A Primer on MLS Structure Every Aspiring Change Agent Should Bookmark

We have requested a plethora of information, including financials, that PRO and MLS have refused to provide, instead demanding we take their pleas of poverty at face value.
- Lukas Middlebrook, Attorney for Professional Soccer Referees Association (PSRA)

It’s a fascinating state of affairs when a snarky Deadpsin article is treated as a threat to American Soccer, while the actual machinations and striking implications of MLS power go on without significant comment from most media observers and analysts.

The referee lockout is interesting in part because we could be seeing a sneak preview of the re-negotiation of the MLS players’ collective bargaining agreement, which is set to expire at the end of the 2014 season.

That agreement (or lack thereof) could have major implications on things like MLS’s vastly bimodal salary structure, player freedom of employment rights (free agency), and contract guarantees. If things go really sideways, the players could decertify their union and sue MLS for anti-trust law violations, taking up where Fraser v. MLS left off.

If the players decide to sue, things could start to get really interesting.

Back to the refs and their current ordeal: the MLS refs, like the MLS players, formed a union to bargain collectively with MLS (which is the parent entity of PRO).

The refs are asking for more money and presumably non-economic benefits relating to job security, work conditions etc. The negotiations appear to have been less than cordial, leading the PSRA to vote to strike and file a complaint for bad faith negotiating with the National Labor Relations Board. MLS/PRO responded by locking the refs out and selecting replacement refs for the opening round of games.

It’s unclear what significance or relation the referee’s collective bargaining plight will have on the player’s negotiations later this year. However, the “pleas of poverty” and lack of transparency referenced in the above quote should be familiar to anyone familiar with MLS’s public persona. It’s safe to assume that the MLS owners will take a similar tact negotiating with the players, attempting to further obfuscate both its operating realities and the true nature of its business model and structure.

Single and not quite ready to mingle

First, let’s be clear: Single entity and the opaque, tightly controlled MLS roster rules weren’t created to provide a quirky gauntlet for agile minded GM’s to overcome on the path to MLS glory.

The MLS single entity structure is primarily a negotiating implement designed to deny players an actual competitive labor market AND, perhaps more importantly, provide a defense against anti-trust litigation.

The whole thing is built to direct a larger piece of the pie to the owners and keep the employees from being able to realize their actual market value.

Every time someone argues that single entity/MLS roster rules are necessary for “slow and steady growth,” they are either glossing over or willfully ignorant of the fact that the MLS structure is built to deny players (primarily young American players) basic bargaining/freedom of employment rights that exist in the non-sports labor marketplace.

In the beginning…

When MLS was formed, the original owners and then MLS chief (and U.S. Soccer President) Alan Rothenberg designed the single entity structure in response to historical labor strife and anti-trust litigation in the other American sports.

It’s no secret that pretty much all of the American sports industry operates in a collusive and anti-competitive manner.

Collective bargaining exists as a preferred stop-gap, but when things go really bad between athlete employees and American sports team owners (and increasingly the NCAA), disruptive and costly anti-trust litigation comes to the fore as a negotiating lever and potential silver bullet to unwinding the American sport industry status quo.

So, how did MLS think single-entity would act as the ultimate shield against the player’s best (and sometimes only) bargaining leverage in the form of anti-trust litigation?

The logic goes that a single entity (in the case of MLS, a limited liability company that each ownership group buys into) can’t collude with itself. Therefore, the anti-trust laws, which are applicable to multiple parties that agree to collude and restrict trade/market competition wouldn’t apply because a single entity acts alone, without the cooperation of another market participant or competitor.

Down goes Fraser?

MLS launched with the single entity structure in 1996. In 1997, a group of players filed suit against MLS in Fraser v. MLS, claiming that the MLS structure violated Federal anti-trust statutes.

While MLS narrowly prevailed, the Fraser Court remarked that MLS appeared to operate with diverse, competing ownership interests, effectively placing the structure outside the safe harbor of a true single entity for anti-trust purposes.

Why is this important? Because MLS, like the NFL, NBA, NHL and NCAA, is built on the assumption that its business model won’t be blown up by a court judgment.

