Send us a message

Interested in being a part of the team? Get in touch with us today.
Apr 172014

Adam Uthe

I’m sure we’ll get to these in our next podcast, but we’ve got 2 big new developments with today’s announcement of Atlanta becoming the next MLS franchise and the report that NYCFC will play their first 3 seasons at Yankee Stadium.

I’ll start this off by asking straight up: which is the bigger story?

Sean Maslin

To me, it is the Atlanta expansion team. With the Cosmos looking to build a new stadium and New York being a very difficult place to get building permits I kind of expected it to take some time. The interesting thing will be how the Yankee fans deal with it. I can imagine given how much money they are shelling out for tickets that they are going to be royally pissed about having the field broken up. Could you imagine what would happen if Derek Jeter rolled his ankle on that field? There would be some serious hell to pay.
The Atlanta deal is interesting. How in the world does the league expect the team to get a soccer-specific stadium when the Atlanta Braves were not able to get one? From what we know, yes Atlanta was able to sell lots of tickets for Mexico matches, but Mexico matches sell no matter where they are at. The Silverbacks do pretty well at the gate, but that is a team that has tremendous supporters who have marketed that team through word of mouth.
There is some to like with this situation. Arthur Blank is a man with a big wallet and has shown himself to be a pretty good owner (handled the Michael Vick situation about as any good as a person could). The league also had to expand into the Southeast beyond Florida. Before last year, the South was represented by D.C. United (most certainly not the South,) Sporting Kansas City (no one likes SKC,) and Houston/Dallas.
The one thing I am excited to see is how MLS uses this and the Florida teams to improve the youth system in these areas. The South is very different from the rest of the United States and I think could develop players with a different skill set that could only improve U.S. Soccer. I hate the cookie-cutter shit that we do here in the U.S. where everyone plays exactly the same way. Different regions should be developing different types of players.
Adam- you live in the South. Am I wrong to think that the league has had problems getting the entire country behind MLS?
To be honest, Texas isn’t what most people think of when they talk about “The South”. When I hear “The South” I think of SEC football, so in that respect this is uncharted territory for MLS.

I think debating the merits of Atlanta as a “market” or asking how well a team can do in Atlanta is completely irrelevant. The true goal of MLS was/is to grow the sport of soccer, then they have officially jumped the shark with this announcement; and I mean that in the true definition of “jumping the shark”. MLS is no longer about growing the sport in the US. The sport itself will continue to grow as long as we have the World Cup and foreign leagues readily available to us on TV.

This team in Atlanta is about one thing: control. There’s a “conspiracy theory” floating around that MLS is expanding into NASL markets in order to try and crush them. With this announcement, and the “report” out there about the Minnesota Vikings stepping up their efforts to get a team not named Minnesota United, I think it’s quite clear that MLS is scared of the competition they might face if the NASL continues to grow. The MLS owners want to corner the market on professional soccer in this country and having Arthur Blank buy in is a huge step in the right direction.

People want to debate whether or not a team can “succeed” in Atlanta, but this is an irrelevant discussion. In the current single entity model, individual team “success” is irrelevant. All that matters is that Arthur Blank’s check for his expansion fee cleared. The money is now in the single entity “pool”; the owners’ investment will continue to grow. As long as Atlanta doesn’t become Chivas USA in 5 years, it will be considered a “success” in the eyes of the various MLS owners. Questions about playing in a football stadium with turf, whether or not fans will show up, etc mean nothing.

As for the NYCFC announcement, I am actually surprised that it will be at least 3 years in Yankee Stadium for the new team. I thought they would be able to secure a deal for a stadium this year and that it would only be 1 year in Yankee Stadium. I think this is a huge setback for NYCFC. Without a permanent home of their own within the city itself, the pressure is REALLY on now for them to have 3 legitimate (I’m thinking Zlatan Ibrahimovic off the top of my head) stars in place for Day 1 if they’re going to get a jump on the Cosmos/Red Bulls.

The Cosmos frustrate me. As a supporter, I feel like I should hate them because they are clearly the cream of the crop and I am a fan of underdogs. Yet they are one of the one true assets in American soccer that could bring a sledgehammer to this weird system we have. Mark it down:2014 U.S. Open Cup Champions.
That is interesting that you mention the notion of a conspiracy theory because the relationship between NASL and MLS is very, very frosty. I remember last season at the NASL Soccer Bowl the Commissioner of the NASL took a shot at MLS when he was asked why they are taking time off for the World Cup. He said something to the effect of “that is what the big soccer leagues do” which MLS does not. Then I listened to MLS Extra Time the other day and the commentators really struggled to say anything good or negative about it. It was almost like there was a gun to their head to avoid talking about the subject.
The game-changer in American soccer could be if the NASL can get a TV deal. As a league they seem to be more open than MLS at working with the lower leagues rather than dictating terms. Just this weekend the league had two matches shown live (ESPN3 and One World for Cosmos) and with the cable deals set up as they are, there is room for more American soccer on TV. We could conceivably see two rival leagues, one more Euro-friendly and the other more American-soccer friendly, established in this country. But IF NASL wants to do pro/rel. they are going to have to set it up soon.
The one thing really concerns me about all of this expansion is will the level of play decline? I would say the league is probably at one of its highest levels of play in MLS history. Yet in the next 3-4 years the league is planning on adding 3-4 teams (if Becks can get the stadium deal done in Miami). That is about 72 (18 man roster times 4 teams) new players to the league. Are there 72 new players right now that can play in MLS in American soccer without depreciating the play on the pitch? That is a tremendous reach even if you are to assume that 20-30 percent will come from foreign leagues.
And that is where I kind of agree with you on the league’s true intentions. Adding four teams, and a fifth if you want to include whatever Chivas USA will be, doesn’t really grow the league. It might expand their influence in American soccer and make them more attractive to other owners wanting to buy pet teams. But it doesn’t improve play and it waters down the product.
Two words when it comes to the NASL and a national TV deal: BeIn Sport (actually it might be one word; I’m not even sure I ever pronounce it correctly). It’s an up and coming sports channel perfect for an up and coming sports league NASL. BeIn already shows English Championship games regularly on the weekends, why not use the NASL to get into primetime even if it’s just on Saturday nights.

