youth soccer leagues in the entire United States per capita. The Sounders brand has always been strong, and when the team was in the NASL it was consistantly among the top 5 in the country in attendance. Soccer also became very popular among Microsoft employees as a way to stay in shape. In other words, Seattlites love their soccer.

      It doesn’t hurt that they have a great stadium (while it also hosts the NFL, it was built with the goal of bringing an MLS team in), a smart, wealthy ownership group, and a top-tier rivalry with Portland to the south and Vancouver to the North.

  34. Flex Buffchest says:

    MLS cannot just simply copy EPL. And comparing the two is just ridiculous. You can’t. One has been around ages before the other in a country where it is one of the main sports. I do think building proper training facilities and team specific stadiums with real grass will definitely help with bringing the MLS up to professional standards though. The players need free movement like every other sport. They need to get these negotiations figured out. But hopefully the players and owners realize, that if a lockout happens, it will hurt, if not kill, the league. And that won’t be good for either side.

    • Here we go.

      Can we get over the fact that we didn’t create the more fair, free market league structure and just adopt it for a game in which it has a stellar track record?

      I promise not to propose that any other sport adopt it, and will even defend our closed league model when applied to our domestic sports, because I won’t want them to horn in on soccer’s success.

      Again, the misconceptions disguised as fact. Professional soccer was second only to the National League in the 1920s. Stop assigning the game infant status, just because we’ve mucked it up since then.

  35. Jason says:

    Kartik is Pavlovian when it comes to MLS TV ratings discussions. It’s part of his charm.

    If you can call it charm.

  36. govilla says:

    Cheers to ESPN for not having any American World Cup announcers. They’re terrible. They don’t know how to call a match. Too much blabbing and too little focus on the game itself. I’d rather watch the match in Spanish on Univision than listen to Americans announcers ruin the game.

  37. danimal. says:

    Agree that it’s ridiculous comparing MLS and EPL on so many levels.

    And BTW, the reason why the Glazer and the Lerners (and I suppose also the Americans running Derby County and Sunderland too) got into the EPL (Kroenke’s obviously in both) is because of its popularity in Asia.

    As most of us know, EPL in Southeast Asia and China is kind of like the NFL/college football here over here (or even baseball’s Yankees/Red Sox/Mets/Phillies in the Northeast). And generally speaking, those markets aren’t even close to mature yet.

    Probably not a coincidence that Man U hasn’t been back stateside in six years despite Nike and the Glazers on board.

    Fact is, most American soccer fans are watching MLS or the Mexican League, maybe both in some cases. As MLS expands its footprint, and the Mexican-American influence remains strong in the major cities, I think this will only accentuate.

    (Now get the CBA resolved please!)

    • You know why it’s riduculous comparing MLS and EPL?

      Because of MLS.

      I had a detractor go out of his way to point out two facts to me the other day to try and convince me to stop comparing the two.

      He said the game was 4.76 times more popular in England. Then, he mentioned we had five times the population.

      Of course, I noticed that we had more supporters than England. Today.

      How can you take MLS policies and procedures out of this conversation, and pretend they have nothing to do with the context?

      I bet the game wouldn’t be 4.76 times as popular in England if they removed the fans from the equation, locked up their divisions, and imposed mediocrity on top division clubs to randomize domestic match outcomes.

      I don’t often quote George Bush, but this is the soft bigotry of low expectations…

      • Mike O says:

        Just a small note… the population in the entire UK is 1/5 that of the US, not England, though I realize there is a lot of overlap from the fans of the other members of the UK.

  38. danimal says:

    In recent years, quite a few EPL teams (not just the famously quotable Phil Gartside with Bolton) have indicated they wouldn’t be averse to making that top flight a closed shop eventually- basically add Leeds/’Boro/Newcastle and perhaps take out a couple of smaller teams (let’s be real- certain teams there right now are never ever finishing top-six without radical rule changes, let alone top-four- they just don’t have the uncontested population bases to generate enough revenue). Or maybe a closed shop of 24 teams instead of 20 so nobody quite feels left out, or lastly, a two-tier set-up of 36-40 teams cutting off League One and below forever.

    Anyway, I know from politics that some people will not be reasoned with. That’s fine, and what free speech is all about. As for soccer, most of us recognize the inherent limitations of the sport in this country, saw what happened in the 1980s, and realize that- bottom line- “domestic soccer” in the US was 100X healthier in 2009 than it was in 2002, and closer to 1000X compared to the mid-1990s (when MLS began) and 1980s (when the NASL went out with nary a whimper- the Cosmos’ glory days having long since become “Once in a Lifetime”).

