An Open Letter to MLS and the MLSPU

Dear MLS Players and Owners:

With all due respect, you guys are idiots if you allow this season to start with a strike.

I understand both sides of the issue. Your league is experiencing the most growth it’s ever seen. The players feel they should benefit from all their sacrifice, and the owners feel like this is no time to upset the economic model that finally seems to be working.

You are both right. And you are both wrong.

First, I’m going to explain why the players are out of line for risking the health of their league.

Yes, it sucks that some of the guys in you league are making $40,000 a year and have no ability to switch teams. You want free agency and that seem like a fair request. But here’s the thing – you DO have free agency. There are something like 60-80 professional soccer leagues across the globe. You can go to Norway, low level English leagues, Belgium, India, Turkey, etc… Sure it’s hard to bring your wife and kids to Sweden, but that’s not the guys we’re talking about.

The argument is, “Well most of the guys we’re talking about CAN’T get jobs playing abroad so they should have free agency here.” Well, there’s the problem. If there is no demand for your services abroad, then you aren’t really in a good position to demand things here. Not only that, but you need to think long term. Let’s say minimum salaries get bumped up to $80k and there’s MLS free agency. Well the league suddenly became much more attractive for people who play in Norway, low level English leagues, Belgium, India, Turkey, etc… They HAVE demand from multiple leagues. And now your strike has created a financial plan that gives them reason to explore the U.S. as an option. I fear that some of you will be out of jobs.

On the flip side, I want to explain why I think the owners are out of line for risking the health of their league.

Good god people. If 10 years ago someone said you would be at the level of growth, TV revenue and prestige that you are at now, you never would have believed it. Don’t pat yourself on the backs too much, because you got lucky on a lot of levels. No one expected Seattle to become the financial catalyst that’s driving the league’s revenue engine. And then Portland came in and you had a regional rivalry that other rivalries could try to live up to.

Then you got even luckier. At the same time that every broadcast company decided that they needed they own Sports Network, all the Conferences in the NCAA decided they could keep their rights to themselves and start their own channels. Demand for content far exceeded supply and suddenly we had Barclay’s Premier League games on real channels just about every day. We also had TV deals for the MLS. These sports networks needed content and you were there to oblige.

So yea, you can give in a little to the players here. You don’t have to give in all the way, but you can certainly look at how the NBA has slots for player salaries and work that into some sort of restricted free-agency program. Look at how the NFL uses tricks like Franchise Tags to keep some players from driving up the free agent market. Let teams restrict a certain amount of their young guys. Give teams first chance to pluck unprotected players off teams that poach yours. Be creative. Come up with something.

Because here’s the thing. I’m sorry, but you don’t have the juice to survive a strike. MLB, NFL, NBA – they all suffer but survive work stoppages thanks to the 40-100 years they’ve been embedded in our national fabric. Hockey sat out a whole season and is still feeling the effects.

You have 17 home games – mostly weekend games – that my season ticket group has had to schedule our spring, summer and fall around. Do you realize what a pain in the arse it will be if you make us try to readjust our calendars because you couldn’t come to a consensus on how much profit you want to keep for yourselves vs sharing with the players? We’ll make maybe 2/3 of the games. And it will make us think about how many tickets to buy the following year.

So both of you get your act together and come to a compromise. You have some momentum now. You have a chance to say, “No we’re not like other leagues. We can solve problems because the fans are our most important asset.” Realize that you are a growing league, but recognize where you are in both in the U.S. fabric and the International Soccer landscape. This is the time to hit the accelerator, not slam on self-imposed brakes.

How Bad Will the 2022 Qatar World Cup Team Be?

The 2022 World Cup has been a controversial subject for a few years now, and will only become more so as more people call upon FIFA to change the location from Qatar. But here’s a sub-topic that came up in discussion last night, and I haven’t seen too much on it yet.

As host country, Qatar gets an automatic bid to the tournament, the same way Brazil, South Africa, Germany, Korea & Japan, France, the USA and Italy did, going back to 1990. Now, most of those teams were WC regulars or had at least been to a Finals before, so it was no big deal.

