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Lessons for MLS in NASL's Demise

Tonight (9 pm ET), ESPN2 will air the documentary "Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos," which chronicles the spectacular rise and fall of U.S. soccer's most famous team. For Major League Soccer, there's an interesting lesson in the film, writes Mark Ziegler of the Union-Tribune: it warns against the dangers of selling celebrity instead of soccer here in the States. The possible move of David Beckham, Ronaldo and other aging stars has been talked about by MLS big-wigs in recent months, especially since the commercial success of the World Cup. Ziegler points out that the North American Soccer League's demise started when Steven Ross, the Philip Anschutz of the 70's, started scooping up big-name players for ridiculous sums of money. When Pele entered the league, his contract with the Cosmos was worth anywhere between $2.7 and $4.5 million, depending on whom you believe, says Ziegler, at a time when NFL players barely made six figures. Other players earned exponentially less than that: Cosmos goalie Shep Messing, for example, made just $2,100 in his first season. So what happened? Soccer became the novelty of the moment in the U.S. once the likes of Pele, Franz Beckenbauer and Giorgio Chinaglia arrived. It was really popular for a while, but once that novelty wore off, the league had very little to stand on financially -- the American public was clearly not ready to embrace soccer as a sport. By 1984, the Cosmos and the NASL were history. MLS, by the way, has been a bit more careful: it's expansion has been slow and calculated, it's sticking to a strict salary cap of about $2 million per team (compare that to Pele's salary), and investors are forced to sink their money into the league rather than individual teams. However, the temptation of celebrity, glitz, marketing and novelty are never too far away. League officials should remember how history has a habit of repeating itself.

Read the whole story at San Diego Union-Tribune »

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