Leagues and MNTs, any correlations to success in Europe and with MLS?

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
La Liga
3 $2.2B Spain 6
Serie A
4 $1.9B Italy 8
Ligue 1
5 $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 (***)
European (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 ( 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.
14 comments about "Leagues and MNTs, any correlations to success in Europe and with MLS?".
  1. Jay Wall, May 5, 2017 at 7:23 a.m.

    The Top 6 Leagues in Europe are usually considered the Champions League, EPL in England, Bundesliga in Germany, La Liga in Spain, Ligue 1 in France and Serie A in Italy. That accounts for the MNT #1, #2, #6. #8 and #10 ranked nations in Europe. >> In most of Europe few sports compete with soccer for game attendance, TV viewership and fan support. Youth in Europe don't play a lot of different sports with 70% leaving soccer by age 13 like they do in the United States according to ESPN's poll on youth sports participation. >> According to FIFA's Big Count of registered players: # 1 Ranked Germany has 6,308,946 players of which 2,081,912 are youth. # 2 Ranked France has 1,794,940 players of which 1,034,046 are youth. # 6 Ranked Spain has 653,190 players of which 419,485 are youth. # 8 Ranked Italy has 1,513,596 players of which 557,453 are youth. # 10 Ranked England has 1,495,910 players of which 820,000 are youth. # 13 Ranked Turkey has 197,657 players of which 131,916 are youth. # 19 Ranked Netherlands has 1,138,860 of which 510,091 are youth. # 30 Ranked Russia has 846,736 players of 196,170 are youth. >> In the United States soccer is a minor sport in gross revenue, game attendance, TV viewership and fan support. Football, basketball, baseball and hockey account for almost 97% of the gross revenue. In Germany Soccer accounts for about 91% of the gross revenue. >> In FIFA's Big Count of registered players the USA has 4,186,778 players of which 3,907.065 are youth players, including almost 2,800,000 who will quit soccer by age 13. >>> The article concluded U.S. Soccer has to be like option A or option B, when in reality the long term vision for the MNT should define how and where players are developed. If the long term vision is to win the Men's World Cup, not just show up, then Jurgen was right and the maximum number of U.S. players should play in the top 6 leagues in Europe to gain the best experience at the highest level in the world.

  2. Will Sams replied, May 5, 2017 at 8:39 a.m.

    FYI, MLS is beginning to beat NHL and NBA in attendance. Also, more folks watch Liga MX in the U.S. than MLS and the Premier League. I don't believe soccer is lagging behind like it once was. The perception around the sport need to change, for potential eyeballs and sponsors.

  3. Ben Myers replied, May 5, 2017 at 4:28 p.m.

    Yes, Jurgen was right, but Gulati and Garber put their thumbs in their ears and cried: "Neener! Neener!" The difference in quality of play, all aspects, between MLS and the top European leagues is astounding. I can't watch MLS any more without a visceral reaction to what I see. Last year while in Israel, I got to see an Israeli professional match, and the quality of play was better than MLS, too.

  4. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, May 6, 2017 at 10:41 a.m.

    Give me a break - the Israeli league is better than MLS?

  5. Jay Wall replied, May 7, 2017 at 9:33 a.m.

    Israel professional clubs play so well 6 of them have played over 100 games in the UEFA Champions League scoring 139 goals while yielding 145 goals. See for details. >> Maccabi Tel Aviv, for example has 7 appearances and played 24 matches in 92-93, 95-96, 96-97, 03-04, 04-05 and 13-14 in the UEFA Champions League, has had 1 appearance in UEFA Cup Winners and 10 appearances in UEFA Europa League. Jordi Cruff is currently Maccabi Tel Aviv's sports director. >> Maccabi Haifa has played 38 matches in the UEFA's Champions League in 94-95, 01-02, 02-03, 04-05, 05-06, 06-07, 09-10, 11-12 and only lost 18 of those matches. >> Beitar Jerusalem played in the Champions league in 93-94, 97-98, 98-99, 07-08, 08-09. >> Hapoel Tel Avia played 14 matches in the Champions League in 2000-01 and 2010-11. >> Hapoel Ironi Kiryat Shmona playing in the Champions League in 2012-13. >> Hapoel Haifa played in the UEFA Champions League in 2010-11. >> It's easy to discredit leagues in other nations whose games we have never seen. About the closest we can come is to enter the club names above and YouTube after the team name to see full games and highlights from full games.

  6. Bob Ashpole replied, May 7, 2017 at 5:25 p.m.

    Jay, you are ignoring an alternative where MLS becomes one of the top 6 leagues in terms of level of play, following the German model rather than the EPL model. Realistically MLS could be there in 10-20 years. The North American TV market is the biggest in soccer, so it is just a matter of improving the product while maintaining business success. Sounds tough, but MLS has proved it can succeed.

  7. Gus Keri, May 5, 2017 at 10:13 a.m.

    Although the method seems to be reasonable, the choice of the most recent revenues and ranking is not optimal for this study in my opinion. These rankings change markedly every year. The use of average ranking over few years (let's say 10 years) is more reflective of the status of each league and country.

  8. Bob Ashpole replied, May 7, 2017 at 5:27 p.m.

    Good point, but going back 10 years will not significantly change the results as far as England and Germany are concerned. Those two countries are the significant contrasts in my view.

  9. Quarterback TD, May 5, 2017 at 10:39 a.m.

    NHL and NBA arenas are max at about 19,000 and are always sold out. Regardless this article is 100% correct but no one really needs this analysis as proof.

  10. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, May 6, 2017 at 10:41 a.m.

    Not true of course, but why should this post be any different than your others?

  11. R2 Dad, May 5, 2017 at 11:16 a.m.

    Thanks for your analysis, Ahmet. I am curious if there is data to support a similar study involving the lower leagues in each country. The top leagues get all the print, but the lower leagues are where local attendance and community-building occur.

  12. John Gordon, May 6, 2017 at 4:58 p.m.

    The process is slow. But here is what I see. One of the TVs at the local Barbecue diner has a soccer game on at 1:20 PM during lunch here in Central Texas. While at a sports book chair in a casino in Las Vegas, I look up and see three screens with soccer games. Slowly soccer is becoming natural, integrated. This will mean more gifted players think soccer, especially to avoid injuries.

    Americans are notorious at figuring out how to make a buck, so more entrepreneurs are setting up "specialized training for soccer" programs with some actually giving good training and increasing the pool of 13-14 year old soccer player who show good promise.

    Businessmen like profits so the front offices in American sports are always looking for cheap pools of players from which to draw talent.

    Relationships that create better players will be formed. Those linkages will be imitated. Slowly, the system in the US will refine itself into putting out a better product - more skilled effective young players.

  13. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, May 6, 2017 at 5:13 p.m.

    Great comment. Some people want instant success but it takes a long time to develop a true soccer culture. If twenty years ago you'd have told me where MLS, and soccer in general, would be today, I wouldn't have believed it was possible this soon.

  14. don Lamb replied, May 8, 2017 at 8:02 p.m.

    Well then why haven't the barrios already produced these stars? They are clearly not being held back by resources because, by definition, they don't need any resources. And it can't be because of lack of identification because, as you say, Mexican teams scout these areas and take the best already. There are certainly some valuable assets that the inner cities can provide, and with resources in scouting and academies growing rapidly, we can expect to see production in this area from some clubs soon. But what has been holding them back from doing what you say is going to happen?

Next story loading loading..

Discover Our Publications