Thursday, September 21, 2017

Guest Post: MLS Viewership Compared to Available Seating

Recently I was on Twitter and saw Jed Kirchenwitz (FOLLOW HIM HERE) tweeting out an interesting thought process he was working through concerning how stadium capacity compared to TV viewership numbers across the "Big 5" sports in the United States. I asked him to write a guest post for this blog... and I'm really glad/thankful that he did. I would love to hear your opinion on it in the comments or on social media (Don't forget to use the #ProRelForUSA hashtag). 

MLS Viewership Compared to Available Seating
One of the big obsessions with American soccer fans are the TV ratings for MLS games.  As I was looking at these numbers recently a question came in to my mind:  What if all the “average” viewers of national MLS telecasts were to show up for games in person?  How much of the available seating would be filled?
On the surface, it probably seems like a strange question.  After all, a LOT more people can watch a game on TV than can attend a game in person.  In theory all those viewers should easily fill the available seating; perhaps they would fill it several times over.  I’m not talking about playoff and championship matches that tend to draw larger audiences either.  I was curious about the viewers of the day-to-day, regular season games.  It would seem logical to say that those regular season games are going to attract the “real fans”, those that care enough about a sport to watch whatever game is on the television at any given moment.
So the question is this:  If all the average viewers for a nationally-televised regular season MLS game showed up at the stadiums person, how full would those stadiums be?
It’s a simple equation—take the total available MLS seating and divide by the average number of viewers.  Since we’re looking at American telecasts only, I even went so far as to exclude the Canadian seating.  Let the Canadians fill their own stadiums!
Total available MLS seating capacity in America in 2016: 384,132
Average American MLS national broadcast viewership in 2016: 257,683
So, if the average American viewership of a nationally broadcast MLS game on TV showed up at American stadiums in person, they would be 67% full.  Sixty-seven percent.  In other words, MLS viewers for an average nationally televised game couldn’t even fill the seats.  
Quite literally, the same people who are going to MLS games might be the only people watching it on TV.
How does the number compare to the NFL, the king of TV sports in America? The NFL would fill their seats almost 8 times over, and that’s even with the fact that NFL stadiums are typically three to four times larger than the average MLS venue.
MLS - 0.67 to 1
NFL- 7.85 to 1
I can already hear the complaints, though.  “You can’t compare MLS to the NFL!  Nothing compares to the NFL!”
Let’s look at some deeper numbers across the “big five” sports, then.  In fact, where we can let’s break down the numbers even further.  For all sports except NFL, good numbers are available for both “mothership” broadcasts on Fox, NBC, etc. and games shown solely on cable.

2016 National Broadcast Only, 6 games
2016 All networks


2016 All Networks*


16/17 National Broadcast Only
16/17 All Networks


16/17 Broadcast Only
16/17 All Networks


2015 All Networks**
2015 Broadcast Only**

* NFL Cable broadcasts are also shown on local over-the-air affiliates, unlike other sports.  Therefore I only included the number for both cable and over-the-air broadcasts.
** MLB telecasts have become more regionalized since 2015; finding good numbers after 2015 is more difficult.
What about the trend for the current year?  MLS is two-thirds of the way through the 2017 season as of this writing.  MLS has also added two additional franchises bringing the total seating capacity to 448,527.  What has this done to the viewers-to-seats ratio?  

2017 All networks
2017 Broadcast Only, 4 games

You read that correctly.  Even though MLS added two franchises, TV viewership so far this year is essentially flat.  The viewers-to-seats ratio has actually worsened.  By this measure MLS broadcasts are actually reaching less of the American soccer market!
This is only part of the story, though.  If you only went with the numbers you see above you would assume that soccer is a distant fifth place to the traditional “big four” leagues in terms of popularity.
According to World Soccer Talk ( , and cross-referenced as much as possible through the various TV ratings reporting sites on the web, the numbers are startlingly higher for soccer in general.
  1. The total average TV audience for ALL regular season league soccer games (EPL, Liga MX, MLS, Bundesliga, and “other” leagues) is about 1,534,000.  This is almost six times larger than the average for MLS broadcasts alone.

