Friday, February 19, 2010

Stupid Questions Part 6a: A Quick Follow-Up to Kenn Tomasch's Answers

Yesterday I quickly brainstormed a few open questions I have about single-entity; granted, they came to me on the spot and weren't the product of a long and arduous research project.  In any case, I want to thank Kenn Tomasch for taking the time yesterday to answer my questions in the comment section.

I think Kenn paints a fairly accurate view of the sport's potential in North America.  Dreams of soccer becoming the most popular sport with the best league are likely just that for now: dreams.  I'm not convinced this will always likely be the case; it's folly to assume sporting culture will remain static, even in a place like America.  But soccer is at the bottom of a very large mountain, wearing shorts and a fanny pack.

While there is a lot to discuss among Kenn's answers, I want to focus for now on his answer to my penultimate question:
>>>And is single-entity a good platform to build wider support for soccer in North America?

That's a big one. I'm not sure it matters. Among some rabid fans/conspiracy theorists, single entity is blamed for everything but H1N1 - partially because it's trendy or easy to do so (B follows A, therefore, A caused B).

I have no doubt it's been a great platform to keep a professional Division I league alive this long. As I mentioned above, "single entity" doesn't mean as much as some would like to think it does. Cost containment has absolutely been key. The (perhaps) unintended consequence has been (arguably) too much parity. Some argue that you need a Superclub to spice things up, and MLS rules and regulations stifle that. Others say we don't want an EPL-type situation where the top four are obvious to everyone from Day 1. The answer, as with most things, lies somewhere in the middle. There's probably a way to loosen some things up so that you can create some teams that are more memorable than what some would call the "mediocrity" of what we currently have - but you're almost inevitably going to have some shockingly bad teams, and that's not good, either.

The notion that any team can potentially win is seen as a good thing by many. Others disagree. I'm not sure there's a good answer.
I want to emphatically echo Kenn's answer here.  Let me come clean: I think that the single-entity league structure is probably the best option for MLS in an unstable and soccer-unfriendly market. I very much agree with Kenn when he writes that "cost containment has absolutely been key."  But I think that critics of some of the "unintended consequences" of the league's emphasis on absolute, centralized spending parity have been unfairly blamed for wanting to overturn single-entity altogether and introduce a European-style ownership system where club investors run the whole show.

As much as Kenn is correct about the "rabid fans/conspiracy theorists" blaming single-entity for everything, there also exists the mirror image of MLS' defenders being completely deaf to any discussion about improving on the present model.  I think there are ways of rewarding clubs whose operator/investors have managed to turn a decent profit pay into the MLS pot without upending the whole thing and having the league crumble like the NASL. 

Even though some NASL backers were spending ridiculous amounts of money, like $4 million for Pele's signature (which arguably led to a sold out Giants stadium), the league died in large part because it expanded too quickly (in part because team owners wanted a piece of the centrally-distributed expansion fee).  I don't see how introducing something as simple a turnover-based team salary cap, or enacting some sort of revenue-based allocation, will end up swallowing MLS whole.  I agree with Kenn that there is a happy middle ground, and I don't think MLS is there yet. 

So why the Duane hatred from MLS single-entity proponents?  I could be wrong but as far as I know, he's not a free-spending, debt-enamoured radical; I just think he wants some openness to the idea of opening up the league to rewarding investor/owners for operating at a profit for spending a bit more on players.  Ditto many other MLS bloggers.  Single-entity, as a notion, is probably good for professional soccer in America right now, but I'm not sure there are simple final answers to every question about improving the present model. 


Elliott said...

I know I sound like a broken racist record - but you are spot on about changing sports preferences.

With the changing Hispanic population demographics, "futbol" could become one of the top sport in our lifetime. It all depends on how the NFL and MLS successfully market their product to the surging Latino base.

Brian said...

As much as Kenn is correct about the "rabid fans/conspiracy theorists" blaming single-entity for everything, there also exists the mirror image of MLS' defenders being completely deaf to any discussion about improving on the present model.

And there many more people - probably easily outnumbering those on either pole - who see shades of grey, realize the system isn't perfect, but it what we have now and don't intend to make any single moment the alleged finish line for whether MLS is successful or not.

The biggest problem I have with MLS' critics is that they often paint those who are not as critical as "apologists" and other pejorative terms when they, in fact, are just pragmatic and don't need to define themselves by how loud they can complain about the business structure of a league.

Kenn Tomasch said...

Thank you again.

I agree with you - some aspects of single entity are critical. There are very likely some tweaks that could be made. But it's a lot like alchemy - no one REALLY knows where the balance lies between getting a more exciting product (however you define that) and running yourself into bankruptcy.

Going on 15 years, I see evidence that MLS sees what has worked, sees what hasn't worked, and is willing to make some tweaks. They may be forced to make some other tweaks, depending on the CBA negotiations and how resolute the players are to force the issue.

But, no, MLS isn't perfect - far from it. There are those of us who - like Brian - see the good and the bad, think the good outweighs the bad and aren't calling for someone's head or demanding that all the changes that would suit us be made RIGHT NOW.

And for that, we are called apologists.

Duane Rollins said...


...and those of us that are calling for a slow examination of the model and moderate changes to the centralised system are called "rabid fans/conspiracy theorists." We are also accused of being hopeless, self-centred fanboys, only interested in finding a way to make our teams better.

No one listens to anyone with an opposing viewpoint.

Kenn Tomasch said...

And your point of view isn't the loudest, Duane.

I'm all for figuring out what works going forward. But I'm 99.999999% certain that you're not going to find insight from the people who are doing most of the yelling.

Richard Whittall said...

I guess that could go for BigSoccer too...