But the fact is that no one really knows how any given court (and especially the Supreme Court) will rule on a well-argued and orchestrated attack on American sports labor practices (including the NCAA).

That uncertainty acts as a negotiating lever for the players to get concessions from the owners, who generally aren’t interested in rolling the dice at an existential level and spending millions in legal fees defending an anti-trust lawsuit.

The Fraser decision ultimately went in MLS’s favor but the real question—whether MLS was actually a single entity for anti-trust purposes—was teased but not definitely answered by the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, which issued the Fraser decision.

Statements to the effect that Fraser was a definitive judicial sign-off on the MLS single entity structure are false and misleading. MLS, like it’s professional sports counterparts, could see its future radically altered by judicial intervention in response to an anti-trust lawsuit.

The times they are a changing…

In 2010, the MLS Player’s Union and league owners (represented by Don Garber) couldn’t agree to a new collective bargaining agreement until 5 days before the start of the season.

The players wanted free agency.

Instead they got the re-entry draft, which ensures that MLS players lack basic freedom of negotiating rights throughout their tenure as employees of MLS.

At the close of the 2010 negotiations, Don Garber, who generally acts as the chief orchestrator of MLS’s opaque and clandestine operating strategy, was confidently transparent with his remarks on the core issue of the agreement:

MLS was founded on the principle that our owners would not be competing against each other for player services. When we think of free agency, it is that concept of internal bidding, and there will not be internal bidding for player services.

The legal landscape has changed since Garber and MLS tried to shut the door on MLS free agency back in 2010.

Just two months after the 2010 CBA was signed, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its opinion in American Needle v. NFL, in which the NFL had presented a broad single entity defense under the theory that all 32 teams were engaged in the “football business” in competition with other forms of entertainment (the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with this argument).

The Supreme Court heard the case and ruled 9-0 against the NFL, overturning the 7th Circuit and rejecting the NFL’s argument that it constituted a single entity (American Needle was related to merchandising agreements, but the Supreme Court’s decision applied to all aspects of NFL business).

The American Needle decision seems to blow a significant hole in any future single entity defense by a sports league, especially MLS.

Regardless of MLS’s formal corporate structure, MLS is a patchwork of ultimately competing interests that fall under the American Needle line of reasoning.

The American Needle decision provides the MLS players a promising line of attack, should they wish to pursue it, against the MLS single entity defense.

Without a single entity defense, MLS is exposed to anti-trust scrutiny and shifts the negotiating balance of power more towards the players and their demands for free agency (a path the NFLPA took in the 1980s to ultimately secure free agency rights for NFL players).

Free agency would be a huge victory for the MLS Players prior to the 2015 season and would represent a seismic shift in the American soccer landscape.

Adding free agency to factors like

  • the recent emergence and successful growth of the 2nd Division NASL (which operates in a far less controlled fashion than MLS), and
  • MLS teams’ desire to succeed competitively and financially in CONCACAF and FIFA club competitions

provides fundamental counters to the arguments that the current MLS structure is necessary for the existence of a successful professional soccer industry and culture in the United States.

Once free agency is implemented, how will MLS and U.S. Soccer respond?

Unlike the other American sports leagues, American soccer teams and players regularly compete against international competition that don’t have the strict controls imposed within MLS. How does that difference affect the future of U.S. Soccer as compared to other professional sports industries?

These are questions that are worth asking and discussing in the coming years. On the other hand, passionate and snarky opinions, well informed or otherwise, aren’t going to threaten soccer’s popularity or shift the floor beneath the soccer industry’s feet. A widespread understanding for the tenuous legal position facing MLS and the rest of the American sports industry might have a more measurable impact.

For a more detailed and technical discussion of many of these issues, check out this excellent law review article by Attorney Matt Jakobsze.

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Comments

  1. Brian says

    If these changes were to take place, can MLS sustain itself? Is there enough money in the sport here in America to pay the level of wages that will align MLS with the other leagues around the world? I know what we all want, but is it really possible? If these changes were to allow pro/rel can teams, similar to many situations in England, survive the drop?

