MLS

Does MLS feel chaotic to you too?

Is it just me, or does MLS seem to be dancing on the fringes of chaos right now?

There are many positives surrounding the league right now, but sometimes this all can feel out of control. Here’s the rundown.

Atlanta

Tomorrow marks the day that MLS will announce the launch of Team No. 22, if all reports are accurate. Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank appears set to be the operator of a new franchise in Atlanta, to begin play in 2017 in a newly erected multipurpose stadium. This is the fourth team announced in the last 12 months, a sudden expansion for a league that had been very measured in recent years.

Atlanta seems to have more negatives than positives from a market standpoint. Philadelphia Phillies fans have mocked the unbelievably poor turnout for the city’s Braves, a top contender in baseball for decades. The NHL’s Thrashers relocated to Winnipeg within 15 years of starting play in Atlanta. The Hawks and Falcons draw well — when the teams are good.

That doesn’t mean MLS won’t work. It just means MLS will have to succeed where others have failed.

MLS is mostly interested in the big payday that Blank can offer. There’s nothing wrong with that from a business perspective.

Taking an outsider’s view, there are two extremes for this kind of NFL/MLS duality — Seattle and New England. Blank’s commitment to the team will likely dictate where in that continuum the Atlanta franchise will fall.

Television

Twitter has been abuzz lately with people frustrated with Fox television and their lack of distribution for Fox Sports 2. Every week there seems to be another reminder – this weekend it was Arsenal’s FA Cup semifinal versus Wigan Athletic.

Philadelphia sports fans are basically reliant upon Comcast as a provider (though Verizon FIOS has made inroads). Comcast does not carry Fox Sports 2 at the moment.

If MLS goes through with a reportedly pending television deal with Fox, Philadelphia fans could be shut out from viewing a road Union match in their homes if it’s televised on FS2..

Perhaps MLS will be the linchpin to convince providers to bring FS2 HD onto their networks. But don’t bet on it.

Salaries/CBA

The MLSPA Salary information came out last week. There weren’t many surprises, aside from the fact Omar Gonzalez is earning $1.2 million per year. Yes, we knew he was a designated player, but haven’t we heard for years how MLS wants to prevent the escalation of salaries, especially on the back line? I’d bet Chad Marshall, Jose Goncalves and Aurelien Collin are livid.

But the release of salaries reminds us yet again about the collective bargaining agreement being up for negotiation at the end of this season.

2013 and 2014 have been the Years of Salary Polarization. The additions of Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley, as well as the re-signings of Gonzalez and Landon Donovan, continue to accentuate the gulf between the haves and the have-nots.

The launch of two new teams in 2014 means this negotiation is critical on so many levels. Proper launch means the league wants to start on time. Will the MLS Players Association be willing to concede a lot of ground? The last thing MLS needs is to have the fanfare of NYCFC, and Orlando City get drowned out by the gnashing of teeth in an extended labor dispute.

Twelve months should make a difference

Twelve years ago, MLS experienced something more akin to a life-threatening wake-up call when they had to contract the two Florida teams, Tampa Bay and Miami.

What we’re seeing now are the growing pains of a young league. For every 40,000-plus attendance game at CenturyLink Field, there are a couple of venues that continue to struggle. The TV situation continues to confound, often unable to convince soccer fans in this country to consume national broadcasts. But investors are at the door looking to buy into this league, seeing its potential.

It’s going to come down to timing. Maybe a year from now, the picture of the future of MLS will come into clear focus, and any worries will be allayed. But right now, something is off.

25 Comments

  1. Eh, it’s mostly fringe stuff that is worrying. The NBA, NHL, and even the NFL (with teams in LA and London), are still moving some teams in and out of cities. That doesn’t mean the league’s core isn’t strong. Maybe we lose a couple of these markets in the next few years. But that only means that market was weak.

  2. neck label says:

    the rush for atlanta has to be because of the TV contract. its a selling point for the MLS to say they are in that market, even though the people in the atlanta area dont care. wait! that makes no sense…..same goes with NYC FC why the rush if they have no place to play?

  3. IMO, while Blank’s $$$ was a definitely a motivating factor behind the franchise in Atlanta, a bigger one was expanding their footprint into another major TV market to increase the value of the MLS TV rights. I don’t have specific numbers, but I have read numerous times that the real $$$ for professional sports leagues isn’t the amount of tickets and merchandise they sell (which is related to the size of local fan bases), but rather number of TV sets that can be tuned into games (which is related to the number of major TV markets they have a footprint in). This is why Garber is happy to dive head-first into NYC, Atlanta, & Miami without a fan base and/or stadium deal in place, refuses to move Chivas out of LA even though they have no fans or their own stadium, but is very cautious about new franchises in smaller markets (Orlando). If MLS was started from scratch today, I doubt that Columbus would get a franchise since they are a small market.

