Highly Anticipated MLS Season Set To Begin As League Targets Continued Growth
The '14 MLS season, which starts on Saturday, could be the league's "most highly anticipated campaign since David Beckham’s arrival" in '07, according to Brian Lewis of the N.Y. POST. MLS Commissioner Don Garber has "reiterated the league’s goals of becoming one of the world’s elite leagues -- both on the field and in the boardroom -- within eight years," and between "rapid expansion and an infusion of star power, the league is moving in that direction." Just "how far does MLS have to go to catch the rest of the world’s best leagues" by '22? And "what does it have to do to get there?" The answer "is simple: follow the money." There are "plenty of well-heeled investors lining up to buy in." But while MLS "has turned a corner from being a shaky investment to a solid one, now the league needs to take the next step to being a lucrative one." Although MLS "has been solid at the gate ... television ratings are stagnant." With TV negotiations ongoing and Garber "acutely aware of the need for more revenue, he insists fixing the ratings woes can be done with two steps -- getting more consistent time slots and better marketing" (N.Y. POST, 3/7). BEINSPORTS.tv's Phil Schoen wrote with MLS' TV contracts up for renewal, the league "seems to be doing all it can to bulk up its value." New franchises are set for N.Y. and Orlando next year, with Miami and "another yet-to-be-determined franchise in the pipeline." A "bigger footprint and more big TV markets are an effort to improve miniscule television ratings." While MLS is "posting record numbers when it comes to butts in seats, that has not translated into butts on couches." The league also is "stepping in to shore up some of its existing sides," as "clearing up the Chivas USA fiasco eliminates embarrassments on the field and in the stands" (BEINSPORTS.tv, 3/5).
DREAMING BIG: SB NATION wrote the '14 MLS season "represents a harbinger of what's to come." With "stability no longer an issue, MLS is finally starting to dream big." This season "could well be remembered as one of the major turning points in the league's history." It also "promises to be the finest show that MLS has put on yet" (SBNATION.com, 3/6). SPORTSNET's James Sharman wrote MLS "has climbed enormous mountains" since the its early days, and "has plans to scale yet more heights." This "isn’t the finished product by a long way, and while MLS certainly has many faults, chances are if you tune into a match this season you’ll enjoy a good quality contest between two decent teams with a sprinkling of star power thrown in." MLS is "light years removed from the early days when the league was new and low on respect." Sharman: "Some people still haven’t come around. The haters gonna hate. But that’s OK: they don’t know what they’re missing" (SPORTSNET.ca, 3/6).
WORK STILL TO BE DONE: GOAL.com's Ives Galarcep writes, "It sure does seem like MLS is riding high, and in many ways it is," but "don’t pop the champagne yet because as the league prepares for its final year as a teenager, it still has some growing up to do." Consider that 13 of the league's 19 head coaches "have never coached a pro team other than the one they currently coach." The age range of 17-21 is one where MLS "still isn’t producing enough pro-ready prospects, or providing enough true development for them." Sounders F Clint Dempsey and Toronto FC MF Michael Bradley were "historic signings, but the type of elite-level foreign signings like David Beckham and Thierry Henry that once seemed likely to occur more often simply haven’t." This "could be addressed in a year, when Orlando City arrives" with AC Milan F Kaka, who team officials "are quietly confident will make his way to Disney World to play, and when NYC FC "shows up with the backing of the deep-pocketed owners of Manchester City" (GOAL.com, 3/7).
WORLD CUP CONNECTION: SI.com's Brian Straus noted MLS is "hitching its PR wagon to this summer's World Cup." The league's marketing material is "bathed in Brazilian yellow while three slogans set the stage for a 2014 season that’s about far more than the pursuit of an MLS Cup title." The league's new campaign, "For Club & Country," "highlights players’ dual loyalties." And "March to Brazil" targets a "summer climax, not December’s championship final." The "It All Starts Here" component "reminds us that coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s team may rise or fall depending on the performance of his MLS charges." Only four of the 23 players who were on the U.S. squad for the '10 World Cup "were on MLS rosters." This May, that number "could more than triple" (SI.com, 3/5).