A Debate About the Condition of the MLS

ThomasSenior Writer IAugust 10, 2008

I recently wrote an article about improvements the MLS needs to make so that it could become a more important league.  I got somewhat of mixed feedback.  A few said that I was right and a few said I was clueless as to what I was talking about.  If you haven't read the article here it is.


There was one person though who really wanted to debate this issue.  Here's the debate in unedited form.  DON'T READ THE COMMENTS BELOW THE ARTICLE UNTIL YOU"RE DONE THIS ARTICLE!

Jonothan:  Thomas - I appreciate that you took the time to write an article about Major League Soccer. This is a great opportunity to discuss the league and the beautiful game. Before I respond further to your article, I would appreciate if you would answer the following questions.

1. What MLS team do you support?
2. How many MLS games have you attended?
3. How long have your been following MLS?

Me:  DC United (and LA Galaxy

I've only been able to actually go to 5 games...I travel alot so I don't stick around in one place for long

I've been following the MLS since 2002.

Any questions?

Jonathan:  Allow matches to be seen on public TV: I'm not sure about all metropolitan areas who host MLS teams. I do know that in Houston - almost all Houston Dynamo games are broadcast free on local television stations in both English and Spanish with the exception of Superliga games which are broadcast only in Spanish. All games are also broadcast on local radio in English and Spanish. Glenn Davis hosts a two hour broadcast "All Dynamo Access" for two hours every Monday. This show is also available over the internet. He also broadcasts a half hour "Dynamo Soccer Report" every Friday evening. I have seen evidence of similar broadcasts . Games are also broadcast on HDNet, ESPN, ABC, Telefutura and Fox Soccer Channel. Games are also available on the Direct Kicks package and on the internet.

Me:  I'd like to see the cities that do have teams show it on TV. The problem is though, that not enough fans stay at home to watch it on TV! I've never seen a game on ESPN, I've always seen it on ESNP2. Didn't I say that it was on FOX Soccer? Not everyone is willing to pay for soccer packages by the way.

Jonathan:  Change owners: I think you may be a little behind the times on this one. While it's true at when the league was formed there were only a few owners (mostly Hunt Sports Group and Anschutz Entertainment Group). MLS owes a lot to these groups as they are they one's who kept the league afloat in the early years. The league is now mostly diversified. There are a number of international owners. Here are the current MLS owners: (I'm too lazy to include that list.  Just go look at it later.)

Me:  Most of these owners are owners of other teams in other sports. What I'm talking about is getting owners who are fully interested in the MLS and don't have interest in other sports.

Jonathan:  Introduce relegations and promotions: I agree with you that it would be great to have a relegation and promotion system. I also have to agree with Eric that at this point in time it wouldn't be tenable for the reasons he sited. I think that this happen down the road as both leagues expand and continue to build their fan bases.

Me:  Your right...we will have to wait. I didn't want all these suggestions to happen right away. I realize it takes time.

Jonathan:  Allow sponsors to compete: All professional team enter into exclusive deals for a set group of benefits in exchange for exclusivity. I agree that competion by sponsors helps the league. I have seen evidence that MLS does allow competition. As the leagues fan base continues to grow - so will it's power negotiate these deals for the better of the league. As the league grows and with the arrival of international stars such as Beckhama and Blanco, sponsors are coming more to MLS rather than MLS is having to go to the sponsors.

Me:  In the beginning, the MLS went to the sponsors. You are correct to say that sponsors will come to the MLS once it establishes itself more...unfortunately, the fan base right now sorta sucks.

Jonathan:  Bring in younger players: I'm not sure that I agree with you on this one. I see plenty of young players in MLS. An example would be Stewart Holden who just shot the winning goal in first round of the Olympics. You need a blend of experienced and younger players. MLS developed one of the best youth development programs in the World a few years ago. It's not long until you are going to start seeing these players. The international stars are on the older side. I don't forsee MLS bring in the very top of young players such as Cristiano Ronaldo or Kaka until it has more economic might but this is coming.

Me:  Definately the MLS will not be able to bring in the best young stars around. Sure the MLS has great young players, but put them in Europe or even South America, and they'll sputter. I did give the MLS props in creating a youth program. Now we just need to start seeing those players actually play.

Jonathan:  In looking at the fan base you have to go back and remember there we no MLS fans in 1994. I moved to Houston after living in Europe for 11 years in Italy, England and Spain. I moved to the Houston Texas area in 2002. I started to follow MLS when the Dynamo moved to Houston in 2006. Sports Business Daily reports MLS average attendance is 16,647 so far in 2008 and that attendance is up 10.6% compared to 2007. The attendance is skewed to the bad by two MLS teams are temporarily having to play in stadiums with limited attendance until their stadiums are completed. If weren't for these teams, MLS attendance would be significantly higher. Dynamo attendance for regular MLS home games this season is 16,189. This excludes Superliga. Superliga 2008 average home attendance was 19502. The biggest MLS games are yet to come. Attendance for each of the last 3 home games of 2007 was over 30,000. I believe the season will end with an average attendance of around 17,000 (possibly higher). Based on a previous MSL growth of 5.6% and an average attendance in 2008, in 5 years average attendance will be 38,653 and in 10 years will be 86,713. I personally believe that the growth will it will be much faster and will only be limited by the size of their playing facility. The Dynamo played in front of a crowd of 72,000 when they had a double header (Dynamo vs Club America and Barcelona vs Club America) in 2007 at Reliant Stadium. I believe this trend will hold across MLS.

Me:  The MLS has a small but devoted fan base. As the MLS grows and does well, its fan base will also grow. Right now, most fans of the MLS are younger people who have seen soccer elsewhere and now here in America.

Jonathan:  Agreed. Youth players are mostly going to also turn into adult fans. There are still many American's who didn't grow up with soccer (such as myself) are discovering the beautiful game and are finding out what they've been missing. I've seen many sports fans (both younger and older) who have come to Dynamo games and became fans. I'm still a European soccer fan but have become a strong MLS fan. It's an exciting league which has been underrated. As it continues to have more and more international play such as Superliga - it's status will grow. There are a lot of fans of foreign leagues and clubs who are slowly discovering MLS. I've found that those who actually get out and give MLS a chance join this devoted fan base.

Jonathan:  Here are some recent world soccer average attendance:

Country Avg. Att.
Bundesliga (Germany) 37,644
English Premier League 34,459
LaLiga (Spain) 28,838
Clausura (Mexico) 25,379
Ligue 1 (France) 21,817
Serie A (Italy) 19,711
J.League (Japan) 19,081
Eredivisie (Holland) 18,052
Campeonato (Brazil) 17,461
Primera (Argentina) 17,363
Major League Soccer 16,770
Scottish Premier League 16,194
Turkish Premier Super 14,058
A-League (Australia) 14,042

Me: (This list shows that the MLS is doing very well on the world stage.  Maybe someday it will attract as much as La Liga or the EPL.)  Good list...u mind if i make an article out of our discussion? i think it'd be pretty good

Jonathan:  I'm looking forward to reading it.

After you read this, post a comment.  Who do you tend to agree with?  Do you have something else to add into the debate?  I realize that I'm not the greatest of writers, but I do ok.  By the way, to better understand this debate you gotta read that article first. 


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