  1. If all the average American viewers across all soccer leagues are included, the viewers to seats ratio skyrockets to 3.4 to 1.
The breakdown of viewers-to-seats, from largest to smallest, is as shown here.  For simplicity’s sake, I only used the numbers for looking across all networks, but the list would be in the same order.

2016 All Networks*


16/17 All Networks

All Soccer

All Soccer Broadcasts All Networks


16/17 All Networks


2015 All Networks**


2017 MLS Viewers-to-Seats all Networks

That’s a stunning increase and shows just how little reach into the American soccer market MLS truly has.  That’s not the 8:1 ratio of the NFL, but it is in line with the NBA and ahead of both the NHL and MLB ratings.
In the end, these numbers are just another measurement of what we already knew:  MLS is failing to capture the American Soccer market, and failing in a big way.  More importantly, these numbers also represent the huge opportunity that MLS and US Soccer are not taking advantage of.  

Perhaps what this number really gives us is the full potential that US Soccer has for growth with fans of the game.
This also brings some other thoughts to mind:  American soccer fans are clearly interested in promotion/relegation leagues.  Could AMERICAN SOCCER, by simply changing to a promotion/relegation structure, be as popular as the NBA?  And if so, shouldn’t we be clamoring for it to be implemented now?

I realize this is a simplistic view, but US Soccer is missing the true market this badly then we should be doing everything we can to take advantage of what is an obvious opportunity to truly grow the game.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

NASL files anti-trust suit in Federal Court

The NASL's press release reads:

The North American Soccer League (NASL) announced Tuesday that it has filed a federal antitrust lawsuit against the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) in Brooklyn federal court. The NASL is a men’s professional soccer league that has operated since 2010.
The NASL’s complaint alleges that the USSF has violated federal antitrust laws through its anticompetitive “Division” structure that divides men’s professional soccer for U.S.-based leagues based on arbitrary criteria that the USSF has manipulated to favor Major League Soccer (MLS), which is the commercial business partner of the USSF.  Its business arrangements include multi-million dollar media and marketing contracts with Soccer United Marketing (SUM), MLS’s marketing arm that also jointly sells and markets MLS rights combined with rights to U.S. national soccer teams operated by the USSF. 

The complaint alleges that the USSF has selectively applied and waived its divisional criteria to suppress competition from the NASL, both against MLS and against United Soccer League (USL).  For example, under the USSF’s divisional criteria, there are European clubs that have successfully operated for decades that would be considered ineligible for “Division I” or even “Division II” status due to arbitrary requirements like stadium capacity and market size. 

The complaint alleges that the USSF sought to limit competition from the NASL to MLS and USL, and now seeks to destroy the NASL by arbitrarily revoking the NASL’s “Division II” status for the upcoming 2018 season. The complaint only seeks injunctive relief against the USSF’s conduct regarding its divisional designations.

Rocco B. Commisso, Chairman of the NASL’s Board of Governors and the principal owner of the New York Cosmos, which plays its home games in Brooklyn, stated:  “The USSF left the NASL no choice except to file this lawsuit. The NASL has taken this step to protect not just the league, but also the game, fans, and everyone with a stake in the future success of professional soccer leagues based in this country.”


Some questions that USSF Presidential candidates should ask Sunil Gulati

Recently we have seen public announcement by Paul LaPointe and Steven Gans as candidates for President of USSF against the incumbent Sunil Gulati. Sunil Gulati has not been a huge fan of talking to the media over the course of the last few years.

With the help of THIS NY DAILY NEWS article we've developed a few questions that we feel that these candidates and any who hopefully join in (We are talking to you John Motta and Jerome De Bontin) should be directly asking Mr. Gulati to answer. 

-- What was your relationship with Chuck Blazer? How long did you know Mr. Blazer?

-- As president of the United States Soccer Federation, did you review and sign off on contracts between USSF and CONCACAF that were negotiated by Blazer? Were you aware of commissions paid directly or indirectly to Blazer?

-- Between the bribery scandal that led to Blazer's departure from international soccer circles in 2013 and the Justice Department's unsealing of its indictment in 2015, what did you as a FIFA and CONCACAF executive do to uncover fraud in either organization?

-- As a senior lecturer in economics at Columbia with experience working for the World Bank, how did you not notice the blatant irregularities in CONCACAF's financial reports while you were serving on the organization's executive committee?

