Those without a background knowledge of United States history might assume that the financial success of the nation has always been a given. In reality, a great deal of Americans could not connect American independence in 1783 to the great superpower it is today. In 1823, President James Monroe made a daring decree that would secure the financial success of the U.S. The Monroe Doctrine stated the United States would be a de facto protector of all nations in the Western Hemisphere. This helped secure economic relationships with Latin America and prevented European nations from interfering with U.S. economic prospects. The Monroe Doctrine is still a major factor in American foreign policy.
In some ways, the growth of soccer in the United States has led to a corollary in the Monroe Doctrine. American soccer today faces the same problem that the American economy faced in the 1800s. Competition from European markets draws some of the best soccer talent to Europe. Neymar, James Rodriguez, and many other young Latin American superstars will likely find their way to the best teams in Europe, and the European scouting network in South America is certainly deep enough to make that happen.
Last week Major League Soccer (MLS) announced another television deal, this time with the largest pay-TV company in Latin America, Globosat. Two live MLS matches per week as well as the MLS All-Star Game, half of MLS playoff matches, and MLS Cup will all be broadcast in Brazil through 2018. The value of the deal was not disclosed.
This deal may not yield high ratings considering Brazil has won more World Cups than any other nation, and MLS is not quite the highest caliber soccer available for Brazilians to watch on television. Most aspiring players have dreamt of playing at Barcelona, Chelsea, and other top European teams because of the high media exposure to these leagues through television and other media outlets around the world.
The exposure effect states people tend to like what they are exposed to most often (this is why songs on the radio often become fan favorites). MLS’ latest television deal with Globosat will increase exposure to MLS and could mean the league becomes a more attractive option for Latin American talent. Broadcasting to other Latin American nations in the future would increase exposure to MLS and possibly make it the league of choice in Central American and the Caribbean, regions where infrastructure, or lack thereof, might prevent talented players from reaching European clubs.
MLS clubs have already tapped into these smaller markets and have pulled quality talent to the league. In 2014 MLS clubs had a total of 65 players from South America on the books while 60 came from Central America and the Caribbean. These 125 Latin American players made up 21% of all MLS players in 2014, the second largest group last season. For reference, 310 Americans made up 54% of all players last season.
In 2014, the median salary of MLS players born in South America and Central America/Caribbean was $150,000 and $113,916 respectively, while the median salary of Americans was $70,000. This shows that there is strong value placed on the talent in Latin America within the league. Salaries in MLS may not be as high as they might be in Europe but there are other factors that might make MLS more competitive, such as a diverse culture that might be more comforting to players looking to play close to their home nation.
Most recently, Orlando City SC signed young Honduran national team forward Bryan Rochez. It may be a far cry from the boldness of the Monroe Doctrine but MLS still must make these inroads into Latin America if it is to achieve its desired status of one of the elite leagues in the world.
MLS, much like the United States, has not had the long-standing history that its European counterparts do. One way MLS can compete globally is by making a strong claim in the markets that are the closest geographically. Broadcasting MLS to Latin America will increase revenue, draw attention and talent to the young league, and more importantly, it can help combat European competition, just like Monroe’s Doctrine.