Things MLS Needs To Push Ahead

Ideas For Growth

In the past few days, I have had some deep conversations with a few friends, my orthopedist (who also works with DC United) and my father in law about the state of the MLS with the rest of the world.

As much as some of us have a love for the league, we all realize that as much as we would like others to get on board, there are some things that the MLS could probably do to make this a more viable sport to get more Americans to watch. There are many detractors both home grown and foreign that could care less about the MLS but I think that with some work, the MLS could be just as viable as some of the world powers. These are just some of my opinions of things I would like to see happen (some will take years, if ever, I realize) to hopefully one day, get the MLS competitive with the rest of the world.

Player Development and Throwing Out Traditional ‘American Values’

The MLS really hasn’t had a ‘homegrown’ superstar that made a splash since Freddy Adu and since his time, his star has fallen with each passing season. The MLS really needs to get serious about its approach to getting players to play at the same level as the rest of the world. An ESPN article about a year ago clearly laid out what needs to happen and why the traditional American little league approach just won’t cut it as traditional European and South American powerhouses already know the secrets to success on their own terms. Academies with pros that are willing to teach won’t be constrained by waiting for certain times of the year to play; academies play and train year round. A well funded academy can attract talent from all over the world and possibly offer some rising stars some stability as well as maximize their playing ability to perhaps one day rival their European counterparts. And hopefully that talent will stay here and play.

Translate Success to the USMNT and Open the Wallets.

While MLS Players may still be a long ways away from the payday that some of their European counterparts are getting (some of which may change with the new Fair Play rules in the EPL), one of the few ways to possibly keep talent here will eventually, open up the wallets and pay these rising stars to stay here. Not to mention as their skills develop, some exposure to the USMNT couldn’t hurt as well. There are many talented US players playing abroad who are successful while the MLS has somehow become a place for European stars on the other side of their careers to come and end their days. While I appreciate Thierry Henry and David Beckham’s contribution to the MLS, nothing still quite beats that ‘US kid’ we all can relate to. Who knows, a better more sustainable talent similar to Freddy Adu may be waiting in the wings but if the big payday is waiting in Spain or in England, we may never know about it.

Get the Word Out

I think the one thing that bothers me a bit about our press is that not enough news gets out about what’s happening in the sport. It never fails that after any given Saturday night a hard fought game by DC United goes almost unnoticed on the local news. Funny thing is, as long as they were in first, the news outlets here in DC may have blurted out a sentence or 2 about the games but so far hardly anything this summer even though the Washington Post does see fit to regularly report on the team so all is not lost. Again this is the problem with living in a market where you have teams from 2 cities all fighting for news at the end of the 111 o’clock news.

I have no hard suggestions what could be done except fans letting news agencies know that we count too. Just because the major sports of the US are playing, don’t forget us either. Also, don’t decide that the ‘best time’ to dip a toe into futbol is when the World Cup comes along or the USWNT makes it to the next round of the Olympics.

A few other issues I would like to see addressed would be:

– A change in the schedule to match the rest of FIFA competition. 2 of the issues keeping this from happening would be weather conditions and of course making inroads from revenues made off of the NFL and NBA playing during this same time of year.

– Making International friendlies mean something. While it’s nice to see some of the European clubs compete in the summer season, there is the stigma attached that there isn’t that much passion in those games because they are meaningless. If some sort of tournament was devised, some of this could change. Also means, referring back to the first issue to develop talent so US teams participating could generate serious competition.

– TV air time. While I am glad that NBC taking a step in airing MLS games, one cannot help but notice that there seems to be a lot of competition in the TV markets about who will be in control of the dollars generated from futbol broadcasts abroad. BeIn is a new channel that seems like will be a competitor to Fox Sports and their stranglehold of broadcasts, ESPN looks like they will be broadcasting more games this season while GolTV may be on its last legs. I am hoping that however this settles, there will be a clear winner who not only controls foreign rights as well as US right and be able to give viewers better access to the MLS than what we are getting right now.

There is so much more the MLS can and will hopefully do to make this a viable industry and I think as long as they make necessary changes to keep fans engaged, more fans will come on board. Although not specifically mentioned, with the US demographics changing, the MLS is at a point where in the next 10 to 15 years it can take advantage of that change to make soccer competitive with the rest of American sports. Talented academies and more lucrative deals to retain homegrown talent is just a start. By finding ways via multimedia outlets to lure in Americans to an exciting sport can go a long way to getting the MLS on par with the rest of the world.

