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Stefan Szymanski on Premier League TV deal

In the NEW episode, number 238, host Kartik Krishnaiyer speaks with economist Dr. Stefan Szymanski (Soccernomics co-author) to discuss several major topics relating to the economics of world soccer, including:

• Why the Premier League is on the precipice of making more money from TV rights than ever before
• How the next Premier League TV deal in the U.S. is up in the air
• The impact of government authorities in the UK on TV rights
• Brexit’s longterm impact on the Premier League and English Championship
• Luxury taxes in European soccer and whether they can work or not
• Has the salary cap in LaLiga helped or hurt the Spanish league?
• Survival rate comparison between soccer clubs in open leagues versus closed leagues
• The story of Leicester City that went from bankruptcy to league title winners
• How coverage of the European Super League was different in the US versus UK media
• Concept of ownership of soccer clubs; owners versus local communities
• Fan ownership, the German 50+1 model, and whether it can work in England
• News about a new edition of Soccernomics coming soon

Listen to the show via the player above or via this link.

Launched in 2006, the World Soccer Talk Podcast is the longest running podcast on the planet. Every week, we share the latest news about watching soccer on television and streaming, in addition to discussing what we like and dislike, and featuring your questions and feedback in our Listener Mailbag segment.

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71 Comments

71 Comments

  1. Roberto

    October 18, 2021 at 3:12 pm

    I have not gotten out the original “Soccernomics” To me the MLS is concentrating on survival with the salary cap and other expense limits. I was a season ticket holder for the NASL Seattle Sounders and enjoyed that exposure to football after they got over their attempts to americanize the game but the league was not sustainable. To me it seems the MLS is building a firm foundation for a league that lasts.
    Sure hope the new version of Soccernomics addresses the likelihood that without all the money dropping from the Sky the EPL would have several teams that would be insolvent.

  2. Turfit

    October 18, 2021 at 10:15 am

    So at the end of the Dallas Cowboys and New England game yesterday, Tony Romo (CBS) spent a few minutes bragging about Jerry Jones and the team that HE has assembled.

  3. Ra

    October 17, 2021 at 4:41 pm

    @Stefan Szymanski. Very well said. I thoroughly enjoyed your interview. Very informative and entertaining. Hope you will appear on this and other podcasts more. Hope to hear from you again soon. I will definitely read your book when released.

  4. Stefan Szymanski

    October 17, 2021 at 3:57 pm

    Eddy, thank you for kind of defending me, but all of this is wrong. Here is what I actually wrote in 2015

    “Americans constantly tell me that owners of sport franchises in the US will insist on making money. If that really is the case, then I predict that MLS will collapse, and probably sooner rather than later.”

    Some people who disagreed with me, or perhaps just don’t read very carefully, simply quoted this:

    “I predict that MLS will collapse, and probably sooner rather than later.”

    Those people must be very pleased, because this out of context quote gets repeated still. As I pointed out at the time, my statement was really about the objectives of the owners rather than the collapse of the league. It’s like saying

    “Donald Trump speculated that injecting bleach might be a cure for Covid. If he really tries that, I predict he will die, and sooner rather than later”. which is not the same as saying “I predict he will die, and sooner rather than later.” The conditional clause completely changes the meaning.

    It’s a salutary lesson about the internet – people don’t check their sources. If they did, honest people would not still be repeating the self evident misrepresentation.

    But hey, what can you do? 🙂

  5. José Cerrato

    October 10, 2021 at 5:49 pm

    @Eddy 👍

  6. Eddy

    October 10, 2021 at 2:24 pm

    @Jose I agree which being a fan of MLS will be even more fun after the TV deal to see them have to come to with grips of reality and their illusions of grandeur about a collapse or some equivalent of a mom and pop lower league from their city or lower league they support surplanting MLS.

    Even Kartik flat out said in a podcast mailbox session when one listener went all when do you think the lower leagues will pass MLS you know its failing and such blah blah. Kartik was like paraphrasing here “it won’t ever happen there’s just too much money in MLS, yeah we talk about it not spending enough but reality having worked in lower leagues the money they’re spending in MLS is just so much more it won’t happen”

    It’s the stages of grief lol.

  7. José Cerrato

    October 10, 2021 at 11:05 am

    @Eddy Los que todavía creen que la MLS colapsará son haters del fútbol.

  8. Eddy

    October 9, 2021 at 1:05 am

    @Ra Ask yourself are you high?Are you I certainly, haven’t said I’m trying to convince you to like MLS . I agree on the other stuff about a good debate and that’s what I was doing stating where I was coming from. Again no one has tried to tell you or convince you to like MLS. You seem to make big leaps of assumptions. I actually respect that you own up to your bias. I don’t get it I thinks its petty, I can’t possibly imagine not liking a league any league unless it was the I hate puppies league or something LOL HA HA but to each their own I guess.

  9. Ra

    October 8, 2021 at 10:42 pm

    @Eddy, Eddy. You must be high on something. I said that I dislike the MLS. Period. Are you really trying to convince me otherwise? It is not my cup of tea, and this is not something up for discussion. I like discussions because I am open-minded to change my opinions. I appreciate a good argument. This is certainly not the case here.

    I gave it a try and it is dissonant with my values. I would rather watch 15 other leagues over the MLS. I can share the list if you’d like.

    You have every right to love the MLS. Share your reasons with others. Don’t spend any time trying to convince me.

  10. Eddy

    October 8, 2021 at 7:19 pm

    @Jose Cerrato Lol Stefan Szymanski sure did back in 2015 said MLS would collapse sooner rather than later and yes it’s still standing strong alive and kicking. Its funny he started the whole is MLS a ponzi scheme thing IIRC. That took on a life of its own and folks still use that line, but what got lost and to his credit as he studied the league further he came out and said he was wrong and it wasn’t a ponzi scheme but that didn’t get nearly the coverage or reaction from the folks who ran with the ponzi scheme line. There are folks still thinking its about to collapse or there will be this major inflection point of collapse or loss popularity collapse. MLS isn’t perfect and I want to see some changes in the future like weeding out the cheap owners out of the league, but folks keep underestimating the league largely out of dislike.

    Twitter will be a fun read after the next TV deal where folks come to the reality it’s solidified its spot at the so called Big 5 US Sports league table. The Ben Fast of the world and Tinfoil Ted’s haha.

  11. Eddy

    October 8, 2021 at 7:07 pm

    @RA I don’t have to search a thing don’t be cute saying search the world popularity and stuff. Trust me I’m not creating any demons you just said you are against MLS. So lets not play cute ok, If someone or a group of people trashed the league you supported or team you and most of us true fans would speak up.

    Anyway off of that back to what I’m saying I was paraphrasing the gist of the the comments I was talking about and no one is crazy here they know what they said and where exactly where they were coming from was that everything is wrong with MLS top to bottom it’s not authentic, comment on poor quality(disagree), ownership needs to invest more(agree) and the Euro leagues are more popular here(disagree/False). The latter was 100% about what my previous post was about and if you read the comments it’s folks at one point or another repeating this claim.

    That’s what I called out, people ride EPL coattails of popularity and try to say all of Euro leagues are more popular. Why? It makes them feel a certain way I guess. The same way in College Football fans chant S-E-C!!!. In this circumstance, there wouldn’t be a issue for me if they looked at each league when making comments about what folks supposedly care more about, but its all the talk about people in their markets caring more about MLS and MLS teams being nothing in all these markets and folks in their markets caring about Euro soccer and the leagues they favor be it Serie A/La Liga/Bundesliga etc. I’m simply saying whoa there slow down buddy,EPL is more popular I’ll give you that but don’t try to slide in all these other way less popular Euro leagues as quasi being more popular and folks caring about those league here than MLS like no one was gonna notice.

