You would think ignoring Major League Soccer would be easy. Don't watch a couple of sports cable networks that didn't exist five or ten years ago for a couple of hours in a week, and look at something else on the Internet. There, done. But apparently wide swathes of the world's press are stuck in the backseat on a long drive to Disneyland, and MLS is the kid brother won't stay behind the middle cushion.
Soccernomics was last seen suggesting that nobody watches MLS at all, and now has a cure. Oh, it's a good one, too. By the way, this was in a post, by an economist, which analyzed the benefits of promotion and relegation by including not one god-damned number.
You know what, I've earned this tangent, and I'm going to take it. Everyone from reporters to economists to mouth-breathing social lepers parrot this "good for fans, good for competition" idiocy as if it was revealed gospel. The guy who co-wrote "Soccernomics," a book I remember reviewing in a blistering fashion, took weeks on a promotion and relegation post and came up with this:
Promotion and relegation (P&R) promotes intense competition at all levels of the league. This contrasts with the American closed league model which MLS has adopted, which creates meaningful competition at the top. There are pros and cons to each system. P&R promotes competition, creates opportunities for small teams and cities to compete at the highest level and ensures that all teams are committed to the end of the season. The closed system provides incentives for leagues to encourage competitive balance and incentives to invest in better quality stadiums (albeit at the expense of taxpayers). Broadly, P&R undermines profitability, so is very bad if you are a businessman trying to make money.
Generally speaking anything that promotes competition is good for consumers – so the fans probably benefit overall from P&R. Some people say that Europeans could not live with a closed system and Americans could not live with P&R. That is nonsense – it’s like saying that an American can’t learn French or a Frenchman learn English. Indeed, if you changed the system then kids would adopt it in a heartbeat, in the same way that they learn new languages. And while middle aged men like me do most of the talking about sports, it’s the kids who define the future of the sport.
Promotion and relegation has promoted so much competition in Spain that they have had nine separate champions, ever. Two of those clubs have combined for fifty-four titles. If Atletico wins the title this season, that will mean the championship has left Real or Barcelona for the fifth time in thirty years. Scotland - eh, too easy. There have been as many different English champions as there have been World Series winners - 23. Except the Football League had a 22 year head start, and for a long time there were only 16 major league teams, but other than that. There have been 16 different champions of Italy, and 19 different Super Bowl winners. But the Super Bowl has been around since 1898, while the Italian championship has only been awarded since 1967, so...oh, wait, no, other way around. Meanwhile, German football has been a citadel of equality and opportunity by European standards. The Bundesliga has been around since 1963, and they've had twelve different champions. And more than half the time, it hasn't even been Bayern Munich. The NBA has been around since 1950, and has been known to have a dynasty or two along the way - yet they've managed to crown 15 different teams since 1963. (Sorry for ignoring you, Sacramento and Atlanta fans, but I don't think you were following your teams when they won in the 50's, what with them being two or three moves away from their current home at the time.) There's a word for the theory that Boston Red Sox fans, after Bobby Valentine crapped up the AL East in 2012, would have preferred AAA ball to winning the World Series in 2013, and that word is "wrong."
These aren't state secrets. This wasn't hard to look up. Wikipedia is there for those who don't trust RSSSF or league websites. But for some god-damned reason, a god-damned professor of god-damned economics can say "promotion and relegation promotes competition" and not get laughed out of the god-damned room.
Okay, back to the topic. Because that wasn't even the really stupid part of Szymanski's post.
I think the only way around this conundrum is for MLS to become a minor league for Europe and for European teams to buy up MLS franchises. European teams already employ the talent that would make MLS attractive and the big clubs have more talent than they put on the field. Manchester City’s acquisition of the new New York City FC franchise is surely a logical step. Of course, European teams could just loan players to MLS in the same way that they do in Europe, but then there’s the worry that the borrower will not take good care of the asset.
Following this model, Americans would get to see a better quality of soccer in the US, while European clubs would cement their global dominance.
Forget the Chivas USA example for a second, because Szymanski clearly did. You would think money-laundering thugs like Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan and Stan Kroenke explored the possibility of naming their teams explicitly after their bigger Premiership holding. But it's not Manchester City USA or Rocky Mountain Arsenal. For some reason, the guys who actually spend the money on this stuff decided it was a better idea to market their teams with local names. "Hm, must be a reason for that," Szymanski didn't say to himself.
