The English Premier League bills itself as the world’s most watched league. Much like the humble beginnings of the current format of the English Premier League, the USA’s Major League Soccer (MLS) is slowly gaining momentum and turning into a popular product. The EPL has a historical significance which cannot be surpassed. The loyalty of fans for their favourite clubs will likely never be shaken. But every sports fan will have seasons where they are more invested than others. MLS is poised to slowly infiltrate the market and slowly draw an increasing number of eyes. Although it may struggle to overcome the historical strength of the EPL, the MLS has a few inherent traits that may eventually tip the odds in its favour.
America! F*** Yeah! I’m positive that you don’t need me to make a case for the USA’s potential to turn a league into a billion dollar per year money printing machine. They have specialised in taking their own popular sports and turning them into global brands. Walk through virtually any city’s downtown and Yankee’s caps will be easy to spot. The World obsesses over US politics, tv and movies and virtually anything else that the USA itself finds appealing. In the modern sporting world, the USA leads the way in many facets (see the US takedown of FIFA), and as the US slowly falls in love with the MLS, so will the rest of the globe.
Eventually, as bigger names are drawn to the MLS and the USA’s lifestyle, more American’s will follow the MLS which will subsequently result in more international following of MLS which then leads to increased sponsorship and TV deals which brings in more talent.
Speaking of talent, the MLS has already seen an increase in quality players making the switch to their domestic competition. Although the big names that are joining are at the latter stage of their careers, its hard to deny that nabbing the likes of Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, David Villa, Andrea Pirlo, Didier Drogba and Kaka is quite a positive indication on the league. Both the money that they’re able to offer these players as well as the lifestyle to live in Los Angeles or New York is a major draw card.
In addition to the older stars, the MLS has also been able to draw European aces close to their prime when they enticed Giovanni Dos Santos and Sebastian Giovinco.
One of the major strengths of MLS is it’s appeal to the South and Central American players which will undoubtedly improve the quality of the football and generate more eyes on the product.
The Decline of NFL/MLB
The NFL will always be America’s game. However, with concussion issues always bubbling, more and more young athletes are turning to soccer as their sport of choice. Likewise, the MLB’s slow speed has deterred many viewers looking for a quicker stimulus.
As top athletes choose to focus more on soccer, the USA will produce more and more top tier talent that will both improve the MLS product as well as raise the popularity of soccer in the country. Imagine a world where there was a world class player of the ilk of Messi who was American. It would generate so much popularity in the same way that Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods brought their respective sports into popular culture.
As an Australian based writer, the timing of the EPL games is often far from convenient for viewing. The majority of elite EPL games occur at 2am on a Monday/Tuesday morning. The EPL forces this by having their games played with an English audience as it’s priority. Of course, Australia is a small minority but other countries are equally affected.
The USA match times are not always convenient either, but with many major sports stemming from the USA, it would not be a large leap to add another sport to the NBA/NFL/MLB viewing parties globally.
Call me biased, but there is a tangible affect on how the media operates and how a sport is consumed. The US Sports Media is a conglomerate of epic proportions. Every aspect of a league is analysed and dissected, questions asked and civilians informed. The media coverage is an unheralded contributor to the overall success of US leagues such as the NFL, NBA and MLB. With highlights often being shown on ESPN, the better the product gets, the more air time it will receive on TV and radio. Additionally podcasts such as The Men In Blazers are going a long way towards influencing a movement as they slowly increase their eye over the US version.
The Women’s Game
The USA women recently won the Women’s FIFA World Cup. USA media embraced the run of their ladies and generated a lot of popularity for the sport eventuating in a lucrative new TV deal for the women’s version. Although separate from the MLS, the popularity and patriotism will help promote the sport for the local audiences from a grass roots level which will eventually evolve into the countries DNA.
Areas of Improvement for MLS
Get rid of Conferences – The NBA has talked about removing conferences altogether. In a new league without developed rivalries and with travel being so much easier these days, the MLS should combine its teams into one pool. Even if they choose to keep a playoff format rather than the EPL’s league table style of ranking, the MLS should quickly simplify their system.
Develop a rival to the Champions League – The Champions league is one of the most entertaining pleasures of football and has cemented Europe as the world’s premier destination for the soccer elite. With US based teams unable to qualify for the tournament, the MLS would benefit from partaking in a similar tournament where the prize money could entice some of world’s biggest teams to converge in one location to see who comes out on top.
Increase teams to allow for promotion/demotion – This will take a long time to develop. In Australia, the rise of the FFA cup has gone a long way to start producing more competitive teams from lower tiers that may eventually compete in the top flight. US soccer would also benefit from increasing the competitive product by enforcing more punishment for mediocrity. It would prevent many of the tanking controversies that have plagued the NBA.
— Seattle Sounders FC (@SoundersFC) September 4, 2015
Although the MLS is still a while from infiltrating the global market, the league is shaping to eventually vie for the top honour of being the World’s most watched football league. In the meantime, we will continue to enjoy the EPL as the current king of the mountain and follow the steady rise of the MLS in the background. Just like young soccer hopefuls, it sure will be interesting to see if it’s high potential will ever come to fruition.