New MLS Deal Helps MLS Be Exceptional

March 24, 2010 at 5:11 am | Posted in General Football | 9 Comments

Most, if not all of the World’s football leagues operate on the “Great Team” model.  The Great Teams in the English Premiership (currently) are Manchester United, Arsenal, and Chelsea.   In Italy its is Inter, AC Milan and Juve.  In Portugal Benefica, Sporting and FC Porto rule.  In Holland it is Ajax, Feyenoord and PSV.   Any change to this order happens not year to year, but over decades, and sometimes not for generations.   Major economic shifts can upset this order, as it has in Argentina where perennial winners River Plate and Boca Juniors are now languishing at the wrong part of the table.  For the most part these teams can be expected to take turns winning the title over and over again.   They win over and over again because their resources are hugely out of proportion to the rest of the teams.   This gap has become greater with time, as more money has poured into the game.  The Great Teams have benefited disproportionately, affecting parity within the leagues.

At one time, the North American Soccer League operated on the Great Team model.  The Great Team in the NASL was the New York Cosmos.   The Cosmos were loaded with money and stars.   One of the reasons the NASL failed was that people only showed up to watch their team when the Cosmos were in town.  The rest of the teams tried to remedy this by buying expensive stars of their own, going wildly over budget in doing so.  It did not work, and the teams became financially unsustainable.   While the Great Team model works in Europe and in other parts of the world, the NASL proved it will not work in the American and Canadian sports market.

The salary cap model of the MLS gives any team the opportunity to win because it creates reasonable parity between the teams.   It actually creates a fair competition, which simply does not exist in the English Premier League.  The English Premier League is so predicable you can pick out who is going to win and who will be relegated with astonishing accuracy at the beginning of the season before a ball has even been kicked.   While it is heartwarming to see Burnley and Hull’s  grounds full of people as they creep towards inevitable relegation, this simply won’t happen in the American and Canadian context, where people want their team to have a chance of winning it all.  Would the fans of a weaker team in the MLS even bother to show up it they knew there was no parity in the league and there was not a fair contest ?  Absolutely not, it will fail just as the NASL did.

Ben Knight has referred to the parity in MLS as creating a “coin toss” league in which each team is just as mediocre as the other:    The NFL and the NHL operate on similar principles to the MLS however, and fans love it, especially in the NFL whose teams routinely fill 60,000 or more seater stadia.  It may not satisfy the innately conservative Euro soccer snobs, but this crowd just needs to face the reality of the American and Canadian sports market, or better still, get back on the boat and head to Europe where they can watch the same teams win over and over again in a completely unfair competition.

While some have rolled their eyes at the fact Real Salt Lake managed to win the MLS Championship last year after finishing in a lowly place in the standings, I think it is refreshing in the world of football.  I support the MLS model because it is trying something exceptional in world football.   While this model will not be able to compete with the English Premier League and many other leagues in terms of quality,  it may just be a model which will creates excitement for its own fans so that they continue to consider it worthwhile to watch the games on TV or attend at the park.   It is foolish to think the MLS can compete with the Premier League on the Premier League’s own terms.  It is better for the MLS to try to come to solutions and a model on its own terms, while also improving on quality of play.   At the end of the day, if nobody watches because there is no fair contest, there will be no money to improve the quality of players in the league.  Last year only Toronto and Seattle made a profit in MLS, we must remember.

The MLS deal allows the MLS to  continue this experiment for another four years through the 2014 season.  The players seem to be very enthusiastic about the deal and the unity between the league and the players appears to be very tight indeed.   Both sides are praising each other in the press.

Lets hope the MLS can develop their own vision of football based on parity and a fair contest. It may prove an antidote to the boredom and predicability of the European Leagues, and who knows, in time it may revolutionize world football.



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  1. “Parity” leagues are way more exciting when they allow teams to develop players. This allows fans to follow their team’s “future” progress as well as their current progress. Canucks fans love the idea of Grabner, Hansen and Corey Schneider one day coming into the NHL fold of the organization.

    The main problem with the MLS is that their development model doesn’t appear to let teams do that as easily… with players changing squads every year, it appears that there’s very little for fans to hold on to as their team changes positions every year or two.

