At 19 teams and a goal of 24 in coming years, MLS in 2014 is still on a growth curve. Most of these new ownership groups are solid, and the growth is happening in markets like Orlando, New York City and Miami, where soccer should be a natural sell. Add to that solid franchises in market like Seattle, Portland and Salt Lake City, and you have a good national base. MLS set an attendance record in 2012 and came close to matching it in 2013. With more teams coming online in coming years, you can expect that attendance record to be shattered.
Even The Guardian, that bastion of British football, is taking note of MLS and its business model:
The EPL and other leagues sell shirts the world over and sign big TV deals, but largely operate close to the break-even point or in the red. Thus many top leagues, which operate without a salary cap, can sign top players because they spend more than they earn. That’s not a recipe for sustainability.
Thus, Garber’s remarks about deficits, the general view is that MLS is improving as compared to itself. It’s in good shape (especially when you compare it to, say, the old North American Soccer League). It’s expanding, TV revenue is going up and so have players’ wages. Compared to NFL or MLB in year 20, MLS would probably stack up nicely.
Of course, there’s still some causes for concern. The league took over operations of Chivas USA after buying out Jorge Vergara’s ownership share, and the TV contract — while respectable at $70 million annually — will need addressing in coming years as more MLS teams come on line. And a new players contract will need to be negotiated next year.
All in all, MLS in 2014 should be a transitional year, as new owners and new blood lay the groundwork for a more robust circuit in coming seasons.