But we’re in uncharted waters, er desert, with Qatar. Let’s look at the Qatar National Team and some World Cup history.

  1. Qatar is currently ranked #100 by FIFA. For comparison that is between Zimbabwe (99) and Moldova (101).
  2. The lowest ranked team at the 2014 World Cup was Australia at #62. Australia went 0-0-3, scoring 3 goals and giving up 9 to the Netherlands, Chile and Spain. The next lowest seeded teams were Korea (57), Cameroon (56), Japan (46), Nigeria (44) and Iran (43). Those teams combined to go (1-4-11) with a Minus 18 Goal Differential.  (Note: Iran and Nigeria tied each other so if you pull those games out the 5 teams went 1-2-11.)
  3. In the history of the World Cup, the host nation with the worst ranking was South Africa in 2010. South Africa tied Mexico 1-1, got drubbed by Uruguay 3-0 and finished by beating a French team that had sent some of its players and a coach home early, 2-1.
  4. In 2014 World Cup qualifying, Qatar was ranked as the #8 Asian team, and survived a 3rd round group of Bahrain (5 ), Iran (7) and Indonesia (24.) Their record of 2-4-0 netted them 10 points to finish 2nd behind Iran (3-3-0), and advanced them to the 4th round, eliminating the favored Bahrain (2-3-1) in the process. In the 4th round, they finished out of contention in 4th place (at 2-1-5) behind Iran (7), South Korea (2) and Uzbekistan (9), and ahead of Lebanon (20.)

So what might happen in the next 8 years? Is it conceivable that a country investing Billions into hosting a World Cup might also invest in strengthening their National team? Could money talk and lure some of the top 14-18 year-olds in Asia and Africa to train in a newly developed Qatar Football Training Facility? Could Qatar become close to par with the top Asian Football squads – Japan, South Korea and Australia?

Perhaps. My friend Alex posits that Qatar will simply pay their Group Stage competitors not to drub them too badly. Give them $1MM for a 3-0 loss, $500k for a 4-0 loss and nothing for 5-0 or worse.

But barring a miracle, it seems that Group A in 2022 will be wide open, with all the other teams being assured an easy win over Qatar, and it could be important how much they win the game by.  It’s also conceivable that we’ll see the worst showing ever by a World Cup Finals team.

Trying to Decipher MLS Transfer Rules

Here’s something about MLS I don’t quite understand. DeAndre Yedlin could be headed to Anderlecht of the Belgian League. A friend of mine who knows a ton about soccer asked this series of questions:

Is this a big step up for Yedlin? I’m sure he’d get a raise, but I’m sure he could get a raise in MLS too. But in terms of advancing his career, does it make sense to go to a second tier (or third, or fourth?) Europe league? Or should he try to get a decent MLS salary after this year, and wait until England calls And what would the Sounders get out of this? Do they get any of the transfer fee? Do they get to set the transfer fee? Are we just out of luck? And we’re full on designated players too, right? So even if we got a ton of cash, we can’t really use it, right?

Here’s what I think I know. Please correct me if you know better.

1) Whether or not the play in Belgium is better than the MLS, there’s the perception in Europe that the play in the Dutch, Turkish, Norwegian, Belgian and Portuguese leagues is better than the MLS.

2) It’s easier for a Premier League, Spanish League, German League, Italian League or French League scout to catch a game in Belgium than Seattle.

3) The top teams in all the 2nd tier Europe Leagues at least get to compete in some round of the Champions League. Anderlecht won the Belgian First Division in 2013-2014, and are one of 22 teams to have already qualified for the Final 32 of the Champions League. That’s nice exposure he wouldn’t get here.

