Major League Soccer’s fan and media legions were understandably abuzz over this week’s expansion news.
Expansion news is always buzz-worthy, of course, but this one especially so for several reasons.
First, it’s No. 20, which was always a strategic resting spot for MLS; commissioner Don Garber has said that his league would stay put at 20 clubs for the time being.
Second, it’s New York – and dropping a new brand into nation’s premier media market, even a second club in MLS, will gather more media momentum than a new club anywhere else.
Third, big engines from Manchester City and the Yankees are pulling this train, and those are some mighty engines, indeed.
But there is another angle to explore here – one that will surely get more discussion going forward.
What if broader MLS attachment to the venerable English Premier League backfires? What if, in the bigger picture, increased EPL awareness on this side of the Atlantic actually pushes Major League Soccer closer to the margins of U.S. cultural awareness rather than toward the center of it?
That’s a main point in the New Yorker blog piece on this week’s news.
Still, it’s been difficult to convince even invested fans that, in the scheme of international soccer, M.L.S. is truly worth caring about. This is where Manchester City’s involvement comes as both a blessing, and a possible curse. It brings the approving stamp of Europe’s most prominent soccer league, one American fans have begun watching with more fervor than they watch their own, and any chance to ride the coattails of international soccer’s growing domestic popularity seems useful. But the ownership scheme brings with it the inherent implication of inferiority. Will N.Y.C.F.C. ever feel like anything more than AAA ball to Man City’s major leagues? And how will New Yorkers react to foreign ownership of one of their teams?”
Major League Soccer is betting there is enough interest to go around, and that even the sharpest plasma or LED displays in someone’s home cannot duplicate the energy of game day at a proper ground.
Still, it’s a question worth asking.