    Simply put folk care largely about Liga MX/EPL/MLS in this country as far as domestic leagues everything is in the super niche category. As the comment someone said earlier MLS real life popularity far exceeds it internet popularity. The internet is where malcontents of something go to be heard hence the echo chamber. Echo chambers aren’t reality.

  12. José Cerrato

    October 8, 2021 at 6:48 pm

    Stefan Szymanski pronosticó en abril de 2015, que más pronto que tarde la MLS colapsaría.
    Bueno, estamos en octubre de 2021 y la MLS sigue vivita y coleando. 😎

  13. Mercator

    October 8, 2021 at 5:23 pm

    @Eddy – Its not just about spending though. Again I have to look at newcastle – poor team, negligent if not destructive owner, basically no net spend. The difference is newcastle is a storied club representing a city that loves football en mass. MLS clubs just don’t have that luxury – they don’t have that history, they are selling a sport less popular in the US, and most MLS clubs just don’t seem to have that level of permanence compared to Newcastle, which will not be folded or moved from Newcastle, no matter how bad they get. In other words, they have fan and community investment. In most markets, MLS doesn’t seem to have made an effort to build that at all over the last 25 years. The result is that when the owner is negligent or the team isn’t winning, there are no fans left to really keep the club going. You end up with forgotten franchises who are happy to draw 5-10k, be bad to average, and generally neglect the football supporters in their community. It’s a downward cycle, anyone new looking for a club to support or moving to a city can see the situation and figures its easier to support Man United or Club America. I know the league isn’t as old as all the Euro leagues but its been 25 years, a football club should be able to generate a regular and broad base of support in a city like Chicago or NYC after 25 years, especially if its worth hundreds of millions. I’m not advocating for spend at all cost – I think the MLS could do so much more without that much more revenue. I don’t think the issue at this point is quality on the field, it’s really with the negligence of some of these owners who could easily afford to do more to bring in fans and integrate the club with the community. Doesn’t cost that much to hand out t-shirts at local youth events or to make sure the local news covers the team in the sports section. Doesn’t take much effort to bring beer prices under $10 bucks. I just don’t see the situation changing until some event occurs that convinces owners they need to be more proactive in growing and improving their club, on the pitch and in the community. I don’t see that happening frankly unless something threatens the underlying economics of their investment, and the only thing that could really do that is the risk of competition from other leagues in their home market. An unimpressive rights deal compared to the EPL, or a fall in valuation of some of these clubs, is probably the only thing that will get the attention of some of these owners and convince them they need to do more or sell.

  14. locofooty

    October 8, 2021 at 4:42 pm

    At least he is emphasizing “popularity”, (whatever that means) and not quality/level of play, players, rel/pro, history, tactics, etc, etc, etc…not much footing to stand there. I could care less about the ratings, avg viewing. Give me all the matches in a package and I am good. I got spanish TV, podcasts, youtube, VPN for the rest and to stay informed. Keep it niche for all I care. Like Ra says, it’s a good status quo to have. I don’t need validation.

  15. Ra

    October 8, 2021 at 4:27 pm

    @Eddy. Can you please provide examples here of people “chest claiming there leagues are more popular here in this country than MLS”? If you search for the term ‘popular’ in this post, you can see that 95%+ of mentions came from you. Seriously, check it out and you will see that you are creating your own demons.
    I dislike the MLS. It is a fact. But I am not inferring anything about other people’s preferences.

  16. Eddy

    October 8, 2021 at 3:53 pm

    Sorry about the typos I’m on my cell (probably)* there instead of (their) and stuff.

  17. Eddy

    October 8, 2021 at 3:50 pm

    @JP good points but only gripe again as I always say just say larger part are more invested in EPL not European Soccer as a whole. Why do I keep coming back to that because this conversation lacks context and you see fans of other less popular Euro leagues as evidence by viewership and such talk down to MLS fans and puffing out there chest claiming there leagues are more popular here in this country than MLS, when it is the furthest thing from the truth fans of Serie A, Bundesliga, La Liga, Ligue 1 are quick to do that. Every one has their main league they like. Liga MX fans probable get tired of hearing all of us by the way as there league is the undisputed top dog here as far as popularity.

    Lol but as a MLS fans I do get tired of seeing fans of other Euro league try to coat tail on the popularity of EPL and claim ALL (eyerolls) of European soccer is more popular than MLS. It’s like umm no sir your league you may love Serie A/Bundesliga/La Liga to death but it’s not changing the fact that only 50-100k are watching those leagues on avg.

    You don’t get to live vicariously by what happens in Europe and just get to insert that popularity in a WHOLE another continent. We here all the anecdotal evidence I never see xyz MLS Jersey but I see PLENTY of Bayern jersey’s inserts these teams/leagues are more popular than lowly MLS here. Even Chris mentioned on a pod about a month ago and Kartik agreed he’s come to the realization now that folks just like the jersey’s more than anything and wearing them is sort of a statement thing. For all the jersey’s he sees it doesn’t reflect in the TV ratings for those leagues.

    So that’s my gripe folks of various different Euro leagues they favore trying to coat tail on the EPL and translate its popularity onto the even more less popular nicher league they follow while talking about how unpopular MLS. So yeah the hypocrisy of it all I guess. I agree it’s all niche in the end compared to all the major US sports.

  18. Ra

    October 8, 2021 at 2:48 pm

    I would like to see Fox Sports acquire MLS rights so that I don’t end up indirectly paying for it. They already have the WC, so it would make sense for them.

    I’ve also come around to think that, IF NBC broadcasted all games live on Peacock, it would be better if they retained these rights. Or that these rights went to a new streaming service.
    It is good not to have all eggs in one basket.
    ESPN+: Bundesliga, LaLiga, Eredivisie, Jupiler, etc.
    Paramount: UCL, Serie A, Brasileirao, Argentinean
    Peacock/New-to-sports service: EPL
    It would provide a nice balance of power and would foster healthy competition.

  19. JP

    October 8, 2021 at 2:06 pm

    VERY late to this MLS discussion. Will say, I was a fan for the 1st few years the league started and have been in and out since depending on how my local team was doing in the playoffs. Some years basically only watched MLS Cup, which they always lose (The Buffalo Bills of MLS!). While they are doing very well this year and have been fun to watch, still look forward to watch the European leagues than more than them.

    It’s not the quality per se, as it’s been good this season, it’s the knowledge other leagues have BETTER quality. I imagine it’s how Europeans view their local basketball leagues. May follow, but they probably follow the NBA from a distance and enjoy that even more. The local basketball club probably low on the pecking order for their sports affection/enthusiasm. Similar to MLS here, we may watch from time to time and even become a little invested for the playoffs, but at the end of the day, the majority of fans in the MLS markets not living and dying with the results. Nice if they win, non issue if they lose.

    With that mindset, it makes sense to become more invested in the European leagues. Most of us not living and dying with the results of various European clubs, but it’s without a doubt better quality and usually more exciting to watch. It’s not snobbery, just a better choice for entertainment most of the time. Add that to the fact MLS often competes with traditional (more popular) US sports (Pro and College), and that the pool of soccer fans (already niche) might have had their fill in the morning/afternoon, MLS is an afterthought in the US sports landscape.

