Thursday, July 24, 2008

MLS expansion? Again?

Time is of the essence, or so the saying goes, and it appears that the MLS alarm clock has gone off again, causing them to leap from their comfortable chairs and scream the word everyone loves to hear: expansion.

It is a wonderful, romantic thought that the addition of more teams all over the country would inspire larger support for the game in general, but then again, we've been here before, haven't we? MLS Commissioner Don Garber is expected to announce today that the self-imposed ceiling of 18 teams will be raised to 24 MLS franchises by 2013-14. Amazing stuff. In addition to the addition of Seattle in '09 and Philadelphia in '10, Garber wants to add four teams in 2011 and at least two more by 2013.

And this is after he added Toronto and San Jose within the last two seasons!

It's a nice idea, to be sure, but we've seen it fail before. Considering that their prime targets for the moment (or, to put it in the MLS parlance, their "expansion priorities") are Vancouver and Montreal.

For those who are excited to finally see an MLS team in Seattle, is the Vancouver team really a wise move? And Montreal? Will they play indoors year-round due to the weather?

The spread of MLS to this point is agreeable, and it appears to be working. Most of the major soccer centers are geographically represented, as well as enough action in the nation's major media markets for it to be considered profitable and successful, which is what we all desperately want it to be. However, the NASL made the exact same mistake: hey, we're riding the wave of current success, now let's expand to every corner of the country and see what happens with our product!

The quicker you spread, the more danger you run of seeing your product diluted, not to mention the costs of creating franchises out of thin air. Who will pay for soccer-specific stadiums? [Just look at the problems Rochester had in paying for their new bank-financed and city-subsidized stadium, or even an established MLS team like DC United!]

Not only that, but where will all the players come from? It's tough enough for the MLS to retain its young stars thanks to the appeal of Europe, as well as the difficulty in finding top-class players to make the journey in the other direction.

MLS is very much flirting with the Icarus effect: their desire to expand and grow is so ravenous that they're losing sight of the #1 factor in their success: the overall quality of their product. MLB flirts with contraction all the time due to its bloated collection of teams and the massive disparity between the worst and the best.

The first iteration of the Premier League was 22 teams, and that lasted 3 seasons before they scaled it back to 20. FIFA wanted all top leagues in Europe to cull themselves to 18 teams due to the lack of quality for those minnows struggling to hang on, and while most have yet to make such a change, it is still within the realm of possibility.

I understand Garber's eagerness, I really do. His product has an established popularity due to the brand names and the promotion, but spreading it too quickly will only lead to another NASL situation. I'd love to see some figures from MLS about just how well they're doing, but for the moment, this pie-in-the-sky expansion plan should be put to bed. Otherwise, in 5 years time, we might well be putting the entire league to sleep.


Mike Georger said...

being a carolinian i think a team would do really well in raleigh or charlotte, ive been hoping for them to get a team for a while.

1) HUGE latino population in charlotte, i believe NC had the biggest influx of latinos in the 90's, and theyre staying
2) nice stadiums in either city
3) college soccer is very big there
4) there have been several club tours that have come through there (liverpool's youth academy most recently)
5) in charlotte, high school soccer gets about as much press as HS basketball and baseball, a byproduct of having very good teams, but people seem to love it
6) its not canada, big plus

Andrew said...

I gotta back-up Georger (no homo?! yeah, I'll give that a 'no homo') on NC. Coming from an area of FLA where soccer was/is huge, I was surprised by how big soccer is in NC. I'm mostly familiar with the Greensboro area, where there is a thriving indoor soccer community. A franchise in C'lotte would do nicely. 'Queens City Rangers' perhaps?

GovernorGrayDavis said...

Phoenix needs an MLS team.

The Fan's Attic said...

I don't see Phoenix getting a team unless they have a quality indoor stadium with a grass field (see Pink Taco stadium) that is soccer specific.

no way players want to play in the middle of summer in Phoenix. it would kill them.

I have no idea what the soccer scene is like in NC, but in portland it's huge as well.

we probably have 5-8 indoor facilities, most of which have field turf. there is a Greater Portland Soccer District which is for adult leagues from Open, Over 30, Over 40, Over 50, Coed, Womens, and multiple divisions in the Open, Coed and Womens. There must be a couple hundred teams overall. not too mention some latino and russian leagues.

there are also several soccer complexes in the area associated with high schools but run by soccer clubs with multiple fields.

we have the portland timbers which are well attended for USL teams.

what i am saying is that Portland needs a team. it would really be a big deal here. all we have are the blazers and their main season is during the MLS offseason.

Ian said...

More expansion? The talent pool is already pretty watered down. I'm not sure adding two rosters worth of marginal MLS players is really going to help sell soccer in the US.

Precious Roy said...

I didn't have a condom with me, but I thought, 'When am I going to be in Haiti again?'

The NY Kid said...


Precious Roy said...

Alright, NYK... I'll retract that because, in reality, this is the greatest idea in the history of mankind as in about 2 year's time I'll be playing alongside Thierry Henry.

Cowden said...

As a CLS grad and a Charlottean, I agree with all of Georger's points. Andrew is right, the G'boro club leagues are rife with young talent, and hopefully a Charlotte team would draw some fans from there as well as the Latino population.

Keith said...

So why not work with US Soccer and the USL, create a relegation/promotion system, and, you know, up the legitimacy of MLS among the hardcores and European guys that turn their noses up at our league?

Lingering Bursitis said...

I agree with Georger, Andrew and TFA with your ideas as to where MLS should expand next, mainly because they make sense. If Garber is so hell-bent on expanding, he should be expanding to where there's always a good infrastructure in place! Vancouver and Montreal!?!?

I also agree with you, Keith. Rather than expand the top flight with new teams that have no backing and no proven support to bank on, MLS should really locate their balls and put a relegation system in place, and thus better integrate their lower leagues into the MLS system.

Seriously... this is a bad idea if they are thinking of really doing it.

GovernorGrayDavis said...

"I don't see Phoenix getting a team unless they have a quality indoor stadium with a grass field (see Pink Taco stadium) that is soccer specific.

no way players want to play in the middle of summer in Phoenix. it would kill them."

Thats certainly a consideration, but there is a team in Houston and the weather there in the summer is equally as horrible as Phoenix if not more so when you factor in the humidity.

Jordan said...

I agree with most of what you guys have to say, but I don't think the talent is that big of issue. If they relax the rules a bit, there's plenty of talent south of this country to be poached. Teams in Atlanta, Charlotte, Miami, etc. would be catering to large Hispanic crowds anyways, so it makes sense.

I agree that there needs to be a team in Charlotte, I also think there needs to be a team in Atlanta.

Portland, Vancouver, St. Louis and Montreal are other places I believe would be good areas for MLS to move into.