    • It’s not a news flash that billionaire owners in any business would prefer not to be exposed to the risks of relegation or the frightening free market. They can talk all they want about closed leagues in the UK, but good luck taking their clubs futures away from supporters. Every American sport doesn’t have to be all about who wins the playoffs. There’s room for another model.

      You make interesting arguments about population base for clubs in England. You have to admit that we don’t have that problem here.

      Unreasonability, from your post, seems to apply to anyone who doesn’t accept the reality that MLS has foisted on us. I, on the other hand, find it unreasonable that USSF would trade away virtually all club autonomy to MLS in order for them manage competition levels in the same way they do in our domestic sports, and to maintain the game in their managed risk, closed league cocoon.

      Yes, the American game has grown by leaps and bounds. The point is, MLS hasn’t.

      Your inherent restrictions don’t apply to the game, they apply to MLS.
      They’re losing something in the transition from total competition to soccer capades.

  39. Mike O says:

    Of course Fox and ESPN are going to show Premier League games over MLS game. There is FAR LESS DEMAND for those games.

    In my mind, it’s a wonderful thing that these are being shown on ESPN and Fox. It is going to cater to the already-big soccer fans in the US AND hopefully bring in new fans, and that will create an effect where the popularity of soccer grows in the US, and that will obviously trickle down to MLS and the national team. How is that bad?

    In my opinion, MLS teams should be thrilled these networks are making such a big push to show soccer. If it proves successful, the networks may take on some MLS games as well, and over time, the popularity of MLS will escalate also.

    I see this as a win-win. Maybe not for the short term, but certainly for the long term.

  40. Mike, we’ve had 15 years of “hopefully” and just last month, Garber himself said he didn’t give a rats ass about ratings. Seriously, isn’t it time to consider that a hugely popular domestic league is not at the top of MLS agenda?

    I know the investment group has the money to run this circus for a while longer. Haven’t we given them enough time to prove that soccer works their way? If they don’t care about tv ratings 15 years in – they’re not ever going to care. It’s their way or the highway. Let’s choose the latter already.

  41. Mike O says:

    If you’re suggesting that owners are taking less risk that might lead to the evolution of a popular league, then perhaps you are right, but anyone with business sense would want a top domestic league.

    15 years may sound like a lot, but I don’t think it is enough. The league seems to be developing as American soccer interest in general develops (which makes sense) and it could take a long time before that interest reaches the levels we are all hoping for. Every world cup finals raises interest to astronomical levels, and last I read, the USA applied for the 2018 or 2022 World Cup hosting spots, so that could be in the near future too.

    If owners are not pushing for TV time like you are saying, then that is certainly going to hinder said development, but there still probably isn’t sufficient demand for televised MLS games either (on a large network).

    Sure, MLS and owners need to take necessary steps to foster soccer growth and popularity, but they can only do so much if the interest is not there.

  42. soccerreform says:

    By every measure, MLS lags far behind the demostrated market of the game. In 2006, more Americans watched world cup matches than NBA Finals or World Series games. International matches outdraw MLS games by vast margins. In 1980, ABC averaged four times as many viewers for NASL regular season matches as MLS Cup averages today.

    It’s in that environment, Garber says he doesn’t care about TV ratings. In that environment, the Sounders send out a press release in January capping season ticket sales, with half of Qwest open.

    So, “business sense” cuts both ways here. It’s easier, and makes business sense to the American sports establishment, to pronounce the closed league model the way of the land, and define the popularity of any sport by it’s ability to survive within it. It makes no business sense to them to open the genie bottle of pro/rel. Their entire business model is based on permanent first div status, and if soccer did leap to new heights of popularity under it, people would begin to question the closed establishment of other sports.

    It’s safer for them to own it and assign the failures to the game itself – no matter how out of whack with reality that gets. It’s better to run it at a low level, on a pathetic growth curve, than allow it to threaten the establishment.

    Agree or disagree with me, but that’s why I’m pissed, and why I think every American supporter should be pissed. When the average US supporter doesn’t support our system of one entitled first division, and lower divisions scrambling for investment, it affects the entire system.

    Problem is, most American supporters don’t get pissed. They just turn the channel and blame Americans for not “getting” soccer. Call me crotchety, but I’m not giving into an annual pilgrimage to the San Siro, or Camp Nou, to get my soccer fix just because our owners are too scared of the pro/rel open system that allowed these teams to reach their lofty status.

    We’re sending our guys into another WC final hamstrung by infighting in domestic leagues that can’t draw the average soccer fan, never mind the casual sports fan. It’s been going on since 1930, and it’s our domestic league model that’s at the core of it all.

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