    The European leagues also an afterthought for sports fans not part of our niche, but a larger part of that niche is more invested in it than MLS.

  20. locofooty

    October 8, 2021 at 1:47 pm

    *insert Morgan Freeman pointing upwards “he’s right you now” meme

  21. MLS = Real Estate play

    October 8, 2021 at 1:37 pm

    FYI:

    MLS has been a commercial real estate business since the late 1990s and will always be one.

    The San Jose Earthquakes are a notorious example, as that team has NO CHANCE against big spenders such as LAFC, Portland or Seattle.

    Liga MX is headed in the same direction now that even “nominal” pro/rel (with ability for club owners to sell operating licenses before disbanding clubs) has been suspended for 5 years.

  22. Grim Reaper

    October 8, 2021 at 1:30 pm

    @Carolyn Anderson:

    NBCSN will shut down on 31 December 2021 at 11:59:59 pm Eastern Standard Time

  23. Carolyn Anderson

    October 8, 2021 at 1:24 pm

    when does NBCSN stop showing the EPL?

  24. Eddy

    October 8, 2021 at 10:46 am

    @Mercator I see your points and I hate cheap owners as well but your scenario of rather having the worst case to shake up the owners as a whole likely isn’t happening and would be kind of cutting off your nose to spite your face.

    I would also warn you not to romanticize Euro spend at all cost thats a owner that really cares mentality, There are ALOT of clubs in Europe in financial ruin because of just that That was the main reason alot of those clubs wanted the SUPER LEAGUE some for increased greed and some becuase they were so awful with their finances they dug a themselves in a hole so deep they saw the SUPER LEAGUE as a quick fix. My hope is as MLS still in it relative infancy compare to Big Europe league 2-4x older than it is that MLS can find and strike the right balance of spend aim to be more of Bundesliga where most clubs are on good solid financial footing.

  25. Mercator

    October 8, 2021 at 9:41 am

    @Eddy – A big TV deal brings in more revenues to spend of course, but it kind of exacerbates the underlying issue which is that owners don’t bother to build the clubs or their fanbases because they get a return without doing so. Again, MLS is looking for and will get bigger and bigger TV deals, but ratings do not appear to be materially higher than 20 years ago. The MLS will get better talent but its position will not be materially altered – the best global talent will still play in the same big 5 leagues (and I would argue the quality of play isn’t what holds MLS back at this point in any case). I just don’t see a big TV deal changing the situation – the owners will still be negligent, they will still have no incentive to put in more than the club brings in, they won’t be any more adept at competently running a club and ticket prices or concession prices will not go down. Plus, with the way the MLS expands, these deals get bigger but its spread over more clubs. On a per club revenue basis, it’s hard to both rake in expansion fees for new teams and get TV deals big enough to really boost revenues on a per team basis including all those new teams. I don’t even think money is the issue right now. Some of the most negligent owners are multibillionaires – they could double the front office staff or marketing budget and it would be a rounding error. But they don’t, because they truly do not care.

    I would posit that the best thing for MLS may be to not get a huge TV deal, and in fact get kind of embarrassed in comparison to whatever deal the EPL is able to secure. I think that might indicate to owners they have to do something more with clubs in big markets, because their monopoly on top football isn’t really secure given the growth of the EPL in the US over the last 10 years or so. It should be an embarrassment that some of these cities, which have failing MLS clubs, will bring out 80k people to watch a preseason game with Man United. I know my MLS club would be heavily outnumbered at home against any mid-major LIGA MX team. The more accessible these leagues become in the US, the more focus these league put on the US… well all of a sudden its not clear being the second club in NYC playing in a baseball stadium is actually worth very much, now or tomorrow, even if you are the “top-tier” of domestic football. The football fans there all have other allegiances. And you know what, that’s fair. Why would they have any allegiance to a domestic team that charges hundreds for tickets to watch another team’s reserve squad play in a baseball stadium.

    It’s a collective action problem, a lot of these owners are riding the coattails of Seattle and Atlanta and the clubs that make an effort. The league should stop tolerating that, but it won’t, because a a voting majority of the owners are in the do nothing group. You can see how this stifles even owners able and willing to do much more, and how the MLS can actually end up inhibiting its own growth and the growth of the game in this country.

  26. Roberto

    October 8, 2021 at 9:32 am

    Jeez, I only had 4 points. Old age is not for the meek.
    4. The teams that play in NFL stadiums are the ones in tax supported venues. The MLS team owned stadiums are mostly paid for by the team owners*. There have been some modest tax breaks but not to the extent of the other sports in the U.S. *Billionaires should not get tax breaks!

  27. Roberto

    October 8, 2021 at 9:11 am

    Great podcast and very good commentary. Informative and no name calling. I want to address a couple of points.
    1. Only one MLS team has moved. The 1st Earthquakes moved to Houston. The attempt to move the Columbus team was stopped by the the supporters. In the EPL Wimbledon was moved, so both leagues have had the same movement. Sure NASL teams sometimes moved monthly, it seemed.
    2. Leagues quality; Above the same person mentioned the revenue for TV rights and then attacked the MLS’s lack of quality. Money buys quality, all European leagues have more $$$ then the MLS.
    3. Greg, do check out Oakland Roots. They have a connection to one of my favorites, St. Pauli FC.

  28. Eddy

    October 8, 2021 at 8:50 am

    @RA What pray tell are you on about, please read before you post. My reply was to a scenario and situation Mercator was replying to. MLS stands to gain from a large media rights deal because the players get 25% from the deal. For MLS a league with cheap owners holding back the league the only way for someone like Mercator that was bemoaning cheap ownership (me as well) will be for increased spending thru a larger TV deal. More money= better players

  29. Ra

    October 8, 2021 at 6:55 am

    @Eddy It is funny to see that you are concerned with
    owner’s wallets. When discussing TV rights, I am always concerned with my own. And having a great quality streaming and good productions.
    From my perspective, the Conmembol WC qualifiers is the worst outcome. They offer very little for a lot of money. Could not care less about fattening Conmembol’s bank account. Same with other leagues.

  30. Eddy

    October 7, 2021 at 11:47 pm

    @Mercator I agree on the spending its really the cheap owners holding back MLS. I don’t think you’ll get the scenario you are hoping for with EPL and Liga MX TV deals being worth more and thus forcing MLS cheap owners to do more. For one as messed up as MLS can be from a competitive standpoint Liga MX is equally messed up on the finances and its failure is not have a league wide TV deal instead its TV deals for seperate teams so Liga MX doesn’t capitalize on its popularity and are able to get a fat League wide TV deal, On the EPL deal they are behind MLS in the negotiation and TV rights process they just decided to go to market a few weeks ago for the first time since 2013 and not auto renew with NBC, Bob Williams of Sport Business said Sept 14 “The MLS domestic broadcast rights tender is closing soon, am told.” Meaning they’ve already had the bidding process and have received the bids and are deciding which ones to choose from. So the EPL rights won’t affect MLS, the best bet for more spending I’m resigned to is the a bigger TV deal since roster spending has finally been linked to the TV rights 25% of TV revenue now as of the new CBA through 2027.

  31. Ra

    October 7, 2021 at 10:13 pm

    @Mercator. I’m with you. It will certainly give them the highest NPV in their risk-adjusted valuation.

    This is the most sound financial decision for them, unless they have a backlash from ‘fans’.

