Thursday, January 19, 2012

MLS More Than Halfway to 36 Teams

With currently 19 teams in its league, MLS is more than halfway to 36.  No other major team sports league in the U.S. has more than 32 teams.  The NHL, NBA and MLB leagues have 30 and the NFL has 32 teams.

What would be the sense in MLS practically doubling its size?

It is the perfect sense.  It gives MLS strategic positioning for all areas of the U.S. and Canada.

It would make MLS impossible to ignore and mainstream without a doubt.

National sports talk radio banter would include MLS among its daily grind of sports topics and television ratings would have to rise because the league would cover so much area.

MLS would be smart to add two teams per year until 2020 or within a year or two after.  The passion of the fans at most stadiums is at a fever pitch (sorry, baseball) now.

If tv ratings, sports talk and mainstream media are going to continue to not see reality, then bring on more teams in more cities.  Make more people happy and satisfy a bigger chunk of the U.S. thirst for Soccer.

There are multiple cities and areas ready for pro Soccer.  Some places are overdue to have a pro sports team.

Considering the 18 teams and Montreal starting this season, there is room for 17 more franchises.

Certainly, Florida has room for one in South Florida, in the Miami/Ft. Lauderdale area, one more in Tampa and one for Orlando.

Atlanta as an urban/suburban sprawl, along with Minneapolis, St. Louis, San Antonio and Phoenix are other big areas to choose from, all deserving of an MLS identity.

This is eight more, allowing for nine others.

If one is to consider cities without any pro teams from a major sport, Las Vegas and Austin fit the bill fine as they rank 30th and 35th nationally for greater metro populations according to 2010 census.

Tulsa could work out well with its growth as a metro area and its pro Soccer history.  Albuquerque also has unique Soccer history and could be a quirky spot for MLS to plant roots. 

Western New York with Buffalo and Rochester makes for an excellent singular possibility as Rochester has its successful minor league team and Western New York is known for the best team of the women's pro division.

Adding these five more, leaves four to go.

As mentioned before on this site, Sacramento could be a great location as their fans have shown huge support to save its NBA team.

Down to three.

The last three could go to veterans like Milwaukee, Detroit or Indianapolis or to fast growing Nashville, Raleigh or Charlotte.

Hartford and Providence are older cities without a pro taste of sports for quite some time.  Omaha and Birmingham are contemporary areas ready for the challenge of pro sports.  San Diego could make a big splash and Honolulu could make killer waves all for the good of the game. 

There are plenty of options and room for discussion for the last three franchises.


  1. 18 team 1st and 2nd divisions?

  2. As the article details, I believe there is room for 36 first division teams. Second division is another discussion entirely. With as massive as the U.S. is, certainly there is plenty of room for a good-sized second division. Though, I would have to re-think the whole idea of calling either one of them by the name 'division.' Remember, this is A better, more American sounding term might be out there to categorize things for sports fans. But, 'division' may be the best term. Don't want to discount it just 'cause we didn't invent it.

  3. We need two leagues. Promotion and relegation are required to keep soccer improving. Otherwise we end up with teams be sold and moved like the NBA

  4. @Greg, You may be right, no one can say for sure, but MLS is different than the NBA in that there are 3 championships to play for each year; US Open, MLS Cup and Champions League. Also, regular season MLS winner is crowned with achievements not bestowed on regular season winners of the other 'big four' leagues.

  5. MLS 1 and MLS 2. Relegation and promotion! Some of these cities have clubs in lower levels (NASL, USL Pro) that could be easily added. Forget basing it on TV markets (Atlanta), go for good sports towns (Milwaukee, St. Louis). No on Hawaii - travel time would be killer on teams. Keep the stadiums futbol-specific and reasonable. It could work. Go Sounders!

  6. Good God. Does this writer not know that FIFA has a 20-limit on first tier leagues? Blatter wants it down to 18, remember? MLS CAN'T...repeat with me...CAN NOT...SPELL with me...C..A..N..(space)..N..O..T..expand past 20 teams. FIFA is not going to make an exception for the U.S. because if we can break the rules why can't EPL? That is why they are leveraging $100 million expansion fees (while paying peanuts for American players). It's one big scam MLS is. Funny how Sunil "Conflict of Interest" Gulati ignores MLS saying no to promotion and relegation ever (which they just recently did), when it's not MLS' call, it's supposedly Gulati's. Funny how NASL's President (the same guy who actually ran our faiiled World Cup bid effort) also doesn't want pro-rel.

    Pro-rel CAN work. Just not the traditional way. Have two tiers in major markets and regional tiers (3 on down) for the "minor" markets like Charleston. But it'll never happen until we get rid of Gulati and his ilk.

  7. Promotion and relegation would be a great thing for the MLS. Since we already have 18 teams, we can add the lower-tier teams into the fray at a lower level, like my hometown Richmond Kickers. This way, there would be more incentive to take roots in an area and not be sold around, like modern NHL, NFL, and NBA teams are today. This way, we could see weak but plucky sides (like the old Wimbledon) rise to the top and make a name for themselves and other sides would have a financial penalty for mediocrity.