12 thoughts on “Things MLS Needs To Push Ahead”

  1. A pretty good, fair article I think. Academies really need to be
    worked on for sure. The salary cap definitely needs to increase
    faster as well. Seeing some Americans in those DP spots would be
    great too. As long as that extra money doesn’t mean that the same 3
    teams win every year, I think most MLS fans would get behind both
    ideas. As far as getting the word out goes, I would say that taking
    someone to a game that wouldn’t normally go is a good first step.
    There is no better way to enjoy the game. That is something that
    every MLS fan should try to do. You brought up the FIFA calendar. I
    definitely think that there could be adjustments made to make it
    match the international calendar better, but I would never every
    want a September to May season. Playing soccer in the snow is just
    a bad idea for everyone involved, especially the fans. Friendlies
    are friendlies. Unless you make it a tournament or a us vs. them
    thing (like US vs Mexico), they are never going to mean much.
    Thanks for writing an article that was intelligent. I look forward
    to reading more.

  2. Lots of people can speak more to player development than I can, but
    I do think one major improvement might be a true MLB-style draft
    including all players 18 and up. If players don’t like where
    they’ve been drafted, they can go to college. Combine that with
    some sort of a development plan between MLS clubs and the
    lower-division to ensure playing times for youngsters. Also, end
    single entity and replace it with a hard salary cap. That’ll come
    with the next CBA.

  3. On TV rights, MLS has to start to think outside the box. NBC Sports
    has been happy to use MLS as filler when broadcast has the Olympics
    or Notre Dame has an away game on a given weekend. MLS has to push
    for a dedicated weekly timeslot, whether it’s on NBC Sports or
    ESPN2 or even something like CBS Sports or beIN. Friday Night would
    be the most logical spot to me, but that’s something folks smarter
    than me can figure out. As it is, it’s extremely difficult to
    figure out when MLS is airing as a casual viewer. The last time the
    NFL renegotiated, there were rumors that this would be the time
    someone like Google or Apple bought a share of live rights. MLS
    needs to be willing to be the guinea pig and make a deal with one
    of the online providers, whether it’s Google, Apple, Amazon, or
    Netflix. There’s a good chance broadcast won’t be around in 20-30
    years anyway. TVs and computers are merging. MLS needs to get a
    head start.

    1. and I agree so much with that…with the advent of online viewers
      and apps for smart devices, why get bogged down with TV schedules?
      I can’t begin to tell you the amount of games I watched this summer
      viz the ESPN app away from home and it works just fine. You still
      have the MLS app that lets you subscribe also.

    2. MLS does such a great job of putting the highlights of the games up
      there. No scores, I watch on Sunday, and root for who I want to
      win……………they are a natural for doing something like you
      are saying. maybe a NBC and Google/youtube partnership ?

  4. One of the main reason the MLS’s attendence has been doing so well
    is that the ticket prices are so low in comparison to other forms
    of entertainment. If you raise salaries then the ticket prices are
    going to have to increase which will turn people away during these
    tough economical times. Also the EPL doesn’t have any FFP rules.
    They are thinking of drafting some rules but so many of the EPL
    teams must vote in favor of the idea. UEFA on the other hand does
    have FFP rules but they aren’t really in effect yet and when they
    are I have a feeling they wont really be enforced.

  5. MLS should not switch to a winter schedule, soccer should not be
    played on the months of Nov, Dec, Jan, and Feb, winter weather in
    the states is not made for soccer. I think ESPN is doing a fine job
    showing regular season games on the weekends, most soccer games
    should be played and watched during the weekends, I remember when
    ESPN aired weekdays games, those games did not bring much
    excitement, attendance is always low, and games tend to be slower
    and boring. Most of the games ESPN has been showing this year have
    been rivalry games, such as timbers vs sounders, red bulls vs
    union, galaxy vs chivas, so those games are bringing more
    excitement to the viewer than non-rivalry games. MLS and their fans
    need to put more pressure on mainstream media, we need to write
    letters, call them, request bars to show games, they have to
    realize there is a large fan base and it its growing.