  32. Mercator

    October 7, 2021 at 10:03 pm

    Everyone seems to have the assumption that MLS owners want more fans, want a better fanbase, want the team to win etc, and it’s just a matter of figuring out how to accomplish that. I don’t think that is the case at all. They literally care about none of these things, only the bottom line. Well a team with a lot of fans, winning, it must be more profitable for the owner right? All other things equal, sure. But it requires capital expenditure which adds risk, you can spend and there is the risk the fans won’t come out. This puts you behind the risk free return of just sitting on the club. In fact, revenues otherwise equal, there are probably a lot of good reason an owner wouldn’t want a dedicated fan base. The valuation may be higher if a new owner can come in and easily move the team with little risk of upsetting fans or a city law suit. It’s not the owners being dumb or evil or lazy, it’s probably the prudent financial decision for them to run their clubs the way they do. Particularly if you are an owner who really doesn’t know much or care much about running a football club, or if you don’t actually have the wealth necessary to run a $500m club. We all expect investment etc before the 2026 world cup, but I would think this is the time for owners to do the bare minimum because the WC will drive interest and growth. For the cheap or short term owners, the valuation will probably be higher after the WC so do the minimum not and hang on until then. For the other owners…well they have a monopoly on top flight soccer, they can afford to wait until after the fans show up to decide if its worth the investment, they don’t have to invest today to get ahead of the market. I think this makes the MLS and EPL rights interesting – they are bidding at the same time and if all of a sudden the EPL is pulling in more interest and broadcast revenue in the US, maybe the MLS owners will realise they don’t have quite the monopoly on football they think they do. Liga MX has been shouting it in their face every time their clubs play in the US, but again the owners only look at the financials and hopefully they will put in a bit more effort if it becomes apparently the EPL is worth more to US broadcasters, despite the MLS now having 30 teams (ie. limited room for expansion) and the upcoming WC.

  33. Ra

    October 7, 2021 at 9:47 pm

    @Mercator. Completely agree. It would be great to have Clubs publicly traded. We could literally support a small cap team. That is the interesting side of capitalism; not private owners being caught in the pandora papers.

  34. Mercator

    October 7, 2021 at 9:36 pm

    @Eddy – But every team says that, if we start winning fans will come. There are 30 teams, only one can win (two I guess with supporters shield). Winning more is not a league wide strategy to improve interest and attendance. And it’s not just Chicago and New York. Dallas, Houston, Boston are all basically non-entities. Nevermind completely forgotten markets, like Denver, who have an owner who exemplifies everything people complain about the MLS model. Look at a lot of these owners and they have money, they could easily do the same as Blank and invest a bit in the team or at least cut back on the high prices for fans. But they just don’t care, I don’t think these owners think about or pay much attention to what the MLS team is doing. They just know it will be worth more tomorrow than today, even if they do the bare minimum.

    It’s also really not that hard if you are willing to not maximise current revenue at every opportunity. I don’t care how bad the team is, if I can get in for $10 and get beers for local bar prices I will go and watch, why not. Not that hard to convince others, even those with no interest in football, to come out. But poor teams, with no real connection to the city or history, negligent ownership, and high prices … every MLS team should be like a Portland or Seattle at this stage, with a real base level of support. MLS owners haven’t managed that in the biggest markets in the country (other than LA), basically out of negligence and the league has done nothing. Because the intent is not really to establish and build a football club, it’s to make a good investment. And it’s clear a lot of owners have concluded the best way to do that is to minimise operating and capital expenditures (other than property speculation) and just wait for the value of the club to appreciate.

  35. jason

    October 7, 2021 at 7:57 pm

    @Ra We have been through this before in other articles sir. Look at issues beyond all the accusations. Wanting to preserve one’s culture is ok. The World Cup embraces that with it being a competition of nations.

  36. Eddy

    October 7, 2021 at 6:31 pm

    @Mercator I agree on the big cities NY is a mess both teams well at least NYCFC is good on the field they just have to fix the stadium issue. I’m still up on Chicago they have ambitious owner in Mansueto and he has shown he’s willing to put up dollars. Chicago CAN NOT strike out on the new hire they need to pull a New England that market in Chicago is too good to have a ineffective front office. I’ll withhold judgement on Miami til next season year 3. They have to fix it on the field ala Chicago. If Chicago wins they can get 25-30k easy in Soldier field and fill that lower bowl, There were a few 20k games to start the season before it was obvious the team was putrid and the place at least on TV was rocking.

  37. Mercator

    October 7, 2021 at 6:15 pm

    @Greg – I think the problem is they just don’t have an incentive to do any of that stuff. I’m sure they would like it to be better but they aren’t going to increase expenditures on staff, players, marketing etc to do so. These MLS clubs are like old row homes sitting in the middle of a big city. The land is extremely valuable, the building isn’t worth much, and the owner is slum-lording the property while the land value climbs and climbs. There is no incentive to build a proper home on the land, and the value isn’t climbing because of anything the owner has done right. Most of these MLS owners don’t care about the game, in many cases they don’t care about the city, this is an investment for them and the club record or the attendance will have a marginal impact on the club value, so they aren’t going to incur operating expenses today to improve that. There are exceptions, like Blank who clearly made a deliberate effort to build a fanbase, but in most cases the owners don’t care. This is the most discouraging thing for me because its not like a Mike Ashley situation where there is hope once the bum is out – if you have a bad owner, the next one won’t be much better because the system is not designed to encourage them to be much better.

    @Eddy – I have plenty of positives. The stadium itself here is actually fantastic, would be the envy of many European clubs. You can drink in your seat, the biggest benefit in my opinion which is spoiled by the drink prices. But really it’s not a long list – the obvious positive is its the top flight of football in the US. But unfortunately this is not something the league really earned, they were given it. And they know they have that one big positive on their side, they cannot lose it, and so they don’t do much else in terms of building the clubs or fanbases. It really should be bigger than it is now, especially in huge cities like Chicago and New York, but the league has allowed these markets to flounder because they just don’t seem to care. They handed the NY market to two B teams from foreign clubs – of course you aren’t going to get the national coverage you want when you haven’t even done the basics in the biggest market (and media market) in the country. It’s just a bit frustrating because you can see the intangibles are there, the packed bars, football jerseys everywhere and your bearded friend now talking about Tottenham, but MLS doesn’t seem to be making a real effort in many of these markets. Miami looks a mess but at least there seems to be some ambition there. Why on earth would anyone support NYCFC for example, watching City B team play on a baseball field? Football fans here deserve better from their top domestic league. I get football is not the biggest sport, but then stop charging me $15 for a beer like you are the NFL.

  38. Eddy

    October 7, 2021 at 5:14 pm

    @Ra and @Mercator we can agree to disagree I’ll stand by my statement the view online often doesn’t match reality and the case I’m making is the folks complaining the most about MLS don’t watch it follow it invest in it so they have entirely different perspective and often the perspective doesn’t match reality because they don’t follow it. That’s why complainers can’t say anything positives. Folks who follow the league or are even non bias can find those positives. When you are so bias against something you can’t find one positive maybe its time to reflect that maybe you’re in the minority on this one.. I don’t find much evidence to support the claim about MLS should at least be 4-5 times more popular that just seems like a way out from admitting I’m right for calling a few of you guys out about the often repeated but untrue refrain about Euro Leagues are more popular it smacks of just wanting to have it all and both ways.

