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?

    Willkommen Jurgen Klinsmann

    At last count, there have been roughly 32,342 signings in the NFL in the last 3 days.  However, in the soccer community, there was just one signing – and it was bigger than all of those combined.

    Why the magnitude? While these NFL signings are all designed to make a team better this year, and maybe next year, the USA just put pen to paper on a plan to make their soccer program not just relevant, but highly competitive in the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

    2018, you ask? How does that work?

    After years of trying, the U.S. finally convinced Jürgen Klinsman to come take over the entire US National Program.  This is the guy the U.S. wanted in 2006 after he led the German team to the World Cup semifinals.  But the U.S. Soccer Federation only wanted to let him run the Men’s National Team, while reportedly he wanted to overhaul the entire way we teach soccer in this country.  His point was simple – I can’t be successful coaching the top level team if you give me a system that doesn’t produce elite players.

    So, it took 5 years, but someone at US Soccer finally figured out something that we all have known for years.  Our current system of developing the suburban rich kids who don’t play football and basketball, putting them in a system where you have to pay to play for elite coaching, and then grooming them into an army full of hustle and grind midfielders with no striking ability, makes it hard to beat teams with players like Messi and Ronaldo.

    So Klinsman is here to teach us the German Way of soccer.  This is better than trying to install the Barcelona Way, or the Brazilian Way.  The U.S. youth soccer system is full of kids that look like German kids.  So the German Way should be teachable.

    It will be unfair to grade Klinsman on his performance in the 2014 World Cup.  But keep on eye on how the US Under 20 team does in the next 4 years.  Then let’s get excited and have high hopes for 2018.

    Check out SoccerByIves for a detailed story.

    Nobody asked me but, here are a few thoughts about the Sounders, Manchester United & the MLS

    Nobody asked me but…

    If you spent $150 on two tickets to see Manchester United play the Sounders, and were disappointed or surprised at a 7-0 score, you shouldn’t be.  You SHOULD have been surprised and delighted that the Sounders first team held one of the most expensive and well coached teams in the world to a single goal in 45 minutes.

    Manchester United has one of the world’s top 5 strikers, Wayne Rooney.  They have possibly the greatest center back duo in all of soccer, Ferdinand and Vidic.  Just about every player on their team is a starter on their country’s national team.  They have one of the world’s greatest coaches. And amongst all their superstars, they have a bench full of players who happily share time supporting the studs.  It’s a football factory, and really only rivaled by Barcelona.  For Montero, Keller and company to play those guys 0-1 was a real surprise.

    Now unfortunately, the 2nd half happened.  I understand Sigi Schmid’s dilemma.  In all reality, no Sounder is ever going to make the English Premier League.  This is the only chance anyone on the roster has to play against guys like Rooney, Carrick, Ferdinand, Nani, etc… So as a coach, you gotta let your guys enjoy the moment, even if they are totally overmatched.  And what you saw  in the 2nd half was a situation where players who can’t start in the MLS got turned into mincemeat by a vastly superior group of athletes.

    But there was much to appreciate about the game, even the 2nd half.  For one thing, you should have been amazed by how fast all of the Man Utd players were.  They weren’t just better soccer players.  They would have won a track meet, basketball game and frisbee toss.  Also, it was a blast to watch Rooney.  It’s easy to ask, “How was he so open for those goals.” It was actually simple.  He was guarded.  Then he quietly snuck away about 40 yards from goal.  He’d get the ball an dmake a pass.  And suddenly, in the blink of an eye, he’d have made a 30 yard run, gotten a pass, and put the ball in the back of the net.  That’s not just one player doing his job.  It’s a gifted athlete being on the same page with 10 other players and orchestrating a “play” without the benefit of a huddle.

    So was the MLS embarrassed by this? I say no.  People need to get it.  The MLS does not and never will compete with the English, Italian, French, German or Spanish Leagues.  It can, and should someday, compete with the Mexican, Swedish, Norwegian, and maybe even someday the Dutch league.  It would be a perfectly reasonable goal that the MLS becomes the best league in North America, and the top feeder from this hemisphere for players to European Leagues.  It would be great if the hardcore soccer enthusiasts followed the MLS to see which young studs from Columbia, Panama, etc… were going to end up in Europe.  And it would be great for MLS fans if you knew that your best players were going to end up playing on top teams someday.

    Part 2 on this topic to come in a follow up post.

    Fan Inspiration from Liverpool – You’ll Never Walk Alone

    So it’s just a week until the Sounders take their 1st kick at Qwest Field, starting their 2011 story against the same villains that dispatched them from 2010.

    Now we Sounders fans have a lot to be proud of, as we’re easily the best fans in the MLS.  So here’s some inspiration for what Qwest Field could look like in say, 2022.  This is Anfield, home of the storied English Premier Club Liverpool.

    When I lived in Manchester in 2005, I was friends with Portugeuse guy.  He told me the story of a Champions League game in which he went up to Liverpool, decked out in his home side’s colors, and brazenly walked into the bar across the street from Anfield.  He was the only fan of the opposing side, and wasn’t shy about who he was rooting for.

    He laughed and told stories and drank beer with all the Liverpool fans at the bar, and finally it became time for everyone to head over to the game.  Suddenly all the lights in the bar went off.  The curtains were drawn and the door sealed shut.  He felt hands on his shoulders in the dark and cramped bar.

    He literally had no idea what to expect.  And suddenly, the bar erupted in song.  The entire bar shouted the words to “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”  And when they were done, they rushed to the stadium.  By the end of the experience, my friend was literally rooting for Liverpool over his hometown club.

    Here’s a clip of what Anfield sounds like when 40,000 or so join a chorus.  Imagine if we could get Qwest to this level?

    Here’s a link to a better clip that includes the words.  But, it can’t be embedded.