  6. I agree with all the points made here and would like to touch on
    two points made. First player development. Idk why we always need
    to place responsibility on the league with these matters when we
    should really be asking the federation to take care of this matter.
    Reason being is because 1) mls is only limited to the 19 clubs it
    owns and controls and while setting up academies for them is great
    it really alienates the rest of the country that isnt fortunate to
    have a mls club near by. The federation however can promote player
    development throughout every league in every tier that touches
    every corner of our country. That way smaller clubs raise talent,
    sells them to mls or abroad and that sustains our lower league
    clubs thereby strengthening our soccer leagues. Not to mention
    prepares our leagues for pro rel. Getting rid of the draft is
    another good idea. Second the opening of wallets point. I wholely
    agree with however it shouldn’t stop with just that, clubs need to
    have autonomous power to sign their own players. Free agency is the
    answer. Players not only look for a good paycheck they also want
    rights and freedom. Mls is so centralized and so constrictive
    players fear of signing with mls because their future is in mls
    hands. If our work environment does not appeal to the players they
    wont come. Landon donovan put it best back in 2010 during the cba
    negotiation when he said that all mls players want is to have the
    same basic rights enjoyed by players in other leagues big and
    small. He also eerily reminded us that slavery is illegal. I feel
    that mls love for controlling parity, cost and profit prevents mls
    from being so much more. Lastly the schedule. We need to be on par
    with the rest of the world no excuses. I think mls needs to rely on
    its core fans instead of those who watch other sports first because
    the fear of competing with nfl and nba is ridiculous. I love the
    ecuadorian schedule and format which is they divide the schuedle in
    two parts like apertura clausura with two seperate tables and two
    champions but they also have a aggregate table to determine pro rel
    but for us it would be to determine ss champion. Anyways the two
    champions of each half play each other in a home away series for
    the league championship. We shoupd adopt that format it solves
    multiple problems. It puts us on par with the world schedule, we
    get a winter break, it is a format that makes sense and actually
    crowns the best team while retaining a sort of playoff final
    americans love.

  7. I will say, WHO CARES THAT SOCCER ISN’T POPULAR, why do we
    want/need to do a sales job on the American people. Soccer speaks
    for itself. This isn’t 1979. If we don’t do something then, teams
    are going to fold and the league will disappear…………..Now,
    that is not a danger. The league can’t and won’t go backwards, but
    ideas like playing in the winter ( are you kidding me, does anyone
    suggesting this go to games ? no), playing MORE international
    disguised friendly games ( oh my word, please no, pleeeeease no ),
    and changing a VERY successful college development system (have
    people not watched MLS teams improve on the backs of their draft
    picks over the last few years ) seem to me very forced and will
    give us something we don’t want to live with……..One a very
    affordable, accessible league, gone. Like CT in a different context
    said tickets prices are nice now. Two, do we really want someone
    that wants those things as the main fan base. Absolutely NOT. My
    guess is NY wins 8 out of the next 10, with LA cleaning up the
    other 2, when they get their way. No thanks, I will take my $22 MLS
    tickets, or $12 to watch Monterrey-Sounders AND I won’t have to sit
    next to some tool that made me sit and watch LA crush us in the
    middle of winter.

    1. Some people aren’t very bright, you have to remember that,
      especially the crazies that suggest playing soccer in winter. I
      would disagree on salaries a little bit. I think that I understand
      what you are getting at. A huge salary explosion too quick would be
      ridiculous, but it should increase faster than it is. It should be
      reasonable of course. I was thinking maybe start with doubling the
      normal increase allowed per team per year. I think that is pretty
      reasonable. My understanding is that it only goes up less than a
      million a year, but correct me if I am wrong. I don’t think that a
      slight increase would drive up ticket costs that much.

      1. Agreed, I didn’t like the levell of the increases that MLS put in
        place. Too low in my opinion………I lived and was a huge fan
        through the let’s get soccer popular phase in this country.
        Education was needed, our parents didn’t know the rules or anything
        about the game. That is not where soccer is in this country. And if
        I thought US soccer still stunk, I would still be in that camp. But
        that is not true either…………………..for me this is the
        golden age, when MLS is huge, and it will be, soccer will be
        expensive and everywhere………………………..$12 to watch
        Monterrey versus the Sounders at the CLink !?!?! If someone is not
        on board with going to that their IQ is zero, so now I am going to
        try to sell a zero IQ dude on the idea. No thanks. Enjoyed the
        game, a lot, without them.

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