By Iron Chef Leftovers
I almost spit out my coffee when I saw that the MLS wants to expand again and add another team in the New York City area. Here is a quote from the ever delusional MLS Prez, Don Garber:
“This market has 19 million people in the region and is soccer hungry,” said MLS commissioner Don Garber. “With the Red Bulls here, we have the opportunity for a rival — a derby, if you will — that will break through the clutter of sports teams in this market and will work on the local, national and global levels.”
Ok, sure. The market has 19 million people but it has never really embraced the MLS. The team has averaged about 75% capacity over the 3 seasons they have occupied Red Bull Arena and their average of 18,804 per game there is only slightly higher than it was at Giants Stadium. Red Bull Arena sits right on 2 mass transit lines, has easy highway access, plenty of parking and is in the middle of an area that has a high immigrant population, which usually means more soccer support. The problem that the MLS has is that those people know what good soccer looks like and the MLS isn’t it. There is a reason why you don’t see the US National team playing home games in NY/NJ during the World Cup qualifying – it turns into a virtual home game for their opponent.
That being said, is the talent level in the MLS really that good that they can dilute it down further without compromising the “quality” of the product? I don’t think they can. The season is early, but the attendance is down league-wide this year – Only DC, Montreal, Dallas and Portland have seen any increase in attendance (well technically KC also, but their average has gone up 9 per game). Even the Sounders have seen a significant drop in attendance this year. Last year they drew 66,000 for a game against Portland. This year – just a shade over 40,000.
What this is all about is money and brand. The new NY club will be owned by the Steinbrenners (of NY Yankee fame) and Sheik Mansour bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan (owner of Manchester City). Since both of these owners have very deep pockets and the MLS has very liberal rules about skirting the salary cap when it comes to foreign players, you can expect this team to be stocked with over-paid, past their prime players from Europe who have name recognition, a la David Beckham. That is not good for the long term success of the MLS and is exactly what brought down the NASL.
Considering that teams like Chivas, New England, Dallas and San Jose don’t draw well, the league might just be better served moving one of those teams to NY. Honestly, the league would probably be better served putting another team in Seattle over NY – right now, I believe the only cities that could support a second team attendance wise would be either Seattle or Portland.