Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Time to take the MLS Survey

It seems that MLS wants to know what fans think. They have a 16 question survey asking various questions such as where you get most of your soccer information from, how many MLS games have you watched/attended over the last year, what would make you more likely to watch MLS matches, etc. However, the most interesting question is number 8, which asks:

If you were the commissioner of MLS and the ownership group gave you an additional $10 million to help grow the league, what area would be your top priority:

- Retaining and securing top American players
- Retaining and securing International stars
- Grass-roots marketing programs and advertising to reach youth participants
- Grass-roots marketing and advertising to reach Hispanic soccer fans
- Advertising to reach avid soccer fans
- Market the league to general sports fans
- None of the above

This is one of only two questions in the survey that asks for an action. It is also the only one that I had to think about for a few minutes before answering.

I like the idea of paying players more, but the way the top two items stated, they are talking about paying just a few people those big bucks. I'm not sure having a couple $3-4 million players while the majority get $70,000 or less is the best way to go. On top of it, won't these players get bored if they are not other good players around to constantly challenge them?

I knocked out the advertising to reach avid soccer fans option because avid soccer fans already know the league is here. Those fans either already like the league or they don't. Generally, even if they like the league, they still think the play is lacking. If MLS really wants to get more of the avid fans watching, they would be better served improve play and not their commercials.

Now marketing the league to the general sports fan, that could be a winner, but without a World Cup tie in, it will be difficult. Still, having a campaign like 'the road to the World Cup starts in the domestic league' or something like that could motivate more people MLS's way. However, one would guess that if they've seen a soccer match before it was probably a World Cup game, so once they are watching, they might also notice the lack of top quality play.

Then you have the grass-roots options. The advertising to Hispanic soccer fans could be a good idea. MLS has never done anywhere near a good job of attracting Hispanic crowds to their games (with the exception of Chivas USA), so maybe reintroducing the league to them could work. Still, we get back to the play issue.

The other grass-roots option is to the youth leagues. I like building the youth leagues, but I'm not sure what the programs and advertising would actually do. If it shows kids in the US that they can actually play soccer professionally when they grow up, that's a good thing, but is it a $10-million good thing? The youth are the future of the game, however, I don't think the league will succeed by youth attendance.

So in the end, I picked none of the above. My reason is simple, every solution brought me back to the problem of the play on the pitch. Until that issue is solved, all the above are just band-aids.

I say put the $10-million into general salaries. Give each team $750,000 more to spend on players ($10m/13 teams) and see what they can do with it. On a 28-man roster, that means each player would average $26,785 more a year. It's not EPL pay, but it's a whole lot better then what we got.

I know, money doesn't always equal better play, however if a player is getting paid more, there is more expected of him and there is more motivation to do better. In addition, it makes it easier for MLS to attract future players to the league.

The one big downside I could see to this is long-term. This might just be a one time $10-million grant. If so, one year with better pay would not really do it. Still, if the quality of play does not improve, MLS will be asking similar questions 10-years from now.

Anyway, if I had to pick one, I would go with either of the grass-roots options.



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