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Most Likely to Sink: Can David Beckham Save Major League Soccer?

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There is quite a hullabaloo this week about David Beckham finally arriving in Los Angeles to begin his massively hyped career with the Galaxy of Major League Soccer. This has led to the discussion of many ideas, among them whether Beckham can save MLS and if MLS is even worth saving. Lets go after these one at a time, shall we?

Can David Beckham save Major League Soccer?

There is certainly a chance, if for no other reason than "stranger things have happened." Though there really is no such thing as a "savior" (as Roger Clemens is so perfectly illustrating this year with the Yankees).

David Beckham (or DB, as I'll call him, so I don't have to keep typing his name) is not unlike his wife, the former Posh Spice. By that I mean, of course, that they both may still be easy on the eyes, and a major crowd favorite because of it, but the "relevant" stage of their careers is long since gone. DB is more of a big name than he is a big talent. When he was in his early to mid twenties, DB was quite the player, chock full of talent and devoid of team player-ness. Though as we all know, here in America, nobody gives a crap about petty details like that.

But now, DB is 32. He isn't incredibly fast. Or agile. Which are usually skills that highly touted soccer players have. About the only thing DB still has is his right foot, which isn't much, but is still more than many other players. Any time LA has a free kick, Davey will be all over it.

Fortunately for DB (and the Galaxy), his actual appeal seems to have nothing to do with his physical prowess on the soccer pitch. I don't need to go into specific details, but when a middle-aged reporter's wife turns into a giggling middle-schooler when her husband tells her about his interview with Beckham, one can only imagine how the rest of the female population is responding. Probably the same way the male population would be responding to Victoria Beckham arriving – if she weren't shaped like a twig these days.

That said, I don't expect Beckham's play to be any sort of sudden cure for a middling Galaxy team (3-5-4 currently, and not playing particularly consistent ball). Nor do I think that Galaxy GM Alexei Lalas is anything short of loony when he says that Beckham could be "bigger than Pele" for soccer in the U.S.

Beckham coming to play MLS is just a very small step that doesn't begin cover the dozens of other internationally known players who won't come play here, or (even worse) the dozens of U.S. players who would rather play in Europe. Beckham would need to be much bigger than Pele to dent those problems. And even then, truly international competitions like the World Cup and Olympics will still be more diverse, competitive, and exciting.

Of course, all of that is a secondary concern to the bigger question: Is Major League Soccer even worth saving?

Obviously, MLS, just like any other sports league, is a business. Due to that fact, the logical conclusion would be "if MLS is making money and producing a profit, then it is successful." However, the more I looked into things, the more reasons I found to doubt the league's financial success, to ignore the league. Here is a "what I found in 15 minutes" list of what's wrong:

  1. The league plays its games from April to October. Seven months. So that's two months of being overshadowed by baseball, hockey, and basketball, followed by three months of competing with baseball, then two months of competing with the NFL and baseball. That doesn't seem particularly ideal for succeeding at taking fans away from more popular ways to spend their money.
  2. If that weren't bad enough, the MLS only plays games on Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday (plus one Wednesday per month). Perhaps because of such scheduling genius, you have Beckham's LA Galaxy, who haven't played in a week and wont play again for three more weeks.
  3. The league's highest scoring team, the Kansas City Wizards, have scored four goals in their last five games. The second highest scoring (and overall best) team, Houston, has had 9 of their 17 games end in either 1-0 or 0-0 games.

All that sure sounds weird – games three days a week for seven months? That's like taking the NFL, doubling the schedule, and only letting the special teams play. And the results would probably be equally worthless.

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  • Dr Dreadful

    Especially since USL teams are kicking some serious MLS ass in the US Open Cup this year…!

  • Douglas Mays

    true, my Sounders beat Chivas 3-1 a couple of weeks ago.

  • Unak78

    This is where poor research gets you. The MLS doesn’t need saving. When 7 MLS teams already have full ownership of thier own facilities with 4 more coming within the year, HELLO, SAVED! They can make money on the non-soccer related revenue alone, concerts etc. You think that smart businessment would be willing to plop down 70mill of personal money (LA’s was 150 mil) if they didn’t understand that the MLS business model was fullproof regardless of whether or not it ever became “mainstream”.

    But besides that MLS averaged aroun 17000 per game in attendance which put them in the top 10 of all soccer leagues in the world. And pretty close to NBA and NHL numbers. BTW for those who don’t know, no soccer league in the world fills NFL sized stadiums by the way. (only 8 home dates helps in the NFL’s case) Yet market value is determined by numerous other factors like merchandising, stadium revenue (not just the gate) and factors such as whether the team owns its own stadium, something many NHL teams envy.

    Like it or not the MLS isn’t going to fold like the NASL because the current MLS leadership are running it more like a franchised business more than a league. Beckham is here bc it takes more than a good business model to raise awareness in mainstream media, but there is a good article in the WallStreet Journal outlining the facts in my post. Look it up.

  • Unak78

    On the USL:

    MLS was created because FIFA guaranteed the US the World Cup on the condition that they established a Premier Division league. USL among other leagues (including MISL) attempted to use thier existing status to get this designation. (look up US Soccer pyramid in Wiki).

    The problem is that when FIFA indicated premier league designation it wants more than a 50 team league in smaller markets playing in 5000 seat stadiums. Ideally FIFA frowns on leagues with more than 18 teams. In the end FIFA gave the designation to the startup MLS for a number of reasons, and designated the USL to division 1 and division 2 status. In the end it was FIFA’s call, and IMO the right call. MLS has been growing by slow baby steps. Many misconstrue Beckham’s signing as a sign of desperation on behalf of the league while forgetting that the building of the Home Depot Center made that signing possible. As well the subsequent building of soccer specific stadiums will be known, by those who do the research into the MLS’s finances (like the WallStreet Journal did), as the true savior of the MLS. And this happened years ago as a true desperation move by then owner of Columbus Crew Lamar Hunt, when the team was in jeapardy of not having a venue to play in. 24 million dollars later you have the first SSS and the MLS was saved.