-- Have you been questioned by the FBI, Justice Department prosecutors or other U.S. government investigators? Did you appear before or submit documents to the grand jury that handed up the FIFA indictments? Have you spoken to the Swiss authorities who are leading the FIFA investigation in their country? Is it true that you were wiretapped by the FBI during their investigation of Chuck Blazer?

-- Did you ever share office space at the Trump Tower, which was home to CONCACAF, with Chuck Blazer? Were you ever aware of allegations that Blazer used CONCACAF funds to fuel his high-flying lifestyle, including a $6,000-per-month Trump Tower apartment for his cats?

-- Why did you decline to attend the U.S. Senate committee hearing on the Justice Department's FIFA investigation on July 15? USSF chief executive officer Dan Flynn, who appeared on behalf of USSF at the hearing, claimed American soccer officials did not have any leverage to push for reform at FIFA. Do you agree with his assessment?

-- Why does USSF deal with SUM as a broker for its media rights when even MLS (the parent company of SUM) feels that dealing directly with its broadcast partners is required to have a successful partnership?

-- Is it concerning to USSF that MLS favors some teams over others when it comes to player allocation and that a sitting USSF Board Member would lie about it?

-- What are your feelings on the American Soccer United "Call For Change" reform outline?

We would love to hear what questions you want to have Sunil Gulati answer also! Let us know in the comments section below and on social media. Make sure you use the #ProRelForUSA hashtag.

Friday, September 1, 2017

30 Supporter Group coalition release a letter of support for CAS case

August 14th 2017 The Supporter Groups for Promotion and Relegation coalition released a letter of support for Miami FC and Stockade FC  in regards to their complaint filed with CAS last month.

30 supporter groups have currently signed on. This list of signatures includes several MLS SG along with SG from NASL, USL, NPSL and PDL clubs.

This coalition of supporter groups represents thousands of the most passionate fans in this country and yet another display of the rapid growth of the #ProRelForUSA movement.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Great 343 Podcast featuring Jerome De Bontin

John Pranjic has one of my favorite podcasts out right now. The 343 Podcast always features high quality guests and wonderful questions of the sort most podcasters don't ask.

This one features one of the most interesting men in US soccer at this moment, Jerome De Bontin.

I would love all of you to make sure you check this interview out.


Yes, I am in favor of Mr. De Bontin as the next USSF President. #JdBforUSSF

It is your choice.

Social movements have multiple stages... they emerge, they coalesce, they bureaucratize, and then win or lose, they run their course and end.

The #ProRelForUSA movement has grown extensively over the last few years no matter what a small group of very vocal online detractors say. The movement has moved from a few lone bold souls on Twitter not letting the issue die a silent death, to this point where owners of lower division clubs are now taking cases to CAS to try to achieve its implementation.

Without guys like Ted Westervelt would we be where we are today in this movement? I seriously doubt it. His single minded determination helped bring dozens, if not hundreds of vocal advocates on board through his direct social media actions. Without his tweet to me that said "hoping it happens isn't going to make it happen" I wouldn't have been given the spark to be the American soccer reform activist I am today.

Initially during the emergence of the promotion and relegation movement, creating conversation was more important than anything else. The topic of #ProRelForUSA was a minuscule piece of the overall conversation about American soccer. Really, the totality of the American soccer conversation wasn't even that large.

The plan for creating passionate discussion around the subject worked. It worked well. Today #ProRelForUSA and #OpenSoccer are likely the 3rd most hotly debated topic in all of American soccer right behind the #USMNT and #USWNT. Nothing stirs up consistent passionate debate like these three topics. No league. No team. No player. No coach.

One major issue with Ted and others who have continued to use his tactics on social media during this initial growth stage, is that they have also created countless enemies to the movement.

Today, is this in your face, bold, confrontational, and oftentimes abusive style still the best plan?

In mine and many others opinion it is not.

Where we are on this spectrum of social movement stages can be debated right now, but I think it is safe to say we are past the emergence stage.

These initially most important allies of the movement have now become a part of what is holding it back. The constant attacks on potential allies do nothing to move the conversation forward. The branding of potential allies as enemies does nothing but embolden their resolve to not join in the conversation.

