Wednesday, July 23, 2008

MLS expansion - 24 teams by 2013?

Canada's sports network TSN reports that "MLS Commissioner Don Garber will lift the original ceiling of 18 franchises and announce Thursday a new expansion plan of not less than 20 and up to 24 franchises by 2013-2014."

They add that, "Vancouver and Montreal are considered expansion priorities for Garber in 2011."

This is not the first time that similar rumors have jumped up, but let's say it is true that tomorrow will see a big announcement concerning expansion, what does it mean?

First off, if the league targets 20-24 teams in the next six years, they must do something concerning the player pool. What this means is more international players and an increase in the salary cap, but that starts bringing in thoughts of NASL. MLS has tried hard to stay away from any such comparisons but if this is their realistic goal, they will need to address it soon (quick note, MLS is in a much better financial state today then NASL ever was).

Next up, the schedule. Is the East/West divide soon to be gone in favor of a single table or might they break into two different leagues and never play each other except for in cup competitions (think old school baseball rules)? Also, how does Superliga fit into this? If clubs are playing 38-46 league games*, plus US Open Cup, plus Concacaf, plus MLS Cup matches, they could easy end up with almost 60 meaningful matches in a season so throwing on 3-5 more for Superliga would be asking a great deal. Is MLS ready to kill off a moneymaker?

Finally, there is the issue of television deals. The current broadcasts are a huge improvement over a few years ago, however it is time to push for more airing over non-cable channels. The fact that most games are not available for a large (perhaps majority) portion of the country hurts the development of a stronger fan base. What casual fan is going to go hunting for HDNet or Fox Soccer Channel, if they even have it on their cable system? If they can get a game or two a week on over-the-air, national networks, the perception of the sport will begin to change. Remember, if it wasn't on TV, it didn't happen.

I know, I'm really jumping ahead of everything here, but if this is to be the path for the league, they need to make sure it is a success and these are the big three issues as I see them.

On the plus side, 24 teams means just about every large urban area in the US and Canada will have a team. Also, if they broke the FIFA limit for 24, what would stop them from going higher and adding smaller markets that show an ability to support teams.

* this assumes that teams play each other twice

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd be shocked if they do 24 teams by 2013. More likely 20 by 2014 (one a year) and the 24 by 2018. I don't doubt the 24 as a max number. Sorry, but you can't just have 16 or 18 teams in a country that is used to having 24-30 teams in its top leagues.

My guess? Some sort of conference/division alignment where you only play the other conference once - either home or away and everyone in your conference home and away. At 24 teams, that is 36 games.

That kind of pace (once a year) ends up with something that the player pool can grow into.

6:16 PM  
Blogger Stan said...

Garber's comments at the State of the League pretty much tamped that rumor down, I think. He said they don't have any plans beyond going to 18 teams soon after 2010.

As to TV, the difference between cable and over-the-air is diminishing all the time--case in point, 1 week before the Euro final, there were two weekend matches, one on ESPN and one on ABC, and the ESPN match got higher ratings.

6:34 PM  
Blogger kovo said...

Let's just hope that all of this aggressive growth does not fail the system as was the case with teh NASL.


1:41 PM  
Blogger Enrique Carrión said...

I would like to see a league similar to those in Europe, 18 teams playing home and away matches and let the most consistent one win the championship.
I also think that Canadian teams will bring more passion to the game bc in Canada they really like soccer, maybe a little bit more than here in the U.S.
Thus far, Toronto's fan are doing great. I enjoy seeing them at their stadium.

5:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As for non-cable tv...look at Sounders FC. They start playing in April and already have a TV deal in place. What's wrong with the other teams?

3:55 PM  
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Anonymous How To Buy A Franchise In Montreal said...

have you read the article "Ottawa to announce MLS expansion bid" its really great! almost as good as your post ;) You should give it aread.


4:09 PM  
Anonymous justsoccerjerseys said...

Having this many teams would be a mistake. After the expansion in 2011, they should keep it that way and look at the talent that's there and then think about more expansion.

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Blogger steve said...

It just seems the fan base can't support that kind of growth yet, but hopefully in the near future.

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Anonymous Dylan Tooby said...

I think its great that the MLS is planning to expand. But you are right it has to be done properly, it would be a shame to have new teams come into the league only to fail to produce a signifcant fan base, or live up to the level of compeition.

I think its great for Canada, hopefully it will improve the current Soccer situation in the country and allow for the Soccer world to take advantage of the untapped source of talent.

I strongly believe there are quality players in Canada that have the potential to play at the top level but simply don't have the opportunities to progress.

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Blogger Meggie Bee said...

That's a large expansion. How would the dispersion go? I do believe that there is quality and potential in US soccer, but one can only spread quality around so much...

5:33 PM  
Anonymous BARCATIZZY said...

dear soccer football fans, i am nadav from barcelona football tickets, to my experience, and the debate about the number of teams in league is very ancient, well any way, my experience is that the less teams you have, the number of good players in each team rises, so eventually a league of 12 teams will have better quality the a league of 20 teams ...

6:35 AM  
Anonymous Rob said...

There has been talk of 2 divisions with up to 20 teams each in a sort of NFL playoff style.. while this sounds interesting do we have the investor support to grow that big,,, NFL is only 32 teams

2:40 PM  
Anonymous BARCATIZZY said...

the number of good players will always spread through the number of teams, meaning less teams higher amount of good players in every team and a higher football level! do you want more or better?

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Anonymous said...

That is not enough teams... if we want this to be a true American sport, it needs more association to more cities. 2 conferences, 15 teams in each. Have the USA silly play off system like the NFL AFL.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

MLS should stop at 20 teams, then start MLS II (Division II), where teams get promoted & relegated. Hey could start MLS II with 6-8 teams and any new expansion must go through MLS II. Then stop at 20 for both Divisions, and if after that f there is still demand for more teams, start an MLS III.

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