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Major League Soccer or Minor League Soccer?


In many ways Major League Soccer in the United States is doing well.   It hopes to expand from 20 to 24 franchises by 2020.  It is appealing to so-called 'millenials' in the 18-32 year old age group who grew up playing soccer and watching the Premier League on television.

Of course, there will always be constraints.   Several hundred New England Revolution fans went to New York to watch their team play New York City FC.   However, there is, by American standards, a decent train service between Boston and New York.   It is driveable and the air fare isn't that expensive.  Going to an away game in Los Angeles would be a different matter altogether.

Writing in the Financial Times, writer Simon Kuper and football economics guru Stefan Szymanski suggest that the league might consider renaming itself Minor League Soccer.   They point out that sports franchise owners in the US hope to make money.  It is estimated that the NFL made operating profits of 18 per cent on its $9.5bn revenues for 2014.

Kuper and Szymanski suggest that MLS franchise owners collude to keep costs down.   It is certainly the case that it has become something of a retirement home for ageing stars who can no longer cope with the pace and physicality of the Premier League.

MLS needs to spend more to sign better players.   MLS limits spending through a centralised structure that insists that contracts are signed with the league not the clubs.   It should drop the salary cap and let clubs spend freely.

Americans worry that the league would fold due to losses and that fans would lose interest in an unbalanced competition.   However, the writers point out that all the research on competitive balance shows that fans don't actually care about it very much.   Against that, Americans are very familiar with 'draft' and similar rules designed to ensure something of a level playing field.