Since the founding of Major League Soccer in 1993, American soccer has faced an uphill battle against a public that really does not embrace the sport. Facing the already established and popular sports: NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, NCAA, and car racing (mainly NASCAR), it’s been a tough sell. It was not until 2004 that MLS turned a profit. In 2009 there were only two profitable clubs: the Seattle Sounders and Toronto FC — down from three the previous year.
For the future, I have an idea of how MLS sides can increase their revenues during each summer. For the record, I think the English Premier League friendly matches that take place during the pre season of English soccer season have been a step in the right direction in helping to maintain and create a strong fan base for Premier League sides in the United States. However, I suggest a new approach — different than the World Football Challenge — in making soccer more popular by giving fans something to really look forward to during the summer. My idea is to create MLS and EPL tournaments instead of the traditional friendly matches.
There are currently 18 MLS teams, soon to be 19 with the addition of the Montreal Impact and a future addition of one more club to make it 20 clubs. With the teams scattered across the United States and Canada, it offers great possibilities for creating regional EPL and MLS tournaments. So, I think replacing the friendly matches which really don’t offer much more than a nice chance for your local MLS team to play an English top flight club, the regional tournament could offer so more to the sport. However, there needs to be an incentive for both parties. Nothing motivates individuals more than money, I think a cash prize for the club and the players would be necessary. This could be done through sponsorship. In addition to the cash incentive offer piece of silverware, a trophy for the winning team to instill further pride with the club and fans.
I think the most constructive approach would be to host regional tournaments. There is the possibility of doing an east coast tournament with D.C. United, Philadelphia Union, New York Red Bulls, New England Revolution, Toronto FC and the Montreal Impact once they begin playing. The same could be done on the west coast with Chivas USA, Los Angeles Galaxy, San Jose Earthquakes, Portland Timers, Seattle Sounders and Vancouver Whitecaps. Something similar could happen in the mid west or central part of the United States with FC Dallas, Houston Dynamo, Sporting Kansas City, Chicago Fire and Columbus Crew. Perhaps Real Salt Lake could move into the west with the Colorado Rapids placed in the central or mid west tournament.
I think another possible approach and perhaps a better one would be to have smaller regional tournaments. For example, I think a Pacific Northwest tournament with Portland, Seattle and Vancouver and perhaps an all California tournament with Chivas, Los Angeles and San Jose could be a real possibility. It could be titled The Barclays Premier League Major League Soccer California Cup 2012 or The Barclays Premier League Major League Soccer Pacific Northwest Cup 2012, for example. The same could be done with other parts of the United States and Canada.
As far as which EPL clubs participate, I think it would be best to have some sort of rotating system or have the clubs volunteer for the events. I think since Tottenham Hotspur is an affiliated club with San Jose, Spurs could participate in the west coast or California tournament more specifically. This could also forge stronger links with MLS and EPL clubs as well.
How would the event proceed? In the case of the one in California, you have three MLS clubs and invite three EPL clubs to participate in the event. All sides are paired and play one game with one club with the winner advancing to the next stage, since there would be 3 clubs remaining the one team with the best record in the series would get a break while the other two face each other and then the winner of that match would face the rested team for the title and cup. More matches could be added but the time factor may be an issue. I think this would really create an atmosphere of real excitement and give the clubs something really to play for and provide the fans with a wonderful event.
I think for the early stages the big name English clubs such as Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea, and Liverpool would be strong candidates because of the strong name recognition among the American public. But certainly attracting other clubs would be very desirable as well. Currently Newcastle, Bolton, Manchester City and West Brom, for example, will be playing friendly matches during the summer in the United States. So other clubs are interested in playing in the United States. I think the friendly matches have had an impact on soccer in the United States but more can be done and should be done. They are fun events; In fact I attended the San Jose and West Brom match. Plus I’ll attend the Seattle and Manchester United match this month. But more can be done in my view. Even though many MLS clubs have soccer specific stadiums which hold around 18,000 to 23,000 individuals, there is no shortage of large athletic stadiums whether they be professional or university facilities, so accommodating fans will not be an issue. Another possible idea is to schedule one or two regular EPL matches in the United States.
Starting in 2007 the National Football League played its first regular season game outside of North America when London hosted the Miami Dolphins and the New York Giants. The NFL calls it the International Series. Since then the NFL has decided to continue to host at least one regular season game in London and perhaps other cities in the world. The objective of the NFL is to strengthen and create greater appeal for American football in Europe and around the world.
I think if MLS is going to be serious about soccer in the United States and further the national team, there needs to be more creativity in marketing of the sport to the American public. I think the idea of MLS and EPL tournaments and the hosting of regular season EPL matches could be a real boost for both leagues and for soccer in the United States.