Transparency? MLS could use consistency to start

Photo: Earl Gardner

The word transparency is brought up in terms of Major League Soccer’s ways of doing business. Many say the league needs more transparency.

But transparency may not be the right word. Plenty of sports in America and abroad are opaque in their dealings. Owners cry poor; players cry poor. Some things go unpunished, while others seem to be raked over the coals.

Transparency isn’t the problem in MLS. It’s consistency. From expansion bids to player acquisitions, if only MLS could evenly apply the rules they’ve already revealed to us, the league would garner much greater respect.

You need a stadium to enter, until you don’t

Remember all those years when a prospective ownership group needed a workable stadium plan in place to secure expansion? That changed with New York City FC, a team that still has no concrete plan for its own stadium. A year out, they still haven’t finalized their plans to field this team in 2015, though it’s easy to assume that Yankee Stadium is involved.

After the well-organized Orlando City S.C. stadium situation, now Don Garber and the MLS Board has authorized the latest Miami incarnation for launch — without much of any plan in place.

The Shell Game

Why the inconsistency? There are two likely reasons.

  1. Beckham had already exercised his purchase clause in 2013, prior to its expiration.
  2. Major League Soccer still needs Beckham.

The Board could have let Beckham’s purchase arrangement expire, but that would likely end any chance of Goldenballs returning to MLS in this kind of capacity. This thing has been buzzing for months now, and to have it fall apart would be a PR miscue. They needed this to get done.

Beckham gets his “Franchise at a Discount,” and MLS gets their pretty face. Win-win.

Not all wins

The aspect that could be forgotten in this whole scenario is the idea of consistency. The calls for transparency, even at times from the most forgiving MLS media out there, are really just a secondary concern in my book.

Most sports leagues have a veil about them. You get details about contracts, total salary figures, and the like. But the inner workings are often shrouded, and their fans tend to be OK with that. Why? Because everything they see in the open is consistent.

Consistency is the missing ingredient in MLS.

Take the returning USMNT player policy for example. Prior precedent dictated that returning US internationals would go through a lottery. That changed with Clint Dempsey, and MLS at the time claimed the difference to be Dempsey’s Designated Player salary. The same theory worked with Toronto’s acquisition of Michael Bradley.

But whoops, the policy changed yet again with Maurice Edu. It then becameĀ who paid the transfer fee, not the salary of the player.

Consistency will come with simplicity

So how does MLS go about becoming more consistent with their policies? First, they need to simplify their player acquisition structure. There are too many drafts and orders and lotteries for the fan to follow and understand.

That all could come from more autonomy for clubs. There are likely ways to simplify the entry (and redistribution) processes even while remaining a single entity.

Yes, unforeseen issues come up, and rational league decisions can often come across as biased in favor of the larger markets.

But with clearer guidelines and simpler rules, consistency in the normal operations of the league will become commonplace. It will cause fans to gain more trust in what’s happening. We don’t need to see behind the curtain if everything happening in front of it makes logical sense.


  1. Don’t forget this is the same league that 2 or 3 years ago changed their playoff tiebreaker criteria midseason from goal differential to goals scored. All of a sudden, teams found out that the effect of prior games was slightly different than what they thought when the games were played.

  2. One of my HS senior year English teacher’s parting words of advice was a phrase to use when you get contradicting yourself. I hadn’t had much use for it cause I personal try my hardest to not contradict myself but I think someone in MLS took this phrase to heart but didn’t understand its meaning.

    A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.

    Sadly MLS has a foolish inconsistency in certain matters and the Bradley and Edu transfers are a good example of this (note I left Dempsey out of the equation because the rules could have changed for the new year). Adding the clause that MLS needs to be ponying up money for the transfer is itself a phrase that conjures up a sense of bias. So Toronto couldn’t pay for the transfer themselves so MLS has to help? And because MLS had to help they get another favor in that the player doesn’t go through the allocation process? That to me seems backwards, if you can get a player returning to MLS at a DP cost then that should avoid the allocation rule but if MLS has to aid the transfer then that is when the allocation order would be used. Does MLS release to its clubs a list of players they will help bring in? Or is it a case of ‘hey MLS, we really like this player and think he can help us but we don’t want to risk him going somewhere else, can you pony up some money so we get him?’ Sadly I know that the world at times can be bereft of logic and MLS often times likes to defy logic with their decisions but this has been baffling me since it was made known we were after Edu.

  3. This is spot on. The calls for transparency are simply to validate the consistency (or lack thereof) of the league office’s decisions.
    I fear that these choices to avoid the rules that they had previously set in stone will harm the league more than help it. MLS did not need Clint Dempsey or Michael Bradley. What they need is increasing quality all over the field. If teams have an extra $1 million to spend on player acquisitions, then MLS should increase the salary cap by $1 million and bring allow clubs to bring in 5 better players instead of 1 outstanding one.
    On the league ownership side, I anticipate that at least one of NY2 and Miami will fail due to a lack of attendance. Successful teams aren’t built out of nothing–there has to be a base of support in place first. And as we have seen with Chivas USA, the league can’t fix these embarrassing, money-losing eyesores easily.

    • I think there is way too much money lined up behind NYPartDeux to fail. As far as the lack of a SSS plan, as Earl mentioned, when the Yankees are part of your ownership group and come with their own neighborhood billion dollar playhouse and ManCity feeding you young talent in a city of 8 million, these things take care of themselves.

      Miami, well thats a Fusion of a different color. There didnt appear to be a plan, a name, a concrete investor group, an organized fanbase, a stadium plan, or frankly anything more solid than “we’d like to be near the water and did you see Beck’s abs in that commercial?”. To his point, I feel more simpatico with Orlando City, they had supporters, a team, a stadium plan (right after they manifest destiny a few people) and seem to be scrapping it together the “right way”. As the landscape shifts, you’d really have to look hard at those prospective groups in San Antonio or Minny if they’ve got the chops to play in what will start to become a money league.

      • I agree with you completely expect Beckham has a billionaire backer and support of some important city officials.

    • Linking your two posts . . . can’t wait to see how MLS waves it’s magic wand to allow NYCFC to acquire 4 loan players from Man City U20 clubs with zero count against salary cap. You can already see it coming.

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