Wednesday, July 18, 2007

11 things MLS can do to improve the league

With the Commissioner's state of the league address coming, I thought it would be fun to put forward 11 ways MLS could improve the league. With these ideas I decided to go with things that were actually possible instead of such ideas like relegation/promotion or a drastic increase in the spending cap. Also, these are things that could be put into place by next season. Some of these have to do with image, some with substance and some are just things I like to think about.

Anyway, here is my list of 11 ways to make MLS better.

1. Change the logo - If you want the league to be seen as serious both domestically and internationally, it is time to retire the 1990's Microsoft word stock photo looking logo. In order to help shape the league's image as a world-class division, come up with something that does not involve such a playschool green and is a little more memorable.

2. Mini-designated player rule - Okay, this idea is not named exactly right, but I couldn't think of anything better. Anyway, here is my thought, allow clubs to spend an extra $1 million on salary if they choose, however, this is the club's money not the league's. This money can be spent on one player or a number of players however, if a clubs decides to use this option, they must give all their development players an $8,000 bonus.

The idea behind this is simple, if a team wants to spend some extra money on a player or two, they should be able to as it will make the play on the pitch better. However, if they want to do this, they must share a piece of the pie with the lowest earners. This will help development players focus more on their skill and less on thoughts about how to pay the rent.

3. Allow chartered flights - MLS does not allow teams to charter planes to fly them around, instead they fly commercial. They say this is because they do not want to give any team an advantage over another, however that seems a little stupid. If clubs want to pay to charter a flight (like say from LA to New York), they should be allowed to. This will help the players get where they need to go quicker, which will reduce the travel fatigue on the players, which will make the play on the pitch better. In addition, if they league really wants to start attracting more big names, telling them they will have to fly commercial is not the way to do it.

4. Adjustable fines - Right now if a player gets a yellow card, they are fined $150. This might not seem like much but if you are a development player earning a little over $1000 a month, this is huge. Why not change the rule to reduce the fine to $75 for players making less then $30,000 a year. This will not have a huge impact on the game, however it will make it a little easier for those who earn so little.

5. Improve the YouTube channel - It has only been up for a short time, so I can give it a bit of a break. Still, what is there is basically just highlights. Why not get more player interviews, game explanations, weekly previews and so on? Extra Time is a good first step but it needs to expand. This is the league's chance to push through the media filter and talk right to the fans (and possible fans) so it must be used in a better way.

6. Fan Zone on the web - My favorite part of going to a soccer match is cheering and signing the songs that support the team (or maybe negatively support the opposition). Non-hard core fans are interested in learning this part of the game, but they have no place to go to do so other then the supporters' clubs. Since that is a foreign concept to most average fans, the league should bring the songs to them. A site that explains the match and has recordings of the chants could really bring a new level to the stadium.

7. Better items for sale - Just having the standard jersey, shorts, keychain items for each team is nice, but not very interesting. Where are the rearview mirror pennants or some more interesting t-shirts? Also, why are there not more offerings for women?

8. Advertise - Yes, the clubs need to handle most of the local ads but MLS needs to do more in the form of TV commercials and, more importantly, print ads. National magazines and newspapers are a good option but so are nearby media outlets. For example, say Houston was playing a match on ESPN2, why not run ads in the Austin, San Antonio, and Bryan/College Station newspapers to promote their 'local' club. This is the most expensive of my ideas in terms of MLS money, but something needs to be done to increase the knowledge of the league .

9. Be internationally friendly - MLS should not play on international dates, period. With World Cup Qualifying coming up next year, the league should go out of their way to make those dates free. A team should not be punished for having a good player that plays for their country.

10. Give teams in the CONCACAF Champions Cup a break - Every year the MLS teams in the CCC have the same problem, they are only in their second or third week of training camp when they have to go play teams in the middle of their season. If the idea is to use this tournament to show how much the league has improved, then why tie their arms behind their backs? These two teams should be allowed by the league to start their training camps early to get in game shape. It should be an additional reward for doing so well in the previous season.

