2014 was already going to be a big year for soccer with the upcoming World Cup in Brazil as the headliner… more on that in a minute. But right here in North America, Major League Soccer has been making headlines with big player signings, news on expansion, attendance growth, TV ratings and TV rights, the MLS Draft and prepping the US National team for success in Brazil and beyond.
MLS Acquisitions – International, U.S. National Team Players
Major League Soccer made world soccer headlines 7 years ago when the LA Galaxy signed international icon David Beckham which paved the way for bigger contracts and the “Beckham Rule” or Designated Player. Becks sold a LOT of Los Angeles Galaxy tickets. Now some of these DP slots are being allocated to top US players which is a great step for American players. Clint Dempsey was a huge coup for Seattle (as amazing as any soccer atmosphere in the world) last season at a price tag rivaling what Beckham was paid in salary at $6.5 million; of course, he made the move for that amount of money (who wouldn’t?!).
And, Toronto just made their own waves with not one, but two big DP signings in English international Jermain Defoe from Tottenham and the midfield engine of the US National Team, Michael Bradley. Bradley returns from 7 years of international soccer that saw him play in leagues in Holland, Germany, England and Italy. And with a transfer fee of $10 million and annual salary jump from under $2 million to over $6 million, the pressure will be on the 26-yr old Bradley to perform and for Toronto FC to finally deliver a playoff team to a deserving city hungry for success. Toronto has never made the playoffs since they came into the league in ‘07. Toronto also hopes to get their attendance back to where it was after first joining the league and being showcased as one of the darlings of MLS; these deals are already bearing fruit with reports of a major increase in season seats sold. The price of 2014 Toronto FC tickets on the secondary market are 51% more expensive than 2013. Now its heavy debate whether it’s a good move for Bradley. For that salary of course he did, like Clint! They join other US players holding DP status, Landon Donovan and Omar Gonzalez from the LA Galaxy and Chris Wondolowski from the SJ Earthquakes. So some major commitments from the league and teams going to American players, interesting steps in growth.
MLS Attendance, Expansion: Beckham No Longer Bending, He’s Building
MLS’ average game attendance for the 2013 season was 18,594 which was higher than the NBA (17,348 in ’12-13) and NHL (17,721 in ’12-13) and topped 6 million overall for the 1st time in history. This was led by Seattle averaging 44,038/game and other strong markets in Portland, Kansas City, Philadelphia and Houston. On the other hand TV ratings are comparably low and MLS’ TV deals with ESPN, NBC Sports Network and Univision’s Unimas expire at the end of 2014 and the goal is to secure a deal that will help propel MLS into profitability. MLS has grown from a league that actually had to PAY television partners to get games on the air to where it is now generating revenue from these deals for the league and its teams. The league has always pushed the teams’ sales and marketing departments to sell more MLS tickets for the national TV games to help showcase the fans and atmosphere which in turn helps to land more sponsors and gain bargaining chips for TV deals. And this year could be key in that development as ratings haven’t been where the networks and MLS want to be yet, but all parties involved know the potential. Plus, expansion teams are coming in NYC with big Manchester City money, Orlando and likely Miami led by Beckham. There IS competition …ESPN, Fox, NBC, BeIn Sport, etc. According to a Forbes report at the end of 2013, the average MLS franchise is worth $103 million compared to $37 million in 2008.
2014 World Cup
2014 means the Brazil World Cup …Olympics you say? C’mon everyone loves the Olympics but it’s the Winter Games in a place that’s making headlines for all the wrong reasons (don’t get me started on the Orcas). Everyone in the World wants to talk futebol and the place that is the HEART of the game. Other countries have passion for the game but only in Brazil is it the culture and heartbeat in the people. Legends like Pele, Garrincha, Cafu, Romario, Rivaldo, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Ronaldinho, Kaka, this new young crop led by Neymar. The hosts are gonna be tough and its gonna be fun. #Samba
The US has a gigantic challenge ahead with Ghana (#nemesis), Portugal (#CR7) and Germany (#irony). It was just a minute ago the US team was led and dominated by Euro-based players; all of a sudden that has shifted back again and is MLS-led. How will this affect the players and our team? U.S. fans expectations are still high: get past the group stage and put ourselves in the chance for a little run. It’s possible, revenge win against Ghana, hold Ronaldo to 1 goal (0 would be near impossible and amazing), and get a result against Portugal and go into Germany knowing what we need to advance and achieving it. Then it might not be too bad in 1st knockout game; at worst a strong, but inexperienced on this stage, Belgium or maybe an unheralded Russia. Then, we stop Messi and beat Argentina, miracle win over Spain. And…oh wait, we can dream.
How do you think the US will do in Brazil?
Want to help support MLS, US Soccer and the sport in the US or get yourself ready for Brazil? Get to a game! MLS season starts March 8th and features MLS champion Sporting Kansas City opening their title defense at the Seattle Sounders.
MLS Tickets – 2014 MLS Ticket Prices
|MLS Team||Avg. Price|
|CD Chivas USA||$50.95|
|Los Angeles Galaxy||$58.67|
|New England Revolution||$43.28|
|New York Red Bulls||$54.97|
|Real Salt Lake||$60.96|
|San Jose Earthquakes||$48.01|
|Seattle Sounders FC||$63.72|
|Sporting Kansas City||$87.84|
|Vancouver Whitecaps FC||$65.06|
Image Credits: Ted S. Warren (AP Photo), Frank Gunn (AP Photo/The Canadian Press), www.tribunnews.com, USsoccer.com (Getty Images)