    I’m paraphrasing here
    “So what I just heard Euro Leagues are more popular in the US.”
    Me: Not true outside the EPL the other Euro Leagues get way lower viewership, I get liking something more but there’s difference from preference and reality

    ” Those leagues are more popular here in the US because they get way bigger TV deals in their home countries and revenues”
    Me: What does that have to do with the price of tea in China? Fact is they just aren’t that popular here MLS is often more popular here again look at TV ratings.

    “Well MLS should get 4 to 5x those leagues here its like that in every country the domestic league is more popular.”
    Me: Scratches head… but didn’t this debate all start because two or three of you guys were claiming how unpopular MLS is and how the unpopular it is and folks only care about the European leagues? It kind of just sounds like some of you all no matter what just want MLS down even if its not. Facts aren’t important feeling trump reality.

  39. Ra

    October 7, 2021 at 4:00 pm

    I meant chauvinism, not jingoism.

  40. greg

    October 7, 2021 at 3:59 pm

    I think Mercator makes some good points. If there’s a fan-base for soccer in a city and the local owner isn’t doing anything to cultivate it by way of grassroots marketing and presence, and in fact actively makes it difficult by way of expensive tickets, concessions, parking, or putting the stadium far from public transport then it will be hard to convince people to go. And it could be that so much high-quality Euro soccer on tv has saturated desire and tamped down attendance…not necessarily because of snobbery but because of time and other things to do.

    But tell you what, if I had a half-empty stadium but saw bars full and my local market tv ratings strong for EPL, I’d be sending marketing staff to those bars all the time with coupons & other incentives. I’d buy whatever local ad time I could on EPL matches. And I’d be all over youth leagues with community partnerships.

    I don’t know the profile of the average MLS owner (well, shareholder) now, but I do remember when they started it was mainly people with ownership in other top 3 or 4 sports in the league. The Hunts and maybe others had prior soccer experience. I also wonder if the central-ownership model lessens the incentive to grow local franchises the way Seattle, Atlanta & others have. Not all owners/shareholders care enough beyond the guaranteed payout and asset appreciation. Maybe if there were an owner’s academy featuring best practices from the top Euro leagues they might see the value of moving beyond the US way of thinking about sports marketing.

  41. Ra

    October 7, 2021 at 3:53 pm

    @Eddy. Again, you are comparing apples to oranges. MLS, being the domestic league, should have at least 4-5 times more viewership than foreign leagues. This is the case everywhere else in the world. Why not here? Incompetence and a model that prioritizes owners over fans.

    I have no interest in Baseball but I would go 4 out of 5 times to watch minor league baseball over MLS in NJ(/NY). $5 entry tickets and $2 beers did the trick. I would enjoy my beer in the ballpark knowing that I was not being exploited.

  42. Ra

    October 7, 2021 at 3:46 pm

    @jason Szymanski was referring to Brexit. He is absolutely correct; jingoism and xenophobia were the key drivers. There were other issues at play, but these two factors are what galvanized the far-right.

    And now Polish truck drivers are deeply missed in Britain:
    reuters.com/world/uk/no-thank-you-prime-minister-polish-trucker-says-british-christmas-visa-offer-2021-09-28/

  43. Mercator

    October 7, 2021 at 3:23 pm

    @Eddy – The growth in value of the club has nothing to do with the experience for the fans or the game on the pitch. You are again using an owners metric to measure a fan experience, which makes no sense. Why would any fan care what their club is worth beyond the impact it could have on the pitch? Should I feel good because a local billionaire made even more money this year neglecting the local football team? I’m not sure what evidence you are looking at – you can go back to the 90s and MLS games will get 150k-300k on average, there doesn’t seem to be an appreciable increase there, despite having several more teams in new markets. Your numbers show its the 3rd most popular league domestically, how is that doing a good job after 25 years?

    I guess I just ask myself, how is it possible for all of these bars to be regularly packed at 10am for football games, but the stadium is absolutely empty? How is it possible that the local team is not one of the top 3 most visible clubs in its own market? Why does everything have premium pricing when the quality of the football is not really premium? They are doing a poor job of managing a lot of these clubs and you have major US cities with basically no local football presence because the local MLS team has a monopoly on the market and the owner doesn’t care, probably doesn’t even fully know the rules of the game. Like I said, as USL shows, even with little to no capital people are happy to support and develop local football. But the MLS stands in the way of that for many American fans. I recognise this is not the case in many MLS markets, like Seattle or Atlanta, but there are 30 teams, and many many more markets without a team, that are getting basically nothing from the MLS.

  44. jason

    October 7, 2021 at 3:21 pm

    When Szymansk started yelling out xenophobia as a reason for resriction of foreign players in english lower leagues, he lost credibity in the interview.

  45. Eddy

    October 7, 2021 at 2:57 pm

    @Dave yes on MLS popularity the way some folks talk about MLS popularity or lack of popularity online vs the leagues they think are more popular that they follow more or care about us stunning at times. You can tell they don’t actually know the real numbers LIga MX is tops with 600-700k viewership followed by EPL with 400-450k, MLS with 250-300k with Serie A/La Liga/Bundesliga around 100-150k.

  46. Eddy

    October 7, 2021 at 2:50 pm

    @Mercator I think your view is misguided folks who support MLS recognized the warts but also recognized every league has warts no league is perfect and claiming one is run better than the other is subjective . Again @Dave hit is perfectly the popularity of MLS far outpaces internet message boards. If you find yourself constantly trashing something yet it grows or goes up in value or whatever metric ask yourself maybe I’m missing something and there are dfans. It seems most rather spend there time saying how terrible MLS is on message board echo chambers dumping on MLS rather than say its grown the game in the US and it has alot of fans in the US, instead the most vocal minority often the loudest about it spend every chance they can to anyone who’ll listen saying its the worst lol. Thats what MLS fans get tired of there as to be some balance with everything nothing wrong saying this is good and this is bad. But to have some tell its the most unpopular league when evidence shows the league some of ya’ll tout are way less popular than MLS.

    Balance is key some go overboard in negativity MLS has its worts and things to change for sure but its growing and done good things. As far has its grown since the 90s? Is tomorrow Friday lol.

  47. Mercator

    October 7, 2021 at 2:32 pm

    I think the point is MLS can and should be doing much better, a lot of their teams are run incompetently or negligently. Have TV ratings really climbed since the late 90s? The two teams in the biggest market are outposts of foreign teams. The critique here is that cities like Dallas, NYC, Chicago etc should be like Seattle, Portland or Atlanta at this stage. I would venture that my MLS club is maybe the 4-6th most popular football team in the city? I would say its poor management but the club goes up in value, the owner made their money. And Ithink that’s the real issue a lot of us are getting at – there doesn’t seem to be much effort, at the grassroots level or at the ownership level, to do much with many MLS clubs. Grassroots stuff is meaningless, the club belongs to the owner and will be in a city across the country the minute it makes financial sense to do so. The owner has a monopoly, they don’t care how they perform on the field or how full the stadium is, as long as the club value is rising they are making money. The end result is no investment in the club, from the fans or the ownership.

    And then they charge NFL or NBA prices at the stadium for drinks and food and wonder why they can’t get more than 10k people to attend a game in metro areas with millions of people. Look at Atlanta, Blank made an effort and manages to pack out an NFL stadium. They charge much less for food and drinks. They market the team, they cross-sell to NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL fans in the city, and they actually tried to put the most competitive team they could on the field. When owners invest and make an effort to build the club and it’s fanbase, fans respond. This is not the case for many MLS clubs, probably about half and again skewed toward the bigger cities. So what is MLS offering most US football fans – there isn’t a club in their city, and if there is then odds are the owner is half-assing it and the fans don’t care. It’s not a surprise to see USL developing, the MLS is leaving huge gaps in the football landscape here and does not serve most US football fans particularly well. My MLS team is worth north of $500 million, with no proper academy.

