As a part of the Bloomberg Link Sports Business Summit in New York, a panel discussion was held to expand on the outlook of soccer in the United States, as well as the impact of American companies on the global soccer industry. Don Garber, Commissioner of Major League Soccer and Chief Executive of Soccer United Marketing SUM), Sunil Gulati, President of the United States Soccer Federation and member of the FIFA Executive Committee, and James Pallotta, Chairman and Managing Director of Raptor Group Holdings and President of AS Roma, participated in the interview.
The discussion began on the topic of the growth of Major League Soccer in its first eighteen years. Garber provided a brief history of the league and an understanding of the single-entity structure that separates MLS from other leagues around the world. He emphasized the importance of the plan and vision for MLS to be among the world’s premier leagues by 2022. Garbed stated,
It means when the world is thinking about professional soccer, Major League Soccer is a part of that conversation.
With the announcement of New York City FC earlier this year, Garber further announced that MLS plans to have 24 teams in time for the 2020 season. Garber reportedly mentioned three of the four expansion franchises are “already spoken for.” Based on recent news and reports, the three expansion cities likely include Orlando, Miami, and Atlanta. The fourth city remains unclear.
The league’s focus has been soccer specific stadiums, media contracts and fan development to “drive the ascension of a soccer nation.”
Part of that ascension is the impact outside of North America. Clubs around the globe have become stakeholders in Major League Soccer and assisted in the league’s growth and increased popularity with participation in exhibition matches and events such as the MLS All-Star Game. AS Roma, who most recently participated in the 2013 MLS All-Star Game, has become a pioneer in driving American businesses to have a global presence in the soccer industry. The relationship is mutually beneficial, simultaneously allowed AS Roma to grow its own brand internationally.
“The United States is incredibly important going forward.”
Recent agreements with Nike, the club’s kit manufacturer, and the Walt Disney Company, which AS Roma is now the company’s ‘official team’, emphasizes the impact of American ownership and investment in soccer outside the United States. Earlier this year, AS Roma hired Los Angeles-based architecture firm, Woods Bagot, to design the club’s new stadium. On the topic of stadia, Pallotta had this to say about Sporting Park in Kansas City following the MLS All-Star Game,
“We went to Kansas City, which by the way is the best facility I have ever seen in 20,000 seat stadiums.”
The relationship between AS Roma extends beyond the business partnerships and also shifts towards youth development. The academy model has become adopted throughout Major League Soccer as well as NASL and USL. AS Roma is developing a strategy to bring the club’s own model to locations throughout the United States. The latest transfers are indicative of the value created by developing players with a club’s own academy. The intent of the academies is to provide high level instruction and coaching to youth players likely outside of MLS markets.
Clubs throughout Major League Soccer have developed relationships with clubs abroad for purposes of player transfers and loans. AS Roma hopes to do the same.
The development of the game in the United States has proven that American born players have both the quality to play internationally and the interest to play domestically to improve Major League Soccer. Gulati expanded on the successes in the United States in light of the recent FIFA World Cup qualifier versus Mexico. He highlighted Michael Bradley’s story of growing up in the United States, being signed by Major League Soccer, and excelling both internationally with the United States National Team and AS Roma.
The mandate that all Major League Soccer clubs have a youth academy starting with at least the U-14 age group is in the hope to increase player development for the professional level. The latest introduction of Philadelphia Union’s Youth Academy that will provide players with training as well as an education is a step in the right direction. The central role of education in United States has led to most players not beginning their professional careers until after college whereas players abroad are more often signed at high school ages.
Player development is the first priority for the United States Soccer Federation and clubs in the United States. In order to be a top league in the world and accomplish the goal set forth by Garber and MLS for 2022, retaining world class talent is essential. The value of American players has increased dramatically and the opportunities available domestically will need to increase for players to stay. It is the substantial value created by homegrown players that will spur club improvement transfers and bring the “phenomena of player rights and transfer fees” to the United States.
View the entire interview from the Bloomberg Link Sports Business Summit below: