Posts Tagged ‘ Major League Soccer ’

MLS Crests

On a recent episode of the Bar Down podcast (iTunes/Stitcher), the guys went through all of the crests of MLS as an extension of a broader conversation on branding. Get more from them @BarDownPodcast.

As they rightly mentioned throughout the pod, MLS crests (and kits for that matter) started in the 90s and that’s not a good thing. Almost everything was bad at the outset, truly cringeworthy, and only in the last couple of years has the league started to pull out of their Tom Cruise like tailspin from Top Gun.

As a result I gave it a crack and in reviewing the badges, I was conflicted between a straight up analysis of the crest or factoring my impressions based on where the team started. Example Colorado Rapids. Really like their shield right now (probably a 7) but it’s a 9 maybe a 10 compared to its putrid predecessors. Same with the Wizards. The current one is decent as well but it’s a 12 compared to the Wiz shit show that came before it.

So here we go. Share your comments below or hit me up on twitter @AustinLong1974.

SnJvkto

Chicago Fire 9 Almost perfect. Since there’s no thing as perfection, I gave it a 9.
Colorado Rapids 7 Great color scheme, interesting design,  but get rid of the soccer ball.
Columbus Crew SC 6.5 Am liking the redesign but would get rid of SC.
D.C. United 5 Don’t like the redesign. Should have kept previous shield and updated the font.
FC Dallas 5.5 Love the shape, not sold on the steer.
Houston Dynamo 4 Meh, get rid of soccer ball to start.
LA Galaxy 7 I really like this one. At least one positive impact of Becks coming to MLS.
Montreal Impact 6 The Bar Down guys were pretty down on this on. Like the partially obscured fleur de lis. If home shirt matched the vertical stripes could go to an 8.
New England Revolution 2 The worst. Just the worst. So bad it’s now cool after 20 years.
New York City FC 7 Solid. Pretty much the only thing this club has done right so far.
New York Red Bulls 5 Red Bull logo—check. Words spelled correctly—check.
Orlando City SC 8 Really bold and totally agree that they should scrap words Orlando City. Imagine that will happen in the future.
Philadelphia Union 7 Great effort and love the snake and stars and patriotic components.
Portland Timbers 7 Evolution of this badge has been interesting. Get rid of the words Portland Timbers and could be a 9.
Real Salt Lake 5 Step up from original but either you’re a professional soccer team or a glorified AYSO super club. Pick one.
San Jose Earthquakes 5 Based on former incarnations, this is a 10. Current is tolerable and am still undecided on the faultline graphic effect.
Seattle Sounders FC 9 Class organization with a beautiful badge.
Sporting Kansas City 7 Interesting, modern, lovely shape.
Toronto FC 7 Really like some of the design elements (big T, banner, shield design)
Vancouver Whitecaps FC 9 Really love their badge. Considering previous efforts, this a 13. Reflects mountains and reflection in the water. Too bad their 2016 away shirt doesn’t quite pull this off.
Future Clubs
Atlanta United 7 Very down the middle in terms of design but love the rich, dark red (victory red to be exact) and the metallic gold.
LAFC 8 Font of the letters and wing kick ass.
Minnesota United 7 The loon image is very inconic and grey is underused color. Get rid of the words and this is a real winner. Can’t wait to see this on a 2017 MLS shirts. Wait? What?!?
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Tampa Bay Home 2000

imaging

After a sub .500 1999 season (that still included a trip to the playoffs), Tampa Bay came into the 2000 season in the reorganized Central Division, joined by the Fire, the Burn and the Crew. Powered by new Senegalese striker Mamadou Diallo’s league leading 26 goals and Carlos Valderrama’s 26 assists, the Mutiny secured second place in the Division and a first round match up with the LA Galaxy. The team did not progress and folded after the following season.

diallo

Diallo never hit those heady heights again while Valderrama left the team the next season and finished his American stint with the Colorado Rapids. Defender Joe Addo played several seasons with the Mutiny and also captained Ghana. The club picked up veteran goalkeeper Scott Garlick and Raul Diaz Arce even stopped by for a cup of coffee. Long time US international Steve Trittschuh ended his career at the club, while Steve Ralston began his career at the club in 1996, spent six years in Tampa Bay and left as the all-time leader in games played (177) and points (130).

TampaBayMutiny crest

Even though MLS had some real misfires in terms of names and colors for the original ten teams, I liked both for Tampa Bay. I also thought the club badge was sinister and sharp, although I have no idea what it had to with a mutiny.

sp-mutiny-story

The colors were billed as midnight navy, tropical blue and white and came together perfectly for the 2000 home shirt. Echoing the design brought to prominence by Dutch giants Ajax, the jersey featured a solid base marked by a contrasting color down the middle. As a big fan of navy blue kits, this one jumped out me and the light blue contrasted well with the darker blue, with the white trim adding a classy touch.

ralston

The Nike swoosh, club badge and team name were centered, which I like. Could have done without the team name across the middle and would have preferred to see the number centered (a la US jersey of the mid 90’s). Paired with navy blue shorts and socks, this strip is a highlight of the early MLS years and if I came across one on the interwebs, might have to snatch it to wear at pick up games.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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Read the rest of my Strip Club posts here and follow me on twitter @austinlong1974.

Survey of US Soccer

Every day I see articles that I would like to read. Some I get to, some I don’t. Originally I found this article because I was looking at the comparison of cities in terms of success and support. As I scrolled down to the end, I found a list of questions regarding issues in American soccer and responses from academics. The entire post is quite long but the points made by the panel got me thinking.

The American soccer fan is complex. Their support is divided not only between domestic and international soccer but also further splintered by other US sports. Furthermore, due to the size of this country, not all cities have an MLS team or one even near them, which can lead to a lack of engagement in the domestic league, noted by Charles Parrish, Assistant Professor of Sport Management at Western Carolina University, College of Business, in one of his responses. All sports in this country are fighting for fans’ entertainment dollar, with the big three of basketball, football and baseball having a huge head start. Read Andrei Markovits’ Offside: Soccer and American Exceptionalism for one view of the development of sport in the United States. TV, talent, money are all factors, and the following questions and responses provide insight and analysis.

Here are the questions and selected thoughts from the panel, including some commentary from me:

  • How do you think the emergence of competition for ESPN in the form of new all-sports networks, and the resulting U.S. television deals for major international soccer leagues, will impact the viability of MLS moving forward?
  • What are the biggest issues facing MLS today?
  • What effect will the U.S. women’s national team’s World Cup victory have on soccer fandom in America?
  • What, in your mind, makes a good soccer fan?
  • If your son or daughter were an elite youth soccer player, would you encourage them to pursue the MLS/NWSL or a premier international league?

mls cup

How do you think the emergence of competition for ESPN in the form of new all-sports networks, and the resulting U.S. television deals for major international soccer leagues, will impact the viability of MLS moving forward?

TV coverage has been slowly increasing for the league. Gone are the days when MLS would have to pay networks to present their games and the recent TV deal has provided some financial and viewing stability for fans. The deal is peanuts compared to the new EPL deal (possibly up to $13 billion over the course of the deal, or around $4.3 billion per year with international rights) but MLS is about incremental growth. The EPL didn’t bring in these huge numbers overnight and has promoted itself and delivered a desirable product. The regular Sunday slots for Friday and Sunday MLS games are a great addition and the league should also work on creating narratives that drive viewership.

In the end, the money should impact the salary cap which should get better international players younger (USMNT members like Bradley and Altidore, other stars like Giovanni Dos Santos, etc) and more well-known names. Joseph P. Little, Assistant Professor of Marketing at Grand Valley State University, Seidman College of Business said that, “Past sports research has shown that star power is what draws fans in and keeps fans.” Matthew J. Robinson, Professor of Sport Management and Director of the Sport Management Program in the Lerner College of Business and Economics at the University of Delaware, made the comparison between the NBA and European basketball with the game across the Atlantic “viewed as a lesser level than the NBA.” Totally agree as European basketball leagues have stars but the measuring stick is the NBA.

