Monday, March 2, 2015

MLS Strike Is Much Ado About Nothing

MLS Players and their union are currently in talks with MLS executives to reach a collective bargaining agreement (CBA).  The MLS Players Union can say all they want about 'striking', but it's just a ploy to voice their displeasure for the single entity system (owners own a stake in the league and won't get into bidding wars to sign free agents-only a few designated players).

The only thing a 'strike' would do for the players is lose money for them because MLS and its ownership groups are not going to budge on allowing free agency and why should they.

MLS has made virtually no thrust in television ratings since its inception. Even during the brilliant 'Beckham' years, the ratings never amounted to much.

It's nice for bigtime players like Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley to say the right things to back up their brethren, but the best they'll really be able to do is buy more dinners for teammates on the road or at team functions.

What causes these low television ratings is a much larger discussion, but there is no discounting how difficult it is for MLS to compete against other soccer leagues and the U.S. Men's National Team.

All things pertaining to soccer are becoming more organized in the sports fan's mind.  There's a huge amount of soccer to choose to spectate from for U.S. sports fans and they're becoming more prudent in deciding which soccer to watch.

U.S. sports fans are learning a lot more about the qualification system for the World Cup, so there is much more interest in watching the USMNT during these qualifiers.  Let's face it, for any sports fan, the first choice when it comes to soccer is watching the World Cup.  If fans can't see their team in the World Cup, seeing qualifiers is the next best thing.

(Also, let's not forget about the U.S. Women's National Team and the women's World Cup coming soon).

The next biggest problem for MLS is the effect of international leagues.

Liga MX and EPL would be the two most impactful international leagues on U.S. sports fans, in my opinion.  Surely, Ronaldo, Messi and Neymar grab our attention representing La Liga and Bundesliga has its following that is respected, especially after Germany winning the World Cup.  But, the proximity of Mexico's Liga MX and the stranglehold in weekend mornings broadcasts of EPL on NBC and NBCSN really give them the edge.

Another factor to consider is that MLS is still not threatened by NASL.  NASL hasn't proven that its on solid ground, yet.  The free-agency league may not have its Division 2 status very much longer.

Maybe MLS would consider free-agency for its league if NASL was surviving and thriving.

MLS must continue to brand and build its product while strengthening its turnstile (gate) numbers. MLS has many teams that have excellent turnouts for every home game.  This is the best thing going for MLS.

The message is: Just keep on working, MLS!

And, the message from MLS and its owners is: Stick to the plan!

Right now, the plan seems to be: Single Entity with Designated Players and expansion, expansion, expansion!

That's right, build the league up to 36 teams if you have to, in order to get the country's attention. Maybe this will turn around television ratings.  More metro areas included in the chase for championships can't hurt.

Let's also remember that soccer has multiple championships to win each year and thus more celebrating for fans to do.

Maybe in a few CBA's from now, the players union will be in a stronger position to bargain. That stronger position could depend greatly on them giving up this go round and to help keep building the MLS brand.

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