    There seems to be this misconception that to support football in the US you have to support MLS or at least not bad mouth it because its our domestic league after all. But really, its not doing a great job and is full of owners who should be investing in the game ahead of the 2026 world cup but instead seem happy to ignore their MLS team until the next round of Forbes valuations come out.

  48. dave

    October 7, 2021 at 2:26 pm

    @Eddy, I agree MLS has a popularity that exceeds its internet reputation. Prior to the pandemic, MLS averaged ~20,000 attendance per game. That is a bit higher than NBA/NHL and about 75% of MLB. Highly variable by team, and the examples @greg and @Mercator give about attending in different venues may explain a fair amount of differences in attendance and local popularity.
    .
    I am more of a Liga MX fan so I do not catch much MLS. Both leagues have a similar opportunity and challenge – they get a lot more attendance and eyeballs than sponsorship and rights fees. Will be interesting to see if/how that changes with Leagues Cup and upcoming rights deals.

  49. Eddy

    October 7, 2021 at 2:00 pm

    their*

  50. Eddy

    October 7, 2021 at 1:51 pm

    @Ra we agree there its all in what you like my only gripe was just the 2 or 3 that feel a way about MLS and then try to tell other people its not anything. My whole point was for all the comments oh this is whats wrong with MLS, I never see people wearing jerseys etc no fans anywhere except the West Coast. It must be doing something right because the popularity on TV seems to far outpace all the Euro league from other countries outside the EPL.

    So just trying to get the other folks to see well maybe there view especially in this area of the internet isn’t always reality no matter how much things can be a echo chamber of agreement.

  51. Eddy

    October 7, 2021 at 1:40 pm

    @MichaelF You’re not stirring the pot some things just should be said, I would take disagreement your statement that “The overall growing US soccer audience seems to be focused on Euro leagues.” There isn’t much tangible evidence to support that, TV ratings etc. If anything most of the growth in soccer here is coming from the domestic side with USL and other lower leagues spreading as well as with MLS new league taking over the USSF DA run infrastructure. Again my only gripe of contention is the Euroficating of the sport here what do I mean fans of the sport who live vicariously through the sports popularity thousands of miles away insisting that x,y,z league is more popular here because its big abroad so that must mean its be here too cause I like the league and don’t watch MLS so its bigger than MLS. #2 More of number one nothing about the sport here domestically is growing the only growth here is from European leagues driving the growth of the sport. From a thousand mile view you surely can see how snobbish this sounds to folks who care more about the sport domestically and watch all soccer from wherever as much as can be.

    Most of the folks making these erroneous claims do so in echo chambers with like minded people. They also make these claims like Ra because as he states he resents MLS because of its structure so of course he’s going to be negatively bias as he pretty much admits he’s never watched the league much to start with. Many more people as evident by a few comments here and much larger TV ratings for these global leagues again sans EPL don’t care about all that stuff Ra and those who resent MLS/USL care about. They just want to watch soccer or see a live game and hopefully see the game rise to the level of the Big 3 leagues here in there lifetime. TV Ratings say I’m right if these foreign domestic Euro Leagues outside of EPL were really driving the growth of the game here and was the only area of growth La Liga/Bundesliga/ Ligue 1/Serie A would be crushing the MLS in TV viewership instead what we see is MLS viewership slowly rising the last 10 yrs and domestic leagues under MLS sprouting up everywhere the USL now has a bajllion teams there NISA etc. The growth is organically domestic not fueled by folks clamoring to watch all these European leagues with Euro Soccer soccer folks care about the EPL and the knockout rounds of the Champions League all the other leagues have multiple less viewership than MLS this is backed up with evidence.

  52. Turfit

    October 7, 2021 at 1:37 pm

    One problem with MLS and USL can be found in Austin. Austin Texans/Sting and Austin Lonestars are the soccer clubs of Austin, not the Bold or Austin FC.
    Bold sold out their very first home game, not sure if they have had 50% capacity since. Soon the new will wear off of that new stadium in North Austin and Austin FC will have crowds that compete with Dallas and Houston and Anthony Precourt will take HIS team some place else.

  53. Ra

    October 7, 2021 at 1:34 pm

    @Eddy I agree it depends primarily on what you like. Each league has its culture and characteristics. I don’t like the MLS. Period.
    If you like it, good for you. There is more for you to choose from.

    In terms of quality, you can find some objectivity to it:
    https://www.transfermarkt.us/wettbewerbe/europa
    https://www.transfermarkt.us/wettbewerbe/amerika

  54. Mercator

    October 7, 2021 at 1:27 pm

    @Michael F – I think in many markets, like mine, they just price people out. I only go to on sale games (I.e. possible to get a ticket under $20) now because the atmosphere is much better. It’s more college aged kids and Mexican supporters, two groups who will show up and will bring a good atmosphere, but are not going to pay $1,000+ for season tickets or $100 a person between parking, tickets and drinks. I’ve never seen a local ad for the MLS team. I’ve never seen a non-football bar have their games on normally. I rarely see actual jerseys – sometimes see t-shirts and the like they sell at the local Walmart. I live in a big city, you can go to any park and people are playing a pickup game, I see EPL, Liga MX and Barca/Madrid jerseys regularly – but the MLS team is a non-factor. Honestly, I wouldn’t go to games either if it was socially acceptable for unrelated adults to go to high school or youth games around here to drink and cheer. I don’t need to spend $100 to watch a football match and have a pint.

    West cost is different. Not quite sure why, but Seattle, Portland and LAFC are all more real clubs who seems to have dedicated fanbases. Atlanta as well. I think MLS is waiting for the growth of football to lift its boat, but really MLS has done a really awful job in a lot of markets, especially the larger ones. It’s not like they don’t know what works (Atlanta has cheap food and drinks) I just think its obvious most MLS Clubs care more about making money than about building the game, their fanbase or putting a good product on the field. For most of these owners it just seems like their MLS Club is a piece of land for them to sit on and hopefully flip for more somewhere down the line.

  55. Eddy

    October 7, 2021 at 1:13 pm

    @Ra ” For one the popularity of the league in their home market gets or earns them nothing here. ” I don’t understand the statement. What do you get or earn with the MLS? Nothing either.
    MLS could and should be much better. What they lack is representation. I, and many here I believe, don’t feel represented by the MLS. And when it comes to quality, they simply offer an inferior product.”

    As far your comment about what do you get to earn in MLS has has nothing to do with what I said and is a dodge question I will repeat fans of Euro leagues using snobbery attempts to elevate other foreign leagues above MLS in this country basing their popularity abroad as a defacto reason to claim they are superior is lame. They are factually not as popular here sans EPL. You are just proving my whole point. that what makes soccer great the global game is also what holds it back in some parts of the world as soccer tribalism and culture mimic global tribalism and people wanting to feel superior my league is superior you’re league you watch in inferior. Just love the game Your bit about what is or isn’t inferior or superior is subjective I mean if you are watching the top teams at the table of the EPL you might see great soccer if its not top half it might be bad soccer hoof and run. Same with other leagues Brasilero other on Fox Sports 2 some games or good some are meh. It’s all subjective to the person and the interest they have in following beauty is in the eye of the beholder .

