The Major League Soccer is the highest level of soccer in the United States and Canada and has become one of the major sports leagues of North America gaining an exponential rise in popularity in recent years. The league experienced financial and operational difficulties in it’s first few years with millions of dollars lost, empty stadiums and two teams folding in 2002, but since then significant investment has poured into the league and franchises. Soccer centric stadium’s have been constructed and attendance has spiked, overtaking the NBA and NHL viewership numbers. Lucrative Television contracts have made the league profitable and to highlight the power of television contracts, the NFL signed a monstrous deal worth $27 billion from the 2013-2022 seasons doubling the NBA and MLB teams influx of capital.
Formation & History
The MLS season runs from March to October with the team with the best overall record wins the Supporter’s Shield. Teams are split into the Eastern and Western conference where teams play 34 matches: 24 against teams within their conference and 10 against teams in the other conference. The post season includes 12 teams playing the MLS Playoff’s (the top 6 of each conference) in November. The league was formed in 1993 as part of the successful bid to host the 1994 World Cup. Initially, 10 teams took part in the inaugural 1996 season.
The American people have always centered their sporting aspirations around American Football, Basketball and baseball. Even hockey was given more importance with soccer framed as a European sport. Over the last 5 years, soccer has gained more interest amongst the population for a variety of reasons. The World Cup and interest in European football reinvigorated interest in the United States and Canada creating a buzz around the continent. Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are household names who have created excitement and turn matches into spectacles which excite the North American public in the same way the NBA and NFL do. Household European names have made the move across the atlantic with the likes of David Villa, Kaka, Didier Drogba, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo all moving from their respective European clubs to play in the MLS. The influx of these stellar names with enough playing years behind them is a testament to the leagues progression and money involed. Many European clubs centre their preseason tours around the United States, playing friendlies against their European and American counterparts. This becomes a spectacle for the American sports fan who get a chance to see these stars in action creating hype for the upcoming season.
Success has alluded the United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) which has contributed towards the lack of interest from the American public. For years, the men’s team has shown glimpses of promise with experienced veterans Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan carrying the team but have not been able to deliver an inspired finish to a tournament since reaching the semi finals of the 2002 World Cup and winning the CONCACAF Championship & Gold Cup. However, the United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) should receive the plaudits for bringing regular success to U.S soccer notably by winning the 2015 World Cup and reaching the final in the 2011 edition.
T.V Broadcasting Rights
One of the biggest days in Major League Soccer’s history arrived in December with the U.S. Soccer federation announcing a broadcasting deal with ESPN, Fox and Univision worth over $720 million running till 2020. ESPN will own the majority with approximately $45 million per annum. At the moment the current television rights for the English Premier League stands at $27 million a year, blowing the previous best deal out of the water. The amount of viewers should increase significantly with the change in schedule after struggling for TV viewership for years even stretching to catch up to the WNBA. The the introduction of new teams from New York, Orlando, Miami and Atlanta should help boost numbers along with more European talent crossing borders, odds are there are a number of fans willing to watch the beautiful game. The most expensive deal in U.S. Television sports broadcasting lies with the NFL, with networks willing to pay $3 billion a year for rights. This should excite the MLS and give them enough encouragement to develop a stronger league thus attracting a bigger fan base and claim higher revenues. If there is something the American’s do well is marketing their sports products and franchises like no other and with that in mind, it is little wonder that the MLS has the potential to become a major force in the United States.