Reports came out that MLS rejected a broadcasting rights deal for $4 billion for the years 2023-2033. Most reports say that MLS declined because the deal required the institution or promotion and relegation across all divisions of U.S. Soccer. I took a deeper look into the deal and here are my thoughts:
- This is about more than just promotion and relegation unlike what the media is proclaiming
- MLS is not allowed to have media rights negotiations currently since its deals with ESPN, Fox and Univision run until 2022.
- MLS would lose control of where their broadcast content appears for 10 years. Matches could be put on channels that no one receives because that channel bid the highest. No one would be able to watch and MLS would have no say in it.
- It would hurt MLS’ relationship with established networks like ESPN and FOX who have invested in the growth of the league just to be told they could no longer show games.
- This would be an international deal instead of just a domestic deal. Once again, MLS would lose control of the way the league is shown around the world.
- At the rate MLS is growing, the broadcast rights to MLS will be worth far more than the $4 billion over 10 years this deal proposed. To put it in perspective, the NFL receives 3.1 billion a year from broadcast rights. This deal would only give MLS 400 million a year, a gross underestimate based on projections.
- The media group, MP & Silva Group, own Miami FC an NASL team in the second division. Due to MLS’ agreement with David Beckham about a team in Miami, Miami FC will not be considered for an expansion spot to MLS making promotion/relegation the only way for them to get to the top flight.
- This meeting happened at the end of June and is now just coming out, potentially to discredit MLS to the gain of the Silva Group.
And finally promotion and relegation actually hurts U.S. Soccer does not grow it:
- The quality of play between the leagues is too great that it will create an effect of the same teams bouncing back and forth between the divisions. Notice the history of MLS beating up on lower division clubs
- Promotion and Relegation has led to a few teams dominating every league in the world. Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea etc. in the UK. Barcelona, Madrid in Spain. PSG in France. Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund in Germany. U.S. fans want to believe their team has a shot to win each game, and a shot to win the championship each and every year. With promotion and relegation, outside of the a few teams, realistically no other team has a shot.
- Fans do not support what they consider minor league teams. Does anyone really want to see a Triple A team in Major League Baseball? With a few exceptions, (which are being considered for acceptance into MLS through expansion) lower division teams struggle to get 5,000 people to a game much less the 15,000 that even the worst MLS teams get. Fans don’t spend money when their team is losing. If a MLS team gets demoted, their attendance would take a huge hit, likely 10,000 or more fans because no one wants to watch a sub par team.
- If a team does get promoted, it takes a while to build a following. You don’t see people running to buy season tickets after a 3 game win streak. It takes a long period of sustain interest in the team to grow the fan base.
- Fans not showing up to support a team hurts sponsorships of a team affecting their bottom line. If businesses are not getting meaningful exposure to people, they will not spend money with the team. Teams make less money, owners then do not want to invest, leading to more teams folding rather than joining the league. The amount of money being spent on players decreases lowering the level of talent on the field, hurting a team’s ability to win and grow its fan base.
Regardless of promotion and relegation, this proposal was a bad deal for MLS even if they were able to consider it. But now a disgruntled lower division owner wants to discredit the league because he won’t get what he wants. “Football purists” (eurosnobs) will continue to say that that MLS can only be legitimate if the league institutes pro/ rel when in reality the league and U.S. Soccer will have more success both on and off the field by staying the course, denying deals like this and not considering promotion and relegation for the foreseeable future.