  56. Michael F

    October 7, 2021 at 1:01 pm

    @Mercator. That’s interesting. Thanks for that info. Seems the success of Euro leagues and the following is a double edge sword for the MLS.

    Also seems there are only a handful of successful teams in MLS (ie on the west coast), that get good fan support.

    They do fight an uphill battle with the big4 that many sports fans already dump their money or their time into. The overall growing US soccer audience seems to be focused on Euro leagues.

  57. greg

    October 7, 2021 at 12:58 pm

    I guess I’ve lived so long in the closed-loop ecosystem of American sports that the lack of promotion-relegation in soccer doesn’t bother me. It is what it is. Would I like to see it? Yes. Does it keep me from caring? No. Again for me it’s more about convenience of getting to matches, my own soccer fatigue from watching EPL, La Liga & others. Even if there were promo-relegation I’d still not go to that many Quakes matches or care more about MLS in general.

  58. Mercator

    October 7, 2021 at 12:50 pm

    @Michael F – Everyone says that but most football fans don’t support their MLS club. I live within 5km of my city’s soccer specific downtown stadium and it’s not close to full most of the time. Atmosphere is not that great, the team is not that good and the prices quite high for what you get. It’s not really a community team, the name could be changed it, it could be moved to a new city, it could just fold. No real point in investing much time or money in that. I will go to the bars right by the stadium to watch big EPL games, Euros, el Classico etc, and the bars are full, body to body at 10 and 11am. But none of these people are going to the stadium across the street to watch the MLS team at 2pm or whatever. Why would they spend $40 on a ticket and $10 on beers to watch their MLS team when the bars have $2 beers, are packed with a better atmosphere, and are showing higher quality football? That’s been the general situation in NYC and DC as well, easy to get people to football factory or something to drink and watch Liverpool or Arsenal in the mornings. Impossible to get anyone to take the PATH train to New Jersey on a Wednesday night to watch Red Bull C team or Man City B team play.

  59. Ra

    October 7, 2021 at 12:42 pm

    @Eddy. If you check the URL, it is not unexpected to hear people saying they prefer foreign leagues. It is called worldsoccertalk and not ussoccertalk after all.

    ” For one the popularity of the league in their home market gets or earns them nothing here. ” I don’t understand the statement. What do you get or earn with the MLS? Nothing either.
    MLS could and should be much better. What they lack is representation. I, and many here I believe, don’t feel represented by the MLS. And when it comes to quality, they simply offer an inferior product.

    I don’t see this as a critique of MLS fans, but rather at the MLS structure – management and owners. I’ve been to games of my local USL team. But the whole thing seems pointless if they can’t, at least theoretically, rise to become club WC winners. I was never a fan of MLS, but having a local USL team made me resent it even more.

  60. Michael F

    October 7, 2021 at 12:29 pm

    @Ra and @Eddy. If I may add my thoughts to this. Not trying to stir the pot, but I believe the success of the MLS in the states is important and good for growing the game here beyond being just a niche sport here.

    I follow closely the EPL, but I also from time to time catch an MLS game – especially playoffs and think it’s a good watch. I for one, would love to have an MLS team in my local city and would support them if they were here.

    I believe the explosive popularity of Euro Football here in the states and abroad has been only a gain for leagues like MLS and both can be followed by soccer fans – especially those that have a team!

    Why is this a one or the other kind of perspective? It’s soccer. The beautiful game. All good. And even former Euro football greats (Rooney, Ibrahimovic, Beckham etc) eventually play in the MLS. It should be respected.

  61. greg

    October 7, 2021 at 12:18 pm

    I think I’d be more a fan of my nearest MLS team, the Quakes, if I didn’t live so far away. I’m in SF, they’re in San Jose. It’s a haul to get there, even with public transport. I tend not to watch on TV mainly because by late afternoon / early evening I’m soccered out if the Euor leagues are on or during summers w/big tournaments. For quiet summers I’ll check in.

    But I’ve been to a few matches and when in Portland for work a few years ago, two years in a row, I went to Timbers matches that coincided with my stay & the stadium is walking distance from downtown. Great atmosphere, good football.

    I have been to matches of the local USL U-23 team, SF City FC. I can bike to the ground, they have beer & street food vendors. It’s a fun vibe and I like supporting a lower-tier local club. I’ve been told by friends in East Bay that Oakland Roots games are similarly fun.

    Not sure if my outlook is as common, but it’s not about snobbery, it’s more priorities and time.

  62. Eddy

    October 7, 2021 at 12:08 pm

    @Ra thanks for the links I have checked Wiki for Revenue for Sports leagues and such before it’s a resourceful tool. I also understand about New York Red Bulls they need to sell that team they are doing little and just using it as farm team for Leipzig and Salzburg.

    As far as what those leagues do in their home country I’ve never understood the logic of fans here in the States using the league popularity in their home country to justify or attempt to elevate it above MLS here. For one the popularity of the league in their home market gets or earns them nothing here. It’s akin to going to a new school and saying well hey back in my old school I was big stuff. As the person you tell that too eye rolls at you. What matters in terms of this discussion about leagues in the US is their popularity here. If a foreign league isn’t popular here it matters little how popular they are back in Europe. because this is the United States/North America Market.

    So in these convos of how popular leagues are it really comes off to MLS fans as snobbery of fans of other leagues wanting to claim superiority or put down MLS even going to heights to find ways to say other far less popular leagues than MLS in the US are more popular by defacto of being big in their home countries but not here. We could all come to grips that soccer is still niche hear as far as individual popularity of leagues compared to individual US leagues. I mean sure if we all came together as one and just loved and watched the sport wherever, whenever, and however it’s played the game would elevate more. However the story of soccer being the global game very much follows global cultural infighting of countries, people feeling they are better or superior to one subset class of people and fighting. With soccer replace subset/class of people with soccer league. Soccer being so global tells a story of us all. Lets just love the game period.

  63. Ra

    October 7, 2021 at 10:38 am

    Here is the correct links:
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_domestic_football_league_broadcast_deals_by_country
    upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b4/Union_Berlin_Performance_Chart.png

  64. Ra

    October 7, 2021 at 10:29 am

    @Eddy. NY Red Bulls (that was before the other team came along) and Philly Union. Every team has its ‘Ultras’, but the community appeal is very, very limited. If you happen to be in München on a matchday, you can see Bayern shirts taking over the city. Everything revolves around it. If you ever travel there, go to the Marienplatz on a matchday and you’ll know what I am talking about.
    It is their team, and are proud to show it. Here, it is the owner team, that will let you cherish for him and be happy to sell you merchandise and food that he will pocket. And be careful, if you don’t buy enough, he will pack the circus and move to a different city.

    The whole MLS expansion process is very eye-opening. They approach it with the same business-minded attitude as Macy’s in opening a new store. They base their decision on demographics and tax breaks. Fans are an afterthought.

    And no, I don’t care if the leagues I enjoy are popular or not, as long as I am able to watch every single game with a high-quality stream.

