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Further MLS attachment to the English Premier League is a good thing … right?

May 24, 2013, 2:45 PM EDT

Chelsea Manchester City Soccer

Major League Soccer’s fan and media legions were understandably abuzz over this week’s expansion news.

Expansion news is always buzz-worthy, of course, but this one especially so for several reasons.

First, it’s No. 20, which was always a strategic resting spot for MLS; commissioner Don Garber has said that his league would stay put at 20 clubs for the time being.

Second, it’s New York – and dropping a new brand into nation’s premier media market, even a second club in MLS, will gather more media momentum than a new club anywhere else.

Third, big engines from Manchester City and the Yankees are pulling this train, and those are some mighty engines, indeed.

But there is another angle to explore here – one that will surely get more discussion going forward.

What if broader MLS attachment to the venerable English Premier League backfires? What if, in the bigger picture, increased EPL awareness on this side of the Atlantic actually pushes Major League Soccer closer to the margins of U.S. cultural awareness rather than toward the center of it?

That’s a main point in the New Yorker blog piece on this week’s news.

Still, it’s been difficult to convince even invested fans that, in the scheme of international soccer, M.L.S. is truly worth caring about. This is where Manchester City’s involvement comes as both a blessing, and a possible curse. It brings the approving stamp of Europe’s most prominent soccer league, one American fans have begun watching with more fervor than they watch their own, and any chance to ride the coattails of international soccer’s growing domestic popularity seems useful. But the ownership scheme brings with it the inherent implication of inferiority. Will N.Y.C.F.C. ever feel like anything more than AAA ball to Man City’s major leagues? And how will New Yorkers react to foreign ownership of one of their teams?”

Major League Soccer is betting there is enough interest to go around, and that even the sharpest plasma or LED displays in someone’s home cannot duplicate the energy of game day at a proper ground.

Still, it’s a question worth asking.

  1. jpan007 - May 24, 2013 at 3:31 PM

    This is Chivas USA all around again.

  2. geojock - May 24, 2013 at 3:48 PM

    N.Y.C.F.C. and MLS is inferior and will continue to be so until they begin proving it on the field. The inherent implication of inferiority will always be there until it is proved otherwise by winning international matches. This wont happen under the current cap rules, which considering the cap, I dont know how anyone would expect anything but a little less from MLS. (not arguing against the cap. i think it is a good thing)

    I am not worried. There is plenty to go around, plus in addition to seeing an actual game, there is always something about supporting a team that has your city across their chest.

  3. mvktr2 - May 25, 2013 at 4:01 AM

    Two things I don’t get.
    1-most prominently why on earth is a ‘foreign’ owner a problem for a (prospective) fan base? Why aside from jingoistic nationalism, similar to racism/sexism, would one denigrate or disregard a team because it has a foreign owner? I understand ‘community’ importance and ideals, even support them but that never means I reject or appreciate something or someone less because they’re not from my community.

    2-I’ve always thought it problematic to have major clubs be they regional-Chivas or a world brand Barcelona/Man City. The 2nd club will always be just that … 2nd! There are certain advantages to it, but ultimately there are far more limits from my perspective.

  4. dfstell - May 25, 2013 at 7:07 AM

    I think this is a very good point and it jibes with something I always say when talk of expansion comes up. For HUGE swaths of American, the MLS will never be THE hometown club. The country is simply too large. MLS cannot have a team in every metropolitan area where the population is 1MM+.

    I live in NC and the closest MLS club to me is DC United: 6 hour drive. Sometimes there is talk of expansion to “the southeast” like Atlanta (5.5 hour drive) or Orlando (10 hour drive). I’m sorry…..that’s just not good enough to make me a passionate fan of an MLS fan. Now, what I have locally is the Carolina Dynamo (35 minute drive), Carolina Railhawks (100 minute drive), Charlotte Eagles (~150 minute drive) and Wake Forest has decent men’s and women’s teams. Point is, I get plenty of live soccer. I LOVE live soccer. I buy a lot of tickets and trinkets for these clubs.

    But, the MLS is nothing but a TV product for me and once the product is no TV and you have no local ties, why not support a much better team like Man United? With the EPL the games are omnipresent (better than MLS), the play is better, the commentary is usually better and unlike La Liga or Serie A or Bundesliga, I can understand all the interviews and press conferences.

    I really don’t see a way for MLS to avoid this other than to (a) produce a better TV product with better players than the EPL and/or (b) connect my local clubs to MLS through a proper system of promotion/relegation so that I have a reason to care about MLS.

    • forked - May 25, 2013 at 12:32 PM

      Well said. Particularly working with local clubs to get to promotion/relegation.

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