After Scotland were demolished 5-1 by the US national team a few discussions about the quality of the MLS ensued and it got me thinking about value for money. Obviously for the Tartan Army out in Miami it was terrible and the home crowd went wild as each goal went in. So I thought about it domestically. Do the European leagues offer better value for what you pay and how do the leagues compare financially?
It is often talked about on radio phone-ins and written about and spoken by fans that the German league is the best league. It caters for the fans, is the most profitable league , and boasts decent quality.
In terms of quality, the MLS obviously has its stars with the likes of Beckham, Donovan, or Boyd, no one will deny that. They are able to play in some big leagues and have shown just that. I would suggest that the over all quality of the league is somewhere between Championship and League 1. Now that is the average. If you take away the big star players and look at the average players I think that is the case. It would be like if you take the Old Firm from the SPL, then it would leave a playing level of close similarity.
Let’s look at ticket prices. I’ll be using Portland Timbers & Celtic as an example here. A season ticket in the North Stand where all the Timbers Army sing and bring atmosphere is $380 – which roughly works out at £243. At Celtic Park the average season ticket costs around £460, just under double the price of the Timbers. Above that the Timbers offer Reserve Team season tickets for around £19 , and at these matches there is discount offer beer and food. For one off matches reserve games cost $10/£6 and for U23 games it is $7/£4.50 and this is well advertised and they try to get as many fans through as possible. As for in Glasgow, it is rather unusual to hear about reserve games being advertised and most games are behind closed doors. They used to be free on season tickets but now the games are played at Lennoxtown, I don’t think the games are open to the public.
On my wall across from me I see a ticket for Rangers v Celtic, the price £45. A ticket that is the hottest ticket in town and to be honest, if the clubs charged double that they would still sell out. Yes it is a huge derby known around the world but when you compare it to the MLS it is very expensive. For the Cascadian derby match between Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers can see tickets vary between $13-30 (£8-19). Obviously Celtic do see a better quality on the pitch than Timbers and have a big history behind them but the Celtic fans do feel aggrieved to pay that.
It terms of sponsorship from ESPN, the MLS saw a deal of $20 million which meant each club got around £1million dollars a few years ago.  The SPL deal is around 10 times more than that and the Old Firm derby is very much the main part of that with the two getting more of the share than other clubs.
Portland Timbers current kit deal with Alaska Airlines is for $3million per annum and Celtic and Rangers have  a joint deal of $2.2 million per annum with Tennents Lager. The top MLS teams kit deals are on a par with the likes of Everton or Fiorentina and most of the MLS clubs are sponsored by local businesses. Obviously the difference in cash is there to be seen.  A lucrative TV deal could change it all for the MLS. One huge problem is that ESPN and other channels find it tough to televise the MLS because of America having so many other sports that are bigger than ‘soccer’ .  NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL are all bigger than the American Soccer game.  If the game grows, as it always is, it will get bigger and will draw more money and more fans and more viewers and bigger TV deals. Let’s remember. Scotland is a country the size of some of the smaller states in America. It doesn’t need to knock NFL off the top, it just has to grow and stand side by side with the baseball or hockey.
It has taken a long time for the MLS to make any profit but from 2007 , 3 teams made profit for the first time since the league started with a combined 7 million dollars profit. It is hardly money to go crazy about compared to the big cash of the EPL or La Liga but it is a way forward and the clubs have been doing well since then.
The one disadvantage that the MLS have on their hands is that all the big press and media outlets don’t see them as a priority or  even worthy of reporting. It is not a case of there not being enough fans or interest in the league . There is – just not on a scale comparable to the NFL or NBA. Montreal Impact played their first game in the MLS this year and got 58,912 fans through the gate and this has been closely resembled since.

Impact fans come out in numbers to support their team

Supporting a club in the MLS seems like a very good, enjoyable experience. There doesn’t seem to be many major draw backs and the only down side is that the sport is , despite always growing , still not hugely recognised in the US.
The quality of the league is attracting better players and I fully expect the MLS to be one of the most watched leagues in the next 15-20 years.

By Simon Bienkowski
@simonbien

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