    You are comparing US domestic rights with their foreign rights. If you take it into account, MLS has not been able to develop an attractive product. With no vertical moves, all MLS games are friendlies. Look at this chart on Union Berlin to see what I am talking about. They are now a sensation in the Bundesliga, but have a long history, including the GDR:
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1._FC_Union_Berlin#/media/File:Union_Berlin_Performance_Chart.png

    For these leagues, the US broadcasting fees hardly move the needle, with the exception of maybe the EPL. Each of these leagues you mentioned is extremely popular in their own countries, with hefty broadcast fees. E.g.: EPL (UK:$2,180M vs US: $300M new contract est.), Bundesliga (DE: $1,300M vs US: $41M).
    You can check it here:
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_domestic_football_league_broadcast_deals_by_country

  65. Mercator

    October 7, 2021 at 10:04 am

    KK, this was a great interview and obviously Szymanski knows his stuff, hard to take real issue with many of his points. The one thing that stuck me though was the difference in norms – the discussion about how the Glazers are legally the owners of Man United but no one really thinks the club is theirs in the same way an NFL or MLS team belongs to an owner (and the fans who defend this for some absurd reason). This is true in US Pro sports, but the US has college sports. College sports reflect the same norms as European pro sports, the school is part of the community and bigger than any one person. The team will not be moved, its name will not be changed, half the seats are subsidised for poor rowdy fans (students) and even if the team goes defunct they may be back in 5 years when they get the program together again. I love this, I feel the same way about my College Football team that I do about Arsenal. Which is very different from my feelings on my local MLS or NFL team, which I will watch and support but its really not that big of a deal.

    Would love to hear more about the impact of this two tier US system, compared to Europe where University sports are not a thing and “amateur” athletics is still done at a lower level of the professional pyramid. I actually think I prefer the US system, with a clear distinction between the commercial professional clubs which are really just entertainment, and then your University team which is almost hereditary at this point. In my experience its similar in England, people have their favourite EPL club but also root for their village team or the small club their father supported. The problem is most US Universities do not have a mens football team. My university doesn’t have one, like any other SEC school, but really this is the outlet that would get me fired up about football here in the US. Not an MLS club run by an out of touch negligent billionaire.

    If you think of sporting “BRANDS” in the US, colleges like Texas, Florida or Michigan are huge and could easily fit a mens team under that umbrella. Beyond me why this route isn’t explored more and instead people set up new clubs, rebrand them every few years, watch them go bankrupt… just work with the system we have and let universities manage lower level soccer like they do with almost every other US sport.

  66. Michael F

    October 7, 2021 at 10:03 am

    @Rudo I understand the popularity of the euro leagues over MLS, but what I don’t understand is not supporting your local pro MLS team. That seems odd to me. You should appreciate what you have in your own backyard (so to speak) and support them.

  67. Eddy

    October 7, 2021 at 9:35 am

    @Rudo @ RA you guys are like a echo chamber with the I don’t watch or support MLS ok we get it but many people do. For as many people especially on this site that claim to only watch foreign domestic leagues outside of EPL you think these league like Serie A, Bundesliga, Brasilaero, Ligue 1, La Liga would have larger viewership than MLS but its not the case, So the structure must not be doing so bad.

    Alas for the comments about the city you live in and no one caring about the MLS and not watching MLS for years…what team which city? If you are already jaded about MLS that tends to affect the way you view it or don’t and everything else is just confirmation bias. I assure you by the ratings for the leagues you watch and the player and those leagues like Bundesliga for ex. Have even less of a following in your area as evident by TV viewership for those leagues being so miniscule. Your confirmation bias would however lead you to see out like minded people and make you believe the leagues you follow are a bigger deal here than what they are. It’d be the same if you were bias for MLS instead of against it. Soccer as a whole in America is still niche compared to other sports we all debate/argue over who’s the” biggest little person”

  68. TheOriginalTom

    October 7, 2021 at 12:28 am

    Rudo – don’t you ever want to watch a game live?

    Kartick- great discussion. Interesting the point about how open league teams may go bankrupt, but they re-emerge. Closed system league teams disappear regularly.

    Also- the owner trophy thing has been a rant of mine a long time. Same with the college coach instead of the players. I mean, he’s the only one getting paid a bonus! At least the players could raise the trophy!

  69. Rudo

    October 6, 2021 at 10:27 pm

    @Ra Echo that MLS is basically irrelevant for many US football fans. I live in a city with an MLS team and I can’t even tell you the names of any of the players. I used to watch a game or two on TV, but with the ability to watch every game from the top 4 European leagues I simply don’t find it compelling.

    I am a big USMNT fan so my main fan interest is keeping up with Yanks abroad–which is nearly impossible given the sheer number of players playing in Europe. I know there are some important USMNT players in MLS, but that still isn’t enough for me to generate enough interest to prioritize an MLS match over one from Europe.

  70. Ra

    October 6, 2021 at 6:54 pm

    @Kartik. Great stuff!!! Thank you very much for bringing us that. Very enjoyable to listen and I am looking forward to reading the new Soccereconomics book (inexplicably haven’t read it yet).

    I agree with most of the points made by Szymanski. The only exception is the 50+1 model. It is a great model that has worked great; I don’t see it as a barrier to obtain funding. Just look at Bayern München, and what they achieved. They are 75% fan-owned, very successful, with a very healthy balance sheet and no debt. This article from HBS is very interesting: https // digital.hbs.edu/platform-rctom/submission/fcb-the-healthiest-club-in-europe/

    Some personal views I’d like to share:
    • To me the closed league format effectively killed my interest in the MLS. My total viewing time has been none for several years now. It is the biggest barrier to establishing a soccer culture in the US. Case in point – I live now in an area with no MLS team, but it was on the short-list to get one in the last expansion. We do however have a USL team here. It is detrimental to both leagues – there is no interest in USL because they will never go anywhere. And the same for MLS teams; it doesn’t matter if they are in the top 4 or the last 4. They will play in the same tournaments next year. The new league with MX teams exacerbates the problem, as everyone participates. After all, the motivation is monetary and not sportive.
    • I must add that I lived in 2 cities with MLS teams previously. I went to the stadium to watch some games, but never even bothered to watch them on TV. It is inconsequential.
    • MLS teams don’t belong to the community. They are borrowed at best – any moment the owner may decide to pack up and leave. In other parts of the globe, many investors are seen as Maecenases whereas, in the US, the teams are seen as their personal property. I agree with Szymanski that ownership has limits and responsibilities. They are not held accountable here.
    • I was lucky never to watch (at least not be paying attention) a super bowl to the end (I can’t stand commercials), as I would have puked to see the trophy being given to the owner rather than the players. I was also disgusted to hear coworkers talk about the commercials during the event as a big thing. I mean, you are not only being manipulated but are also ecstatic about it?
    • I believe that compared to cable, streaming might benefit smaller teams and leagues. I have started watching and following leagues that were hardly available before.
    • I do not wish that broadcasting rights, especially for the EPL, keep increasing. It benefits hardly anyone. We need a more equitable distribution of revenues between leagues. ALSO, consumers will ultimately burden the increased cost – higher cable/streaming costs, higher ticket prices, more expensive merchandise, more money being spent to shape our habits and beliefs.
    • I still have a romantic view that soccer, being a grassroots movement, should be from the people to the people. That is why Bundesliga and Brasileirao are my favorite leagues.

  71. dave

    October 6, 2021 at 4:39 pm

    Enjoyable discussion, thanks! I found especially interesting the comparison of fan and ownership norms in Europe/US and the discussion of various forms of wage restraints in sports dating as far back as baseball in the 1800s.
    .
    Kudos to Szymanski for the humility to say that nobody knows for sure how rights markets will evolve over the next decade. It will be fun to follow the evolution.

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