Join Now  | 
Home About Contact Us Privacy & Security Advertise
Soccer America Daily Soccer World Daily Special Edition Around The Net Soccer Business Insider College Soccer Reporter Youth Soccer Reporter Soccer on TV Soccer America Classifieds Game Report
Paul Gardner: SoccerTalk Soccer America Confidential Youth Soccer Insider World Cup Watch
RSS Feeds Archives Manage Subscriptions Subscribe
Order Current Issue Subscribe Manage My Subscription Renew My Subscription Gift Subscription
My Account Join Now
Tournament Calendar Camps & Academies Soccer Glossary Classifieds
MLS forges ahead on the business front
by Ridge Mahoney, February 12th, 2014 7:44PM
Subscribe to Soccer America Confidential

MOST READ
TAGS:  mls, nasl, portland timbers, soccer business

MOST COMMENTED

By Ridge Mahoney

A story in The Oregonian newspaper Wednesday detailing all the naming sponsorships sold by the Timbers, including a new stadium-rights deal, typifies how dramatically has changed the perception of professional soccer.

Fans entering Providence Park this season can gaze upon the KeyBank Club Deck, Sunset Porsche Audi Suites, Budweiser Balcony, Widmer Brothers Southern Front, and a recent addition, the Daimler Deck, sponsored by Daimler Trucks North America.

Some might see this as overkill, a disturbing over-commercialization of America’s top-tier league. Not so. Instead, it’s a clear sign American pro soccer is finally heading in the right direction. A sport gaunt and undernourished for much of its life is at last putting on a few pounds.

Suffice to say, never before has so much money flowed into the domestic game, and while the beauties and nuances of the sport are what we all cherish and remember most fondly, much of soccer’s troubles in this country are rooted in its terrible credit score. As good as was the original North American Soccer League between the lines, it failed miserably at the bottom line.

The glamorous, relatively rich Cosmos didn’t kill the NASL by overspending. Keeping up with the Cosmos doomed many teams, but only because any semblance of business sense went out the window as competitive juices ran amuck. Teams moving or disbanding after one or two or three years of hemorrhaging money fed perfectly into media perceptions that this money-burning, foreign sport should go back where it came from and stay there.

Variations on the theme, “It’s not our game,” played for decades in print and on the air. There’s much more to professional sport than the business side, but as the old NASL proved, you can present an attractive level of play and parade stars around the field and still go bankrupt. Stunning spectacles such as the World Cup were literally a world away as critics relished the struggles of American pro soccer; for them, the domestic game’s failure to gain financial footing proved the sport itself was inferior and “we” knew best when it came to the games people play.

It is a measure of the success attained by Major League Soccer that it, as well as the Timbers and many other teams, has all but eradicated the prejudicial stance that an American professional soccer league could never find enough suckers to sustain it long-term. In bygone days, the criticism about low-scoring, restricted use of the hands, etc., etc., boiled down to a sense that since pro soccer couldn’t lure enough customers and sponsors to pay the bills, it didn’t deserve to survive. Maybe foreigners would pay up but “we” won’t.

The naming frenzy for Portland games is how things work nowadays. For example, as a long-time San Francisco Giants fan, I can attest that every radio broadcast includes a reference to the “Hawaiian Airlines Broadcast Booth.” Now I doubt seriously if the home radio booth at AT&T Park is decorated with pineapples and palm trees and fire pits -- though the announcers might well be working the game in flip-flops, baggy shorts and flowered shirts, how would we know? --- and I’m pretty sure said booth is not hauled around to the away ballparks in which the Giants play one-half of their games. Whichever booth is chosen for the away team is officially christened.

Yet somebody at some level decided that paying to thusly adorn the Giants’ radio broadcasts, regardless of how strange or silly such a naming attachment might sound, is worth the money. MLS is not MLB but it’s definitely plowing deep furrows in the business world.

To an extent never attained by the old NASL, MLS has a value that extends far beyond that of the individual teams. Losing Honda as a major sponsor a few years ago surely hurt, but soon enough Volkswagen came along. The business world is not only paying attention to MLS, it is paying, period.

One can question whether Anthony Precourt overspent by paying $68 million for the Crew and its stadium. Surely, he sees those properties as undervalued assets, but he must also believe the league as an entity is escalating in worth as well. The old Cosmos and Sounders and Whitecaps and Rowdies and Kicks and others all had their halcyon days, but the league’s good times were flimsy and fleeting.

The trickle-down effect can be a lengthy one. D.C. United has released a list of more than 30 Official Bar Partners, which probably pay little or nothing for their affiliation with the worst team in the league last year. So tradition must count for something, yet so does the aggressive outlay by which another straggler, Toronto FC, has acquired Michael Bradley, Jermain Defoe and Gilberto at great cost.

“The people who run MLS should really hold their heads up high,” says Toronto FC head coach Ryan Nelsen, a member of United’s last championship team in 2004 who is astounded by the changes he sees after nine years in England. “I know they get criticized here and there, but it’s not until you actually go away and come back that you realize the progression. I was one of the lowest-paid players when I was an MLS player. I know how it feels when guys are making that amount of money but that’s what someone is willing to pay them. You can either sit there and have a moan or have a cry about it, or you actually go and do something about it and try to get better every single day and prove yourself. When you get to the highest level, the market will dictate money.”

The MLS market may have gone a bit wacky and once again the league is taking body blows from critics for its byzantine ways of doing business, but past performance suggest it knows what it’s doing.


1 comment
  1. Frank Cardone
    commented on: February 13, 2014 at 7:47 p.m.
    Now if MLS could only prevent some of the Supporters Groups from chanting obscenities. Some groups embarrass themselves and the league, in person and on television. MLS will be able to attract more business partners if these groups would simply realize that they can help their club, the league, and soccer in the US by acting more maturely. Based on their behavior thus far I'm not going to hold my breath, but my fingers are crossed.

Sign in to leave a comment. Don't have an account? Join Now




AUTHORS

ARCHIVES
FOLLOW SOCCERAMERICA

Recent Soccer America Confidential
So far, Jordan Morris' decisions have been the right ones    
U.S. forward Jordan Morris turned down a move to German club Werder Bremen, which is rooted ...
MLS Playoff Watch: Breaking down the Eastern Conference's battle of bubble teams    
With a month of the regular season to be played, no Eastern Conference team has clinched ...
Strenghtened Sounders set aside distractions to focus on postseason quest    
The midseason arrival of Nicolas Lodeiro and the return to fitness of Roman Torres has bolstered ...
Talk of treble not heard at FCD    
Tuesday night the U.S. Open Cup final sold out, and most of the 16,612 in attendance ...
Rested Revs will be tested by defining run of games    
A formation changed and renewed commitment to defense has tightened up a porous Revs' back line, ...
Pulisic helps USA play low and win high    
I had high expectations of Christian Pulisic. He delivered -- and then some.
Christian Pulisic must start on Tuesday    
Coaches like to be secretive about their starting lineups, which is the only way to explain ...
More than a Hexagonal berth is on the line for USA in Caribbean tests    
Does U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann take dramatic steps to revamp his team In qualifiers this ...
Doyle departure starts crucial new era in San Jose    
With only two playoff appearances since it rejoined MLS in 2008, San Jose hasn't been able ...
Farewell, Hope Solo    
I have admired Hope Solo for many reasons. I've sent YouTube clips of Solo's highlights to ...
>> Soccer America Confidential Archives