Times Red Cards the Sounders Beat

January 22, 2017

A couple of weeks ago, The Seattle Times Sounders beat reporter Matt Pentz announced that his position had been eliminated as part of wider cuts at the Times.  This followed on the heels of a similar situation last summer for Don Ruiz at the Tacoma News Tribune.  So just like the that, the two major daily papers in the region eliminated the position of Sounders beat reporter within a handful of months.

It’s not a great look for the papers, who are struggling to survive.  Nor for the Sounders or MLS, who appear to be not important enough to have beat reporters covering their defending champion.  As Seth Vertelney of GOAL.com notes, it’s part of a wider trend in the league:

There is an air of legitimacy that daily newspaper coverage still provides to an MLS team. When MLS news is pushed off the pages of major metropolitan periodicals and onto websites with more niche followings, it sends a message to those casual fans: MLS isn’t big-time quite yet.

That’s the message the Seattle Times is sending, whether it’s intended or not. In Seattle, the Sounders are big-time though, so a larger swath of the readership suffers there when Pentz and Ruiz leave the beat.

Just as he relates, the loss of newspaper reporters is in some cases being picked up by coverage from blogs, local websites and team sites.  And this is happening in other sports as well.  It’s a trend that doesn’t look like it’s going to reverse itself anytime soon.

It’ll create some new opportunities, though undoubtedly the casual fan who depends on the local daily will lose out.  Certainly this will be the case in Seattle, where local sports talk radio, another avenue of casual fans, mostly neglects the club.  And a less informed fan, or potential fan, is a loss for the team and league as well.


Sounders Valuation Again Tops Forbes List

September 29, 2016

The Sounders once again topped Forbes’ MLS valuation list.  According to the magazine, the club’s value increased from $245M to $285M over the last year.  As with last year, Forbes bases the valuations on a multiple of assumed revenue.  It’s not the clearest way to value a team, as a multiple of operating profit would be preferable.  But in Forbes defense, MLS financial figures are not easily found.

Still, it’s a bit hard to believe the Sounders are worth more than any of the New York or Los Angeles franchises.  With MLS even more of a socialist model than the NFL, one would expect valuations to roughly equate to market size, as with the NFL minus some unique exceptions (Cowboys, Packers, Steelers, etc).  But MLS clubs still have wide differences in stadium revenue generating opportunities as compared to the NFL.  So as a result, it’s quite possible that an upper middle market team could be more valuable than at least a few large market franchises.


Forbes Says Sounders’ Value Tops MLS

September 7, 2015

Forbes updated their biannual valuations of MLS clubs recently.  The Sounders topped the list at $245M and were followed by the Galaxy and Dynamo, both also at $200M or higher.  The Sounders’ valuation looks like a pretty good return given the reported $30M expansion fee the owners paid in 2007.  That, of course, does not account for how much the owners have contributed over the years.

There’s no discussion as to what’s included in the calculation of valuations.  While the Sounders lead the league in attendance, the value of items such as sponsorships,  media rights deals and SUM equity arrangements are not really known.  It’s completely reasonable to believe the Sounders are amongst the most valuable franchises in the league, but takes a bit of a leap to see them rank ahead of the likes of teams from New York, Los Angeles or Toronto.

Expand MLS South. No Farther South

July 30, 2013

Major League Soccer has a laundry list of initiatives with an aim to becoming one of the top leagues in the world by 2022.  While the league can make progress towards these, eh hem, goals organically, another way to do this would be to incorporate a handful of Liga MX’s big clubs into MLS as part of the league’s next growth stage.  U.S. and Mexican soccer (and by association, Canadian soccer) are joined at the hip in many ways, whether the fans of these rivals choose to acknowledge it or not.  Pick the relationship angle: the fans themselves, players, national teams, clubs, leagues, sponsors, TV, SUM, the economic engines of CONCACAF, the desire to lift CONCACAF’s profile outside the region…and there are probably more.  They all jumps borders.

Soccer is the most global of sports.  And even some of the biggest clubs in the most popular leagues in the world are owned by foreigners who sign foreign players.  The pleas to keep domestic leagues the province of domestic players plying their trade for domestic ownership is really a relic of the past.  The sport is better now.  Domestic leagues, stopped at borders in the name of preserving the development of national teams, are amongst the last remnants of this thinking.  The clubs of North America can take the lead in propelling this next phase forward.