4) The MLS technically owns all the contracts of all the players. Essentially, the MLS is a giant talent agency that hosts matches in which to show off the talent they’ve recruited. Part of their revenue model is to find cheap players and develop them into players that other teams want to buy. They need the old guys to drive fans, but the real money is buying young guys low and selling high. It’s another reason the league wants parity and would rather have all the best players split amongst the teams to get playing time rather than having some great players sitting on the Sounders bench behind Dempsey and Martins for 34 games

5) There’s some sort of revenue split between the MLS and the team who scouts and signs the player. Not sure what it is.

6) MLS sets the transfer fee. I believe the team has some input based on whether they think the team and league would generate more revenue if they held the player another year.

7) Sounders would get some cash, but all it would do is help the ownership group. We can’t reinvest it into a higher salary cap.

Bottom line, the more Yedlins the league develops, the more revenue the league makes, the more revenue the teams split, the more designated players the teams can afford to have on each roster, the higher salary cap each team can have, and the more talent we can recruit to the league, which makes it easier to get the next Yedlin to play here, etc…

Let me know if you have more insight.


Here’s Your 2014 Sounders Transactions Merry-Go-Round, In One Easy List

Using the Seattle Times as a source, here’s as close as I can get to a complete list of how your old 2013 Sounders became your NEW 2014 Sounders. For the purpose of this list, I’m mainly only counting players who actually played or are expected to play.

If you remember, we ended 2013 on a sad note. Here’s what the roster looked like as the players packed up their gear in October 2013 (Starter types listed first).
GK: Gspurning, Hahnemann, Ford, Weber
DEF: Yedlin, Hurtado, Traore, Gonzales, Scott, Ianni, Burch, Remick
MID: Alonso, Evans, Rosales (c), Neagle, Moffat, Rose, Caskey, Joseph, Zakuani
FOR: Dempsey, Johnson, Martins, Estrada, Zavaleta (Note: I’m not sure when Ochoa was released.)
Non-Factors: Lund, Bates

So let’s see what happened next:
11/19: Alonso gets a new contract with a DP slot.
11/20: Evans gets long-term deal.
These two things mean that Dempsey, Martins and Alonso are your 3 DP’s, and Evans is presumably taking a good sized share of the salary cap. So now the team needs to trim payroll.

12/10: OUT: Michael Gspurning, March Burch, Steve Zakuani

12/11: OUT: Mauro Rosales to Chivas USA
12/11: IN: FOR Tristan Bowen from Chivas USA and No. 2 in Allocation Order
The Rosales deal ends up being very interesting for the Sounders. Chivas takes on an older, expensive player, gives up a younger, cheaper one, AND gives Seattle a high spot in the Allocation order, which becomes interesting later. Then later in the off-season, Chivas ownership sells the team back to the league.

12/10: IN: GK Stefan Frei TO Sounders from Toronto for 2015 1st Round Pick
12/12: IN: DEF Chad Marshall TO Seattle from Columbus for 2015 3rd round pick and Sounders Allocation placement
Remember, the Sounders got Chivas’ Allocation placement, so now they didn’t need theirs. Gspurning’s salary goes to Frei. Burch’s to Marshall (roughly).

12/12: Ford gets new deal to be 3rd string Goalie
12/13: IN: FOR Kenny Cooper to Seattle from Houston for Adam Moffat
12/16: Gonzales gets a new 1 year deal

12/17: OUT: Johnson to DC for allocation money
This has to happen because the team can’t afford Evans AND Johnson as non DP’s.

12/18: IN: FOR Chad Barrett via re-entry draft

1/6: Neagle gets extension
1/8: Hahnemann gets extension
1/9: IN: Homegrown players Sean Okoli and Aaron Kovar

1/16: OUT: Hurtado and Ianni (and No 13 Pick in 2014 Draft) to Chicago
1/16: IN: DEF Jalil Anibaba (and No 8 pick in 2014 Draft) from Chicago
This is a 2 for 1 deal. Sounders have too many center backs and need to cut some more costs.

1/31: IN: MID Marco Pappa via Allocation Draft
Remember the Rosales for Bowen deal? Now, it’s become Rosales for Bowen and Pappa. Nice.

