Doing the Same Thing Over and Over and Expecting Different Results

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Doing the Same Thing Over and Over and Expecting Different Results

Our domestic closed league model has never met the vast promise of American club soccer.

Take a quick journey through a century of debilitated, closed, capped, and restricted American professional soccer leagues. Watch storied American clubs rise to glory in the twentieth century, and revel in remarkable individual performances from American club players. Cringe as our closed leagues fall one by one, taking dozens of clubs down with them.

See our addiction to the closed model continue to debilitate the club game at the turn of the twenty-first century. Watch American sports and entertainment moguls continue to cling to the failed system, even in the face of the unprecedented global track record of the open league, free market model that delivered the pro game to unassailable global dominance.

Despite a history as long and deep as most international powers, remarkable club successes, notable international accomplishments, record-breaking individual performances, storied clubs, enhanced mechanisms to shield owners from risk, and three consecutive decades of record youth participation, our club game falls further short of reaching its promise than ever before. The USMNT progresses deeper into international competitions than at any time since 1930. European club friendlies continue to draw enormous crowds in American cities. Multiple channels of soccer play to American cable and satellite TV audiences. Youth participation in the game is enjoying a third consecutive decade of national dominance. More US households tune into World Cup matches than NBA Finals or World Series games. Still, our stunted first division, and the closed pyramid at large, cannot connect.

Today, despite the remarkable success of the reincarnated Seattle Sounders, MLS continues to cultivate only a small slice of American supporters, and a tiny percentage of sports fans as a whole. Well into its second decade, and well into the second century of professional club soccer in the US, our top league experienced another precipitous drop in average attendance. TV ratings and attendance records lag behind their NASL predecessors, and are dwarfed by international matches. Average MLS attendance records were set before some of their current players entered grade school.

For one hundred years, our closed league model has been applied to club soccer, and for one hundred years, it has failed. No matter how many times it is relabeled and regurgitated, the outcome remains the same. Today, in an effort to maintain their closed league format, MLS employs a special tightly managed “single entity” system featuring draconian cost controls and broad curbs on club autonomy. It provides life support for their failed model, but after sixteen seasons on a ventilator our American club game falls further behind the growth curve than ever before.

Albert Einstein defined insanity as “Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”.

Welcome to this brief history of professional club soccer in the United States. What a long strange trip it’s been.

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