The obstacles to a league (call it MLS, call it the…NASL…no don’t, call it whatever) combining the top clubs from Canada, Mexico and the U.S.  are many.  FIFA won’t allow it.  MLS has its single-entity structure.  Liga MX is a wealthier league.  The clubs play different seasons.  Player acquisition strategies are dissimilar.  The U.S. and Canadian dollars are too different from the Mexican peso.  Mexico is too different from its northern neighbors.  These are just some of them. But if a handful of Liga MX owners wanted to volunteer their clubs for the project (at the invitation of MLS), received FMF backing and combined this with Canadian and U.S. soccer federation and club ownership support, this group could lobby CONCACAF on the merits.  With CONCACAF backing, FIFA, while unpredictable, would be wise to get out of the way.  The other issues could be worked through.  I might eventually follow up with a separate post on suggestions how.

Call it crazy.  Call it impossible.  Call it expansion 3.0.  The league’s early clubs were brand new, essentially created from scratch.  The next, and mostly successful phase of expansion (2.0) involved the not-quite-promotion of USL clubs who also brought with them some semblance of an organizational structure, along with some fans.  We know these as the Sounders, Timbers, Whitecaps and Impact.  Inviting existing Liga MX clubs into MLS would be the next extension up the “expansion” ladder.  The clubs would join with legions of supporters, history and fine-tuned soccer operations.  Ideally, MLS would welcome, say, six Liga MX teams into the family forming their own division, which would be part of a twenty-four team league.   Yes, I’m presuming a few MLS teams may not want to participate in such an expanded league yet.

There are numerous reasons this makes sense for MLS, and they all hit on the league’s growth initiatives.  Let’s say three of the invited clubs are America, Chivas and F.C. Monterrey.  You’d be adding the largest market in North America, Mexico City, and two others in the top twenty with Guadalajara and Monterrey.  With MLS TV contracts expiring at the end of 2014, the addition of Mexican clubs expands the league’s TV audience into Mexico.  Adding such a large soccer market should help ratings, which in turn should help bump up advertising rates.  And with many Mexican clubs having fans in cities such as Los Angeles, Houston and Chicago, the visiting club supporter’s section should liven up the match atmosphere.  Attendance is then not only helped by these visiting team supporters, but it makes for a better viewing experience on TV, theoretically aiding in ratings.

MLS clubs also benefit by the immediate uptick in level of play.  CONCACAF Champions League play has demonstrated that while MLS clubs have closed the gap on their Liga MX peers, a gap still exists.  MLS players would gain by playing in a different type of environment in Mexico, and against top players.  This would help the development of national team players, who must get comfortable playing in challenging atmospheres and against the best competition possible.  Lastly, it’s easier for MLS clubs to expand their brands into Mexico when Mexican clubs are part of their league.  The awareness is at a higher level.

Why might a handful of Liga MX clubs want to separate from their league to join their northern neighbors?  Rather than continue to play clubs from modest sized Mexican markets, they might see the potential of taking their clubs into a league that includes the large markets of the U.S. and Canada.  They could expand their brands to non-Hispanic fans that may not be familiar with the Mexican clubs.  As noted above, the clubs would also be playing in front of many of their own fans in select cities.  The TV revenue potential should also be greater in a North American league versus a Mexican one.   As the Mexican clubs would be coming from a position of strength, they’d be giving up the most to join a three country league.  But the economic potential of a league stretching from Montreal to Mexico City is hard to ignore.

This version of MLS would be the destination league for the top CONCACAF players who choose to play in their home region.  Combined with players from throughout the world who already call MLS and Liga MX clubs home, this league would arguably be the best of the Americas, taking MLS officials closer to their goal of having one of the top leagues in the world.  And the Sounders angle?  Well, as a fan I’d certainly be open to watching the team take on some of the top clubs in Mexico as part of regular league play than some of the less than inspiring mid to bottom table MLS clubs.  And given the growth potential of a truly North American league, the Sounders revenue potential should increase, allowing for the acquisition of better players to raise the talent level.  All in all, the value of franchise should increase.  It’s a crazy step, welcoming big Mexican clubs into MLS, but it has the potential to vault the league into a new era, while further solidifying the soccer links of the three countries.