Alta o Baja?

Last year at this time, I was appalled and disgusted that the Galaxy failed to sell out its opener.  The more it stays the same, the less it changes. Or, maybe I'm wrong, and having the league's flagship fail to sell out isn't that a big a deal.  The league is committed to keeping expansion sites available - er, I mean, to having two teams in Los Angeles.  Which is entirely understandable.  But the problem isn't just Chivas USA failing to connect with its target - that was never the main problem.

I'm also a little interested to see how the two teams will/can distinguish themselves.  The LA Clippers and New York Jets, teams who not only share regions but actual stadia, market themselves as the underdog to the haughty, smug, well-established older team.  Great, except the Galaxy only have the haughty and smug part covered.  If the Galaxy and the Southern California Fighting Thompson's Gazelles are fighting over the same tiny pie, I don't think that helps the league.  And until that larger population is reached, it is a small pie.

Oh, it again looks as if the roadmap to marketing the second LA team will not be fraught with creativity. I suppose I could get all annoyed about how you and I were lied to about whether these marks were going to be part of the rebranded team...wait, hold on, I am annoyed.

Last week on the MLS Extra Time podcast, Simon Borg said no one associates the Galaxy with empty seats.  Well, I do, but more than that, the possibility shouldn't even arise.

There are people with helpful advice, though.  For example, Stefan Szymanski suggests that MLS raise player salaries.

I am reminded of the classic article "Reducing Automobile Accidents" from the Journal of Irreproducible Results,  by John L.S. Hickey.  I don't want to spoil the punch line, but the conclusions are statistically sound.

Yes, MLS owners are easily rich enough to raise the salary of every American player by almost any amount you'd care to name.  And yes, with Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley, the league literally is experimenting with the premise that fans who would not watch these players play for the league minimum will watch them as Designated Players.  The idea that simply paying a player more money makes that player better, however, is at best unproven.

The other problem, of course, is that Szymanski forgot to make the actual connection between high salaries and attendance.

He asserts, almost certainly correctly, that the more you spend, the more you tend to win.  The list of Champions League winners bears this out beautifully - since Ajax failed to repeat in 1996, there has been one finalist from outside the top four highest-spending countries - Mourinho's Porto.

So, yes, if an MLS team is going to win the UEFA Champions League, then it needs to spend a lot more on player salaries.  Great, except we were talking about attendance, not winning.  Szymanski makes a seamless transition from game attendance to TV ratings to player salaries, but it is not a transition supported by any data he chose to post.  His closing is very instructive:

National bias means that the Romanian league could never compete with MLS for the US  TV market, even though measured by spending on players it looks slightly better. But TV audiences in the US will not be attracted by a second rate product, especially when so much better fare is easily available.

About that national bias.  For those of you just joining us, MLS has been pretty explicit about tying its fortunes to the US national team.  Not only are Americans more likely to watch Americans, but MLS provides a couple of hundred spots for American players that would not otherwise exist.  Think of the league as one huge development academy for the USMNT, without the age limits.

The league isn't marketed that way, of course, but it's the difference between "Chris Wondolowski, Pretty Good Player" and "Chris Wondolowski, World Cup Hero."  It's the difference between players like Bradley and Dempsey and Donovan getting regular playing time, and having to deal with bi-annual coaching changes because those huge wage salaries we're talking about means win-right-now mentalities.

In short, it's the best way to make sure that the US will develop players that can one day command the kind of salaries Szymanski is talking about.

As I said, MLS is a process.  It's ongoing.  We're in the middle of an epic here.  And we don't know the ending.  That isn't going to sell Champions League-type hype today.  Or tomorrow.  The league isn't yet twenty years old...and anyone who was thinking in a time scale smaller than that was, and is, deluding themselves.

Also, I love that we're talking about Americans refusing to watch second-rate March.  By the way, filled in your bracket yet?

One answer would be to make MLS more competitive and induce the owners to spend more on players.

Can we simply take it for granted that spending more on players will increase ratings?  Thankfully, we actually do have an example of what happens when national bias is taken out of the equation, and high quality players given high wages is the primary marketing tool.  It lasted from 1967 to 1984.  The LA Aztecs paid Cruyff over two million dollars a year in today's money.  They averaged less than 15,000.  That was easily their best year at the gate.

Several people believe the promotion and relegation system used by most other soccer leagues in the world would do the trick. I will write another blog post looking at the pros and cons of this approach.

Jesus wept.

The pro-to-con ratio better be something out of The Longest Yard, otherwise...well, I'll give the guy a chance, I guess.

This was originally going to be a post about the CONCACAF Champions League.  I got sidetracked.

So apparently the Galaxy and Tijuana are now competing in the region for...not sure, really.  I guess, in theory, fans in San Diego.  It's also the time of year where we dream about the huge leap forward we would take if we were to win the competition, and how vital it is for international respect that we do so.  While I would be the very first to gloat if the Galaxy somehow do manage to win this thing, what I look forward to most of all is hearing the reasons why an MLS team winning CONCACAF does not, in fact, legitimize the league, but is in fact a one-time fluke.  It will be one excuse less for, shall we say, internationally-minded fans to shun MLS, but such fans will never be short of excuses.

I don't look forward to what I believe will be a near-total lack of bounce from such a triumph.  It's not the UEFA Champions League, it's a newish tournament played on weeknights run by a corrupt federation on a channel almost no one gets.  It would be a nice thing to win.  The Open Cup is also a nice thing to win.  An entertaining in-game, on-screen experience can be brought about by CONCACAF also-rans.

Unless I missed all the Pumas and America fans who switched allegiances to Monterrey these past three years.  Well, if US fans are supposed to be won over by this tournament, why not Mexican fans?  They're the ones who always win, after all.