I think the answer to your question about diluting the quality of the league depends on where the new players come from. I don’t believe there are enough “born and bred” American soccer players, many of whom probably play/will play in college, to populate 3 or 4 new teams. And of course, with expansion comes the wonderfully communist MLS Expansion Draft. MLS teams are already spread thin in terms of above average talent as it is. To have the middle of every current team’s roster picked apart isn’t exactly helping.

I actually expect your “20-30%” figure regarding foreign leagues to increase. If MLS is going to avoid diluting its quality of play, it is going to have to do so by increasing the influx of foreign talent. That requires (at the very least) a decent increase in the salary cap; which will ultimately be decided by the next round of collective bargaining negotiations. My gut tells me there will be a salary cap increase, with the idea being the expansion teams will rely more upon foreign signings than the MLS Expansion Draft.

I didn’t even think about beINSPORT and I actually get the channel. The NASL needs to start somewhere and that would be a great start. I also hope thy do what MLS does and show matches over multiple different channels. Expand the audience. Get games on as many channels as possible.
My concern with the foreign talent being added is what type of talent these teams will bring in. If they bring in a Jonny Steele or a Oriol Rosell or even a Thierry Henry, a superstar with a half-decent attitude, then I am ok with it. But someone like Ronaldinho will not contribute to improving the level of play and will only be used to sell tickets. This league cannot just survive off of tifo’s and supporters. The quality of play has to improve.
So I guess this gets back to the original thought of both NYCFC and the Atlanta Professional Football Club: Who do these teams benefit? Do they open up soccer to new audiences in  America? Possibly, but I have a suspicion that people would rather go to a bar and watch a European match or go to a PDL match where their expectations can be properly met than going to an MLS match to watch an expansion team.
Oddly enough, I think NYCFC have been the most transparent out of all of these clubs, even if their reasons might be the most damaging to American soccer. At least they are up front about their intentions: to expand their footprint in the U.S. and make money.
I feel like a negative Nellie now but it is very hard not to be skeptical
This definitely feels like a crossroads of sorts for MLS and American professional soccer in general.

Going back to my initial argument: I think these 2 teams benefit the owners. If we are to believe the MLS owners when they cry poor (as they certainly will during the CBA negotiations) then it’s entirely possible they have become dependent upon expansion fees to survive. Obviously that’s not a recipe for success. That being said, MLS owners are some of the wealthiest “1%” and I don’t think we’re in danger of seeing the league fold anytime soon either.

I think we’re headed for more of the status quo over the next 20 years: teams simply existing and fielding average teams for crowds of 18,000 with TV ratings that will rarely (if ever) exceed half a million viewers. That is the future of American professional soccer unless fairly drastic changes occur in the next decade.

I am little less pessimistic. Eventually MLS will have to adapt and evolve beyond its current model. It is not sustainable. Look at the controversy that was created by Clint Dempsey going to Seattle over Portland and the ridiculous reasons that were given afterwards. It angered the fans who could not make sense of this system, it pissed off Portland because the league essentially disregarded its own rules. Transparency will eventually come and both players and fans will not stand for a mediocre model.
Soccer’s fundamental problem here in the United States affects both the pitch and the administrative process: we are still afraid of being aggressive/. Whether it is developing a model where teams succeed and fail, where some teams have more money than others, or whether it is on the pitch with players being told not to shoot we still treat this game with kid gloves. The problem is that the rest of the world doesn’t play the game, whether on the pitch or in the board room, the same way we do. And though we have made tremendous progress in 20 years, we still have a professional league and a culture where everyone wins.
MLS and Soccer, in general, needs a Mark Cuban. Someone who has the capital and resources who will call MLS on their bullshit and expose their flawed system.
You definitely hit the nail on the head there with the “everyone wins” culture. It’s amazing how it extends from a U-6 rec league to the finances of MLS owners, but I think it does hamper things. People don’t like hearing this but soccer IS different from the NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB, etc. The game is organized in a manner unheard of here in the US and it is done so around the entire planet. There is promotion/relegation everywhere from England to Nigeria to Thailand. Salary caps and other “socialist” measures do not get put into place. Soccer in the context of the rest of the world outside the US is the ultimate meritocracy. And the worst part is, there enough fans in the US that, if you allowed teams to sink/swim on their and pay whatever they want, you could potentially see a mass exodus of the world’s best talents from Europe to the US. But the more things “change” with MLS the more they stay the same.

I would love nothing more than to see Mark Cuban buy a pro soccer team here (preferably in the NASL) and it’s interesting you bring him up because I think a couple of the league’s current owners (Precourt in Columbus, Paulson in Portland to name a couple) deep in their heart of hearts do NOT believe in the current system and would love to overhaul it. That’s why I think this next round of CBA negotiations will be interesting. I think if you looked into the hearts of all the owners you’d find a deep, fundamental divide that will make it difficult for them to present a united front going forward.

There’s no doubt the next 5-10 years are going to be interesting to watch.

Adam Uthe

VP of Content Development for GFT and proud supporter of Columbus Crew (MLS) and Liverpool FC (EPL). @AUtheGFT

 Leave a Reply



Refresh Image


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>