I am also hoping that bigger revenues will strengthen the middle class of MLS. While it’s great to have stars, the strength of squad is what keep teams competitive both domestically and internationally. Increasing the quality of players 6-15 is critical as teams compete on multiple fronts and deal with star players leaving for international duty.

mls shield

What are the biggest issues facing MLS today?

When asked this question, the panelists responded with a wide range of thoughts—perception of MLS being a minor league, profitability, attendance/ratings, and competition for the US fan’s sports dollar and attention.

Let’s face it, the talent level of MLS is not the same as the major European leagues and American fans can spot the difference, which Little hints at in his response. This is improving but will take time. Furthermore, Edward M. Kian, Endowed Welch-Bridgewater Chair of Sports Media at Oklahoma State University, stated that “Americans are proud and patriotic. Accordingly, we need more male American soccer stars for the sport to grow to its potential.”

Money drives the modern game and Stephen L. Shapiro, Associate Professor of Sport Management at Old Dominion University, stated that the league is losing $75 to $100 million per year. While teams are investing now for long term growth he mentions that “there is no guarantee of growth”, which could be a problem for the owners and the league. Richard Lapchick, Chair of DeVos Sport Business Management Program and Director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at University of Central Florida, keyed in on the pay structure that impacts the type of team put on the field. If teams are not competitive and star driven “the casual fan will lose interest.” Spend money to make money?

MLS ratings are improving (found this comparison on BigSoccer.com) but as Mark R. Gleim, Assistant Professor of Marketing at University of Toledo, College of Business and Innovation, says, “the league needs to boost ratings if it is truly going to benefit from an increase in networks seeking sports programming.” Putting fannies in seats is also an issue. Robinson mentions that “the average attendance for an MLS game is not far off than the average attendance for NBA and NHL games” but goes on to say that salaries need to increase to bring in better talent to attract more fans.

All of these are factors in attracting the US sports fan. Many of the panelists noted the strength of the other sports, especially American Football. Nancy Lough, Professor of Educational Psychology & Higher Education at University of Nevada, Las Vegas, College of Education, goes on to say, “There was a time when football season was clearly demarcated by the start and end of the season. Those lines are blurring, with expanded media covering all aspects of the mainstream sports seemingly non-stop. For the MLS to squeeze into this mix remains a significant challenge.” The beautiful game is seen as a niche sport, outside the sporting mainstream, and Delancy Bennett, Assistant Professor of Marketing at Clemson University, College of Business and Behavioral Science, states that the challenge for MLS “is to become this part of people’s lives and how to do it better than lacrosse, mixed martial arts and the number of other growing sports.”

WWC

What effect will the U.S. women’s national team’s World Cup victory have on soccer fandom in America?  

Since the late 1800’s, men’s soccer has started, declined, rose again, declined, came back, and gone away. Currently the men’s game is in a growth phase after a 100 years of trying and failing. 100 years. It’s still outside the mainstream and is on the fringe in terms of coverage. Couple the fringe element with women’s sport that Lough says receives as little as 2% of overall coverage from ESPN, and I just don’t see how it can compete.

Several women’s leagues have come and gone since that magic moment in the summer of 1999. Similar to the men, there has been a stop/start pattern, and while Robinson draws a comparison between the women’s leagues and the WNBA that has led to the development of international success, the women’s game is way behind the men’s game and I’m not sure if it will ever by successful. Yes lots of people, casual and hardcore, watched the Women’s World Cup Final. That’s great but will American fans support a women’s domestic league?