  8. What are you smoking - it must be good.

    Putting aside that fact that you can't do it, where do the players come from? Are you going to play each team once? Finally, the MLS is a franchise system. There is no promotion nor relegation without paying the MLS fee. So other than producing a very bad product on the field the existing teams are locked in.(but see Tampa and Miami)

    My suggestion would be to form two twenty team 2nd division leagues. Maybe 20 years down the road, the winners could could start buying into the 1st division. The winners, in order to obtain promotion would have to meet requirements such as facilities and financial backing.

    Just a thought

  9. I wan't be watching the MLS until it has a relagation/promotion format. It doesn't even have to be a big thing, just having two division is enough. Imaging how more interesting the match will become when teams have to fight to stay in first division. And also i hate the fact that every teams wears Adidas, my goodness it's really annoying.

  10. When I wrote this article, it was not meant as commentary to whether promotion/relegation should exist for MLS or not. I believe there is enough room for 36 teams to be successful. After these 36, I'm open to having a second division with promotion/relegation for 1 or 2 clubs per year. I'm not decided on this point. If you are commenting that there can only be 20 teams because FIFA says so, then this site is not for you. Find another site where everything for Soccer is written in stone.

    1. I hear you. Who elected FIFA king of all soccer? MLS can and should strike out on its own, FIFA will have to adapt. UEFA has a world class tournament, Why not MLS / CONCACAF? Promotion/Relegation is a great system. Why shouldn't MLS go with two divisions of 20 teams?

  11. This is a really exciting idea but there are two things that I worry about. One, which I believe someone might have alluded to earlier, I am not sure that there would be a great talent pool to support all 36 teams. Secondly, you mentioned that 36 teams would force mainstream media into making soccer a regular part of the daily sports grind. I don't think enough main stream sports commentators possess the basic knowledge where they feel comfortable talking about soccer as they do with something like golf or tennis. I am just curious what your thoughts are about these two tensions.

    1. pro soccer has become stagnant; no new teams are being added. i'm evolving on the ideas of pro/reg. it just might be that the best way to incorporate television ratings is for a merger of pro/reg.

      AJ might be right with the 20 first division and 20 second division or maybe 24 and 18. but, figuring out how a team pays it's fair share will be the key point to getting a deal done.

      for example, a team that wins second div and moves up can pay 10 million yearly for a given number of years until it has cleared its debt, then, if it goes back down again to div. one, it only pays the remainder of what was decided when it first got accepted.

  12. I can see no way MLS would ever do promotion/relegation.

    It is not part of any American Sport, playoffs are. But Playoffs are terrible in a league of 19 teams where over half the league makes it. Plus the size of the USA means you're better off having mini-leagues to build rivalries, the likes of Cascadia and DC/Phily/NY.

    In NFL you have mini-league divisional rivalries that give fans something to care about outside of just winning the superbowl.

    My thought is 40 team league. This could be easily done as MLS is not an expensive sport for the fans, 17 home games compared to 40+ MLB/NBA games and no way near the ticket prices of NFL.

    The structure would be built over 10-15 years. Initially 24 teams split to 2 conferences of 3 divisions of 4 teams per division, adding 1 to two teams a year, once SSStadiums were secured.

    Eventually reaching the 40 team margin with 2 conferences of 4 divisions, 5 teams in each division, making mini leagues.

    This keeps interest in rivalries, and gives the playoff much more sense.

    Think about Cascadia Cup, well if you had a 5 team division of Portland, Seattle, Vancouver adding in say Edmonton and Calgary. They'd be interest for fans to win the division, just like how NFL teams like to win theirs.

    5 team Californian division of LA Galaxy, Chivas, SJ, adding in Sacramento and San Diego.

    5 Teams in Dallas, Houston, adding San Antonio, Austin and Oklahoma.

    5 teams in Phily, NYRB, NY Cosmos, Batimore, DC

    Playoffs would work like NFL, 8 teams from 20 team conference qualify for playoffs the winner of each division plus the next 4 best wildcards. 5 rounds of playoff climaxing with MLS Cup.

    2 best records from each conference get byes and home-field advantage to the 3rd round, next 2 div winners go to 2nd round. And 4 wildcards in the first round.

    The biggest problem for MLS is TV viewers, say each MLS team has a fan-base of 50,000 at the moment that's a total of 950,000 fans. With 40 teams would mean 2m fans. The tipping point for MLS TV money is to get NHL type viewing figures.

    Also MLS isn't constrained by the talent pool to go to 40 team league as it can tap the whole world compared to NFL/MLB/NHL/NBA which have limited player pools.

    With 40 teams, MLS can tap untapped markets like Las Vegas, Austin, Tulsa and maybe even places like Albuquerque, with its large Hispanic population.

  13. The MLS has a Chicken and Egg type of scenario for TV money.

    If it had the NHL deal or even a deal the size of ONE MLB team like LA Angels $3b over 20 years then it could secure better talent.

    NY Cosmos proved that New Yorkers will go to soccer games if the talent is there.

    In NHL the three most profitable teams -- the Maple Leafs ($81.9 million), Rangers ($74 million), Canadians ($51.6 million) -- accounted for 83% of the league's income, while 13 of 30 teams lost money.

    Going to 40 could be one way of improving the TV audience figures.