SBD/August 5, 2013/Franchises

Clint Dempsey's Record Contract Could Signal New Era Of Spending For MLS

Dempsey's Sounders jerseys were quickly available around CenturyLink Field
MLS Sounders Majority Owner Joe Roth on Saturday introduced U.S. men's national team F Clint Dempsey as the team's newest signing "to the excitement of 39,060 fans" in attendance at CenturyLink Field for the team's game versus FC Dallas, according to Jayda Evans of the SEATTLE TIMES. Dempsey's "immediate impact wasn't just in cheers as fans all over the stadium wore his national-team uniform, and No. 2 Sounders jerseys with Dempsey’s name on the back were already being sold at retailers outside CenturyLink" (SEATTLE TIMES, 8/4). ESPN FC noted Dempsey "stood on the pitch and removed a sweatshirt to reveal a No. 2 Sounders jersey" after a video montage. The Sounders reportedly will pay EPL club Tottenham an MLS-record $9M transfer fee to acquire Dempsey’s rights, and his reported base salary of $32M over four years "would also be the largest sum in MLS history." The move is "shocking on several fronts." For one, the '14 World Cup is "less than a year away, and Dempsey has consistently spoken of his desire to play at the highest level possible." He also has been "noncommittal in the past about potentially returning to MLS." But the Sounders have "proven to be among the league's most ambitious clubs, and they are also one of the wealthiest, thanks in part to the MLS-high 40,000-plus fans who attend each home game" (ESPNFC.com, 8/3). Sounders F Eddie Johnson said, "It just shows you where soccer is in this country having guys like that come back says a lot about how much the league has grown, how much better the soccer is here in America" (AP, 8/3). SI.com's Grant Wahl wrote, "Huge for MLS and Seattle to land Dempsey. If you think every MLS team is happy about the way it went down, you're crazy" (TWITTER.com, 8/3). 

TREK TO THE EMERALD CITY
: In DC, Steven Goff wrote Dempsey "instantly becomes the American face of not only his new club, but his new/old league." However, Dempsey "is not an international superstar that transcends the game." Goff: "I would expect an initial bump at the box office but not a substantial sustained increase." Replica jerseys, "on the other hand, will fly off the shelves" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 8/3). SI.com's Brian Straus wrote the "stunning transfer" became "one of the most significant transactions" in MLS history when it was announced. Dempsey "was not subject to MLS's allocation process, which determines the order of access and right of first refusal for high-profile U.S. players returning to the league." He is "believed to be exempt because he will be a designated player, meaning the vast majority of his salary won't count against the Sounders' budget." Dempsey's signing is "huge, both for the Sounders and for MLS." His move is a "ringing endorsement for the league's level of play, atmosphere and increasing financial heft" (SI.com, 8/2). SPORTS ON EARTH's Howard Megdal wrote the move "speaks to the massive success of the project that has been the Sounders." They are "drawing enormous crowds to CenturyLink Field, and have the financial wherewithal to maximize one of their three designated player slots on a player like Dempsey, who instantly becomes the focal point of a team that, as of right now, is on the outside of the league’s generous playoff picture." Dempsey choosing MLS also "serves as inherent validation for the league" (SPORTSONEARTH.com, 8/3). But ESPN FC's Jeff Carlisle wrote MLS "is a long way" from the EPL and UEFA Champions League, and the move "almost seems like an admission of failure" for Dempsey (ESPNFC.com, 8/3).

HEY, BIG SPENDERS
: SI.com's Tom Dart wrote the Sounders are "finally acting like an MLS superclub," but the move "is not a Beckham-esque international marketing coup, not an attempt to sell replica jerseys in Japan." Still, Dempsey will be an "iconic figure for the franchise and the league." MLS now has a club other than the Galaxy and Red Bulls that "can and will pay players as much as they could earn in a top European league while at their peak." When New York City FC joins the league in '15, "bankrolled by the near-infinite wealth of Manchester City's owners, that will make four clubs with significantly more financial muscle than the rest, further increasing the pressure on MLS to relax its rules, unscrew its salary cap a little less tightly and embrace celebrity at the expense of parity" (SI.com, 8/4). 
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