A few weeks back, Forbes dug deep into the financial worth of Major League Soccer. Unsurprisingly, the Seattle Sounders and LA Galaxy led the pack of the most valuable clubs in MLS. This study was using only 2014 data, so Orlando City and New York City FC weren't in the mix, but with both having solid years of ticket sales, it will be easy to predict them near the top of next year's financial survey.
Living in the capitalist society that we do, these numbers were quickly paired with other sports and top global leagues to provide perspective. Website American Soccer Analysis crunched the data and provided a plethora of graphs and charts to visualize these numbers.
Using Forbes' numbers, the average value per team in MLS in 2014 was $157 million, compared to the juggernaut of American sports, the NFL, with an average team value of $1,428 million. The average value of the top 20 global soccer clubs was $1,160 million.
While American Soccer Analysis goes in depth to provide both positive and negative spins on these numbers, the general takeaway for most people was the massive distance between MLS and all of the leagues it competes with for revenue. The Forbes article presents the league as continuing to grow with a positive outlook, despite a few challenges.
When we judge everything through a lens of profit, we are prone to miss the larger ideas and value of sports. Major League Soccer is enjoying a moment of rising importance on the American sports landscape, while at the same time still avoiding the scrutiny that has plagued all of the sports it is trying to eclipse.
To put it another way, quoting late rapper The Notorious B.I.G., "Mo Money, Mo Problems."
It seems like a week doesn't pass that the NFL or a college football program doesn't make headlines with a player incident or team problem. Add the most recent scrutiny of concussions and the health of former players into that mix as well. Baseball is just now recovering from steroid controversies, while the NBA also seems to run into its own trouble from time to time with arguments of refs fixing games and player behavior. Things don't look that much better on the international soccer front, with clubs moving the GDP of a small nation for the talents of a single player, who may find more headlines with their off-field behavior than any sporting exploits.
I'm not putting the sporting world on trial; these challenges are both societal and up to individual leagues and teams to figure out. The takeaway for me, and what I want to stress here, is how MLS and its teams have been able to generally avoid this controversial landscape.
We might complain about a web of confusing rules and the constraints of salary caps, but MLS has been the master of managed growth. If you are wondering what American soccer might look like without this self-policing, I would encourage you to check out the documentary "Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos."
The relative smaller sized financial aspects of the league have allowed the game to grow without the intense pressure of the media spotlight. Grassroots supporters' clubs, homegrown players, and a hometown feel help to define MLS in 2015. Smaller markets and teams without superstars have a fighting chance to win trophies and fans still enjoy access to their favorite players. When controversy does arise, it generally has the ability to fade relatively quickly and never eclipse the game itself.
I understand MLS has its flaws, but before the league rushes in for the big payoff, let's pause and consider the advantages that come from not being a large money hungry league. The game, its players, and its fans have enjoyed decades of growing the culture of soccer in the United States, a more important factor than who has the biggest pile of cash.