Major League Soccer Plans To Overtake Baseball
Major League Soccer Plans To Overtake Baseball, Soccer in the US hasn’t always had the best track record. Its popularity waivers and interest is usually tied to major events such as the World Cup or the Olympics.
Major League Soccer has spent over 25 years trying to change soccer sentiment in the US while competing with more fast-paced high scoring sports like the NFL and NBA, you know, you could just tell that the players are better than the speed of the game.
You know, not being the biggest soccer fan you could just look at its night and day you know, MLS it looks like it’s more minor league, it looks like it’s growing.
But you know, listen, they have the signages all over the place, the very innovative league the MLS is but they got to improve that competition.
Over the last 10 years, the MLS has become increasingly popular, the league garnered the attention of top talent across the world, brought in significant investments in celebrity ownership, and generated a massive presence on social media.
We think the internet, you know, puts us in a position where we can talk to this enormous fan base around the world. And what we’ve done over the past 10 to 12 years is really increase the investment in making the US and MLS one of the top leagues in the world.
But the MLS has risen in popularity has seen its fair share of obstacles, financial woes, leadership changes and shakeups and its continuous fight to draw in a TV audience following its 2021 season, things may be shifting in the MLS favour, with new expansion teams, rising popularity, and a new media deal that can bring millions of fans and billions in revenue.
This is the largest sport in the world. And the US is the largest sports economy in the world. And so there’s something really special in the making here.
And it just requires steady investment but you think about the ownership group and MLS and the amount of capital that has been invested, it’s never gone back. It’s only going forward.
Before the MLS became well MLS there was the North American Soccer League, which ran from 1968 to 1984. And it was considered the blueprint for what the MLS should and shouldn’t do.
The North American Soccer League was a free-spending decentralized League, meaning teams spent excessive money on star players like Pele to draw in fans. The league never generated meaningful revenues or substantial growth that it needed. By 1984.
Financial tools from overspending cost the league almost all of its clubs, as they began shuttering their franchises. In 1985, the North American Soccer League officially suspended operations. This is Jim Curran.
He’s the head coach of the Philadelphia Union and has been with the MLS from the very beginning. You know, there was a time in the 70s and 80s that you know, 75,000 people were coming out to watch soccer games in the New York Cosmos as the kind of example of that.
But what did happen is, it was kind of reckless spending, it was maybe too much too soon, there weren’t the soccer-specific stadiums that there are now and it was kind of like a travelling circus almost. And it was a little bit out of control.
And without a real kind of vision and long term plan. I think the lessons learned where they got a little too big for themselves too quickly, and, and all of a sudden now the money dries up. By 1993, the new MLS League was announced, with a centralized structure that controlled costs similar to the NFL clubs were split into divisions and run by investor operators or owners.
10 clubs were created for the initial debut in 1996, with two more clubs added just two years later, I think back to when I first started in Major League Soccer in 2001. As a rookie, we were playing games in high school football stadiums in Dallas.
We were playing in division three colleges in Naperville. Early on, we were down to 10 teams. There were real discussions in my rookie year in the offseason that the league might not make it at the time. Phil and Shoot were in charge of their own seven of the teams of the 10.
So it was on life support and Don Garber came in and injected this life into a league that was quite literally in trouble.
The league was met with strong pushback during its early years. Traditional soccer fans were opposed to some of the rule changes and scoffed at the MLS his attempt to Americanize the sport, then in 2002, and had to full two teams, the Miami Fusion and Tampa Bay mutiny.
And what happened after that and what was probably one of the most important things was the the the building of the soccer-specific stadiums, you know, a real brick and mortar building that our supporters and fan bases could call their own.
They weren’t, you know, old college football stadiums or old NFL stadiums. They were soccer-specific. And now I think we’re up to 27 of these state of the art, you know, beautiful, you know, facilities that can house uh, you know, 30,000 people and in some cases down in Atlanta 50,000 people at a game.
So that’s something that really, really was important and it was a real turning point. by 2007, things begin to trend upward for the MLS with the establishment of the designated player’s rules.
This rule allows teams to sign star players from abroad, most famously the signing of David Beckham to the LA Galaxy with a deal that was worth $250 million.
That rule certainly has paved the way and has been a smart initiative in that we grew the league in a, in a smart way, it wasn’t that you could have 10 of 10.
David Beckham’s on your team where you know, previously, in the former NASL, they may be expanded too quickly. With the way they strategically went about the designated player role slash David Beckham rule was calculated, and it didn’t put all your eggs in one basket, you know.
So I think that was a really intelligent move that put our league on the global level because David was a, you know, an icon on and off the field the early 2000s was really r&d is to figure out how do we attack this and I think the soccer-specific stadiums, the designated player, all part of that r&d process to figure out how do you build a league, unique to our country, the playoff systems, the different formats.
When I got involved in sort of, oh 708, I sort of thought the next 10 to 15 years would be the investment phase, where we grow from 15 teams to 30 Plus, you know, 30 teams cover the map much more completely, like other major sports.