At this point can we still call this very vocal, passionate, and outspoken subset of confrontational advocates allies?

Yes just to clarify Ted, Ben, HowsYourTouch and others out there who I didn't name but think I may be talking about them. I am talking to you.

As this movement progresses and grows. The strategy must change. If you do not grow and change with it... you are no longer allies.You are a hindrance to it.

What does this movement gain by you being an asshole/bully on Twitter?

It gains nothing.

If you want to argue with Dan Loney and the rest of the status quo'ists who are out there all day every day. Have at it.

Please just stop trying to shame, cajole, or bully potential (and in many cases, actual) allies who don't speak up often enough for you, in the manner you want, and when you want in to doing this movement your way.

Trust the facts to persuade them to speak up, when they want to speak up, how they want to speak up, and as often as they want to speak up.

Coalitions are forming. Advocacy groups are starting. Suits are being filed.

The last thing this movement needs is y'all convincing MORE allies to not speak up because you're assholes to them and others on Twitter and they don't want to be associated with you.

No one person is more important than this movement. It is your choice. 

Do you still want to be an ally or not?

Friday, August 25, 2017

New York Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch comes out in favor of #ProRelForUSA

New York Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch comes out in favor of #ProRelForUSA in an ESPNFC Boot Room interview with Taylor Twellman.

The tides are changing.

Full Deloitte Report on #ProRelForUSA

The full 2016 Deloitte Report on Promotion and Relegation in North American soccer has been released. It is a 42 page long document that makes quite a few good points. Take a few minutes and give it a read.



Is MLS a Ponzi Scheme?

Several articles have hit the internet recently asking some very serious questions about the MLS business model.

Like, is MLS a Ponzi scheme?


That business model and this financial trajectory suggests that MLS’s sea of red ink is either a loss leader or a Ponzi scheme, and it’s not always easy to tell the difference between the two until it’s too late. Several sports economists, though, aren’t optimistic


But before Cincinnati—or Charlotte, Detroit, Nashville, Phoenix, or any of the other cities bidding to join MLS—agrees to put-up public financing for a new stadium, officials there might want to take a good, hard look at the financial health of the league they are attempting to join. Because, right now, MLS resembles something a little like a Ponzi scheme

It appears politicians are doing just that very thing...

Newspaper sports writers nationwide are also starting to ask these questions in potential MLS markets... 


Major League Soccer is a lot like The Royal Nonesuch.

You may hate soccer, but this topic is important. If the city lands one of Major League Soccer’s four expansion teams, it could cost $240 million and taxpayers will be on the hook for about a third of that. And there’s no promise the league will succeed.
That wouldn’t be a reflection on San Antonio, which has proven itself to be a great soccer city, but rather on the voodoo economics of MLS.

Now economist Stephen Szymanski is hitting the airwaves of NPR asking tough questions about the MLS business model.

“That’s a fairly serious accusation since Ponzi schemes are illegal,” Szymanski said. “But what it is hard to understand is how Major League Soccer can, at the same time, say that they are losing money, and then say that they can sell franchises for $150 million each. It seems like some kind of pyramid scheme and it’s really hard to see how this is ultimately going to make money for the owners.”


Monday, August 7, 2017

Why do people argue against #ProRelForUSA?

The internet is an awesome tool. The ability to find in depth information about any and every topic, keep up with family, watch funny cat videos... and argue about #ProRelForUSA.

Every time a positive article about opening the pyramid comes out a small group of very vocal anti-reform activists start their "it will never happen", "the owners will never agree to it", and the other standard status quo supporting Tweets and comment section activities.

I just want to know why?

We all know the system is broken. It is not delivering the results we want economically, developmentally, or socially. What makes you want to defend this system?

We know soccer is not going to go away if the system changes. Period.

People are still going to go to games.

Leagues are still going to exist.

Teams are still going to populate those leagues.

Soccer is still going to be on TV.

Kids are still going to be able to play on Saturday mornings.

