Over the last several seasons, the MLS has continued to grow and draw interest within the United States. The league has continued to expand, and viewership and fan interest have steadily grown.
After signing an important new media rights deal with Apple, the league could be entering a new era. As the league hopes to continue to grow, there are still key steps to be taken to make it one of the best in the world.
Attracting Top Talent
Los Angeles FC’s recent signing of Gareth Bale continues a positive recent trend for the MLS. The league has started to attract top talent and notable players from Europe to join the MLS over the last few years.
Most of the time, these players are nearing the end of their careers. Bale, 32, could potentially see LAFC be the final club he plays for in his career. Giorgio Chiellini, who joined LAFC earlier this month, is 37 years old and is likely to retire after the end of his time in the MLS.
Despite that, this trend is still important for the sport. When David Beckham joined the LA Galaxy in 2007, it gave the league immediate recognition and credibility on the world stage. It also forced a rule change, the creation of the Designated Player Rule, to allow Beckham to play in the league.
The creation of the rule and Beckham’s move to the Galaxy is the blueprint for how the MLS can continue to grow, and LAFC’s move to sign Bale and Chiellini is a natural continuation. Signing notable players, who have won Champions Leagues and other major European titles, gives the league immediate credibility, added popularity, and revenue.
Part of the issue in trying to attract these players is maintaining the balance within the league. Beckham, Bale, Chiellini, or Zlatan Ibrahimovic are players that could be out of the financial reach of some teams within the league. The current salary-cap system helps maintain the competitive balance within the MLS.
As revenues increase, both after the league’s new media rights deal and as new players bring new fans into the league, the salary cap will also increase. This will be key to helping the league continue to attract new players.
Raising the competition level by attracting players like Bale or Ibrahimovic will help MLS teams convince new international players to join, potentially earlier in their careers. This would help the league establish itself among the best in the world. The increased competition would also help young players continue to develop.
Developing Young Players
While one of the keys to increasing interest in the MLS and bettering the play on the field will be attracting players to join the league, another vital part of the process will be developing young players. This is an area where the league has already made significant steps forward.
MLS academies have improved dramatically in recent years. FC Dallas alone has seen Ricardo Pepi, Chris Richards, and Bryan Reynolds develop within their academy and then move on to clubs within Europe.
Developing young players at the academy level is the first step to creating a sustainable and highly competitive league. Reynolds, Richards, and Pepi all left the MLS, in part, because they felt their development would be furthered by playing in an international league. Despite them departing FC Dallas, there are still benefits for the club and the MLS.
As young players leave for Europe, the MLS and its’ clubs receive the transfer fees after they depart. The revenues from these transfers can be reinvested back into the league both in attracting outside talent and reinvesting back in the academy and youth systems.
In the long-term, this will lead to an increased competition level. More experienced players, signed by various MLS clubs as revenues increase, will join talented, young players developed by clubs’ academies. All of this could combine to create a more competitive league, which could grow to compete with major leagues worldwide.
The future of the MLS is exciting, and players like Bale and Chiellini joining the league, following in the footsteps of Beckham and Ibrahimovic, among others, will help the league grow. The progress and growth of Major League Soccer have been consistent and strong, and there is no reason the league shouldn’t continue to grow well into the future.