Is there a correlation between the business success of a professional soccer league and the national team of that country? You can make numerous speculations about the question, but I would rather
base it on some data. The best soccer leagues are in Europe, I doubt anybody would challenge this statement as being subjective. So we will look at the top eight soccer leagues in Europe and the
corresponding national teams. Once we do that, we will try look at MLS and U.S. Soccer and try to see whether there are any correlations on this side of the Atlantic.
Another reason why
we chose the European leagues is the abundance of data for those leagues. Although Liga MX, Brasileirão and JSL are ranked
in the 20 professional leagues based on revenue, relevant data is not readily available for those leagues. Much of this due to the better organization of UEFA compared to other confederations and the
existence of CIES as a soccer research entity.
The best soccer league in the world based on revenue is the EPL in England, but the English MNT is ranked only 10th in Europe (ranked 14th
in the world). It is evident that best league does not help the MNT of the country in which it resides to be the best also.
|Revenue Rank |
|European (FIFA) Rank |
|1 ||$5.3B ||England ||10 |
|2 ||$2.8B ||Germany ||1 |
|3 ||$2.2B ||Spain ||6 |
|4 ||$1.9B ||Italy ||8 |
|Ligue 1 |
||$1.5B ||France ||2 |
|Russia PL |
|6 ||$977M ||Russia ||30 |
|Süper Liga |
|7 ||$601M ||Turkey ||13 |
|8 ||$482M ||Netherlands ||19 |
Germany on the other hand is a good success story. Germany is ranked No. 1 in
Europe and the Bundesliga is ranked No. 2 in revenue, hence there is a close correlation between the League and the MNT. Among the top eight leagues in Europe, the Dutch, Russian and Turkish leagues
do not contribute too much to their respective MNTs’ rankings. Especially the Dutch MNT with its 19th-place ranking in Europe is a very interesting phenomenon. The almighty Oranje -- which once
dominated the world soccer scene has not recently doing well. What is interesting is the ranking of two MNTs -- namely Wales and Iceland, ranked 9th and 12th, respectively -- which as sovereign
countries do not even have proper professional leagues.
It is very obvious looking at the table and the two MNT cases, we have just seen that there is no need for a correlation between
the league and the MNT. A league can be very successful and the MNT might not follow suit or just the opposite might be true. Leagues aim at business success whereas the federations should aim at
success of their MNTs.
If we look at the prospect for the future for those eight MNTs and the leagues associated with their soccer federations we find some interesting results. The table was compiled
from CIES’s Digital Atlas.
|Average Age (*) |
|Expatriates (**) |
|Club trained (***) |
(FIFA) Rank |
|EPL ||England ||6 ||7 ||7 ||6.67 ||10 |
|Bundesliga ||Germany ||2 ||5 ||4 ||3.67 ||1 |
|La Liga ||Spain ||4 ||3 ||1 ||2.67 ||6 |
|Serie A ||Italy ||5 ||6 ||6 ||5.67 ||8 |
|Ligue 1 ||France ||3 ||1
||3 ||2.33 ||2 |
|Russia PL ||Russia ||7 ||4 ||5 ||5.33 ||30 |
|Süper Lig ||Turkey ||8 ||8 ||8 ||8.00 ||13 |
|Eredivisie ||Netherlands ||1 ||2 ||2 ||1.67 ||19 |
|(*)Youngest to oldest || || || || || || |
|(**) Least to most || || || || || || |
|(***) Most to least || || || || || || |
Let us define some of the fields: Average age:
Average age of players, weighted according to minutes played in the domestic league (regular
season), from Oct. 15, 2016 to April 15, 2017; Expatriates:
Percentage of domestic league minutes (regular season) played by players who find themselves for soccer-related reasons
outside the country where they grew up, from Oct. 15, 2016 to April 15, 2017; Trained:
Percentage of domestic league minutes (regular season) played by players who have been for at
least three seasons in the employer club between the ages of 15 and 21, from Oct. 15, 2016 to April 15, 2017.
We assumed for the betterment of their respective MNTs younger “average
age,” “less expatriates” and more “trained” players in the leagues will be a better indication for the future ranking of the MNTs. We understand that these choices are
arguable. You might not need a very young league to be successful in MNT rankings. The low percentage of expatriates and high percentage of trained players in the leagues we believe are very good
indicators for the road to success of the MNTs.
From that perspective we see the dimmest prospect for the Turkish, Italian and English MNTs. One can explain for each of the three
federations why that is the case, but that is not our goal.
On the other hand, the future of Oranje might be extremely good. France, Spain and Germany can look at the next couple of years
with great hope. There is one reason for that hope: All of these countries develop players systematically both in quantity and quality. You can include Croatia and Iceland in this list although their
professional leagues are not in the top eight.
If you come to this side of the Atlantic, you come across MLS and U.S. Soccer. MLS is ranked 12th in the soccer world with $461
million in revenue. Comparing MLS to other European Leagues might not be fair. First of all, it is not even a national league, but then EPL (England and Wales) and Ligue 1 (France and Monaco) are not
either. There are many other differences
between MLS and European leagues.
Looking at the short
history of MLS, it is a business success story, there is no doubt about that. If you look at it from a macro perspective, the league might look successful, but how about the micro level? Since the
team owners do not disclose their profit/loss figures, we do not know where each franchise stands. It is interesting that the Players Union discloses
the salaries of the players in a world where the owners hide behind privacy. In Europe, because
of the Financial Fair Play, all clubs are under tight scrutiny. It is true that a good number of leading clubs in Europe are not making profits but rather losses. At least the public knows about their
status. In other words, one cannot predict the future of MLS without those numbers.
U.S. Soccer on the other hand does have all the figures at its disposal like CIES. It is very clear
that the success of the USMNT (ranked 23rd in the world) does not depend solely on the business success of MLS. U.S. Soccer has to decide whether it wants to be in the same boat as the English FA or
play the role of the German/Spanish/French FAs. It is that simple. Ahmet Guvener (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the former
Secretary General and the Technical Director of the Turkish FA. He was also the Head of Refereeing for the Turkish FA. He served as Panel member for the FIFA Panel of Referee Instructors and UEFA
Referee Convention. He now lives and works as a soccer consultant in Austin, Texas.