2/28: OUT: Zavaleta loaned to Chivas USA
Now, that deal has sort of become Rosales and Zavaleta (on loan) for Bowen and Pappa.

Undated: OUT: Joseph training with New England

Grand total
OUT: Gspurning, Hurtado, Ianni, Burch, Joseph, Rosales, Zakuani, Johnson, Zavaleta (Loan)
IN: Frei, Marshall, Anibaba, Pappa, Cooper, Barrett, Bowen, Okoli, Kovar
KEPT/ENDORSED: Hahnemann, Ford, Gonzales, Alonso, Evans, Neagle
NO CHANGE: Yedlin, Scott, Traore, Remick, Rose, Caskey, Estrada, Dempsey, Martins
OTHER: Ockford (Loaned out), Lowe, Periera

Got it? Make sense? Good.

Soccer Supporters Groups Could Affect The 2022 World Cup – If They Cared Enough

Sports fans across the globe generally share a single problem – they really can’t affect any change in the leagues or even their teams.  Seattle Mariners fans may universally despise management for 10 straight years without making the playoffs, but they don’t have a way to remove the CEO. Some people may hate the way Roger Goodell runs his football mafia, but there’s not another league of gridiron superstars to support. As a fan, you take what you are given or find a new hobby.

But this isn’t necessarily the case in soccer. While it would take organization of historic proportions to get hardcore Mariners fans to build any kind of impactful protest, this organization already exists in soccer, in the form of Supporter Groups.

Supporter Groups, such as the Emerald City Supporters, can mobilize hundreds or even thousands of people. They often have a hierarchy and organizational structure that rivals a successful non-profit.  They communicate among each other, have dialogue with team management, share best practices with each other and have followers who will act as directed.

No one was happy when Qatar was awarded the 2022 World Cup. It was an obvious result of international bribery, blackmail, payoffs and back room deals, executed with a level of precision that NBA COMMISSIONER David Stern WOULD ADMIRE. And throughout the predictable controversy that inevitably became reality (wait, playing soccer in 130 degree heat is a bad idea?), there wasn’t anything that was worth an international boycott.

And then we found out that 4,000 people will die in the next 8 years building the stadiums.  We also learned that the “lucky” ones who survive are basically being enslaved in stifling, inhumane conditions. 

The world soccer community (DID ALL THINK THAT?) went from thinking, “This Qatar World Cup is a bad idea that I have to live with,” to “Damn, I’ll be sitting in a seat someone died to build, so some rich guy could get paid.”

If the global soccer community cared enough, it *could* do something about this. It’s the one sport that could organize a global protest. Here’s what it would take.

1) Supporters Groups of local teams in national leagues such as MLS, Premier League, La Liga, etc… individually would have to agree to support the idea that killing and enslaving people is bad. It’s key that the protests come from the Club Supporters groups, not the national groups (like Sam’s Army) at first, because national teams would fear retribution from FIFA if their supporters organized anything. Plus, you don’t want it IT CAN’T look like the U.S. Supporters Groups are organizing a political protest against the Middle East. It has to be country-agnostic. But keep in mind, members of Club Supporters groups often also support their national teams.

2) Then, the supporters groups in each league could galvanize together with one representative force from each league.  Arsenal and Tottenham fans hate each other so much when it comes to soccer, that is pretty powerful when they agree on anything.

3) If globally, members of Club Supporters groups agree to protest something like a FIFA World Cup Qualifying match, a week of friendlies or some other set of matches, it would make world news, and FIFA would have to take this seriously. Even FIFA didn’t want to take it seriously, brands that advertise with FIFA – McDonalds, Coca-Cola, Heineken, etc.. would have to take it seriously.  Multinational companies do not want to be on the wrong end of a global protest. So even if the groups didn’t want to boycott the matches, just threatening to boycott the advertisers en masse would create a massive headache that would have to be dealt with.

