Wednesday, November 05, 2008


With apologies to FJM, an offering from today's Montreal Gazette regarding MLS expansion

Nine cities, including Montreal, are in line to bid for two expansion franchises in Major League Soccer, which, in theory at least, is the height of professional soccer in North America.

When the very first word you type in an article is a factual error, you know that things are only going to get worse. It's seven cities. Also, Mexico is in North America and no one is claiming that MLS is better than the MFL.

The principals in these cities - we're talking Joey Saputo and George Gillett here in Montreal - will be asked to fork over an expansion fee that could be as high as $40 million.

The question everyone should be asking is: What do you get for your money?

Well, a MLS team I would suspect. Maybe Don Garber throws in a bath towel set, but I'm not sure.

Let's start with MLS, which was born out of the soccer fever that surrounded the 1994 World Cup in the United States. Someone mistakenly believed the support for this one-off event was evidence Americans had suddenly developed a passion for the world's most popular game.

But the latest attendance figures show, if anything, popularity for pro soccer in North America is waning. The average attendance at MLS games this past season was 16,459. That's down 1.8 per cent from last season.

Which ranks 2008 as the second best median attendance in league history, and third best average. The opening weekend crowds of 1996--where there were a few 50,000ers--just barely bumps that season above this past one.

Only three teams - the L.A. Galaxy, Toronto FC and DC United - averaged more than 20,000. Ironically, they all missed the playoffs. The San Jose Earthquakes, the latest expansion team, averaged only 13,713. The Kansas City Wizards drew a league-low 10,686, which is about 2,000 less than the Impact drew.

Both KC and San Jose played in temporary stadiums in 2008, which were not much larger than the average attendance figures.

Looking for growth? It's non existent. The average attendance is lower than it was in the league's 1996 inaugural season.

And better than every other year the league has been in existence. Look for yourself.

League revenues are up, but you have to wonder how much of the increase comes from selling expansion franchises. At one point, MLS concentrated on strengthening its existing franchises and cautiously added teams. In recent years, it seems to be addicted to expansion, because it knows it can fleece prospective owners.

Well, I'm sure that helps, but so does the sell out crowds in LA and Toronto and the second highest median crowds in league history.

Why would anyone want to invest in a business that is stagnant at best?

I don't know? Of course MLS isn't stagnant.

How about a chance to compete against the best?

The MLS comes up short in that area. Four MLS teams competed in the CONCACAF Champions League; two of them fell by the wayside in the preliminary round and the others were eliminated in group play. The United Soccer Leagues, the supposedly weaker league that is home to the Impact, had two teams in Champions League play - the Impact and the Puerto Rico Islanders - and they advanced to the quarterfinals.

And good for them. It's a terribly small sample size--and the first time in 10 years that MLS teams have come up short against USL teams in head to head competition (although DC United did win the US Open Cup, to make it nine of 10 over the USL by MLS). Oh, and all four MLS teams played their reserves in the competition (which is not something the league should be proud of, but is representative of how much importance MLS put on the Champions League).

There are some impressive big names in MLS like David Beckham, Juan Pablo Angel and Marcello Gallardo, but the Beckham experience has left a lot to be desired. Beckham plays for the Los Angeles Galaxy when he's not playing for England or AC Milan, or watching the Olympic basketball final in Beijing. During his first two seasons in MLS, he has appeared in only 25 of the Galaxy's 60 games.

Yes there are. And, you're right. The USL loses less players to international duty than MLS does. Likely because it has better players.

In a league that has extensive revenue-sharing, MLS should be concerned with attracting cities that have a proven track record of success, which should put Montreal on the top of the list, especially when you consider the success of Toronto FC.


But Montreal might be better off joining Vancouver, Ottawa and some of the other cities seeking MLS franchises and starting a league of their own or shoring up the existing USL. They'd save money on the franchise fees and would be able to give their fans a more affordable product. The threat of such a move might even convince MLS to reduce its exorbitant franchise fee, because the reality is that the MLS needs Montreal more than Montreal needs the MLS.

In a perfect world, sure. A Canadian league would be great. But, it's going to cost a hell of a lot more than $40 million to start and it would have no guarantee of success. Actually, the odds would be against it fromn the get go.

The USL is a good league, but MLS is better. It has better exposure and better players. Montreal fans are deluding themselves if they thing one Champions League run is evidence that they would be better off playing in the USL.

There are plenty of reasons to critique MLS. None of them are listed here.

Try again.


Anonymous said...

Good response do the original article Duane. Hopefully this get's past along to Pat Hickey at the Gazette.

norman james said...

It's Pat Hickey for God's sake! He's the biggest/worst Montreal homer this side of the French/English divide. Anybody read his trashing of BMO field? It's hard to take this guy seriously. Well, unless you're one of the sheep he's herding in Quebec.