Major League Soccer (MLS) is the American Soccer (Football) League. In recent times, its popularity has started to rise due to the increased level of celebrity investment as seen through David Beckham’s Inter Miami, while more world-class quality players have also joined the league which includes Gonzalo Higuain. Ultimately, this has led to a 27% increase in interest for the MLS relative to 2012, while the average fan attendance has also increased by 6000.
However, MLS can still not be placed in the brackets of one of the top leagues in the world. The European leagues which include the Premier League, Bundesliga, Serie A, and LA Liga + many more have higher quality players, including a good dispersion of players in which each of the 20 sides can relatively compete.
The passion for football in Europe outmatches the love for football in America, as such, the atmospheres and fan attendances in the European Leagues are higher. Currently, MLS is ranked as the 10th most popular soccer (football) league in the world, however, there are ways in which this can be improved.
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Analysis of the MLS
The MLS’s joint-franchise-based structure ensures the profits of the season are shared between the teams. As such, per se, Inter Miami FC is not incentivized to sign Cristiano Ronaldo due to the sheer increase in shirt sales and revenue he will cause, as ultimately, this revenue will be shared. This is a major difference compared to the Premier League, or any major European league for that matter of fact.
Manchester City, one of the richest clubs in the world have their own owners and their profits are merely shared by their club. As such, the financial status of City is dependent on their own financial policies and actions, this incentivizes clubs to bring in top talent and gather money to attract top talent to play for them. This difference limits the rise of MLS as a top global soccer league.
The other issue with MLS is that it follows the trademark style of American sport. In American sport, high school and college levels are used to determine and gauge the best young prospects in the country. The SuperDraft in the MLS ensures their league works a similar way, however, in Europe, the clubs set up academies that start from levels as young as U8’s to ensure players are being developed constantly through access to top-quality training facilities and coaches.
In MLS, the independence of the high school and college sector to the MLS ensures that young talents aren’t flowing regularly through the system which also limits the reach of the MLS as football fans around the world love tuning into a young talent, as was the case when players like Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland rose to fame.
Another issue with the MLS is the absence of a tier system. In England, the tier system works in this manner: Premier League (highest division), Championship (2nd highest division), League One (3rd highest division). While, in previous years it may have been logistically impossible for MLS to pull off a division system, the rise of interest in soccer in the US needs to be taken advantage of through creating new teams.
The advantages of a division system are that the club is incentivized to recruit top-quality players, improve facilities to maximize the performance of the team in a bid to stay in the highest division. As such, a division system would improve the competitiveness of the MLS as a result of higher quality players, coaches, and facilities.
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Ultimately, for the MLS to rank higher as one of the best football leagues in the world- it must improve its player talent and franchise system. Transitioning to an owner-based system is quite plausible as a result of the high demand for sports investments around the world, but also in America. This system would coincide with the improvement of the quality of the players, in which, ultimately, MLS would be able to compete with the European Leagues.
The other issue is that in Europe, a lot of the soccer hype is as a result of the UEFA Champions League (UCL), while, the MLS’s similar league, the CONCACAF Champions League doesn’t attract even a close level of viewership. As such, proposals for mini-tournaments with European clubs would improve the outreach of the MLS, hence, improving how it ranks as a global football league.