The response from Parrish summed up the state of play:

The U.S. women’s national team’s World Cup victory will impact soccer fandom in a similar manner to the 1999 victory and the runner-up finish in 2011. We should expect a spike in interest immediately following the tournament. Fans will fill stadiums to watch the team play exhibition matches in the hopes of catching a glimpse of this generation of heroes during the team’s nationwide victory tour. Unfortunately, this level of interest in women’s soccer will dissipate and it is unlikely fans will turn out to watch these same women compete in the National Women’s Soccer League. It is unfortunate yet we have to realize much of the interest we recently witnessed relates to feelings of nationalism and does not necessarily reflect an interest in the sport on its own. The phenomenon is comparable to gymnastics and ice skating, both of which enjoy spikes in interest every 4 years during the Olympics. Fans want to see U.S. athletes succeed yet interest is not sustainable beyond the event time frame.

supporters

What, in your mind, makes a good soccer fan?

This question elicited some interesting responses:

Little: “Three characteristics make a good sports fan from a business point of view: passion for the game and players, discretionary income to spend, and leisure time.”

Oregon: “Consistency and loyalty; not only watching the big time games that are nationally talked about but the smaller games and events as well.”

Parrish: “A good soccer fan is first and foremost both knowledgeable and passionate about the sport. Also, soccer fans tend to identify with and show high levels of loyalty towards their team or teams. Consequently, a good soccer fan is willing to support his or her team(s) whether at the top or bottom of the league.”

Kian: “A good soccer fan is someone who watches matches on television, attends some in person, and buys merchandise.”

Americans love sports and the traits mentioned above can be seen in sports fans across the country. The key is getting sports fans to bring that energy, loyalty and money to soccer and then getting them (and in some cases Eurosnobs like me) to focus on the domestic game and getting them engaged—watching, going, fantasy, etc.

youth soccer

If your son or daughter were an elite youth soccer player, would you encourage them to pursue the MLS/NWSL or a premier international league?

This is a huge, complex issue. I have spoken with coaches, fans and players and have come to the opinion that there is no one way. At this point, I would say keep playing, say yes to every opportunity whether at home or abroad and see what happens. Whether it’s being a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond, the spectrum of possibilities is wide from Michael Bradley to Jay Demerit to the recent crop of homegrown players breaking through at FC Dallas.

Little would encourage players to international teams due to the salaries, sponsorship opportunities and prestige. Lough concurs and says that “The MLS can remain an option, but all athletes and those who love them, tend to want to see them at the highest levels of their sport”, which goes back to the league’s status around the world. However Robinson takes a more positive view: “If they want to play at the highest level right now that would be international, but is great now that young kids have a professional league in the U.S. to which to aspire. That is huge. That was not there 30 years ago. Soccer in the U.S. best days are ahead.”

I have been following the game for 20 years and have seen a lot of growth. Issues still remain but the overall direction of the American game is positive. While the US Soccer pyramid is dysfunctional, there is at least a pyramid in which teams and players can find their level. The National Team has been to every World Cup since 1990 and is no longer completely in the shadow of Mexico in the region. Media coverage continues to grow and fans have more access than ever before. There is strong core of soccer fans in this country and the next step will be capturing casual fans to create sustainable, vibrant men’s and women’s leagues.

Not Inverting the Pyramid

2015_Professional_Soccer_Teams_in_USA_Canada

Recently I listened to a couple of podcasts and read several articles:

  • Jason Davis asked what the NASL is supposed do as MLS continues to grow and possible tries to pick up NASL teams interested in “moving up”.
  • Bill Archer examined how the NeoCosmos possibly caused the NASL collapse again.
  • Andrew at Boys in Rouge reposted Tom Dunmore’s article from XI Quarterly about the pure numbers game possible for Professional US soccer.
  • Two Daft Yanks interviewed Jasun Cohen, President of the Atlanta Silverbacks Alliance Council.
  • HF Atlanta Football Weekly did a podcast about the MLS structure (couldn’t find the recording on the interwebs).