    • Jacques Pelham says

      Brian, thanks for contributing! To provide an answer with a slightly different angle to your first question: I think unquestionably there is enough capital and consumer demand to facilitate competition at a level consistent with the best in the world. In real terms does that equate with domestic soccer players being paid similarly to their global counterparts? Probably not but I don’t think it matters. The market dynamics here would be different with or without athlete free agency. With free agency, I suspect you’d see something similar to global markets and domestic sports that have free agency: Teams with organizational and market discipline will succeed while teams without those qualities will stumble.

      In terms of pro-rel, every small business has to adjust to changing revenue expectations. Good (and/or lucky) ones figure out how to survive. Sports is a business just like any other.

    • Jared says

      Brian,

      MLS is still a relatively young league. There are a number of infrastructure and expansion investments that need to be made to continue to grow the sport and make it sustainable. These investments are made at the cost of player salaries currently (is my guess based on the data in the article below, it’s mine, for full disclosure) http://www.brotherlygame.com/2014/2/11/5392512/the-mls-cba-a-perspective-on-the-league-and-owners

      I think Garber realizes he needs to increase player salaries to be competitive with other leagues but he can’t do it at the cost of his growth initiatives. I don’t think I answered your first question though. These changes could be implemented but they would also have to come with hard salary caps like in the NFL to limit the owner spending.

      • Kana says

        Jared,
        I don’t come to same conclusion as you when I read the article. MLS has higher earnings (looking at EBITDA graph) than MLS and about same as NHL, yet salareis in those leagues dwarf MLS. And as the article points out, profit is not how sports leagues operate. It’s well known that in Europe operating at a profit is atypical are extremely rare. Moreover, MLS requires new teams to come with stadium in hand. So that’s a hughe expense they avoid. And the valuation chart for MLS dwarfs other sports and even the DOW. Something doesn’t add up (the article’s author said same but differently) with MLS claiming 70-100M losses. If they really lost that much each year, they would be hundreds of millions in the red and operating expense would never dent it and they woudl go bankrupt.

        • Jared says

          I hear you Kana, thanks for the reply. What’s not in the post and what I should have stated clearly is that MLS salaries as a percent of the profits are significantly below all other major soccer and US sports leagues. Therefore, if the margins of MLS clubs are equivalent to MLB teams that implies either 1) MLS operating costs have not scaled or are mismanaged or 2) they are still making investments in the future of the league (or both). Either way it is very likely money is going to the league’s future instead of the players. Over time this will have to change in order for the league to truly compete globally. The question is how fast does it need to change.

          That’s why I think the -$75M is just a number that reflects investment and is not reflective of true operating cash flows. By the way, given that MLS just bought Chivas USA for about $70M doesn’t that imply (when coupled with the $75M loss) that they have a bundle of cash on hand? Let’s not cry for the owners. And if they are funding all of these losses and purchases with debt then they clearly have a good financial picture to paint or who would loan them the money?

          • Jacques Pelham says

            Great stuff Jared and Kana. Jared, thanks for sharing that article.

            A couple things to keep in mind regarding financial projections, valuations etc…

            1. I don’t think anyone outside of the clubs has a complete understanding of the numbers. MLS clubs and MLS corporate have no burden to make actual numbers public.

            2. For teams with a stadium, they are likely taking a significant depreciation loss that isn’t directly impacting their cash flow situation. It’s a quirk of accounting for companies with significant real assets (like a stadium or other commercial real estate) that show losses on operating statements but are doing fine on a cash flow basis.

          • Kana says

            Agree with what you are saying Jared. I just can’t imagine what MLS is investing in if not stadiums or improving coaching, player quality, and / or academies? Seems to me as an outsider that investing in on-field player quality (i.e., attracting better and more world-class players in their prime) via salaries and MLS academies is proven way to improve TV ratings, jersey sales, and grow the game’s interest. Just like anything else, invest in the product to grow the brand. At least that seems logical to me.

  2. STL A-B says

    Interesting that a capitalist society (US) has a less capitalist sports environment than England. Pro/Rel, Single entity, Free agents, etc. Why is this? Same reason why foreign owners are trying to abolish pro/rel in EPL – MONEY.

    • Jacques Pelham says

      Thanks STL!

      I agree that money plays a part. Although I often wonder if money acts as something of a scapegoat for a less commercial desire: to maintain control.