And it's not as if there hasn't been an example of how minor leagues have worked ever since Branch Rickey. If the idea is to get exposure and talent, then the minor league system is the precise opposite way to go. What kind of television deal does your local minor league baseball team have? Mine is on radio only. Who's the best player on your local minor league baseball team? If he's any damn good, he's not going to be on your local team very long.
It's also not as if there hasn't been an experiment where the country's top soccer teams were stocked primarily with well-paid foreigners and a few token Americans, either. I forget how that turned out.
Are all economists like this? Taking ill-informed assumptions and making suggestions that have already failed? Because it would explain a lot about this country.
If the premise is that MLS teams need subsidizing to sign players and stay afloat, then fine, be a farm team for a big European club. Minor league is better than no league. But since MLS is expanding, not contracting, I don't see the emergency.
Which brings us to Deadspin again, last seen saying MLS should be scrubbed from our collective conscious. Well, that's a perfectly valid opinion. It's just not an opinion that's conducive to covering the league, which Deadspin seems to also want to do.
Now, there are two ways you can go when you address MLS expansion after saying the league should be shunned. If you lament MLS expansion because, crap, more MLS, then that's fine. It's a lot like complaining about there being yet another season of Venture Brothers - you have to go out of your way to know it's happening at all, and complaining about it only annoys its fans. But at least that's a consistent point of view.
If, however, Deadspin is claiming that MLS expansion is bad for MLS, then one would have to question their sincerity as well as their priorities. Surprise, that's the way they're going.
They use the talent dilution argument, which by now we can all demolish in a couple of sentences. More Americans playing, coaching and even refereeing soccer increases the talent pool, provides more opportunities, and improves our sport. Wait, I'm sorry, that was one sentence...plus this one apologizing for not including Canada.
Yeah, expansion destroys the talent pool. That's why LeBron James is so much worse than George Mikan was. This is why NFL players are so much slower and weaker these days. It's why the NHL was better with six teams. And look at it the other direction - there are way, way fewer big-time boxing matches these days, but boy, the quality has gone through the roof!
Or you can look at MLS, god forbid. I loved the 90's, sure, but most of today's MLS teams beat their forebears pretty comfortably - DC United is the only obvious exception, since no one can know what the Tampa Bay Mutiny would look like today. It's almost as if expansion attracts more fans, which means more money, which is better for the league.
There must be something about MLS that makes its critics take leave of their faculties. Bill Archer was nice enough to forward this along to me - the Top Ten Reasons MLS will not reach the level of the NFL.
The author is a coach and ref, but not a professional sports journalist or economist - so his errors aren't as egregious as those of Soccernomics or Deadspin. And it's not the Sunday Sport, so the link is work-safe - no boobs or articles about World War II fighters discovered on the moon.
And while it is clearly meant to draw the ire of MLSites such as myself, it is useful in one respect - further proof that the word "razzmatazz" is now only and exclusively used by foreign writers to describe the NASL. In much the same way, "beverage" is only found on menus, and "cheeky" is now invariably, but only, used to describe backheels.
But the article's premise is typical of MLS-phobes. If Satan were to offer Don Garber his soul in exchange for MLS being one-fifth the size of the NFL, or the Premiership - well, for all I know, that deal has already been done. Yet for some reason, internationally-minded fans can't imagine why someone would watch a local team. Mr. Hemmins even brings up NCAA football, which is a precise model of how teams with lower-level talent can draw more than enough fans to thrive. MLS isn't going to draw on the same loyalty base as American universities, but it's not impossible to provide atmosphere and entertainment without tippity-top talent - and maybe someday MLS can pay players as much as college football can.
The other thing I noticed is that Mr. Hemmins does not live in the United States, and does not write for an American website...so, um, what do Mr. Hemmins or his readers care about MLS - or, for that matter, the NFL? He's not telling us the KHL will never compete with the NHL, or helpfully pointing out the ways that Japanese baseball falls short.
And these are the kinds of people who are going to be won over if and when Kansas City ever beats Cruz Azul? Dream on.
By the way, I heard a wacky theory the other day that it was possible to follow more than one league at a time. I laughed and laughed. What next, someone following college AND pro football? Because they like the sport or something? What will they come up with next - an NBA owner who hates black people?