Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Soccer, ways to fix it, and the start of summer

Well, it's the beginning of summer, and you know what that means!  No hockey until October.  While I need to keep posting on this blog for at the very least my own sake, so I don't completely forget it and not chronicle my journey, I really can't post about anything new.  So, I plan on making a post every week or month or so about something preferably sports related, until I can start on the next season.

And I've looked at the new schedules, and see a few trips to the East Coast in the not-too-distant future...

However, on to the post which took by far the longest of the posts I've written.

I like soccer.  There, I said it.  It’s a very entertaining sport to watch, especially in the summer, where the only other major sports are baseball (which is as exciting as watching Astroturf grow) and NASCAR.  Now, as any snobby European will tell you, soccer is for some reason not very popular in the States.  So I decided to suggest ways to fix it, because, to quote Top Gear, how hard could it be?

Pictured: Soccer

So, in no order of importance, the ways to improve soccer in the US

  • Keep the March-November schedule.
Some people in FIFA have stated their desire that MLS convert its season, which typically goes from the spring to the fall, to the “international” (read: European) standard, which is roughly the opposite.
This would be catastrophic on many levels.  First, many places in the MLS have horrid weather in the winter, for example Toronto, Vancouver, New England, Chicago, Colorado, etc.  This isn’t as big of a problem in England, as the average low actually never drops below freezing, whereas in Toronto the average low is below freezing an astonishing 4 months of the year.  However that is still not the biggest issue with an European schedule.  The largest problem is the amount of sports the MLS would have to compete with for TV ratings with.  Not only would they have to compete with the NHL, NBA and college basketball and football, but they would be faced off with the NFL, which basically owns TV in the States.  It’s estimated that the MLS makes less than $30 million a year for TV rights.  The NFL, by contrast, makes roughly $4 BILLION per year in its contracts.  Mind you, the NFL season only lasts 17 weeks plus 4 weeks for the playoffs.  Each MLS team plays 34 games.  Competing with that, and the NHL and NBA, where the teams play roughly 80 games, would be suicidal.
  • More domestic players please!
Now, the MLS admittedly does have a rule limiting the number of foreign players to 8 per team, leaving the team to find 20 American players.  Still, however, this is at least a few too many, especially because the best and marquee players are the foreign ones.  The best way to cultivate American players and American interest is to have the top league in the country full of players from the country, that’s how you can bridge the gap between the millions of youth soccer players to the fans of professional soccer.
  • Keep the best domestic players in the MLS
As a corollary to my last point, we need to keep the best players from the US in our leagues, so that when the US national team plays in the Gold Cup, World Cup, or any other Cup, the fans can find and cheer for the same players they cheer for during the MLS season.  Unfortunately, this fix is easier said than done.  The problem is money.  In the MLS (which is a single-entity, unlike many major American leagues and European soccer leagues, more on that later), the salary cap is just over $2.5 million per team (except only the first 20 players and not really counting the “designated player”), and about $300,000 per player.  While many leagues in Europe do not have a salary cap, the average Premier league salary is about $2.3 million.  The disparity is obvious, this is why so many of the top US soccer players play in Europe.  The only foreseeable option is to raise salaries, but this is difficult without finding more revenue.

Above: A picture to break up the word monotony, also, more soccer
  • Implement a promotion and relegation system
There are in fact two good reasons for this change.  First, it would bring US soccer more in line with the other countries and their soccer pyramids.  Second, it would give soccer a unique niche in American sports.  Said niche would increase interest, thereby making the league more valuable.  Unfortunately, there are at least two problems with this idea.  Firstly, the MLS is at the top of two different soccer pyramids.  It leads the pyramid in both the US and Canada, and both countries have different leagues from level 3 on down the line.  However that is not the main issue.  The main issue is the MLS’ single-entity system, which means that the league owns every team.  Under this system, relegation to another non-MLS league would be impossible.  There are, however, two different ways to solve this problem.  One would be for the MLS to either create or absorb other leagues to relegate to.  This, unfortunately, would not be quick or cost effective.  Another option is to actually have the league sell the teams whole to either the owner-operators of the teams (who are essentially shareholders of the whole league) or to new owners, or some combination.
  • Finally, win
It seems like the most obvious way to increase interest.  Having a more successful team would logically increase the amount of attention paid to soccer.  Admittedly, the US has been much better at this of late, qualifying for every World Cup final since 1990, and making the round of 16 in 3 of those tournaments.

Unfortunately, many of these solutions necessitate some impetus.  Some change from the norm will start the process, which, logically, would snowball into success.  Increasing wages in the MLS would bring many of the best US players back into the country, which would encourage continued participation in the game, which would increase the level of play, which would make the US team better internationally.


  1. I agree with the league time table, mostly cause I wouldn't want soccer to compete with football and basketball. It's just a less crowded sports landscape in the summer. As for the domestic player issue I'm not sure I agree. The best way to develop talent is to play with others who have it. Having the best league and best national team don't really correlate. People would argue that the premiership is the beat leaguein the world, but England's National team is dismal. MLS should focus on getting best players no matter what nationality.

  2. Well the reason for that disparity is because all the top players all over come to the Premier League because the owners are willing to fork over top money for talent, something MLS owners can't do even if they wanted to. Frankly that's why so many of the top American players go elsewhere, as the average Premier League salary is almost as much as the cap for a team in the MLS.

  3. uh, what I meant was that having the best domestic league does not equate having the best domestic players and vice-versa. you missed my point completely.

  4. I just have one suggestion. Make it less boring! I can totally understand soccer riots after attempting to watch a few games. Talk about watching the Astroturf grow. They stand there and kick the ball back and forth for several hours and nothing happens. If I paid $100 for a ticket and nothing happens, I'd start a riot too! (Well, not really - I'm not a Canucks fan. But you get my point.)

    Then the ref decides at the end of the game, hmmm, let's play a little longer. I'll let you know when to stop. What's the point of having a clock when you will just arbitrarily add more time to it? Either use the clock the way it's intended (you know, like maybe stop the clock when there is a stoppage in play, what a concept) or just get rid of the clock altogether.

    Too confusing and too boring. That's why Americans don't like it. Look at the sports we like. Basketball: slam-dunk, slam-dunk, slam-dunk, run around, lots of action. Football: hard hitting, lots of action. Hockey: hard-hitting, lots of action. Baseball: Umm, well, they do hit lots of home runs, so it's not quite as boring as soccer. NASCAR: speed, wrecks, WWF-style story lines, maybe a brawl or two. Keep it simple, make it exciting, and America will watch. If I want to fall asleep, I'll watch golf.