MLS vs. The Big 4

by Ryan Mirabedini


As Austin Powers once said, "Allow myself to introduce myself."  My name is Ryan Mirabedini and I am the Membership Director for the Association of Luxury Suite Directors (www.ALSD.com).  Our organization facilitates the conversation for all members of the $10 billion premium seat industry.  With this position I have been fortunate enough to speak with several MLS suite directors and get the view of people that have a very direct effect on the business side of soccer.

I think Chris has established a fantastic avenue to publish content that is not easy to access for many people on the outside looking in.  He has been kind enough to extend the opportunity to add some articles to the site and I couldn't be happier to weigh in with my thoughts and I hope you find them valuable as well. 

One question I commonly ask an MLS staffer is when the MLS will make it the "Big 5" as opposed to looking up at the "Big 4 (NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB)."  This is, without a doubt, a question that they field quite often and while the answers vary to a certain degree they usually center back to the same points.

First, the MLS is still really young.  Think about any major sports league, of any country really, and evaluate them for where they were when they were 15 years old, not where they are now.  When taking this approach it truly gives perspective into how far MLS has actually come for its age.  With state-of-the-art stadiums and an increase in talent, it is quite remarkable to envision where the league might be in, say, another 15 years.  Leagues certainly do not grow at an exponential rate but if business is even doubled by then Major League Soccer will be considered a global player.

Second, it is important to realize that the youth movement brought on by MLS and World Cup ‘94 has not shown the true fruits of their labor yet.  For example, a fan that was 7 years old in 1994 would only be 24 years of age in 2011.  While this young man or woman may have been an MLS die-hard for the entire duration of the leagues existence, they are almost certainly in no professional position to make major purchasing decisions. 

As is common in professional sports, a large portion of revenue is derived from premium seating.  With that in mind, take a moment to think about who is purchasing these suites, loges, and club areas from the teams. In most instances it will end up being a company using the space to host potential and current clients, reward their employees, and create an identity in the community.  If there is any company out there with a 24 year old making investment decisions such as what suite to lease for their company, I would be more surprised than if Crawley Town had conquered Manchester United in their recent FA Cup tie.

The main point in this case is that while most current end users of premium seating would rather put their dollars towards traditional sports outlets like the aforementioned big 4, the youth of the ’94 movement will slowly being to creep into the decision making positions of these companies.  This will lead to a much greater demand and in turn will allow prices to climb therefore supplying the teams with much more capital to invest in top tier talent and facility upgrades.  At this point the league will start to really make great strides.

Lastly, maybe the league has already arrived.  David Beckham, the biggest name in the game, is playing in LA, 14 teams have, or are in the midst of building, soccer specific stadiums and the league has major TV deals with Fox Soccer and ESPN.  While I don’t think anyone will try to convince you that the MLS Cup was as exciting as the Super Bowl it can still be said that there is a major increase in exposure for the game domestically.

With the expansion into Portland, Vancouver, Montreal, and potentially New York (a second team), Major League Soccer has expressed its confidence in growth.  For anyone with the slightest passion for the world’s game, I think this is a fantastic thing to see.  While it would have been great to see the World Cup come back to the USA in 2022, it will be an even bigger testament to the league if they are succeeding without the help of the much maligned FIFA.

Once again, I thank Chris for allowing me to share my opinions with you and I would not put my name to them unless I truly stood behind what is expressed.  My main hope in sharing this information with you is that skeptics of the MLS and soccer in general will realize that the game is not only here to stay, but to grow even larger. 

 

 

Reporting on the business side of the world's game.