  2. While some have rolled their eyes at the fact Real Salt Lake managed to win the MLS Championship last year after finishing in a lowly place in the standings

    I just roll my eyes at their name. Brutal.

    I don’t share your enthusiasm or belief in the salary cap, but I understand why you feel how you do.

  3. Very good article. I have mixed emotions about aspects of the MLS model, but you raise some very good points. One thing that will improve a bit in the new agreement is the minimum pay for bottom of the roster players, which was just plain embarassing. Its still embarassing, but less so. I am very glad that a strike was averted, though, as it doesn’t seem likely that any real concrete improvements for players, owners, or the sport in North America would have resulted from a strike at this point in the league’s history.

  4. Wow, what delusion. There is nothing exceptional about the MLS model. It doesn’t generate enough revenue. So, we don’t have enough differences between the teams. And we have general swath of overall medicority. At least the NFL has the moula to create a certain standard of play for at least a core of its teams.

    MLS doesn’t have core. You don’t see players develop. You don’t see teams develop. Instead you tend to have these one-off winners – never to be seen again for a few years.

    European leagues aren’t unfair – it’s the real world of capitalism where the best companies do garner the bulk of the market share and it does take quite a while to unseat the leaders. It isn’t about being a snob, it’s about not being a socialist a la most North American leagues.

    • But unrestricted capitalism just helps the rich get richer, which is exactly what is occurring in most European Leagues. This means unbalance in the leagues and predictable outcomes which works over there, but won’t work here.

  5. Teams like Celtic have toured the US since the ’20s. The late ’60s saw whole European teams brought in including West Ham though not mentioned in this list: ” … and imports entire teams to represent cities:
    Shamrock Rovers(Boston), Cagliari(Chicago), Stoke City(Cleveland)
    Dundee Utd.(Dallas), Glentoran Belfast (Detroit), Bangu (Houston)
    Wolverhampton Wanderers (Los Angeles), Cerro (New York), ADO Den
    Haag (San Francisco), Hibernian (Toronto), Sunderland (Vancouver)
    and Aberdeen (WAshington) all become “American” for two months…” –

    There’s a real history, as I’ve said before “Soccer in a football world” is one book that is very illustrative of history in North America.

    Soccer, American Football, Baseball, all vied for a place in Sports and the depression hit and soccer has been on its backheel ever since but in its patchy history…I find real beauty, a history I don’t think most people know. See Beckenbauer always in the news? The great player came to the US to get away from womanising scandals in Germany, I mean there is tons of stuff the ordinary fan does not know and to me, the Cosmos were too much of being high rollers.

  6. For the record, Nottingham Forest and Derby County did come out of nowhere to win… nowadays it is a “Great Teams” syndrome… some say money, in fact the Champions League’s money has kept the big 4 afloat, okay, Liverpool is having a bad year. Blackburn were a top team in the first years of the Premier League and with an owner who poured a lot of funds in. Manchester United has always been a top dog though they did get relegated once at least as did Liverpool. One does need to study the leagues. Nowadays, we’re a bit in “modern times”, Modern Football is Rubbish is a fun book comparing the days of yore to now, I can’t really speak to it too much. I think Lyon went and won 7 titles in a row and before that were not exceptional, Marseilles the big team over there, maybe PSG too. In 97 years, Bayern Munich has won more titles but that is only 21% or 21 times and 29 other teams have won it. I think FC Twente in the Dutch league has been a good performer nowadays.

  7. You base your argument solely on the salary cap, when what destroys MLS is the single-entity model and all the restrictions that go with it. Under the single-entity model the players are exploited and the quality of play is abysmal. Until teams are permitted to compete under a generous salary cap, MLS will remain mediocre.

  8. Again, how do every one of you confront the history of soccer in North America? It has seen countless leagues fail financially and that seems to be central to how the MLS has been constructed influenced in part by World Cup ’94. The Sounders have been in Seattle for many years, no matter what anyone says, watching this game…they do a good show but I’m not that big of a fan of all the glitter and stuff coming down or the Barras Bravas at DC United… but Seattle and Toronto and hopefully, Vancouver really do rock.

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