Wednesday, March 29, 2006

MLS: 16 teams by 2010

Major League Soccer's commissioner Don Garber (pictured) gave the LA Times his thoughts on the future of the league.

What is the biggest change in the last 10-years? Their number one concern is no longer will we survive. The league is instead focused on growing the sport. To quote Garber:

"What are our priorities? How do we get deeper engaged within the Hispanic community? How do we get all those kids who play to be fans? How do we get the media to think about us as a priority, as opposed to an afterthought? How do we get more stadiums built? How do we expand our league and get into those markets that we feel we need to be in order to be a national league?

"We're making progress in all of those areas."


Interestingly enough, I think most of his questions are answered by the question that fallows it. You can get more stadiums if cities and investors see the league as a true national system. You will get treated better by the media (or at least look more serious) if you are playing in a $70 million stadium then on a rented football field. If the media starts reporting on your games, your odds of getting more fans increase.

As far as attracting more Hispanic fans, that's going to be a little harder. The MLS had a good shot at this community during their first couple seasons, but they pushed them away so as not to be seen as just an ethnic league. When you treat a group of people poorly, they do not forget. With Chivas joining the league and Spanish language broadcasting of the matches, they have improved on this, but there is still a long way to go.

On to other comments. Garber believes there will be 16-teams in the league by 2010 and that 10 of them will have their own stadium (there will actually only be 9 stadiums, but LA and Chivas will continue to share). The four new teams are Toronto (2007), another team "in the Midwest" like St. Louis (2008), a team in the Philadelphia area (2009) and a return to the Bay Area.

The six new stadiums will be Chicago (2006), Toronto (2007), Colorado (2007), New York (2008), Salt Lake (2008/09), Midwest team (2008).

If all this comes together it will be very impressive. I seem to recall that in the past Garber said that he would like MLS to have 18-teams. If this is the long-term plan, then that leaves only two un-located teams. If the league is to be seen as a national league, they will need to play everywhere in the nation. The big holes with all this talk are the South and the Northwest with the South being the bigger of the two.

Yes, the two Florida teams failed, but that is no reason to write off the region. Atlanta is the obvious Southern location, but maybe a Nashville, Birmingham or Orlando would also work out. Without a team somewhere in the Deep South, can you really call yourself a national league? The Northwest is a little easier to pass over, especially with Salt Lake, Colorado and a Bay Area team near by (I know, none of the are in the Northwest, but there really are only two big markets in the NW).

Then there is the concern of where will the players for these teams come from. Hopefully the growth of the sport will also cause youth players to continue to play into high school and beyond.

The last big issue on which Garber is working is the increase in single team owners. He applauds the recent sale of the Metrostars and hopes the AEG will soon also sell their Houston team. He is also pushing Lamar Hunt to decrease his number of teams (currently at three).

Obviously having one team per owner helps the league. It brings new approaches to the game, increase the competitive drive and makes the league look like a real business instead of a funny investment by a few. The difficult part of this will be getting Hunt or AEG to let go of teams that also have stadiums.

All and all, a good out look by the commish.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous nico said...

As someone's that lived in both Birmingham and Orlando, I don't think either would work, though I think Birmingham the better option of the two.

Orlando is so transient that it would be difficult for the team to get solid, consistent support. I lived there two years and only met 5 or 6 people born there. Most people stay 2-3-4 years and then move onto other cities for their careers.

Birmingham I don't think would consistently support anything other than the national team. I think an NFL franchise would be the only first division pro sport they'd support.

2:45 PM  
Blogger Mike H said...

Nico,

Good points. I think Orlando might have some trouble, but I think Birmingham would be able to pull it off. Still, I say this without ever living there, so you are probably more on target then I.

Also, MLS would have very limited entertainment competition in Birmingham in comparison to Orlando.

8:12 PM  

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