Is fear really driving this side of the conversation? They aren't arguing for their version of change. They aren't arguing for a different set of big and bold reforms. They are arguing for a continuation of what we have now. Now I have read, just like I'm sure you have, all the nefarious "paid shill" comments that are often thrown about concerning media members who are supposedly on the take from MLS/SUM. I just don't believe that. At some point somebody would stop getting paid and they would write an expose about it. I feel that after 20+ years of buying off the media it would have happened by now. Without getting paid I just struggle to find any reason why regular people (not MLS owners) are so invested in defending the status quo other than fear of the unknown and what will happen after the change to an open pyramid.

From talking to hundreds of #ProRelForUSA activists over the last few years I think it is safe to say hope and positivity are driving the other side of the conversation. The hope that the United States can become a world soccer power and the positivity of thought needed to look for and support big and bold solutions, even ones that may be scary.

I for one am glad people like Ricardo Silva and Dennis Crowley are stepping up and attempting to make these big and bold reforms to the system. Am I worried that the transition may be bumpy? Sure... who wouldn't be? But what I am, is confident. Confident that in the long run this is what is necessary. That in the long run, this is going to lead our nation to being one of the best nations in the world at soccer with a vibrant league system existing in every community in the country. You just have to open your mind up to the possibilities out there... the big and bold ideas of radical change.

One side driven by the fear of change.

One side driven by a hope for a better future for this game we all love.

Continue to speak up for #ProRelForUSA. 88% of us want to see it. Don't let the 12% shout you down because they are scared of change.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Promotion Relegation and the Stadium Scam - Jake Steinberg Guest Post

(Note: Today's guest author Jake Steinberg wrote a great piece featured by the Economist make sure you READ IT HERE)

Promotion Relegation and the Stadium Scam             

Advocates for promotion and relegation in the United States spend a lot of time debunking speculative defenses of the existing order. One of the more common tropes is MLS simply won’t allow it to happen. I don’t have a ton of patience for that argument—for one thing, it’s self-fulfilling and thus uninteresting—but at least one part of it needs to be taken seriously. Because while pro/rel advocates can point to the fact that it’s not entirely MLS’s decision, it is obvious that pro/rel would be easier to achieve if MLS agreed to it.

    Others have pointed out reasons why MLS is unlikely to be a full-throated pro/rel backer but the point of this post is not to wade into the general morass of that question or to examine the ability or general willingness of monopolistic entities to give up control, but instead to highlight a particular reason why MLS fights against pro/rel, which also happens to be a very good argument in favor of an open system. MLS wants to expand its access to the lucrative stadium scam that the four major sports (1), particularly the NFL and MLB, have been running for years, and it can only do that if it remains a closed league. 

Everyone knows that stadiums (2) are a bad deal for municipalities. Teams usually trot out the same shill to defend their deals, but virtually every serious source that has addressed the topic has found that these deals are bad for cities. The owners, like all snake-oil salesmen, push grandiose promises about the benefits of a new stadium, and the motivated thinkers in the political class lap them up like homeopathic remedies, despite all available evidence. Even leaving aside the impropriety of handing massive tax breaks and subsidies to some of the richest people and entities in the world, heavily subsidized sports arenas are just, on balance, not good deals for their locations. 

It’s clear why a league and its owners want tax breaks and subsidies and it’s not a huge mystery why politicians keep giving them out: they want to keep their teams or attract teams from other cities. (3) Knowing this, teams demand increasingly lavish benefits from cities and threaten to pull up stakes and move somewhere else if they don’t get their way. This has most recently affected fans of the Oakland (soon-to-be Las Vegas) Raiders, (4) but it’s also been pulled by the St. Louis (formerly and currently Los Angeles) Rams, (5) Texas Rangers, and Milwaukee Bucks. (6)

Here’s the catch: this extortionist swindle only works if there is a credible threat to leave, and there is only a credible threat to leave when you artificially constrain the number of teams that have access to the top division. As long as cities are permanently frozen out of the top division absent expansion or taking a team from elsewhere, some of those cities will be willing to heavily subsidize the construction of stadiums. 

An open system changes this dynamic. If you have an open system, teams will invest in accordance with what their market can bear. (7) If supporters have a hope that their club can one day enter the top division, those fans aren’t likely to trade in their existing loyalties for a shiny new MLS club. (8) In other words, they won’t need to approve massive expenditures to lure a team from elsewhere if they can help build up an existing team in their own market, which would eliminate the threat to move. And taking away the threat to move means that those municipalities have a much better negotiating position against their existing teams. Simply, without the threat to move, teams would not be able to shake down cities for lucrative public expenditures. 