We’re talking about people protesting the killing of others to build stadiums, not whether there should be instant replay or a ban on if we need to limit flopping. It would be kind of hard for FIFA to turn a blind eye and ear to a global protest on mass murder.

This is something that could happen. Three to four 3-4 years of protesting, led by the Supporters Groups, could cause change. There are plenty of countries with the infrastructure to prepare for a 2022 World Cup with 4-5 years of notice. The question is whether the Supporters Groups care enough to do it.

September 7 Will Be Chaos Downtown

I’m not sure how this is even possible, but my Google Calendar says it’s true, so it must be right.

Saturday Sept 7…

The Mariners are at home for a game that starts at 6:10 (See proof here.)
The Sounders play across the street at 7:05 (See proof here.)

Mariners games usually take 2:45 – 3:00 hours. Sounders games by definition take 1:45 (90 minutes plus 15 minutes for halftime).

That means 2 stadiums full of people, across the street from each other, will empty out at EXACTLY the same time, on a Saturday Night. I guess the total will still be slightly less than a Seahawks game, but it still seems like an invitation for chaos.

What the MLS Should Have Done on Wednesday

I’m pretty sure I threw this idea out a few years ago, but apparently MLS Commissioner Don Garber isn’t a regular reader, so I’ll post a modified version again.

The day before and the day after the Major League Baseball All-Star Game are the only 2 days in the calendar that none of the major 4 sports leagues have a competitive game. If I was the MLS, I would use the day after the game to my full advantage. Every sports bar in America is starved for something to put on their screens. Every couch potato is stuck trying to choose between the Espys and a 30 for 30 marathon.

So I’d run 3 continuous hours of MLS coverage, with every team playing at basically the same time. The mechanics would look something like this:
– Game 1 starts at 8:00pm EST.
– Each game would start 10 minutes later.
– At your peak, you’d have 9 games running simultaneously, with the llast game starting just as the first game was in its final 15 minutes.
– You would be able to cut away Red Zone style to each goal, which would probably come every 5 to 10 minutes.
– You’d have 90 straight minutes of games in their final 10 minutes. 0-0 and 1-0 games are exciting in their dying embers, so you could have a lot of nail-biting finishes to entertain the average sports fan who doesn’t usually watch soccer.
– By 11:30 Eastern, people would have watched a lot of good finishes, seen a lot of highlights, seen fans in 9 different stadiums, and received at least a little education about what makes people like soccer.

You’re missing a great chance MLS? What do you think? What is there to lose?
Lamar Listening

The Fanciful Vision of a Combined US and Mexican Professional League

So here’s an idea that will never work…

My friend Luke is a supporter of the Mexican National Team. He brought up a great point – Both the USMNT and El Tri get screwed because everyone else in Concacaf stinks. Sure, every once in awhile Honduras or Costa Rica may beat the US or Mexico, but really, our fellow confederation mates are the equivalent of Iceland and Liectenstien.

Luke’s point is that it’s up to the US and Mexico to improve the quality of the other countries. Without quality competition, we’re almost assuredly headed out in the round of 16 every World Cup – maybe the round of 8 if we get lucky and the wrong team wins another one of the Groups. But when the rubber meets the road, we just don’t see enough quality competition to beat Brazil, Spain, Italy, Germany, Portugal or Argentina. We’d be considered underdogs to France, England, Russia, Uruguay and Japan.

So how can we improve Honduras, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Panama, etc… so that they can provide worthy competition throughout the cycle?

The easiest answer is to make sure their best players have a top league to play in. Now it’s been well documented why the Mexican League and MLS can never be TOP leagues. But…what if Mexico and the U.S. combined for ONE league? Could that be a TOP league?

Now before you come up with all the obvious reasons that this would never work, indulge me for 5 minutes and play along. Ignore all the limitations and just imagine the possibilities.

