If the soulless state of Premier League football has been occurred as a steady decline, then the damnation of the American game is likely to come much more swiftly. Where English clubs boast century long blue collar histories, the US must acknowledge its origins as a commercial venture birthed for the purpose of hosting a World Cup. MLS clubs are franchises – teams that are licensed to play the beautiful game. Many clubs have not been able to attract and engage fans without promotional gimmicks – and fail to realize that the clubs that DO attract at the gate do so BECAUSE of the supporters, not the ‘clubs’. In fact, clubs like Portland, Seattle, Philadelphia, and Montreal are successful because they had faithful supporters involved with the team BEFORE they moved to MLS (and in the case of Philadelphia, the fans were the driving force in the city being ‘awarded’ a franchise). The good news is that more and more clubs are recognizing the value of their supporters and are doing more to involve them. The bad news is that because of the franchise model, it is unlikely that the MLS cartel will ever allow a truly ‘member’ owned club. If the Premier League is losing its soul, than MLS was born without one.
Of course, those in MLS will object and state that they have created a ‘stable’ league within which to develop the domestic game. And Premier League owners will continue talking about how their brands have achieved worldwide recognition. They are selling the soul of the game for profit – and I believe the future ‘success’ of these two leagues will stagnate. At least premier league ownership haven’t been able to ban promotion/relegation yet.
But there is hope! As David Conn wrote yesterday at theguardian, the German Bundesliga model requires at least 50% club member ownership. This keeps ticket prices down, stadiums filled, and fan engagement high. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the numbers.
Sporting News reported that AVERAGE attendance for the Bundesliga was a world leading 45,726 for the 2011/2012 season. That is about 10,000 more per game than the second place Premier League – the so called ‘top’ league in the world. And more than twice the average of MLS, which despite rapid growth has only seen a couple of clubs able to draw over the 20,000 mark consistently.
In terms of TV contracts and viewers the EPL outdraws both the Bundsliga and MLS by significant margin, though I would argue that this has more to do with the colonization of the British Empire and the universality of the English language as it does the league structure. In fact, when talking ‘domestic’ football the Bundesliga receives top honors as one quarter of the German population watch any given league match.
Lastly, the Bundesliga develops domestic talent that rivals the Spaniards and the Dutch – a fact emphasized by the number of World Cups the Germans hold.
As the German game receives more media attention and is able to command larger TV contracts, the strength of the Bundesliga will only improve. Yet in spite of this, German giants such as Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich remain committed to providing affordable access to the fans and supporters who have taken them this far. The German clubs will not have to ask ‘who is our next Roman Abramovich’ when a rich investor gets too tired of losing. As more and more clubs sell off pieces of the football world soul, it’s nice to know that there a few clubs committed to preserving the heritage of football for all.