No Matter What ESPN Tells You, MLS is in Trouble
I watched a little bit of the New England Revolution/FC Dallas game today and saw Bruce Arena become the all-time winningest coach in league history. I like Bruce Arena, congratulations to him.
But if you actually looked closely at the quality of the soccer on the field, it reminded me of watching Swansea City, an average team in the Championship, the second tier of soccer in the English Pyramid. Americans usually only like minor league sports on the local level.
Oh, and don't get me wrong, I love our local minor league baseball team, the Lake Erie Crushers, and I love our local minor league hockey team, the Cleveland Monsters. But neither team has much of a following beyond the Northeast Ohio Area.
And that's MLS's endgame, the AHL or AAA Baseball. ESPN wants you to believe that MLS is the Majors. The more ESPN+ I watch, the more I realize that MLS is going to struggle in the global marketplace.
Pee-shaw you say? Today's home opener for Charlotte FC had over 74,000 people in attendance. Listen, including Charlotte, MLS has ballooned up to 28 teams. That's 10 more teams than the Bundesliga in Germany or 8 more teams than the English Premier League.
Back in 1977, the New York Cosmos had almost 78,000 fans show up for a playoff game and averaged almost 50,000 a game for the entire 1978 season. But guess what? The North American Soccer League started to crumble in '81 and was dead by '84.
What's driving growth in MLS today is $200 million expansion fees. In an already overinflated league, St. Louis is scheduled to join in 2023 and an unnamed team in 2024. Earlier this year, I wrote about how the NFL makes about $10 billion a year in TV money. MLS currently makes about $100 million a year, not even close to the money of even the NHL or MLB.
But easy math dictates MLS's plan. They would like to increase their TV money to around $300 million a year. (That means the loss of expansion fee money would be covered.) But they have a shaky business model. What if American citizens simply don't watch American soccer?
Why did NASL fail? Overexpansion - Quora
Why did NASL fail? Overexpansion - The Guardian
Why did NASL fail? Poor Finances - Medium
Why did NASL fail? Poor Finances - Reddit
Why did NASL fail? Poor Attendance - US Soccer Players
NFL teams EACH currently makes around $300 million per year in TV money. MLS, as a league, was basically held afloat during the pandemic by expansion money.
No matter what league you're in, about half the teams are going to have winning records and about half will have losing records. What happens if you're a losing team in MLS and attendance drops, expansion money dries up, and the TV money doesn't increase?
In 2024, half the teams in the league could find themselves in that position, coupled with the losses during the pandemic.
Each Pro League has their own problems according to Beacon of Speech:
NBA: Political Issues
MLB: Lockout NHL: Gary Bettman MLS: Overexpansion
If I had to bet money, the only league in danger of contraction over the next 5 years is MLS. I would put contraction over that time period as a long shot in football, baseball, hockey, or basketball. I would make that an even money bet for MLS.