On Monday, Sports Business Journal reported that Riccardo Silva on behalf of MP & Silva had approached MLS about a $4 billion broadcast rights deal spanning the years 2023-2032 if the league agreed to institute promotion and relegation. MLS has rejected the proposal according to SBJ. While we speculated yesterday that perhaps they would come back to the table, league sources have indicated to me that MLS and its marketing arm Soccer United Marketing (SUM) have a policy of not selling domestic broadcast rights to third parties.
MP & Silva, serving as a third party that bundles broadcast rights, wouldn’t deter NASL, the league where Silva currently owns the league’s Miami FC club. The latest incarnation of NASL itself was a creation of sports marketing firm Traffic Sports, who like MP & Silva bundle broadcast rights and resell them. In the league’s first few seasons, Traffic attempted to package NASL with various other properties the league had the rights to with minimal success. Traffic was later tied into the FIFA scandal and has since sold all of its interest in NASL. Plus its marketing agreement with the league has been cancelled. MP & Silva filled the void left by Traffic in 2016 when Miami FC launched and was able to help secure deals with beIN SPORTS and the CBS Sports Network for the league. Now several years on and with Silva’s ambition, the game might in fact be changed.
Imagine if Riccardo Silva was willing to put the money he’s offered MLS for broadcast rights into a building infrastructure for an attractive league system with promotion and relegation? According to former Daily Telegraph reporter Bob Williams, the $4 billion TV deal offer from MP & Silva was for MLS, D2, D3 and the Open Cup. He added that $80 million per year would be appropriated to fund and build the lower leagues of US soccer with solidarity and parachute payments being incorporated too.
Such a system of promotion/relegation between D2, D3 and D4 might be already in the works as Peter Wilt, the former GM of the Chicago Fire and President of Indy Eleven, is launching the National Independent Soccer Association (NISA) in 2018. NISA will be a third division league but has openly stated a goal of instituting promotion and relegation within five years with NASL and the fourth division NPSL.
In an interview with the Yanks are Coming soccer show last month, Wilt made it clear the league structure of both NISA and NASL would have to built out to about 18 or 20 teams by the time promotion and relegation was instituted. That goal becomes a lot easier if Silva’s billions were somehow attached to it and a TV property were launched for the newly created pyramid.
Perhaps coincidently, Wilt’s timeline would put a full implementation of promotion and relegation around the year 2023, which is when Silva’s proposed deal with MLS would have begun. Given Silva is already an influential NASL owner, the opportunity to build out a TV property using a new league structure is likely attractive.
NASL had previously stated its desire to be a Division 1 league even threatening litigation to force the issue. After a rough 2016 where the league saw two clubs defect to rival USL and two others suspend operations at least for 2017, the league fell from 12 teams to eight. Talk of challenging MLS’ hegemony as a D1 was dropped though recent expansion announcements in San Diego and Orange County have boosted NASL once again.
With MLS unwilling to entertain Silva’s offer, might NASL, NISA and NPSL be able to form a new pyramid using Silva’s money and clout with potential media partners to create an attractive alternative pyramid?
The answer is yes, though it must be noted that without the infrastructure MLS has built as well as the long-term well-thought-out commitment to youth development and local players the US’ top league has shown, NASL and its clubs will need to figure out how to build that quickly. The NASL structure where the league takes a hands-off role with regards to club matters has led to wild discrepancies in what owners spend and how they set priorities. While this is the way most open systems operate across the globe, the clubs in NASL and presumably in NISA also aren’t established enough in their communities and in the soccer landscape to not have a strong centralized structure for now.
Perhaps Riccardo Silva doesn’t see how investing $4 billion in building the infrastructure for NASL and NISA will create an opportunity to recoup the investment, unlike MLS where selling media rights for an established brand might have been easier. But if he is serious about instituting an open system in the United States, he could urge the MP & Silva resources be spent on elevating NASL’s standards, building an effective pyramid that can facilitate promotion and relegation with NISA and NPSL and then effectively market it to media partners.
No guarantee exists this alternative structure could challenge MLS, but with Silva’s financial resources and his media contacts, they certainly could attempt to give it a go.