HomefootballWhat can the Major League Soccer do expand?

What can the Major League Soccer do expand?

Major League Soccer was introduced in the mid-90s and was initially viewed as an afterthought. With the United States having been chosen to host the 1994 World Cup, there was a need to implement a top flight soccer division within the country.

In the years that followed, MLS has steadily grown in popularity, both at home and abroad, but there is scope for expansion. The question is, just how does the league develop further?

Early Years

Professional soccer had existed in the US prior to the inception of MLS. The North American Soccer League was in place from 1968 to 1984 and was able to attract some of the top players in the game.

George Best, Pele, Johan Cruyff, Gerd Muller, Gordon Banks and Bobby Moore were among the alumni to grace the NASL.

The wilderness years followed until the World Cup bid was successful. Soccer had to be taken seriously again and MLS was born. To an extent, there has already been some expansion in the division. New franchise teams are added on a regular basis and, from 2023 onwards, the number of competing clubs will be increased to 23.

Growth has been steady but Major League Soccer ideally wants to spread beyond the confines of its own country.

Challenges at Home

Major League SoccerUnlike other countries, soccer is not the national sport in the United States. There is intense competition for viewers and supporters from the likes of NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL.

The greater interest in other sports is one of the barriers to expansion but MLS does have a loyal following. All franchise teams have a fanbase and the majority of stadiums welcome tens of thousands of supporters across every game week.

Associated industries also benefit from MLS. Merchandise sales are solid while the new era of sports betting in the US allows for a host of operators to publish odds and to take on new customers. There is growth, but there is greater scope for expansion, both at home and abroad.

New Territories

There is potential for MLS to follow the lead of American football. Official NFL games have been played in the UK for a number of years and that situation is set to continue. Having used the iconic Wembley stadium in the past, NFL has now signed a long term deal with Tottenham Hotspur. In 2022, games will also be taken into Germany and Mexico as part of the NFL’s International Series.

The issue here is that, while there is huge interest in American football in the UK, the region has no professional leagues. This isn’t the case with soccer where the EPL is one of the biggest global divisions. There is, however, worldwide interest in MLS and taking the competition into new countries is something to consider.

Marketing Opportunities

Major League Soccer enjoys outside sponsorship but there is always room for more. In other countries around the world, companies pay for sleeve sponsorships, while space on the back of shirts also comes at a premium.

In effect, any part of a player’s kit has a price and this is something that MLS has yet to fully exploit. New marketing opportunities have to be considered if domestic soccer is to develop further.

Ups and Downs

In the majority of top flight soccer divisions around the world, the leagues have a system of promotion and relegation. In the US, there is potential for clubs to jump into the elite and we have seen the addition of franchises from USL.

There isn’t, however, a threat of relegation for those teams who finish at the bottom of the standings. Towards the end of any season, this results in a number of meaningless games. Sides at the bottom with no chance of making the playoffs have nothing to play for.

The prospect of relegation would change all that. The majority of matches would have something riding on them and that, in turn, would create more interest in the league.

The Future for Major League Soccer

Major League Soccer has always been able to attract big name players, but they generally tend to arrive in America at the end of their careers. David Villa, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Robbie Keane and Gareth Bale are just four examples.

In contrast, David Beckham gave some of his best years to MLS when he joined LA Galaxy in 2007 Beckham began a legacy which continues through his ownership of Inter Miami but he is an anomaly.

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The conclusion is that Major League Soccer needs to attract more international players when they are in the prime of their career. At the same time, there needs to be a focus on developing young talent within the United States.

This development, together with shrewd marketing strategies across the world, can ensure that MLS is taken more seriously and begins to expand at home and on the global stage.

Times of Sports
Times of Sports
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