When speaking with a colleague recently about the future of the MLS and what that might look like come 2025, we made a few observations that clarify the unique environment that the sport has to operate within here in America.
The one that really stuck a chord was that of the franchise vs club structure and how this could be one of the biggest impediments to sustainable growth for clubs and the ongoing issue of promotion and relegation.
With the MLS/WPS going down the NFL inspired franchise system the real power resides with the League itself and teams are (sometimes) created solely to be an MLS franchise with no history or links to the community.
The MLS has its critics in this department but until the sport is rooted in Americas sporting culture we must all work together off the pitch (clubs/MLS/WPS/US Soccer & supporters) to create enough support so that soccer can become self-sufficient and potentially move away from this model in the future.
Promotion and relegation under the current model is doomed to failure as protecting the integrity and value of franchises will be paramount. Only when the clubs have the power can this truly work. We will expand upon this issue at a later date.
It is important that we start to have a grassroots discussion about the merits of franchises vs club owned structures and the prevailing issues that will help us answer them in the future.
- Should the MLS go through a phase of consolidating its structure once it hits 20 teams?
- Should the MLS/WPS begin to identify future expansion areas with already established clubs and help them grow into future MLS/WPS teams?
- Should our pro leagues invest more time into possible expansion teams that already have a local history and established links within their community rather than a perceived potential (e.g Las Vegas)?
- Should there be a future planning document/policy produced for the MLS (and made public)?
The final point is the most interesting suggestion we had. If this was to occur it would provide not only transparency but also a clear vision for the sport to follow. Saying the MLS will be a world class league in 2020 is too vague. Also, any document of this nature has opportunities for clubs, supporters etc to provide feedback which will provide confidence and accountability to the future directions of the sport.
Soccer will always be a part of the sporting mix due to the framework of corporate sports, but if it is to realize its potential and form a competitive stance to really challenge the dominant positions of the ‘big four’ then looking at established clubs who can prove to the MLS/WPS that they are ready for the transition to the elite is the most logical step forward.