      I think there is a strong argument that, by freezing out markets across the country, MLS/U.S. Soccer is sacrificing commercial potential in order to create scarcity and try to make first division soccer something of a proprietary commodity.

  3. Nancee says

    This is a really informative piece of work. I’ve read some of Pelhams other pieces. I’m going to have to read it seven times to make any sense of it. Did he use the word obfuscate? I am unclear. Anyway. I became an RN to take care of people, yet my hospital system is constantly telling us about bottom line versus more positive patient care versus less and less staffing versus poor ratings by the very people who visit our hospital. As RNs we need to do more, document more, take care of people on regular floors who ten years ago would be considered intensive care patients. I received a $200 bonus this Christmas. I’ve worked for the company six years faithfully. The company claimed $12,000,000 in positive revenue. I could go on and on. I imagine the referees and the players could go on and on. Business. A necessary evil.

    • Jacques Pelham says

      Nancee-

      Thank you for commitment to practicing as an RN. I recently spent a prolonged period dealing with nurses day to day as part of my daughter’s 3 month hospitalization. After that experience, I developed a great appreciation for the art of being a good nurse (not all are committed to excellence, but the ones that are make such a huge difference in patient’s lives.) We were fortunate to have some amazing nurses who made a huge difference in our experience and helped our daughter immensely. We also found ourselves getting chewed up in large hospital bureaucracy in certain instances. As a nurse, I’m sure it’s very difficult for you to explain to a lay person how it all works (and doesn’t work) in the health and care industry but it’s sure nice to hear your perspective.

  4. Themule97 says

    Thanks for this great post. Please keep us updated with future developments in the referees association strike, players association contract negotiations, and any other related legal developments.

    As for the NCAA, this seems to be criminal and I don’t understand how it continues. NCAA athletes in Football and Basketball only get tuition, living, & misc expense based scholarships, while the school makes millions of dollars off of tv rights. USC football alone is a billion dollar business (and they are not the only one), yet the athletes get practically nothing.

    Last, I don’t see how the players association renegotiating for free-agency will eventually lead to the promotion/relegation, that is so desperately needed in the MLS.

    • Jacques Pelham says

      There are some Attorneys and observers out there (who are far more knowledgable than me) who think the O’Bannon case has a chance of unwinding the NCAA and if O’Bannon doesn’t do it, it’s only a matter of time until another lawsuit does. We’ll see.

      I don’t think it’s a straight line from Free Agency to a linked pyramid with promotion and relegation but it seems to me that once free agency enters the mix the landscape changes for the mls owners. Granted, there will still be a ton of entanglement between the existing MLS owners that may be near impossible to unwind, but I think once things start to get shaken up with something as disruptive as free agency, it’s hard to say how they’ll settle out.

  5. Kana says

    Jacques,
    As always, your piece is intelligent, well written and insightful. I for one hope MLS players union go the anti-trust route. It may be messy and even a gap in the season. But in the end it will be worth it I believe. Soccer is popular enough to withstand the bump. I could see a realignment (new entrants and exit of clubs that can’t operate in open market). This market correction is good. If a ruling against MLS came to be, it would open the door to several years of realignment of the league and soccer as we know it in USA. I for one welcome the change as a fan who wants to see the game grow. Every time I read articles such as this about MLS, I get a bid angry and even more upset whenever I hear Garber talk.

  6. Armando says

    To give an idea of the paltry living most MLS players survive on, I copy / pasted sections from 2004 – 2010 (they don’t have current one posted) Article 10 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement available at mlsplayers.org (i.e., MLS Player’s Union). The comment Nancee made about a $200 Christmas bonus for a hospital making $12M profit comes to mind. It’s like rock musicians back in the day making nada when the record label made fortunes off them.

    COMPENSATION AND EXPENSES
    Section 10.1 Collective Bargaining Agreement Signing Bonus: All Players on the final
    playoff rosters on October 22, 2004, shall receive a one-time signing bonus. The amount of the
    signing bonus pool shall be $327,000, which shall be divided equally among the Players on such
    final rosters. The signing bonus shall be paid on or before December 31, 2004.