    The MLS apologists will say that this impedes the growth of the game, because it hinders investment in top-flight facilities. That is only true if you think that the burden of creating those facilities should be with the public fisc, rather than the owners and governing structures of US Soccer. Even to the extent that owners would pass along costs to supporters, it is far more equitable for those of us who either like soccer or who stand to profit from it to bear the majority of those costs. Moreover, shifting the burden of these costs onto owners in an open system would match stadium investment to a club’s ambition. 

    MLS  has already taken advantage of public financing for stadiums, like the white elephant of Bridgeview, Illinois, where the Chicago Fire play. The league wants more of this money. Don Garber has explicitly said as much, defending the closed league by asking: “What do you tell a municipality who invests in a public stadium and expects to have the revenue streams that come from being in the First Division?” That question is dishonest in two ways. First, it assumes that the municipality will see revenues from the stadium, which is demonstrably false, as stadiums tend to cost cities money and generate small or no extrinsic economic advantages, while owners capture whatever benefits there are. Second, it is question-begging, insofar as it presumes that leagues should be deciding which cities are worthy of a top-division club, rather than having the market determine what an appropriate level of investment would be for a given city. 

Garber’s argument makes another dubious assumption: that there will be the same level of interest in the lower divisions in an open system as there is now. It’s fair to point out that average division 2 attendance (especially when we leave out the occasional outliers on the high side, like FC Cincinnati, and the low end, like the MLS2 squads) wouldn’t justify stadium construction on the scale that a top-division league deserves. But is there anyone who seriously doubts that interest in the second division would be higher if there were promotion? 

    Franchises threatening to leave their homes unless the taxpayers buy them a shiny new stadium has become a familiar story. It’s also easy to understand why politicians and voters still fall for the threat; no one wants to lose their access to the highest level of play in the country. An open system would eliminate this threat and the lucrative subsidies teams can extract with it,  which is why MLS will continue to fight for its closed system.

-Jake Steinberg is the chairperson of San Francisco City FC's members' board. His work on soccer has also appeared on The Economist's Game Theory blog. He sporadically tweets, mostly about SF City but occasionally about basketball, law, and his dog under the handle @SFJoachim

1. Culturally, I think you could probably argue that soccer is already a bigger deal than hockey in much of the country. Regardless, when people use the phrase “big four” in reference to sports in the US, they typically exclude MLS. 

2. Yes, I know the plural of “stadium” should be “stadia.” Stop being so pretentious. 

3. You could make this story more complicated and talk about politicians reflecting constituent demand, wanting legacy projects, and simple corruption, but for our purposes, these all amount to the same thing, wanting their team to stay put or wanting to attract a team from another city. 

4. Ironically, Major League Baseball’s antitrust exemption has helped keep the A’s in Oakland

5. The Rams are a particularly egregious example, because they pulled this scam twice, once convincing St. Louis to build them a stadium, and then, while the citizens of St. Louis still owed millions on the stadium, moved back to Los Angeles when St. Louis refused to build them a new one. The Rams defended the move by claiming the team didn’t take public money in LA, conveniently omitting the millions in tax breaks they got. The Rams owner, Stan Kroenke, became the majority owner of Arsenal sometime after the club built Emirates Stadium with no public money. He also owns the Colorado Rapids and if you don’t think he intends to pull this again, then I have a soccer-specific stadium to sell you. 

6. These teams all made explicit threats to leave, but even teams that haven’t done that have the implicit threat that they will relocate. 

7. Public financing of stadiums occasionally happens in open systems, but it’s less frequent, and usually requires some other catalyst, like an Olympics hosting bid. Even then it can be controversial. West Ham’s stadium deal, which was a much better deal (at least on paper) for taxpayers than the typical American one, still led to a government inquiry and public outrage.

8. I don’t know that it is fair to blame fans, particularly less obsessive ones, for preferring the highest level of play available to them, even if I also think that pro/rel would raise that level of play across the country. That said, I hope the people of Detroit ignore Dan Gilbert’s latest insult to decency and continue supporting Detroit City FC.