    • Columbus is actually the largest city in Ohio – by far. They have almost twice the population of the next largest (Cleveland) city. And Columbus has more people than Ohio’s next two largest cities (Cleveland and Cincy) combined. Source: http://www.togetherweteach.com/TWTIC/uscityinfo/35oh/ohpopr/35ohpr.htm
      .
      Columbus: 787,033
      Cleveland: 396,815
      Cincinnati: 296,943
      .
      And according to this source: http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0763098.html their population is up since the 2010 census to over 800K people.
      .
      Columbus is the 15th largest metropolitan area by population in the US, a hair behind San Francisco and ahead of (among others) Detroit, Memphis, Boston, Seattle, and Denver.

      • Columbus has the most population in Ohio and ranks 15 in the nation, but as a metropolitan area, it is the 3rd largest MSA and the 2nd largest CSA in Ohio. As a tv market, Columbus ranks 32nd, behind Cleveland (19th) and in front of Cincinnati (35th)

    • OK, I guess I was wrong about Columbus. I always perceived it as the 3rd city in Ohio and all it really had going for it was OSU and that it was the state capital, kind of like Harrisburg and State College in PA rolled into one…a nice place to live, but tiny compared to Philly.

      • I actually used to have that same impression until I had to travel there for business about a decade ago. It’s actually only gotten bigger since that time.
        .
        Now, that said… perception is reality in a lot of ways. You’re not the only person who sees “Columbus” and thinks it’s a small town with nothing but a big college going for it. Ideally, the PR folks in the state of Ohio and the city of Columbus – maybe in conjunction with the Crew and Blue Jackets – would work to overcome that perception. I mean, it took me less than 5 minutes on Google. Surely they could get together even more facts – and do a better job spreading the word!

  4. Hey y’all,

    I think you’ll be surprised at how ready Atlanta is for an MLS team. Everything Arthur Blank has touched as turned to gold.He cares about the fan experience and putting forth a winning product. His son is huge in the soccer community and he’s had discussions with the Sounders ownership group. The stadium sits directly between two transit stops (one on each side of the building)and is in an area WAY nicer than Century Link field. The one thing we need is the right Designated Player. In 2017, Patrice Evra, Oguchi Onyewu or Jozy Altidor would be huge in Atlanta.

    • I would love to be wrong! About all three, even. So this is good to see. But… I so wish it weren’t turf, and a field that’s going to have football lines, and a stadium that’s going to be cavernously empty – tarps covering seats just hide seats, they don’t do anything to help atmosphere.

      • The current dome has five different turfs, Falcons, SEC, Chick-Fil-A Kickoff and Chick-fil-A Bowl and one for soccer games. I assume the same would be in place at the new dome so that’s not as much of a concern.

        The quality of the turf selected is subject to tons of rumors. It would at the very least be Next Turf, but there are rumors of a hybrid live/artificial surface as well.

      • Oh, sweet. A system that swaps out easily is a fantastic solution. No football lines! Yay!

    • Evra or Oguchi as DPs will not make a difference at all as far as team marketing is concerned.

      • There was an Evra billboard above Walter’s (destination sneaker shopping in Atlanta) for years so there’s recognition.

        Onyewu (who went to nearby Clemson) and Altidor would be smart for the same reason the Braves signed both Uptons and Heyward. There is a large, wealthy African American community here that would jump in immediately with those players. Winning keeps fans, but in the short term having those players would only help soccer in the city and the South as a whole.

      • Chipper Jones was local-ish, the Braves dominated the NL East for years and couldn’t sell out playoff games.

        They’ve lost a hockey team. Twice.

        And come Aug-Oct, the end of the MLS season, ya’ll will be watching college football, entire family decked out in school colors, truck painted to match and requisite dog named after legendary coach lolling nearby. Sounds like a recipe for success.

  5. No, it is just you.

  6. I’m able to watch Fox Sports 2 through Comcast.

    • Ed Farnsworth says:

      What’s the channel number you watch it on? Do you subscribe to Comcast in Philadelphia (Fox Sports 1 is on channels 729 (SD) & 857 (HD) in Philly). The Fox Sports website has a link to ask Comcast to add Fox Sports 2.

    • I can’t, that I know of. I pay for the sports tier, too.

  7. All the graphics for the Atlanta team, even the official twitter account (https://twitter.com/MLSAtlanta2017) , say 2017. Why do you think the team will begin play a year earlier?
    .
    I think the sole purpose of releasing the salary information is to remind the league brass that a significant percentage of the players are underpaid. It holds even more weight on the eve of CBA negotiations.
    .
    Anyone remember how 2010, and the fanfare of the Union’s inaugural season, almost didn’t happen because of a work stoppage? http://voices.washingtonpost.com/soccerinsider/2010/02/mls_labor_negotiations.html

  8. PainDon'tHurt says:

    People in Miami and Atlanta are completely apathetic to professional sports. So what does MLS do? Awards franchises to both cities, back-to-back. Donny….haven’t you checked out their track records? I love how both stadiums are going to be 25,000+ capacities. They’ll be lucky to get 12,000 consistently.

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