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With MLS expansion done for now, where the league priorities should land

May 24, 2013, 1:00 PM EDT


Now that Manchester City, the Yankees and Major League Soccer have cooked up a mighty tasty expansion stew – let’s call this recipe “Ol’ No. 20” – the league can pivot its improvement efforts. But where to?

We’ll leave further expansion off the table for now, since MLS seems inclined to aim efforts elsewhere.

We have five suggestions for the “elsewhere.” It no particular order (because in many ways they are all tied together), this is where MLS priorities should be:

Stability for Chivas USA: And by “stability,” we mean getting that lost puppy dog of an organization in line, whether that’s in Southern California or elsewhere, and regardless of ownership.

The choices over Chivas USA are complicated by financial considerations, mostly about where the money will go in a sale versus where it would go if the club were to shut down, with an expansion team soon sprouting elsewhere.

Either way, Chivas USA is clearly a drain on league resources and energy. And not to put too fine a point on it, but games inside a nearly empty Home Depot Center are a recurring black eye.

The stadium situation in D.C.: We’ve plowed this ground so much before that there’s very little fertile soil remaining. Seriously, what else is there to say here?

We’ll sum up: United has spent all 18 seasons at RFK Stadium (pictured), a facility well past its time in both the physical structure and ability to provide proper revenue streams. The team loses oodles of money playing there. When was it that Garber first called this situation “untenable?” Two years ago? More?

It’s so tough to keep up on this one; it’s been atop the “to-do” list for so long.

Stadium situation in New England:  This one is quite different, because the MLS bummer near Boston is really about image rather than financial considerations. The Revolution is owned by the Kraft Family, which also owns the NFL’s Patriots, and because the teams share a facility the league is not dropping money into the Back Bay the way it is in D.C.

Still, status quo doesn’t do anything for anybody. The facility is ill fitting and it will never help the league move forward.

Getting the Krafts to spend money on a new facility won’t be easy – but it needs to happen sooner or later. And the sooner the better, obviously.

Maximizing the coming TV contracts: Remember, the deals with ESPN, NBC and Univision all expire at the conclusion of the 2014 season. That “deadline” was a big driver behind getting No. 20 passing and trapping by the 2015 season, the first season  to be covered under the new contracts.

So, whatever armament and ammo the league possesses needs to be strategically directed. More stars? Enhanced and integrated sponsorships? Optimum media awareness in local markets? Enhanced fan engagement in local markets? Strategic digital growth? Asset bundling along with other TV rights?

Adding more Designated Players: This isn’t about increasing the number of big stars and bright talent permitted by league laws, but rather about getting more teams further invested in the DP sweepstakes. As Garber told ESPN FC recently: “The clubs are realizing that a DP doesn’t have to be of the ilk of David Beckham, Thierry Henry and Robbie Keane. There are players that are really accomplished that perhaps can make an impact on and off the field at lower salaries, but still be an investment outside the salary budget.”

The better players don’t just sell tickets; they enhance the collective quality, and that’s always a good thing.

  1. wesbadia - May 24, 2013 at 1:26 PM

    Very good points, Steve. Although, if you’re just sticking to five, I’d be tempted to put the NE and DC stadium situations in the same point and add another concerning what the league will do to address the seemingly growing concern about players’ rights and the allocation process.

    Also, what’s the skinny on the Chivas situation from your contacts? Have you heard of anything behind doors that is going down? Rumors of an ownership change or relocation? You’ve got to have heard something, right?

    Lastly, what’s your take on structuring the DP rules in a way that creates a dual-nationality system? As in, a team may have three DPs from American or Canadian nationality, and only two from an international nationality. Maybe even make American/Canadian DPs count even less towards the salary cap. Something like this might work towards retaining players that have left in the past (Ream, Holden, etc) by trying to convince current ones (Gonzalez comes to mind first) to stay at home. It’d give teams the flexibility to invest in both foreign and domestic players of high quality, and room to add the star international to the roster to bolster those ticket sales and TV ratings. Would be curious to hear your thoughts.

    • joeyt360 - May 24, 2013 at 1:31 PM

      “add another concerning what the league will do to address the seemingly growing concern about players’ rights and the allocation process.”

      Or, in a wider sense, the Collective Bargaining Agreement that also expires after the 2014 season. It is interesting timing that the TV deals expire the same year the CBA does, especially when one notes the league did it that way on purpose.

      • Steve Davis - May 24, 2013 at 1:34 PM

        It’s a good point, although the sides have generally been able to play nicely on the CBA negotiations, relatively speaking.

      • wesbadia - May 24, 2013 at 1:42 PM

        A hell of a lot nicer than the NBA and NHL and their unions have been able to play…

        CBA should most likely be on that list, though. I agree.

  2. dfstell - May 24, 2013 at 1:57 PM

    It seems like everyone is saying that now we have to shore-up the weakest clubs in MLS. I’m just being contrarian, but why must we do that? Why can’t the league just make it clear to Chivas, DC and New England that if they can’t get their crap together, they’ll just get replaced by other teams from the lower divisions?

    I kinda like the idea of making it a harsh and Darwinian league where the slow clubs are left to die on the side of the road.

  3. smorris793 - May 24, 2013 at 4:08 PM

    You missed the biggest one of all: MLS has to find a way to get some decent refs, and reprimand the bad ones. Too many games are decided by these bozos.

    • donjuego - May 25, 2013 at 11:07 AM

      Reprimanding bad refs is a horrific idea that will do nothing to improve quality.

  4. griffinjohn - May 24, 2013 at 4:29 PM

    Do you really think/believe that expansion is done??? I see the league keeping expnasion hot right now and the question is does it slow down after 22 or keep going to they get to 24.
    Expansion fees for the teams are what broadcast fees are for the Big 3 sports. This next TV deal for the league is still not going to be a biggie, maybe the next time around so expansion fees will help the league and owners in the interim.
    Besides, there is too much interest from cities out there to not continue the expansion of the league. Orlando, Miami, Atlanta, San Antonio, Sacramento and Minnesota are front and center with whispers out of Tampa, St. Louis, San Diego, Phoenix, Indy, Raleigh/Durham.
    I definitely see 22 teams on the horizon and would not be surprised at 24.

  5. magicbucs - May 25, 2013 at 1:30 AM

    24. They need 4 teams from the southeast. Orlando and Miami for sure if they can find a way to help fund stadiums.

    In 1994 Orlando hosted opening round world cup matches. Why not a stadium in 2014 for MLS that will bring future USA qualifier matches and friendlies from all over the world. A lot of Europeans and South Americans living in central fl and tens of millions of tourists come here each year. C’mon Florida get with it!!

  6. cueball - May 25, 2013 at 11:10 AM

    Reblogged this on cueballandeightball.

  7. forked - May 25, 2013 at 12:21 PM

    The priority needs to be developing a second division by working NASL or USL or both.

    And expansion should take the form of adding two slots in each conference for the top two finishers of the second division’s conferences in the first year and after that, the lower finishing team gets relegated and the champion of the second division moves up while the higher finishing team gets to stay in MLS for the next year. (No current MLS team getting relegated….yet.)

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