Friday, April 24, 2009

Don Garber Admits MLS Sucks

That's not exactly what the MLS commissioner said. But it's implicit in his acknowledgment that soccer fans in the US would rather watch good soccer than his league:

Exposure to top-level international soccer and foreign leagues via TV and the Internet, combined with the changing demographics of the country, has increased demand for quality “content,” Garber said. This is a new challenge for the league, one Garber didn’t anticipate for another ten years.
Ten years? What has he been watching for the previous decade? He does know that Europe has a good 100-year head start on us (and well as piles more cash), doesn't he?

The article goes on to point out that the league is considering two ways to address the problem. First, increase the number of foreign players. Second, allow teams to sign more designated players.

Funny. He fails to mention a possible increase in the salary cap. Sorry, you're just not going to put a decent product on the pitch, or at least one that will ever compare with the EPL, La Liga, or Serie A (much less Ligue 1, the Eredivisie, or even the better South American leagues) with a $2.2M salary cap. It's that simple. Shit, you try to live off $34K in NYC (as 6 players on their roster currently earn in).

Worse, if you up the number of designated players without allowing for a larger cap, you get the LA Galaxy—a team with 65%* of its salary tied up in two players and the last place finish that goes with that.

The full article is worth a read if only because it paints Garber as an even more puzzling figure. He's not an idiot and he certainly understands where his league sits in the scope of the American sports landscape, but sometimes he doesn't seem to have a clue what he's doing to address the challenges facing the league.

For example, while he fully amits the quality of the game here lags behind other leagues—Exhibit A: last night's borderline unwatchable feature match on ESPN2 between Kansas City and RBNY—he doesn't see expansion as a hindrance to remedying that. Says Garber: “I don’t think we’re near the realm of over-expansion. When is enough? Probably 20 teams in four to six to eight to 10 years.”

But if you've already stretched the limits of the quality you can find in American players then yeah, there's no way adding 60-plus roster spots (expansion already slated for Philadelphia, Vancouver and Portland) will do anything but dilute the already shallow talent pool. Yeah, those $40M checks are probably nice, but if it's just lining owners pockets, it's not doing much for the future of the league.

That doesn't make Garber the first commissioner to talk out of both sides of his mouth but it does make him seem like he lacks a fundamental understanding of how to realistically deal with one of the biggest problems his league faces.

Additionally, the league seems to have a top down approach to building the league (i.e. get stars to draw crowds and hope those starts drag the quality of play upwards). Two problems. First, even when MLS gets "stars" it generally gets them when they are well past their prime. More importantly, though, it doesn't really square with one of Garber's other (somewhat insightful) admissions: “We’re not trying to create soccer fans, we’re trying to convert soccer fans into fans of MLS”

Stars put butts in seats, true. But that's more typical of a casual sports fan who might be interested in checking out the game. David Beckham probably can get that person to open up his wallet and check out an MLS game. But if Garber knows that he's not going to convert regular sports fans into soccer fans, why doesn't he know that savvy soccer fans don't really want to see David Beckham in the US? They know he can't run, can't tackle, can't use his left foot, etc.

Most American soccer fans really want to like MLS and get behind it. They root for it in a way they root for the underdog. But the quality is too uneven. Last year's SuperLiga final was as good as almost anything you'd see in the Colaship. Last night's Red Bull v. Wizards match was borderline garbage.

Teams can build all the soccer-specific stadia they want but simply building them doesn't mean the fans will come... unless there is something consistently worth watching out there.

Maybe the league is banking the increased revenues from those stadia to up player salaries, but Garber shouldn't have to look far to learn the lesson that the stadium is secondary. In baseball, the Pirates have one of the nicer parks in the league, but PNC is empty because the team sucks. Conversely the commissioner can look at his own league. JFK RFK is an awful venue, but the fans turn up because they have a decent side to watch.

*Deliberate hyperbole. For more accurate math, see comments.

8 comments:

jjf3 said...

I swear I do not get how MLS makes decisions. I should probably save the following so I can cut and paste it in 3 months the next time Garber says something mind-numbingly stupid:

I WANT MLS to succeed. I AM a soccer/football fan. I WANT a "home" team to root for (and I'm damn lucky to have the Dynamo - sorry, San Jose). And my first thought about MLS these days is: WOW, look how fricking far they've come. For a league that had no reason to expect any success, they're now close to a full top-league quantity of teams, they're financially stable as a whole, and reasonably smart business people are willing to put up pretty hefty cash to join the party. After all, this is a league that should have been dead at birth, so they deserve massive kudos to be where they are today.

And then Garber says/does something incredibly stupid that makes me think its all been serendipity.

1) Not following the international calendar.
2) Not pushing the international "academy" system down the throats of the teams (um, where's the future talent coming from, guys?).
3) Not allowing teams to determine their roster size. If a team wants to become a footy version of the Marlins, spending cash on development/youth rather than veterans, so be it.
4) Not raising the salary cap, instead of giving LA the stupid DP idea. If a single team can support a $2 million/year player, good for them. Make everyone else work harder to match them.
5) Not going to a single table to decide the champion, and making the playoffs a post-season extra-cash tournament.

