MLS is going to expand; it plans to add four new teams. The sport has achieved stability and has grown its audience slowly but steadily over the last 15 years. MLS Commissioner, Don Garber, has probably done the best job of any sports commissioner in the US over the past decade given what the league was when he started and where it is now. It is because of the positive track record Garber has amassed that I will only shake my head in wonderment about the details of the expansion plan. On the surface, it looks like a bad move.
Three of the four expansion franchises will be in Atlanta, Miami and Orlando. MLS has already had two teams in Florida that had to fold – one in Miami and the other in Tampa. It is not as if all of this is “virgin territory”.
As I said, I will wait and see about that plan because Garber has been shrewd in his decisions to date but my first reaction is that this makes as much sense as the NHL decision to sprinkle teams all over the Sun Belt. [Aside: There have been 2 NHL franchises that have abandoned Atlanta and the NHL franchise in Miami is not exactly a “hot ticket”] Here is what MLS faces in those cities:
Atlanta is a college sports town – particularly college football. The Falcons do well there; the Braves do well but not as well as you would expect for a good baseball team (they rank 13th in MLB in attendance per game this year). I do not know where the wellspring of untapped soccer interest in Atlanta might be.
Miami is not much of a sports town unless the team is winning championships. The Heat are now a solid draw; when the Heat was losing, there were loads of empty orange seats in the arena. The Marlins rank 28th in MLB in average attendance albeit part of that is an intense dislike for owner Jeffrey Loria. The Dolphins sell out when they are good and do not sell out when they are bad. Given the large Latino population in the Miami area, you might expect a deep interest in soccer – but if the team is not contending for a championship…
Orlando is a lot more about Disney World than it is about sports.
To be fair, MLS has a couple of things going for it in these cities. I do not think that they played pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey with a map on the wall in order to choose these locations.
Arthur Blank is expected to be the owner of the Atlanta franchise. That gives the team deep pockets and an anchor in the city. Additionally, plans call for the construction of a “soccer-first stadium” in Atlanta by 2017.
There is a rumor that David Beckham will be involved in running – or perhaps have an ownership interest – in the Miami franchise. Star power never hurts.
Orlando does have a lower-level soccer franchise in the USL and that team draws fans. Can MLS grow the fan base or will it succeed merely by siphoning off the folks who go to see Orlando City Soccer Club play? If they can grow the fanbase, MLS might succeed here.
Speaking of franchises that are not doing very well at the gate, the Jacksonville Jaguars were involved in two incidents over the past week that ought to be embarrassing for the owner there. The first one happened last week when the Jags were headed to Oakland to play the Raiders in a completely uninteresting game. Since it was an away game for Jax, the NFL TV contract calls for that game to be telecast in full back to the home viewing area. Since it was a game from Oakland, it was in the late time slot on Sunday and CBS carried the game because the visiting Jags are in the AFC. That meant that the Jax viewing area would see Jags/Raiders and have to miss “The Manning Bowl” also assigned to CBS in the late time slot.
Orlando is in the Jax viewing area. The CBS affiliate in Orlando placed this message on its website last week:
“In accordance with NFL policy, WKMG must carry all Jacksonville Jaguar away games. We apologize for any inconvenience.”
Then, after the Jags laid a huge egg against a not-good Raiders’ team – the Jags are averaging 5.5 points per game this year to give you an idea of their ineptitude – a small group of fans put on a demonstration/rally outside EverBank Field in Jax. To be sure, the emphasis here has to be on the word “small”; looking at photos of the event, there were surely less than 30 folks involved.. What did these Jags’ fans rally for?
They were there in their Jaguars regalia to urge the team to sign Tim Tebow.
The new GM in Jax has basically said that he would rather drink a quart of Drano than sign Tebow. These few fans will not get what they want; the fanbase in Jax will erode yet a tad more; perchance the team will need larger tarps to cover up more seats in EverBank Field to avoid embarrassment.
Speaking of Tim Tebow, he has an offer to play QB for a professional football team. It is not in the US – or in Canada either – but it is pro football and they want him to play QB. Reports say that he has an offer of $1M to play in two games in Russia for the Moscow Black Storm. That team is involved in a tournament/playoff situation and has a semi-final game against the Moscow Patriots at the end of this month. I have exactly no idea what American football in Russia is about or the level of play there. I do think it would be interesting if Tebow went there and led the Black Storm to a win over the Patriots. After all, it was the New England Patriots who released him and presented him with this “opportunity”…
Finally, here is an item from Facebook by Dan Daly formerly at the Washington Times:
‘Federal appeals court shoots down sports gambling in NJ. According to the ruling, though, it’s still legal to go for it on 4th-and-1.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………