The democratization of the U.S. soccer market

By Paul Kennedy

That noise you might have heard on Tuesday was money being sucked out of the U.S. soccer market.

By coincidence, separate press conferences were held Tuesday to announce NBC's plans for its coverage of the English Premier League and the Guinness International Champions Cup, the latest twist on summer friendly series.

NBC isn't the first network to carry the EPL -- English soccer on American television dates back to "Star Soccer" with Mario Machado on PBS in the early 1980s -- and summer tournaments for European teams have been around since Bill Cox brought them to New York to compete in the International Soccer League more than 50 years ago.

What is new, especially with the NBC deal, is the money involved.

Between the EPL on NBC and the Guinness International Champions Cup, they'll generate right around $100 million in 2013, and almost all that money will go to soccer interests outside the country.

The French soccer satire site Cahiers du Football -- not to be confused with Cahiers du Cinéma for you movie buffs -- which made news recently when it spoofed the London Times with its made-up story about the Qatar Dream League -- took note of the money the EPL was making off the American market.

"C'est vrai que la PL manquait un peu de cash," it joked. ("It's true the EPL was a little short on cash.")

American soccer won't see any of the EPL money, but it will get a little of the Guinness International Champions Cup payout. The LA Galaxy will get an appearance fee for participating in the tournament, and U.S. Soccer and its state associations will take a cut of the gates as international match fees.

There's a certain irony to the Guinness International Champions Cup. The tournament is being organized by Relevent Sports, whose CEO is Charlie Stillitano. Once upon a time, he was an inside man, a venue chief at the 1994 World Cup and general manager of the original MetroStars in MLS.

But he later went out on his own and formed ChampionsWorld, which sued U.S. Soccer and MLS over the same international match fees Relevent Sports will be paying out and other issues in an antitrust suit filed -- and ultimately lost -- after it went bankrupt.

The gist of ChampionsWorld's argument was that U.S. Soccer and MLS were conspiring to set up SUM -- MLS's marketing arm -- to corner the international friendly market Stillitano's Relevent Sports -- backed by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross -- now dominates -- at least for this summer.

Is all this bad for MLS?

Premier League CEO Richard Scudamore was asked by Jonathan Tannenwald of's The Goalkeeper blog about the impact of EPL on various markets.

"I don't believe it's a zero-sum game," he said. "I think the world of football has become bigger. I think history shows, and will show that where we've been, and grown, football interest has grown."

Scudamore went on describe it the EPL as "part of a big democratization, where we are bringing sport to the world. There's a pervasiveness about sport now as it goes throughout the world. We're doing this by making sure we put on the best possible football competition we can."

MLS can do nothing to stop NBC from signing with the EPL, just it can't stop groups like Relevent Sports from bringing over touring European teams during the summer.

What it must do on the field and off is what Scudamore says the EPL does: put on the best possible competition it can.

On the field, that means developing and retaining and importing if necessary better players. There is, of course, a chicken-and-egg element to all this. Doing all this means having more money, which means generating higher TV ratings, which means having a better product to begin off.

Off the field, it means providing the best possible experience for fans in the stands and at home in front of their televisions or on whatever devices  they are watching soccer.

We often talk of the talent drain to the EPL -- Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey, Geoff Cameron et al -- in terms of its impact on the field.

The biggest blow to MLS regarding NBC's deal with the EPL is the news that Arlo White will leaving as the voice of MLS on NBC after a year and a half to return to England to head up NBC's EPL coverage.

8 comments about "The democratization of the U.S. soccer market".
  1. ROBERT BOND, April 17, 2013 at 4:34 p.m.

    Wish Fox would get the Buendesliga from Gol-TV, better than the BPL anyway.......

  2. Eric in DC, April 17, 2013 at 5:19 p.m.

    Gotta say, I think EPL/BPL does well for itself in terms of marketing. There's no doubt ManU is one of the world's top clubs (probably top 3-4 in my book), but what about Birmingham City or even Aston Villa? I'd rather watch the Italian or German leagues most days, since there are more quality games to watch, so.

    One thing I need to think about is about the overall impact of the league on our national team. Think about how much $ the English League takes in. It begs the question: why in the English Nat'l team so poor? I don't know, need to think about it more, but I suspect there's a connection here...

  3. Peter Skouras, April 17, 2013 at 7:34 p.m.

    MLS???? Oh dear!

  4. James Froehlich, April 17, 2013 at 7:48 p.m.

    Someone in MLS needs to take a long look at what Brendan Rogers did at Swansea City. It almost sounds like baseball's "Billy Ball". Rogers developed a highly competitive and most importantly, an entertaining team in a very small market with no initial stars. Is Caleb Porter about to do the same in MLS ???

  5. R2 Dad, April 18, 2013 at 1:20 a.m.

    James, I certainly hope so. I would become a big Timbers fan if they really can play the ball on the ground, out of the back.
    MLS needs the competition. We don't have pro/rel, remember?

  6. K G, April 18, 2013 at 10:38 a.m.

    I read the announcement and heard two Italian sides, one Spanish side and one MLS side confirmed with a possible third Italian side and many two English sides joining the group. So how is this event an EPL-only win? RSE is promoting its facility as a world-class soccer venue. I would think for the next two years, that they would go after a Brazilian side and an African side. The time zone is too different to bring in an Asian side, but the market is clearly growing there, albeit in truly corruptive ways it seems.

  7. Andres Yturralde, April 19, 2013 at 8:23 a.m.

    Pretty interesting connections all around. Thanks for the info, PK.

  8. Joey Tremone, April 19, 2013 at 5:23 p.m.

    Stillitano is not the one who sued. CW went bankrupt, and its creditors sued.

    @R2 Dad, take another look at the Timbers, they play completely differently to how they did under Spencer.

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