And these now look like EVEN worse decisions after his recent comments. IF: MLS really wants to capture existing footy fans, then fucking fall in line with the rest of the world, idiots!
You know what, fuckwads? I can be a Blackburn Rovers-forever fan until 1 pm every Saturday and Sunday, and STILL be a Dynamo-til-I-die fan the rest of the weekend. And in the case of the ever-increasing Hispanic population in the US? The only place they can actively be a part of a "supporters group" like El Battalion or Bravas or whoever, is HERE IN THE US. Maybe some of them will skip a game here or there to watch a SuperClasico back home, but they will be at every other match HERE!

Things like this make me wonder if the guys who run MLS have any idea what soccer/footy fans actually like...Can't they find one crazy Englishman (BD, anyone?), one Mexican, and maybe one "American" footy fan, put them together, and poll them as "research group"? Is it that fricking hard?

How can a group of people smart enough to build the MLS be so freaking stupid all at the same time??? Seriously, I'm open to suggestions...

EbullientFatalist said...

+1

Spectator said...

Seconded!

jjf3 said...

Thanks, And..., uh, EF!

The longer I think about this, the madder I fricking get...How can they not get the basics right, while getting a ton of SSS's built? All at the same time...

I actually got mad enough one night about the whole "Sam's Army" "redness" to propose a "Navy Army" on SBI. Um, not my brightest moment, as someone pointed out...and, "touche" to you, kind sir...

Anyways, I just don't get where Garber and MLS think they are going. Honestly...

The money is still here, and we're the sole remaining growth-market left for EPL, La Liga, UEFA, and all of South America to fight over...(oh, and MLS, too - come on, put the product on the damn field, where you build a future...)...

I'm calling it a night before I go really nuts over this...

Peter C said...

Precious Roy:

I agree with the main thrust of the post. It's the salary cap that's holding back the quality of the league.
As for the Galaxy spending 65% of its payroll on 2 players, what am I missing? Landy and Becks may take that much of the total payroll but they account for $800,000(or $850,000) against the 2.3M cap, right? That's 35% or 37% of the cap. Still an awful choice by the Gals.

note: it's RFK stadium, not JFK

jjf3:

1. What do you mean by following the Int'l calendar? An Aug-May season? Not if you live in Chicago, New England, Toronto, Denver, etc.

2. I thought the league mandated that all clubs must have a development academy in place within a few years. It's a slow process but I thought it was happening already.

3, 4. I'm OK with an owner expanding the roster size, so long as it comes out of the owner's pocket and doesn't effect the cap for the first 24. The long term solution is a better product that yields better TV contracts. Chicken or egg?

5. I kind of like the idea of the playoffs as a cash tourney. But single table? It's too soon. Since we have no pro/rel the conference system keeps all teams in the hunt late into the season and the league needs that for now. Imagine how terrible the attendance would be if your team was out of it by week 20.

What does 'fall into line with the rest of the world' mean? The Scandanavian countries and Russia play summer schedules. The Mexican league has playoffs. For me, quality of play is foremost, followed by easing fixture congestion. I'm sure we'll read tons of stuff on that this summer with World Cup Qualifying, Confederations Cup and Gold Cup. Hopefully some good ideas will come of it.

jjf3 said...

Peter C:

I admit that I should be in bed now, so take all of this with a grain of salt. I apologize if I come across as rude when I mean to be funny...(lesson: this is why drunk people should just go to bed)

1)"International calendar" means not playing games when any country is playing during a FIFA-mandated "international" week...
No team should play without any player because they were available for their country...
2)Last time I saw (and if you can correct me, do so), the "reserve squad" was eliminated, and the team roster limit was shortened to, I think 22? Or 24? But no more reserve teams and/or games is NOT good...I do know that the Dynamo academy has been seriously curtailed...
3-4) Last time I checked, this is not allowed, per se. (I admit I have not researched this in depth)
5) I will GLADLY admit that I love the concept of promotion/relegation. I will also GLADLY admit that it will NEVER happen in the US. It's a simple fact of life here in the US, and I have no problem with that reality. But why can't they pick the league's "Champion" the same way every major football league does? You play the same schedule, and the team that wins the most games wins the title. Is that really that hard to understand, even in the US?

Last 'graph: I have no problem with MLS picking any schedule it wants timewise, as long as they recognize the FIFA schedule. The Dynamo should not have to worry that Brian Ching might get called up for a game the same day the Dynamo play (and this is true for all MLS teams, even if its a Honduras player)...

Apologies for bad grammar and spelling....

Precious Roy said...

Oops. JFK was Philly then right?

DrunkMike said...

All great comments boys - One has to pray that somewhere Garber is drinking a warm glass of milk and taking in the dialog to educate himself with the concerns of the everyman.

Peter

While I agree the salary cap is "holding back" the quality of the game - It is a necessary evil to assure cost certainty and to give the league time to establish additional lines of revenue that would prop up larger salary expenses.

jj3
1 - AFCON routinely hoses my Toffees and I'm sure other EPL teams... so the "greatest league in the world" also falls victim to International obligations of their players.
2 - I believe that is correct - the Reserve system was cut to focus on the A team
5 - may only happen if the league gets to 30 or so teams and the league is healthy, and there are super teams, and pigs will fly, and the US wins the World Cup, etc etc etc - hey I can dream.