    Section 10.2 Minimum Salary: The minimum annual base salary (excluding bonuses and
    other incentive compensation) for each year of a regular (i.e., not including Developmental or
    Non-Guaranteed Call-Up Players) Player’s contract (pro-rated for the period of the Player’s
    employment with MLS during such year) shall be as follows:
    2005: $28,000
    2006: $28,000
    2007: $30,000
    2008: $33,000
    2009: $34,000

    Section 10.3 Developmental Players and Senior Developmental Players:
    (i) Developmental Players: The minimum monthly base salary (excluding bonuses
    and other incentive compensation) of Developmental Players (pro-rated for the period of the
    Player’s employment with MLS for any part of a month) shall be as follows:
    2005: $975
    2006: $975
    2007: $1,075
    2008: $1,075
    2009: $1,175

    Section 10.5 Bonus Pools: The following Team bonuses will be paid, with the allocation
    among players on the Team to be determined by the Team’s players:
    (i) MLS Champion: $165,000
    (ii) MLS Runner-Up: $60,000
    (iii) Regular Season Conference Champion: $31,000
    (In lieu of, not in addition to, bonus for Qualifying for Playoffs.)
    (iv) Qualifying for Playoffs: $15,000
    (v) U.S. Open Cup Champion: $100,000
    U.S. Open Cup Runner-Up $50,000

    Section 10.8 Retirement Plan:
    (i) A 401(k) plan shall be created and maintained allowing elective deferrals (i.e.,
    Player contributions), beginning in 2004. Player contributions will be allowable up to the I.R.S.
    limit.
    (ii) MLS shall provide each Player with enrollment information and the documents
    necessary for enrollment.

    (iii) Starting in 2005, regardless of whether the Player makes a Player contribution,
    MLS will make the following employer contributions (within IRS limits) to the 401(k) account
    of each Player who enrolls, based upon the base salary paid to each Player in each pay period:
    2005: 2.00 percent of the player’s base salary
    2006: 2.25 percent of the player’s base salary
    2007: 2.50 percent of the player’s base salary
    2008: 2.75 percent of the player’s base salary
    2009: 3.00 percent of the player’s base salary

    I don’t know about you, but considering the short lifespan of a professional athlete, the years of training, the sacrifices, the physical nature of their profession, and the amount of money they bring in for the league and clubs and athletic apparel companies – it seems the players are getting seriously shafted. I wonder how much Garber is making? The owners should be ashamed. Probably all of them had to build their businesses and earn millions in a competitive free market environment, yet they glumly operate in an environment that purposely limits salaries and don’t allow the players the same free market access that made them (the owners) so rich they could buy a team.

    • Al says

      And thanks fort he salary info. I can understand playing for love of game, but developmental players could make much more flipping burgers, parking cars, working as rent-a-cops. It is very insulting to all the years of sacrifice for MLS to pay players the equivalent of part-time lowest of low wage salaries. Yet the development player has spent years honing his craft and in top 1-3% of players in USA. This fact alone may cause very talented players to walk away from the game. Not becsue making it has small probability, but becasue you get paid nothing on that journey. NASL and USL don’t pay well either. At those levels, the lack of broad fan support is a control mechnism. At MLS it shouldn’t be so, but it is.

  7. says

    Whether it’s willful ignorance or wishful thinking – cartels like MLS aren’t training wheels. They exist for their own reasons. They don’t break themselves up. They don’t evolve into open markets. The only way cartels disappear is when consumers stand up against them, and courts follow suit.

    Let’s dispense with the fantasy that MLS is only using intensive single entity procedures to get soccer on it’s feet. You’re looking at a scheme that is designed for one purpose: Owner protection. Like Carnegie and Rockefeller before them, Kroenke and Kraft aren’t going to see the light on relinquishing control.

    Regular old consumers have fried bigger fish than these guys. Lets crank up the heat.

  8. $BANKS says

    I have a question that no one could answer it kind has something to do with the subject but not entirely? What if the CBA agreement runs out and the two sides can’t agree on a salary or whatever what happens to the league and the clubs own by MLS. I thought with no CBA contract there is no league and if that happen question number two could the owner just by the clubs names from MLS for example the Sounders and start a league with other owners.

