Soccer needs support from the US Soccer Federation

America needs now to expand the professional league system at the top of US soccer to accommodate huge growing metro markets.

America is a massive country with a huge population and it is reported that soccer is about to explode with the 2026 World Cup being hosted in North America

Today, United States Soccer Federation (USSF) claim to share an ambition to grow the world’s most popular sport in the US.  There has been a real focus in recent years on developing homegrown players instead of importing and paying for soccer pros from abroad.

Currently, the USA national team are sitting in eleventh position in the FIFA world rankings led by new stars Christian Pulisic, Giovanni Reyna, Weston McKennie, Sergiño Dest, Timothy Weah, Yunus Musah, Brenden Aaronson and Antonee Robinson.

The country’s future is very exciting but the team lack depth in quality barring the players I previously mentioned if they are ever to realistically compete against the best teams in the world. Most of the nations best players have been developed in Europe not the United States. This is a real concern that must be addressed for any real progress to be made.

For those who do not know, Major league Soccer (MLS) is the top tier of the American soccer pyramid with currently 29 clubs followed by the United Soccer League (USL) Championship, which is the second tier with currently 27 clubs. The third tier of US soccer is made up of the USL League One,  MLS NXT Pro and NISA.

There have never been enough opportunities for talented young, want-to-be professional soccer players to break into the ranks of pro sports. And, considering the size of the USA, there are not enough places for players to play at the top of the US soccer pyramid.

It is also my opinion that the MLS is about 30 years behind the English Premier League (EPL) in terms of quality and standard which could be attributed to Americas lack of professional soccer organisation between the 1930s to 1960s when the sport was in hiatus. American soccer fans have been desensitized to the notion of professional teams operating as businesses. Because almost without exception, American professional franchises began as enterprises. In Europe, however, most pro teams started out as amateur outfits, from social clubs, as factory teams. It is still in debate to many Europeans that soccer should be exploited for the express purpose of profit. They see their game as a social institution..

As of 2002, the MLS is the 7th top football league in the world in terms of revenue behind the top leagues in England, Spain, Italy, France, Brazil, and Germany. However it currently has more revenue than the top leagues in Argentina, Russia, and Mexico. 

For many, the cost of a MLS franchise is overpriced and not affordable.  It now costs a reported $325 million dollars to buy a MLS franchise. The league also reported to have lost over $1 billion dollars in 2020/21 and currently the media rights deal is only $90 million dollars a year compared to the close to $500 million dollars a year the English Premier League receives from its TV coverage in the US.  To draw in comparison the English Premier league team Southampton was sold recently for a reported deal worth around $125 million dollars and it is a member of the worlds most valuable league. In some cases, MLS teams are valued at 13 times their annual revenue. (Which, sure.) For instance, a 10 percent stake in LAFC sold in February 2020 for $70 million, valuing the club at $700 million, although Sportico now pegs it at $860 million.

Eleven of the 40 top-tier clubs in England and Italy are under American ownership, and Americans own first-division teams in France and Spain. If you count minority owners, almost half of English Premier League teams are partly controlled by Americans. Many of them believe that there is no real money to be made in the minor or independent leagues in North America, but that European clubs are undervalued and offer untapped growth and upward mobility. The USSF should be concerned these American owned groups should be investing in US Soccer not foreign leagues.

I believe it would really help US soccer develop as a whole if there was another professional organization at the top of the American soccer pyramid that challenges the MLS and on a par with a USSF division one status. I see massive growing suburbs outside major city metropolitan areas as well as huge markets in San Diego, Tampa, Detroit, Phoenix, Sacramento, Jacksonville, Las Vegas and lots more to mention. From my research the USA have over 80 metro markets with population over 750,000 people. 

To give you an example there are currently 92 professional clubs in England and over 2000 clubs that are semi professional or amateur standard. Now compare the fan base for a potential 32 team North American league. US+Canada has 360 million people. That is 11.25 million fans per team. England+Wales has 56 million people, which averages 2.8 million per EPL team.

It would also be key to see a league with relegation and promotion that brings real competitiveness to the divisions. This has created compulsive viewing for supporters challenging to stay in the league as well as teams below fighting for promotion. I cant see the MLS opening up the league because of the enormous fees taken over the years.

The popularity of the sport is gaining momentum but marketing and rapid expansion building of soccer needs driving by the USSF if they are to be considered a worthy challenger to the NFL, MLB, NBA or NHL.  According to research American football is losing popularity and parents don’t want their kids to play it because it is dangerous. However the NFL isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, but their success may have peaked.  Soccer is the most played sport in the United States and more kids actually play soccer than baseball or football. In a generation, this will start to translate into spectator interest.

My conclusion is the USSF needs to increase the industry size as a whole and build up a bigger soccer pyramid for US soccer as the industry is undeserved. Either MLS should open up the league to these markets or the USSF create an alternative division to allow the other markets to participate. 

Closing the tier one off for other markets is not in the best interest in soccer and the USSF are a non profit so they have to be extremely careful as it is illegal from them to harm economic competition.  The unrealistic franchise fees going up to a reported $500m on MLS franchise 31 as well as most clubs failing financially and not to mention the poor media interest in the MLS league. 

If the division was to expand it should allow realistic franchise entry fees that will attract investors and allow their clubs to invest more in stadiums, player development, as well as strengthen their infrastructure and financial sustainability of the clubs. For soccer to accelerate it needs to be localized and the whole franchise exclusivity has held back the game.

The USSF should strike now while the irons hot to maximize growth of the sport in their window of opportunity leading up to highest profile tournament in the world.  Its in the best interest of US soccer.

Scott “Matchmaker” Michaels

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