John Nyen on illusions of the Euro game
“I am a fan of the American model. The European model cannot be sustained without new parameters, commercial parameters that allow competition, that allow revenue distribution, and that will allow talent to continue to prosper.” – Manchester City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak
The massive hypocrisy of Al Mubarak’s statement aside, the following argument continues to drone on:
“MLS isn’t as good as the Premier League in England or La Liga in Spain.”
On the base of looking at players and teams this can be considered mostly true.
MLS doesn’t have Silva, Balotelli, Messi or Suarez. The “named” players that European fans may recognize could be said to be middle of the Euro talent pool or sliding down the backside of their careers. You have former Shrewsbury Town and Port Vale striker Luke Rodgers–Rodgers’ two career stops don’t really pop off your monitor with glitz–paired up top with Thierry Henry on Red Bull New York. The LA Galaxy come at you with David Beckham playing with former Coventry City player and Trinidad & Tobago national Chris Birchall.
However, I would argue the worst possible fate to befall MLS would be turning into the Barclay’s Premier League. Hold the snickering
The Premier League in its current form is an absolute cash cow.
Revenue from the 2009-2010 season of the BPL was £$2.03B–have to call it the Barclays if we’re talking revenue, right?
Those digits outstrip any other European soccer league in terms of income. The big problem here is that this also must be evaluated alongside the debt of the Premier League during that time which was a not-so-tiday £$2.6B.
There is little doubt that when allowed to spend as much money as possible to obtain talent, any club can buy beautiful play, trophies and a world wide audience. However, the repercussions of this kind of wholesale fiscal debauchery are felt negatively up and down the tables and leagues in England to the detriment of the overall product.
Sixty percent (60%) of teams in League One have been in administration recently with almost 40% of the teams in the Championship teetering on the same fate.
During the 2009-2010 season Portsmouth was not only relegated from the Premier League but donned the dunce cap of administration with the very existence of the club in doubt.
This in and of itself can lead to disillusionment of the fan. Without a solvent team, or even a team at all… how do can can you support it? Or better, with the historical revolutions of fandom of a club building up its strength like rings of bark on a Redwood, just how easy it is for spiraling debt costs to hatchet it down is, well, scary.
Detachment at profligate spending doesn’t even address rising ticket prices. An excellent article written by David Conn illustrates the increases in ticket prices across the breadth of the Barclay’s Premier League.
“The figures from 1989-90, collated for the Labour government’s Football Task Force, show the cheapest season ticket at Anfield was just £60 and £96 at United – the equivalent prices with inflation would be £106 and £170 now – but the actual lowest-priced season tickets this season are £725 at Liverpool and £532 at Old Trafford (1,108% and 454% inflation respectively).” David Conn – The Guardian 16th August 2011
MLS must strive against such rampant financial misuse and expansion even if this means that the play that you and I see isn’t the best 11 versus best 11 in the world. MLS does have a record of financial prudence, but as the notions of increasing DPs per side and what seems like an understated push for a “Cosmos-like” franchise in the Big Apple.
The league must operate within the world of appropriate fiscal management and controlled growth to avoid pricing out fans that are (in the USA) just starting to get a feel for the beautiful game. If this means that the quality of soccer is lower than that in England or Spain than so be it. The reality is the reality and a day of reckoning is on the horizon to the East.
After the formation of the Premier League, the League Championship has only been won by a team outside of the “Big Four” once, and during that 1994-95 season Blackburn wasn’t exactly shy about spreading the money about.
Blackburn was also relegated from the Premier League four years later.
In the last seven years of the Barclay’s Premier League, the title has been won by only two teams.
During the last seven seasons for the American domestic league, the MLS Cup has been won by 6 different teams with the Supporters Shield being won by 4 different teams.
While one opinion may be the lack of dominant sides in MLS, what the reality is quite the opposite: the league’s ensurance that–almost–any team can have a chance on any given day.
What this means is that in places with good advertising, strong local connections and a good front office the support can steadily grow. In some cases this is essential, because you are not talking about a passion that is ritualistically passed down by fathers, mothers, and siblings; many times they are new fan communities that are being cultivated.