The MLS is focused on expanding its clubs to massive sports markets and increasing popularity with younger generations. for over 25 years, the MLS has grown to a massive operation, clubs now spanning from coast to coast, with Austin FC debuting in 2021, and new clubs in 2022, and 2023.
For the Charlotte football club in St. Louis City, respectively. You’ve seen the breakthrough city by city, but the critical mass of the league really won’t be apparent until we reach that sort of 30 team milestone.
And I and, you know it is sport is something that you enjoy together as a community as a family as intergenerationally. So we’re still building the storylines, we’re still building the rivalries, we’re still building the traditions. And that’s something that takes time and will happen organically.
It’s not something we can naturally unnaturally force, the clubs are becoming more valuable than ever. In 2008, the average valuation of MLS teams was about $37 million. Today, clubs are valued at $550 million dollars, higher than some teams in the Premier League.
Currently, the Los Angeles Football Club is the highest valued MLS team at $860 million. It’s almost alarming to see some of the valuations of the teams in Major League Soccer because you think of some of the old English teams that have 100 100 plus years of history or teams in different parts of Europe that have been around forever.
But what you see now with our league is is these brand new stadiums, these young, exciting ownership groups that are coming in the advertising dollars that come in the amazing facilities, and they’re really jumping in value.
At a really quick rate. Sometimes it’s shocking for people to see that as an example. life is valued at higher than an even club like Newcastle who just had basically trillionaires come in and buy you know, so it’s incredible to see the growth of this league.
In 2018 Gallup issued a report that tied soccer and basketball for second and popularity for sports to watch among 18 to 34-year-olds overtaking baseball, when I walk my kids to school in Center City, Philadelphia and drop them off.
I used to 10 years ago I used to only see NFL NBA you know maybe a Major League Baseball, you know, a couple of hockey flyers jerseys. When I walk my kids to school now, it’s not just Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo.
I’m seeing Philadelphia Union jerseys. But then I’m also seeing now rivals of the Philadelphia Union. I’m seeing New York City FC jerseys I’m seeing as LaTonya Ibrahima vich.
From the LA Galaxy jersey. I’m seeing a throwback you know David via from New York City FC, and you’re kind of going, this is different. And a study done in 2020 By morning consult, found that soccer is the most popular sport among generation alpha.
And Los Angeles football club owner Larry Berg believes that the MLS could overtake Major League Baseball as America’s number three sport in 10 years time. MLS still has to improve their product, they got to go out and get better players, right.
And so if again, if that soccer popularity continues to rise with Generation Z and then Generation Y, that’s going to help the MLS right? Image generation Alpha Generation Z generation alpha, if that soccer continues to you know that trajectory that’s only going to help the MLS again,
how big we don’t know because right now that popularity seems to be from an international standpoint they like Premier Li they like to see the big stars they that competition is completely different from MLS but before the MLS can attempt to overtake the MLB anytime soon, the league still needs to dominate in one crucial area TV viewership.
While the MLS is in rapid growth has been able to overcome financial issues, fan pushback, and leadership shakeups.
The one thing that has been slow to grow over the years is its television footprint. Meteorites are a massive cornerstone to how the league functions and operational revenue. Just take the NFL for example, in 2020, the league made an estimated $9.89 billion from its media deal, which is evenly distributed amongst all 32 teams.
This gives teams like the Green Bay Packers something called National revenue of $309 million for 2020. For the 2019 2020 fiscal year during the pandemic, this national revenue help teams stay afloat as most stadiums remain closed, and teams were unable to generate local revenue or revenue from ticket sales, merchandise or stadium rentals for the Packers 2019 2020 fiscal year, they were only able to generate $62 million in local revenue, compared to its 2018 2019 fiscal year were generated $211 million in local revenue.
The MLS is a localized sport, meaning a massive amount of the team’s revenue is generated from ticket sales, merchandise and player contracts and sales to other leagues around the world. media rights keep harping on that.
But that’s going to be that’s the foundation right now of all the leads meteorites because in his age of content, content content, MLS is going to need that money to grow.
Now they’re going to need a network that’s really going to invest in them be able to tell their story be able to introduce fans to their stars of the sport, being able to market their sport better so that people can gravitate because right now, a lot of people do not watch MLS from a national level is more of a localized market.
Right? This is why your Austin’s and your Charlotte. Hopefully, those two markets continue to rise. And that’s going to help you know MLS grow but they need a national audience. The MLS is looking to establish a new media rights deal in 2022.
The MLS is current an eight-year media deal with ESPN Fox, and Univision has generated an estimated $90 million per year since 2015. The league hopes that it can capitalize on the success from its younger fanbase, social media presence, and the FIFA World Cup that’s being hosted in the US in 2026.
I think the way we’re going to broadcast to our fan base, you’ll see another leap sometime between now and 2026 in the way fans can participate and consume, you know the quality of play and they’ll see that it is comparable to some of the best to best leagues.
If we continue to do the work that we’re doing with the unique fan bases that we have with great ownership that we have with the product on the field that’s continuing to improve as the TV production gets better and better. I think that the sky’s the limit for Major League Soccer.