11. Change the playoff structure - I would love to see the total number reduced, but I don't think the league will ever reduce the number. So with that in mind, what I suggest is simple, the Supporters' Shield winner does not play a two game series in the first round. Instead, they play one match on their own pitch. The reason for this is simple, home-home series are designed to eliminate the advantage of the home pitch meaning the team that worked hardest over the whole season gets no reward when it is needed most. This keeps the same number of series, it just reduces the number of games. Also, it gives additional value to being the best team in the league.

So there you have it, 11 ways to make soccer the biggest game in the whole US of A. Alright, maybe I'm overstating there. It seems to me that all these ideas would help move the league forward. All of these ideas either reward teams that play strong, allow teams to improve them clubs and/or give the fans more (okay, the logo one doesn't really do that but I think it is still needed). Anyway, there are my thoughts, what do you think?

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9 Comments:

Blogger Sergio A. Calderon said...

Great blog men, although I live in Mexico I do want to see more of the MLS, when I went to college in the states in the 90`s I got a glimpse of the league but not enough

10:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

6. Fan Zone on the web

is my favorite of these ideas. I agree 100%. I feel the same way even about national team games. Nobody knows the chants. Encourage EVERYONE to sing along and it will create a better environment.

11:15 AM  
Anonymous ChicagoSpur said...

I think the MLS needs to get rid of the draft. Make the clubs responsible for player development rather than hoping the colleges can produce good players.

1:41 PM  
Blogger Stephen said...

Player developement is a big issue that I think is holding the sport back in this country. Other groups (USL) have their own systems, why can't MLS? And what about this women's soccer league that we keep hearing rumblings about?

Oh, and for an expansion city I'd pick... HOUSTON!!!

3:10 PM  
Blogger Kinney said...

It is the players union agreement that is stopping the CCC teams from starting practice early. This past year though, DC and Houston worked out a deal where they could start early but would have to give days off during the season to even out the days players worked.

9:59 PM  
Blogger Fullback said...

12. Most importantly, we need a team in green again (stupid mood-ring Colorado, always changing colors)! C'mon, every major color but green? Well, I guess purple and powder blue might be nice too.

1:13 PM  
Blogger Colm said...

Great blog.

I agree with pretty much all of your eleven points, especially the ones that are designed to help out the developing players. Right now the MLS is like pre-Soviet Russia with the Tsar (Becks) and the aristocracy earning ridiculously more than developing players. This drives talent to Europe, makes it difficult for players to continue professionally, and makes it extremely unattractive for prospective youth talent from around the world.

I personally would like to see the MLS creat 2 more Canadian teams. One in Montreal and one in Vancouver. Currently both cities have USL teams which sell-out every game and are even televised! Montreal has a great stadium already built which can seat up to 80,000 and is pretty much empty most of the year, which means no bizarre football/soccer pitch combos, and Vancouver is the process of building a 20,000-30,000 seater in the downtown core. Travel is of course a factor, but there is a huge potential soccer market in Canada (just look at the Toronto FC support) which could really help diversify and improve the quality of the game.

I'm also personally against the introduction of a relegation/promotion system. I don't like it that teams can face complete extinction simply because they have a few poor years. I'm glad the MLS is resisting it.

As far as salary caps and money goes however, I don't think the MLS will change dramatically anytime soon. Everyone remembers the disaster of allowing the New York Cosmos to spend gazillions on foreign talent, which lead to the collapse of the NASL. The whole Beckham transfer in this sense is a little ridiculous, however I don't think any other teams will try to lure a player of his reputation in compensation. Perhaps Beckham was allowed to come simply because everyone here knows he is a better marketing agent than player and will bring the entire league, not just the Galaxy, some much needed money and attention.

Cheers!

C$

2:05 PM  
Anonymous Matt L said...

Great blog. Great ideas. Can you send them to the MLS teams directly or to the league?

8:40 PM  
Anonymous Andy Grant said...

Your points on increasing MLS popularity are all insightful. One other option (or building on your #8) may be to try and increase awareness through "product mentions" on popular TV shows through league apparel visibility or having MTV hosts wear team jersey's...just a thought - that would be hitting the proper demographic, right? Now is the time to do something "more" since all other major sports are facing some real issues and are at their own respective low points...which could possibly never happen again.

6:04 PM  

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