These got my brain churning about several topics–the future of soccer in the ATL, the future of US club soccer and the future of MLS in terms of structure–and it is the last two topics that I would like to focus on.

nasl logo

I’ll be honest, before I moved to Atlanta, I knew nothing about the new North American Soccer League (NASL) outside of the fact that Eric Cantona was the New York Cosmos Technical Director for about five minutes. But since I am learning more about US soccer and since I was moving to a city with a NASL team, I figured I should see what was going on. So I watched a few games and highlight packages and read some articles and went to a few Silverback games once I got into town.

Looking at recent events in the NASL—the Silverbacks barely hanging on (the league stepped in and is running the team for at least one more year), Minnesota going to MLS in a couple of years, and the struggle to maintain Second Division status, I don’t think the NASL will exist in five years. With the re-launch of the league, it tried to up the ante with MLS and I really believe the league tried to force an AFL/NFL type merger with MLS, but unfortunately these efforts failed and the result will probably be the second failure of this league.

On the other hand, the United Soccer League (USL) is strengthening their position with a greater footprint and the development of MLS reserve sides or MLS partnerships. Their stability and acceptance of their place will allow them to fulfill the US Second Division slot in the long term.

As for the NPSL and USL-PDL, my guess is that US Soccer will tweak the requirements to modify what the Third Division looks like and then the two leagues will serve this role, providing soccer to regional and niche markets. I didn’t bother to look up the regulations, I just know that they exist and will be used to squeeze out the NASL.

us-soccer-pyramid

So currently the US Soccer pyramid looks like this:

USSF Division 1

Major League Soccer (MLS)

17 US clubs and 3 Canadian clubs

USSF Division 2

North American Soccer League (NASL)

9 US clubs and 2 Canadian clubs

USSF Division 3

United Soccer League (USL)

21 US clubs and 3 Canadian clubs

I imagine it will look like this:

USSF Division 1

Major League Soccer (MLS)

17 US clubs and 3 Canadian clubs

USSF Division 2

United Soccer League (USL)

21 US clubs and 3 Canadian clubs

USSF Division 3

Premier Development League (USL)                                              National Premier Soccer League (NPSL)
      63 US clubs/8 Canadian clubs                                                                         78 US clubs

That brings us to MLS. The league is in a growth phase and is slowly building towards the next benchmark, which is a 24 team league.  Totally makes sense, is reasonable at this point and time, and appears to be sustainable. A 24 team league was something I could get my head around as I can remember the days of 10 or 12 teams in MLS, but I had a guest on my podcast who said his belief was that, in the end, MLS will be a 30 to 32 team league very similar to the other major sports leagues in this country. When he uttered those words, it blew my mind. The more he talked about it and the more I saw potential markets either developing or lacking a team, I started to come around to the idea.

MLSMap2

Now how does MLS get from 24 to 32 teams? One way would be for NASL teams looking to make the jump ponying up the necessary franchise fee (Indy Eleven and New York Cosmos come to mind). Another way would be for USL teams to continue their progression up the ladder (thinking growing markets like Sacramento, Phoenix and Charlotte). There are also several top media markets without a team in MLS.

With that in mind, what would a 32 team league look like? I’m a single table guy but that will never happen, especially with this many teams. I’m a League Championship guy but that’s never going to happen either. This is America dammit. The playoff champion is the champ.

Following other American sports, I propose Western and Eastern Conferences with two eight team divisions each. Since we don’t know the teams, it’s hard to guess how they would be organized but Divisions probably something like West, Midwest, Southeast and Northeast. The schedule would be home and away against every team in your Division, and games against two of the other three Divisions on a rotating basis. This would create a 30 game schedule and allow for more flexibility in terms of summer tournaments, International friendlies and Club friendlies. (Tangent: the March International Break and recent joke friendly against Mexico really set me off but I won’t rant about it here.)

