SBJ/March 5-11, 2012/In-Depth

What a difference a decade makes

A decade ago, MLS faced a future that was anything but secure. The 2001 season produced the league’s lowest regular-season TV ratings ever. The league contracted and shed the Tampa Bay Mutiny and Miami Fusion franchises early in 2002, leaving the league with 10 clubs and three owners — Phil Anschutz, the Kraft family and the Hunt family. And those owners were beginning to grumble about the money they were using to keep the league afloat.
Tampa Bay Mutiny, circa 2001
Photo by: Getty Images

Fast forward to 2012, as the league kicks off its 17th season, and you’ll find an MLS on much more secure footing, with several positives to highlight. Among them:

■ Montreal paid $40 million to become the league’s 19th club and makes its debut this season. This comes on the back of MLS welcoming clubs in Portland and Vancouver in 2011. A potential New York expansion team could go for as much as $100 million.

■ This season, 15 of 19 clubs will be playing in stadiums built with soccer in mind. In 2002, only one club played in a soccer-specific stadium.

■ In 2011, MLS set a record for average attendance at 17,844 fans per game, with a record 87 sellouts during the regular season. Ten clubs averaged more than 17,000 fans per game. In comparison, attendance for 2001 averaged 14,961.

■ A decade ago, the league’s national TV agreements were barter arrangements and MLS covered all production costs. Now, MLS receives a rights fee from its TV partners with production costs covered. The Los Angeles Galaxy has its own multimillion-dollar agreement with Time Warner Cable.

Seattle Sounders, circa 2011
Photo by: Getty Images
■ In 2001, the league did not allow teams to sell jersey sponsorships. That changed in 2006 when MLS gave teams the go-ahead to add that lucrative category. Today, all but three MLS clubs have such sponsorships, with the latest being a five-year deal between the Columbus Crew and Perio (Barbasol) that was announced in February.

— Staff reports
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