MLS: Why the MLS will struggle to become a ‘big 4’ sport in the US

There was no real surprise when the popularity of soccer in the US spiked during the USMNT’s run into the knockout stages of this year’s World Cup. The team’s ability to advance out of the alleged ‘group of death’ rallied a great deal of support stateside. By the thousands, fans attended viewing parties at bars, parks, squares, and even other professional sports’ stadiums. It really was a sight to see for soccer fans in the US.

USMNT: A look ahead at the new few years

After years of being seen as a second-tier sport, it now seemed as if the MLS was set to join the NFL, MLB, and NBA as the most popular sports leagues in the US. There is only one problem that was recently pointed out to me by none other than my dad.

Each of the other ‘big three’ leagues is undoubtedly the best league in the world for their respective sport. Professional athletes from other countries who dream of playing professional football, baseball, or basketball at the highest level picture the NFL, MLB, or NBA, respectively. The same cannot be said for soccer and the MLS. A soccer fan would be hard-pressed to say that the MLS is even in the top 5 leagues in the world (especially after the recent drubbing of the MLS sides by the visiting English Premier League teams).MLS Logo

If the MLS wants to eventually become one of the biggest and most popular leagues in the US, it must first tackle the challenge of becoming one of the best leagues in the sport. Current MLS Commissioner Don Garber has laid out a plan to help make the MLS one of the best leagues in the world by 2022. Realistically, the MLS will never reach a level of the EPL, Bundesliga or La Liga. The history of the sport that is engrained, not only in the league, but in the country itself, will prove to be too much for the MLS to compete with. This means that the MLS can look to become, in a very optimistic outlook, the fourth best league in the world.

Since the announcement of Garber’s long-term plan for 2022, the MLS has continued to add more teams across the country. Within the past year, four new teams have been granted permission to enter the league. These teams are from New York City, Orlando, Atlanta, and Miami are all set to begin play in the MLS over the next few years.

This continued expansion is all part of the grand plan for the MLS, but one important factor is still yet to be seen.

The fans.

In order for the MLS to become a top league, the ‘soccer-craze’ that hit the US during the World Cup must continue. If support wanes, soccer will be pushed to the back-burner until the next big international tournament for the USMNT comes around. One year until the CONCACAF Gold Cup may not seem like a lot of time, but that one year can do wonders for the MLS. Years from now, the country may look back on the 2014 World Cup as a turning point for Major League Soccer and the USMNT.

  • tybz66

    Just want to point out a couple of things:
    There’s really no reason why MLS can’t become one of the top leagues in the world, however it will certainly take time. Lower-tier soccer leagues around the world have two choices to make as far as future planning: (a) push themselves finanically/competitvely to compete at a higher level or (b) focus on player development and become a feeder league. For many leagues this isn’t really an option because they face financial ‘ceilings’ based on the size of the country they reside, the fan base, and competition from neighboring leagues. However the US has an enormous sports culture and if even 20% of it turned its attention to domestic professional soccer, MLS would very much be near the top competing with BPL, La Liga, Bundesliga, etc. by throwing big figure contracts at top talent. And it appears that exactly what Don Garber is setting out to do – I only think that 2022 is too soon to achieve that – but how knows?
    A couple cases in point:
    1. A couple years ago Red Bull bought a 5th division German team, rebranded it, and set it forth to with strong financial backing and plan to climb the ladder all the way up to the Bundesliga. Over the last 5 years this newly rebranded team has earned promotion three times and now sits in Bundesliga 2. Base on the money Red Bull is investing in this team there is a definite possibility that they will achieve their goal. The parallel here is that MLS isn’t all that far off of pulling in NHL type of money, so if MLS can start writing NHL-type contracts, they’ll be within striking distance to most of those top-tier EU leagues. My point is that while prestige does count for alot, money will always count for more, and there is a lot of money in the US esp. in our sports market.
    2. Manchester City

  • Anti-BS

    Don’t forget the pre-season friendly matches! Bayern Munich vs MLS All Stars, august 8! 9:30 PM EST

  • RinoWatch

    Some truths, many errors. The rising of MLS will be in stair steps, as popularity and revenue must take turns increasing. MLS could one day challenge the EPL, which is taking significant criticism of late — their top 4-6 teams are the only ones who ever win as the decades come and go. This summer a new crop of high school freshman will choose between football and soccer. The social prestige of football remains immense, but with the concussion drama and the world cup fevers, many more top athletes will opt for soccer. I agree it will take more than a decade, but… when you said “never” you jumped the shark.