16-team-tournament-bracket

Another American phenomenon is the post season playoffs and since nearly everyone in the US is a winner and gets a participatory ribbon, half the teams would make the playoffs. Haven’t quite decided if it should be West Division 1 versus West Division 4 or West Division 1 v Midwest Division 4 or Western Conference 1 v Western Conference 8, but home and away games to produce two Conference winners who would play a one game Final at the remaining team with the highest amount of points from the regular season.

Eventually MLS will become like every other league in the US, which is fine. And AMAZING considering how many failed leagues have come before and how much ground the game has had to cover. That’s my view of Professional US soccer over the next 10 to 15 years. Am I prescient, off my rocker or maybe on the right track? Let me know what you think in the comments below.

MatchDay Memory–History of ATL Soccer (Part IV)

Recently my family moved to Atlanta to start the next chapter in our lives.  As part of settling in I started researching the history of soccer in Atlanta, expecting to focus on the Silverbacks and the new MLS team which starts play in 2017.  To my surprise I learned that soccer has been in city since the 1960’s and is full of interesting stories and characters.  So here we go . . .

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mls atl announcement

On April 16, 2014, MLS announced that Atlanta was awarded an expansion franchise.  Arthur Blank is the owner of the team, and he is building a new stadium that will house both the new soccer team and his other sporting property, the Atlanta Falcons, in downtown Atlanta.  The team has yet to be named and several names are being discussed with variations of Phoenix, birds, railroad concepts and Civil War themes coming to the surface.

mls atl banner

Darren Eales was hired as President in September 2014.  Based on the club’s press release, Eales has been involved in the game his entire life, first as a player in England and the United States and then as an executive at West Bromwich Albion and Tottenham Hotspur.  As I was finishing up this series, it was announced that Carlos Bocanegra was hired as the Technical Director. His success as a player and wide range of contacts across several countries should be an assed to the organization. According to the club website, the team will scout the world for players during 2015 and then start building the roster in 2016.  The new Atlanta team will draft in the 2017 MLS Super Draft and begin play in 2017.

What has really gotten me excited is the new stadium being built.  Arthur Blank and the Falcons are paying for most of the $1.2 billion stadium, although a portion of funds will come from an Atlanta hotel/motel tax.

atlanta-falcons-new-stadium-designs1

One of the leaders from the 360 Architecture group explained the philosophy of their proposal focusing on the retractable roof, crowd noise, the score board and embracing nature.  For the roof, the group started with the pantheon idea, the notion of a focused beam of light on the playing surface.  From there they developed a roof that opens up from the center point, allowing more and more light in.  The demonstration is quite remarkable.  Another concern for the stadium was the noise generated by fans.  Their proposal is to have a fixed part of the stadium similar to the facility in Seattle that deflects noise back on to the field.

Moving on to the scoreboard, the group wanted an experience that fans could not get at home.  Their solution is a 360 degree scoreboard that occupies the rim of the fixed structure.  Multiple cameras will be used to create a vantage point unmatched in any personal set up, while updating fans on information, scores and promotions.  Their proposal looks amazing.  Finally, there was the environmental component.  The group wanted an outdoor stadium feel with a retractable roof and came up with creative ways to generate natural ventilation and light so that fans felt they were outside, even though they were in the middle of a large structure.

New_Atlanta_Stadium_MLS_configuration

For soccer, several wrinkles have been revealed including retracting lower bowl seats to widen the field, and mechanized curtains that limits the capacity to about 29,000 and makes the stadium feel more intimate.

A website has been created that shows the construction process from breaking ground to completion plus renderings of each side of the stadium.  Imagine Lucas Oil Stadium in Indy combined with the original wow factor of the retractable roof at Sky Dome in Toronto with a sprinkling of futuristic building construction.  Pretty cool.

That’s where things stand now.  Hopefully I got all this right.  Information was very hard to track down so if you have any corrections or additional information, please tweet or email me.

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These posts are based on internet research so may be incorrect or incomplete. Please reach out to me at austinlong1974@gmail.com with any comments or corrections.

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