  9. CDO says

    Pretty blunt article on the link Gary. MLS can get away with this as long as the casual MLS fans don’t get it and serious fans don’t care and watch European leagues. When MLS loses to Liga MX in CONCACAF CL (as they always do), the powers that be seem to not care. As long as the lights are on and owners making money, it’s business as usual.

    Until the day when the media routinely has hard-hitting pieces on MLS, CONCACAF, and WC mediocrity, and until fans are more vocal about it, things aren’t going to change. Look at the pressure David Moyes is under. That happens in every league in Europe. WC failure is also taken seriously. We don’t have anything remotely close here.

    Like people, MLS won’t change until a catastrophe or serious outside pressure or change in leadership with new perspective. A serious player’s strike going to court could change things. The catch 22 is so many players are making relatively low salaries and don’t have skillset to do anything else making similar money outside soccer. Not indentured servants or share croppers. Gotta find a fitting term . . . . Not sure they are willing to strike for too long. As long as owners keep the masses poor, they have leverage.

    This is a sign the game is not mature from cultural and sports perspective. We are far from critical mass to have meaningful change. That’s why MLS does what it wants. Funny thing is the game will grow and people will care as they bring on better, younger, well known talent. Make it exciting. Challenge Liga MX in CONCACAF CL. But that would mean player’s have the power. MLS won’t like that.

    • Kana says

      Referee striker over. No MLS teams left in CCL advancing to quarters. Agree a player strike would be short lived due to poverty and business as usual as you said @CDO. I watched the CCL games. I don’t see how USA will do well in WC. Dempsey is terrible form and giving nut checks and frowning all the time. Donovan is on downward slope and not the impact he once had. Zusi looked bad in game v. Cruz Azul. Altidore scores as much as a 40-year old virgin. And on and on it goes in other positions and no one cares and nothing will change. The recent lot of German imports masquerading as Americans won’t help USA either in Brazil. I for one hope we don’t make it out of group stage winless. We need such a catastrophe to wipe the green ugly stuff from corner of our eyes.

      • ASO says

        Did you mean: hope we are winless and don’t make it out of the group stage? Think Jurgen would then publically state that the emperor has no clothes? That MLS has no capacity to develop american players? That anti-competitive policies breed mediocrity on the world stage?

        I agree that the only way to change in soccer in this country is a catastrophe. Plenty of folks are dissatisfied-at a recent OPD parent meeting someone from US Soccer came and was all rah rah about the US’s chances in the world cup. The room was silent but for a few guffaws. The guy was completely thrown off balance by the apathetic response. That said, I can’t figure out what we can actually DO to change anything. Maybe more of us should move our kids out of the country a la Daniele De Rossi. Would love to see a team of American born-trained abroad kids-kick a** against a US team…

        • R2 Dad says

          We keep focusing on MLS, the professional level, but that is just the end-stage of the sport. We need to get to the origin of the problem. It’s like neurodegenerative disease. We see old people with plaque in their brains, which is bad, so we’ve been spending the past 35 years (to no avail) fighting plaque. But plaque is not the source of the problem, just the result. We have to find the root cause of the neurodegeneration, what initiated the plaque, to change the outcomes. In soccer, this means our youth game. Who is coaching our children, what are they instructing them to do, to play, to think? In the modern game, we’ve gone through several generations of parents who still think soccer = kickball. Is the coach a nice man? Does Susie have any friends on the team? Is practice convenient, or does it overlap with Susie’s yoga class? The absolute LAST thing our parents want to know is, Will This Coach Teach My Child How to Play The Game Correctly? Parents of 8 year-olds never ask it. Right now, if they asked these questions, they would determine that about 1 in 25 coaches AT THE “COMPETITIVE” LEVEL actually know how to coach children on how to play the game properly. Ask your coach what “Development” tactically means to your child’s training, and you will get more runaround than a used car salesman. Until Parents start asking important questions, coaches will continue to do whatever they think will win, no matter how lame. Our children’s soccer IQ will remain poor, and our athletes will never turn into world class soccer players while in this country. There are always anomalies that will hint we are progressing as a soccer nation, but those are all exceptions to the rule. We have an enormous country, we should be turning out 1-2 world-class players at every position, every year, by now, if our system(s) worked. But they can’t. Until mommy and daddy insist their child plays soccer instead of kickball, we are just chasing our tails.

