NYCFC an Example of MLS Expansion PotentialConcern of talent dilution should not impede MLS expansion
by Nick Chavez | Wednesday, December 04, 2013
Following the widely-anticipated official announcement of Orlando City SC being named the 21st club to join Major League Soccer, some of the more pessimistic soccer enthusiasts among us raised concerns of whether New York City FC, Orlando City and the 3 other eventually-declared expansion sides were actually a good thing for MLS. They questioned whether the perceived-to-be inevitable “dilution of quality” in MLS due to requiring more players in the league outweighs the many benefits of MLS expansion.
We’ll revisit this “dilution of quality” concern a bit later, but first I’d like to focus on the many benefits of expansion. Expansion increases MLS’s North American footprint. MLS will be in more cities and more big markets. This will inevitably bring more fans to MLS, and more eyes to the games being broadcasted on television, even if it’s a modest amount.
It will attract more attention from the local and national media outlets, further changing the perception that MLS is a “Mickey Mouse” league, and instead underscoring the fact that it is North America’s top-flight league in what is, by far, the most popular sport in the world. It will continue to look like a serious, growing professional league, increasingly relevant and present around the continental U.S. and Canada.
Each new club and market will have MLS professional academies introduced in their area, further raising the standard of the talent in these areas, and giving local players somewhere to develop, when perhaps they wouldn’t have taken the chance if they had to travel farther, or would not have been discovered by the club’s local scout that may not have otherwise been in the area, or searched as thoroughly there.
The massive benefit of a second New York City area club should be apparent to everyone considering where the club will play (in New York City proper), the ambition of the investors involved, and the fact that Red Bull New York hasn’t been as successful/relevant as MLS had previously hoped they’d be. Only recently has RBNY really shown such a spirited and committed support from their local fans in Red Bull Arena, perhaps due to their Supporters’ Shield run, but also possibly because NYC area soccer fans are simply starting to buy into Major League Soccer. NYCFC’s presence should help keep this recent enthusiasm for MLS’s original NYC-representing club fervent.
It is likely that those loyal to the Red side of “New York” may also feel that their territory is being infringed upon by the inevitably glamorous arrival of New York City FC, and to a lesser extent, the return of the NASL’s New York Cosmos, whose remaining fans have stayed stubbornly-loyal to their returning champions of the second tier soccer league.
With all of this in mind, the expansion of NYCFC is already of great benefit to MLS. Simply raising the profile and temperature of the domestic game in New York will help enough, and with the local rivalries comes fierce passion and loyalty. This is when the “Mickey Mouse” league sheds this derisive image and becomes what we all should want as North American soccer supporters, and that’s a competitive, professional soccer league that matters to the citizens of its respective markets and beyond. It also doesn’t hurt that Manchester City and the New York Yankees combined to pay $100 million to MLS and its risk-taking investors, just for the right to start a soccer franchise in New York City, and have promised to finance and build a new soccer-specific stadium within the city limits of America’s biggest market.
Of course, the elephant in the room that has been oh-so-reluctant to leave has been the very disappointing TV ratings of the league, though it should be mentioned that the ratings have improved since NBC Sports began carrying MLS. According to the New York Times, since coverage of the Barclay’s Premier League began on NBC, the amount of viewers of the eight MLS matches broadcasted on the network has jumped 60%. Furthermore, the number of “unique visitors” to watch games via NBC-streamed MLS games has increased dramatically by 322%.
The establishment of MLS in new markets, with Orlando City SC and in the media capital of the world with New York City FC, and other inevitable new markets (the most rumored being Miami, Atlanta, San Antonio, Sacramento, Minneapolis, Indianapolis) will only further increase the TV ratings of Major League Soccer, allowing them to command much more money in TV deals and sponsorships.
This, in turn, will allow MLS to invest more heavily in its on-field product, which can allow them to safely raise the salary cap, make the league capable of attracting more competitive talent as well as better retain the top-talent they have produced themselves.
All of this, of course, will have the cyclical effect of attracting more fans and viewers, increasing TV ratings, raising the profile of the league, etc., which will further raise league revenue and command better sponsorship and TV deals. It will also attract more investors to the league seeing how it’s increasingly becoming such a healthy investment and an exciting opportunity to create an internationally relevant club in a growing league that plays the world’s most popular sport.
Why, indeed, would MLS not expand when there’s such a high demand for it, and just about everything about it is beneficial for the league? As mentioned before, the first thing some people thought of, disregarding all of these reasons to be optimistic, was the supposed “dilution of quality.” Is this even an inevitable consequence? And even if it was, will it really be that noticeable to have 15 new players per team (at least 2 or 3 of them being designated players) playing regularly? Will the entire league’s quality really be noticeably affected that much that we would sacrifice all the aforementioned benefits?
On the other hand, inclusion of new teams allows more players that may have slipped through the cracks to get an opportunity to shine. It should be remembered that Jay DeMerit was deemed not even good enough to be on an MLS squad, back when the league was seemingly less competitive. He went on to be a Premier League stand-out and to start all 4 matches of the 2010 World Cup with US Men’s National Team because he got a second opportunity.
There are certainly several moments in sports in general when talent wasn’t initially recognized, or opportunities weren’t initially taken, only for the player to surpass all expectations later on. Furthermore, allowing any aspiring pro-player to compete with top-flight professionals should only improve his game and hasten his maturation as a player.
There is no magic wand to make MLS’s overall quality of play improve overnight. MLS academies are still very young and are only beginning to see the fruits of their labor, and have already developed some of the USMNT’s and MLS’s finest.
In the end, money is the only other thing that can bring in better talent quickly, and expansion into new markets is one of the best ways to increase the cash flow of the league to make that possible.