During England’s FA Cup final last season, the narrative was of a team with a lengthy history of failing to win trophies against a scrappy team that fought their way to the end–except that the narrative only works without the acknowledgment of financial numbers.
Stoke City versus Manchester City was just one of the staggering financial mismatches of the year.
Certainly it is worthwhile watching the celebrations of the long suffering City fans, finally able to watch their team lift a trophy. However, this was in reality the battle of one team which has spent £537,670,000 over the last 5 years (Manchester City) versus one team that has spent £72,725,000 over five years (Stoke). The game of soccer being what it is, Stoke was able to give City a game; but in the end, money usually wins out. TSG even acknowledged as much in their Twitter review:
Yes, it may be hard to deny that City has made many correct purchases and hires, given the lack of regulation (at the time) and the profligacy of those before them.
They managed to find good talent and an intriguing manager without an astronomical amount of failures (Robinho and Tevez aside).
However, looking at the organization as an outsider to the city, this team seems like a pleasantly distant alien that is slightly divorced from the Manchester City of old and rewriting the identity (for better and worse) of what City means.
For all of the issues with the Premier League, La Liga is in worse straits.
With the hegemonic financial domination of Barcelona and Madrid the league has settled into a big two…. and everyone else. Before you object with Malaga, just realize how they got to where they are today. It may be three in a year or so, but for now it’s two.
In the last 10 years of La Liga play only one team has cracked the Barcelona and Real Madrid domination, that team Valencia. This year all three promoted teams in La Liga came up in administration. Are we shaking the UEFA tree yet?
At one point there were 11, pause,…. 11! different teams between the two Spanish divisions in administration. With the free to negotiate, every team for itself rules control of La Lika, the revenue has become so lopsided as to be laughable. Real Madrid and Barcelona got about half of the €650 million television rights while teams like Getafe received about €6 million.
Solidifying the theme, take a gander at the knockout round play in the UEFA champions league. It’s a celebration financial well-being as much as talent.
The last outlier final in that competition was seven years ago, Porto versus Monaco. Winning the Champions league that year essentially doomed Porto the next year as they were raided again by teams with money for players (Paulo Ferreira, Ricardo Carvalho, Deco) and their coach (Jose Mourinho). The following year they finished second, were knocked out of all sanctioned competitions and scored only 39 league goals on the season.
Soccer has existed in North America for well over a hundred years in many different organizational varieties, from the semi-pro and journeyman teams such as New York Thistle (founded 1895), and Kearny AC (1897) to the ever popular Bethleham Steel FC (1917) and the Harrison Alley Boys (1915).
However, the nadir of many peoples popular thought is the NASL of 1968 to 1984.
During the height of the NASL the Cosmos sold over 73,000 tickets to their championship game. The league was untenable though and due to high wages, over expansion and financial mismanagement the NASL eventually folded with the 1984 title ensconced in the hands of the Chicago Sting.
This lesson in financial misappropriation has lead to strict controls of finances in North America for MLS.
These controls have attempted to ensure that the league is still around rather than giving free reign to some team to spend themselves out of the league. As well as controlling the level of spending, the financial controls have dictated a slower growth in the style and essence of the league.
Teams are having to scout for less expensive talent in South America, Africa, Europe, Canada, and the United States leading to a meld of different kinds of playing styles. This consistency and growth over 15 years of league play combined with financial controls on teams has lead to a parity that gives almost any team with decent management and good luck a chance at winning. Now all of this isn’t to say that MLS is a perfect organization or that it is above reproach. This is also not to say that there aren’t cheap soccer front offices–Chivas USA–who use the salary cap and financial constraints as an excuse to put out an inferior product.
However, the history of soccer in North America has slowly indicated that stability and viability of a league is far more important than having the highest paid players. The greatest team in the world is nothing if it doesn’t have a league in which to play.
MLS should not be abandoned to the staid formulaic consistency of La Liga or the Barclay’s Premier League just to allow high wages and “beautiful play”. The growth of MLS has shown that soccer fans here do not only need “The Best” or “The Elite”, but instead they need a team to call their own. Hopefully, MLS shall remain first and foremost a league for the fans. Soccer in North America cannot afford reckless financial abandon, teams in bankruptcy and the detachment of fans.