Here’s the loose format Luke and I sketched out on the back of our beer cups:

  • Start in 2015 with two leagues, a Premier League and a Championship League.  The top 10 teams from each league start in the Premier League. The rest from each play in the Championship.
  • Each season, the bottom 2 U.S. and bottom 2 Mexican teams in the Premier league get switched out with the top 2 of each from the Championship. (We have to do it this way to avoid rampant cheating at the end of seasons, as well as to keep it fairly balanced.)
  • We flip to the international schedule that the rest of the world uses – August to May. You can schedule the U.S. teams on long road trips into Mexico during the November, December, January months. (There are actually great tourism opportunities along with this – why wouldn’t someone who lives in a northern city like Seattle want to travel around Mexico in late December for some sun and soccer?)
  • Mexico would get to shed their ridiculous 2 season system.
  • A league featuring teams in New York, LA, Seattle, Mexico City, Guadalajara, etc… would generate solid TV revenue.
  • The extra TV revenue would help recruit the best players from other Concacaf nations. We’d start to recognize some of the players that we see more often on the international stage. These players would have bigger roles than the’d have in ortugal or France or a European League like that.
  • The U.S. vs U.S. rivalries can be kept in tournaments like the U.S. Open Cup which now would have more importance.

I get that there are 200 reasons why it can’t work, and you need revenue sharing for all 38 teams which would be a nightmare. And I know scheduling would not be easy (though it’s not that easy now either.) But from a pure fan perspective, I really like the idea of a league where watching a game featuring National team members is the rule, not an exception.

Any thoughts?

Maps of where the teams in each league are now:



So What is the Next Xbox/Sounders Sponsorship Worth?

It’s hard to think back to 2008, back before the Seattle Sounders officially existed in anything more than everyone’s imagination.

The Sounders were to become the 16th team in a league with a couple of marquee names in David Beckham and Landon Donovan. LA, DC and Toronto were the only teams to draw more than 18k fans a game.

So when the Sounders announced that Xbox was going to commit $20 Million bucks to the team and the league, it really seemed like – and was – a large sum of money to risk.

But now as we look at the end of the 3rd year of the deal, it’s the Sounders who can’t wait for the contract to expire. Unfortunately for them, they still have 2 more years of the deal. When you look back, the Xbox media team made a heck of a deal.

At $20 Million over 5 years, you are looking at a deal that is only $4 million a year. For that 4 million Xbox got rights to the front of the jerseys, signage in all MLS stadiums, naming rights to Xbox Pitch at Qwest (then Century Link) Field, and TV spots on all broadcasts.

Let’s look at some of the other deals in the MLS (sourced from The Brotherly Game):

  • Red Bulls: Red Bull @ $50 Million total, including stadium naming rights. But they also own the team.
  • Real Salt Lake: Xango @ $5MM per year.
  • Galaxy: Herbalife @ $3.5 – $5MM per year.
  • DC United: Volkswagen @ $3MM per year. (A few other deals are in this range, like Philly/Bimbo, San Jose / Amway.)
  • So if we assume the national value to the Sounders sponsor is roughly the same as the value any other team’s sponsor receives, the delta is in the value at home. So lets say maybe 1/2 – 2/3 the value is in national exposure, and 1/3 – 1/2 is in local. If that’s the case, then the national value is about $2 million for each team.

    So in those terms, the local value of DC United’s sponsorship would be about $1 Million per year. For Salt Lake, it’s $3 Million per year. Now the 38,500 fans per game in Seattle just about doubles everyone but the #2 LA Galaxy at 23,000 per game. So if the Sounders drive 2x more fans than Salt Lake, and 2x the TV impressions, you’d have to estimate the local value is at least $6 Million per year (2x Salt Lake).

    There are probably more scientific ways to figure this out, but we don’t have access to impression volumes, jersey sales and hard stats. And we haven’t included the premium that Xbox pays for being the local guys recruiting employees, and the international value of having the team play across Central America and Mexico, or the fact that they’ve gotten a smoking deal the last 3 years.

    So let’s ballpark a number of $9 Million per year to start the new deal in 2014. ($2 Million National Value, $6 Million Local value, $1 Million Premium.) How does that look?