          • says

            Hi R2,

            There’s a lot of truth to what you’ve said.
            But when we dig deeper, we start to realize there’s more fundamental reasons behind why the youth reality is what it is.

            Top level policy created by governing bodies shape their markets.

            Those policies can range from friendly to hostile for business. And consequently have a huge impact on the success or failure of certain types of business models.

            The US Soccer Federation, USSF, is soccer’s governing body. The policies they create shape our soccer market.

            Current policy does not align making money with global standard excellence in “development”.

            And the single most potent policy which encourages the realities you describe, can be traced to the sanctioning of a monopoly – MLS.

            Like I wrote two articles ago … over time I’ll be fleshing out the details behind that assertion.

            Bottom line:
            How money is made in our soccer ecosystem is not aligned with global standard excellence. That’s a policy issue. A top, not local, issue.

  10. Erick says

    The most popular sport in the US is American Football. They only have 8 home games a year and if some team is losing a lot of games they can’t sell out many stadiums. What second division in any sport in the US is doing well? Relegation and open market in the US will never work for sports teams. The smaller markets will crumble and you will be back to only watching games at 6:30am an ocean away. Many teams in Europe are owned by governments and are not doing well financially. For the leagues sake we need to keep a salary cap (yes I know this weakens the product of having a top level tam) but the league will be better for it.

    How many US people are fans of Huddersfield? They only back winners the Chelsea, Barcalona, etc…

    • Jacques Pelham says

      I don’t man I just watched a team from Wichita (who is the 1 seed!) play a team from San Luis Obispo on primetime national television in what amounts to a “second division” national basketball tournament. How do you explain that Erick?

    • Kana says

      Not sure you are making any points Erick? Just kinda babbling. And by the way, I don’t know of any teams owned by “the government”. That statement alone tells me you are trolling through this site.

      I think you miss the point for many die-hard football (the one where you play with your feet, not hands) is we are fans of the game. So we watch lesser known teams and leagues. No different than Jacques watching unknowns in March Madness.

  11. Steve says

    I don’t root for Huddersfield, but like the fact I have so many options when it comes to world football. Very limited big 3 viewership in USA. Stepping back and looking in, there is an unnecessary limiting of league pyramids in USA for all sports. Sure sign of a monoploy at work.

    • Joel says

      Agreed. I live 40 minutes from Harrisburg, PA and would watch the Harrisburg City Islanders in a heartbeat, particularly since they are a call up team for The Union. That is if they were on TV. Instead, on a tuesday evening I’m watching the DVRd Juve Parma game. If you look at baseball as the model in this country, AA and AAA ‘farm’ teams often have wildly strong fan bases and only very local TV coverage if at all. They likely average 5,000 to 15,000 fans a night in small intimate venues. I see no reason why Anytown, USA cannot do the same. If you multiple that by 50 or 100 other Anytown, USA along with the structures that are already in place, BAM! you have the makings of a beautiful system.

  12. D.James says

    There’s no way MLS should be look at as single-entity, especially nearly 20 years after the Fraser case. But the appeals court didn’t even get to decide if MLS was a single-entity because the league had no market power – it didn’t control any market for players on which it could impose anti-competitive transfer rules like preventing free agency. Unhappy players could move to better leagues abroad for better salaries… and this is still true.

    But while MLS might not be able to dominate a global market for players, they probably could if you narrow the market to just the US. With the combination of USL Pro affiliations turning the 3rd division into an MLS farm system, Homegrown Player incentives leading MLS academies to swallow up youth clubs, FIFA restrictions on young players going abroad, and stricter immigration laws preventing moves to big $$$ Euro leagues, it could be enough market power for a court to agree to finally decide the single-entity issue (if you get past the CBA issue of course).

    MLS and USL Pro are two entities, no single-entity defense for MLS if they get in trouble for colluding with USL Pro to dominate the market for US players. And this dynamic duo may even lead to opening the door for promotion and relegation if a court decides the other two leagues are trying to dominate the US market for pro soccer clubs.

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