Monday, May 20, 2013

The Divergent Fortunes of American Soccer and MLS

Major League Soccer is in something like its 17th season now. (Wikipedia says it's in its 18th season right now. Close enough for my readers, right?) New, soccer-specific stadiums are mostly full for nearly all MLS games (Chivas home games the crazy exception). Professional soccer in the U.S. has never been more popular than it is right now.

And that makes me worry for MLS.

MLS television offerings are continually ignored by all and sundry. But it's not that Americans only like their soccer live: Liga MX has a healthy viewership, and NBC recently completed a surprising deal to air all of next season's English Premier League games. NBC, which airs a single MLS game each week on NBCSN and can't get anyone to watch it, will show every EPL game next year, even yawners like Southampton v. Cardiff City.

If the EPL takes the American soccer viewership, MLS will be at an even-larger disadvantage when it comes to attracting world-class players. NBC is paying the EPL $250 million, while MLS has made less than ten percent of that amount in a recent year.

The only silver lining here is that some argue the EPL itself isn't in such great financial shape. (I wanted that link to go to a story on Fox Soccer called "Premier League faces uncertain future," but their URLs are all nuts.) But the reintroduction of super-sonic commercial flight and two Premier League clubs in New York would kill MLS immediately. Instead of worrying about the placement of the 20th franchise, MLS needs to correct its domestic TV problem now.

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