Now that Manchester City, the Yankees and Major League Soccer have cooked up a mighty tasty expansion stew – let’s call this recipe “Ol’ No. 20” – the league can pivot its improvement efforts. But where to?
We’ll leave further expansion off the table for now, since MLS seems inclined to aim efforts elsewhere.
We have five suggestions for the “elsewhere.” It no particular order (because in many ways they are all tied together), this is where MLS priorities should be:
Stability for Chivas USA: And by “stability,” we mean getting that lost puppy dog of an organization in line, whether that’s in Southern California or elsewhere, and regardless of ownership.
The choices over Chivas USA are complicated by financial considerations, mostly about where the money will go in a sale versus where it would go if the club were to shut down, with an expansion team soon sprouting elsewhere.
Either way, Chivas USA is clearly a drain on league resources and energy. And not to put too fine a point on it, but games inside a nearly empty Home Depot Center are a recurring black eye.
The stadium situation in D.C.: We’ve plowed this ground so much before that there’s very little fertile soil remaining. Seriously, what else is there to say here?
We’ll sum up: United has spent all 18 seasons at RFK Stadium (pictured), a facility well past its time in both the physical structure and ability to provide proper revenue streams. The team loses oodles of money playing there. When was it that Garber first called this situation “untenable?” Two years ago? More?
It’s so tough to keep up on this one; it’s been atop the “to-do” list for so long.
Stadium situation in New England: This one is quite different, because the MLS bummer near Boston is really about image rather than financial considerations. The Revolution is owned by the Kraft Family, which also owns the NFL’s Patriots, and because the teams share a facility the league is not dropping money into the Back Bay the way it is in D.C.
Still, status quo doesn’t do anything for anybody. The facility is ill fitting and it will never help the league move forward.
Getting the Krafts to spend money on a new facility won’t be easy – but it needs to happen sooner or later. And the sooner the better, obviously.
Maximizing the coming TV contracts: Remember, the deals with ESPN, NBC and Univision all expire at the conclusion of the 2014 season. That “deadline” was a big driver behind getting No. 20 passing and trapping by the 2015 season, the first season to be covered under the new contracts.
So, whatever armament and ammo the league possesses needs to be strategically directed. More stars? Enhanced and integrated sponsorships? Optimum media awareness in local markets? Enhanced fan engagement in local markets? Strategic digital growth? Asset bundling along with other TV rights?
Adding more Designated Players: This isn’t about increasing the number of big stars and bright talent permitted by league laws, but rather about getting more teams further invested in the DP sweepstakes. As Garber told ESPN FC recently: “The clubs are realizing that a DP doesn’t have to be of the ilk of David Beckham, Thierry Henry and Robbie Keane. There are players that are really accomplished that perhaps can make an impact on and off the field at lower salaries, but still be an investment outside the salary budget.”
The better players don’t just sell tickets; they enhance the collective quality, and that’s always a good thing.