Major League Soccer

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Major League Soccer
MLS Logo.svg
Country United States
Other club(s) from Canada
Confederation CONCACAF
Founded December 17, 1993[1]
Conferences Eastern Conference
Western Conference
Number of teams 19
Levels on pyramid 1 (US), 1 (CAN)
Relegation to None
Domestic cup(s) U.S. Open Cup
Canadian Championship
International cup(s) CONCACAF Champions League
Current MLS Cup Sporting Kansas City (2nd title)[2]
(2013)
Current Supporters' Shield New York Red Bulls (1st shield)
(2013)
Most MLS Cups D.C. United &
LA Galaxy (4 titles)
Most Supporters' Shields D.C. United &
LA Galaxy (4 shields)
TV partners ESPN/ESPN2/ESPN Deportes,
NBC Sports Group,
UniMás, Univision Deportes,
TSN/TSN2, RDS, TVA
Website www.mlssoccer.com
2014 MLS season

Major League Soccer (MLS) is a professional soccer league representing the sport's highest level in both the United States and Canada.[3] MLS constitutes one of the major professional sports leagues of the United States and Canada.[4] The league is composed of 19 teams—16 in the U.S. and 3 in Canada. The MLS regular season runs from March to October, with each team playing 34 games; the team with the best record is awarded the Supporters' Shield. Ten teams compete in the postseason MLS Cup Playoffs in November and December, culminating in the championship game, the MLS Cup.[5] MLS teams also play in other competitions against teams from other divisions and countries, such as the U.S. Open Cup, the Canadian Championship, and the CONCACAF Champions League.[6] MLS is sanctioned by the United States Soccer Federation (U.S. Soccer).[7]

Major League Soccer was founded in 1993 as part of the United States' successful bid to host the 1994 FIFA World Cup.[8] The first season took place in 1996 with ten teams.[9] MLS experienced financial and operational struggles in its first few years: The league lost millions of dollars, teams played in mostly empty American football stadiums, and two teams folded in 2002.[10] Since then, MLS has expanded to 19 teams (21 teams in 2015), owners built soccer-specific stadiums, average attendance at MLS matches exceeds that of the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the National Hockey League (NHL), MLS secured national TV contracts, and the league is now profitable.[10]

Instead of operating as an association of independently owned teams, MLS is a single entity in which each team is owned and controlled by the league's investors.[11] The investor-operators control their teams as owners control teams in other leagues, and are commonly (but inaccurately) referred to as the team's owners.[12] The league's closed membership makes it one of the world's few soccer leagues that does not use promotion and relegation, which is uncommon in North America.[13] MLS headquarters are in New York City.[14]

Competition format[edit]

Major League Soccer's regular season runs from March to October with its 19 teams playing 34 games in an unbalanced schedule.[15] Teams are divided into the Eastern and Western Conferences. Midway through the season, teams break for the annual All-Star Game, a friendly game between the league's finest players and a major club from a different league.[16] At the end of the regular season, the team with the highest point total is awarded the Supporters' Shield.[17]

Unlike European soccer leagues,[18] the MLS regular season is followed by the ten-team MLS Cup Playoffs in November, ending with the MLS Cup championship final in early December.[19] Although some commentators have argued that playoffs reduce the importance of the regular season,[20] Commissioner Don Garber has explained "Our purpose is to have a valuable competition, and that includes having playoffs that are more meaningful."[21]

MLS teams also play in other competitions. Every year, up to five MLS teams play in the CONCACAF Champions League against other clubs from the CONCACAF region. Three U.S. based MLS teams qualify based on MLS results. A fourth U.S. based MLS team can also qualify via the U.S. Open Cup;[22] where U.S. based teams compete against lower division U.S. clubs. Canadian MLS clubs play against lower division Canadian clubs in the Canadian Championship for the one spot allocated to Canada.[23]

Major League Soccer's spring-to-fall schedule results in scheduling conflicts with the FIFA calendar and with summertime international tournaments such as the World Cup and the Gold Cup,[24] causing several players to miss some MLS matches.[25] While MLS has looked into changing to a fall-to-spring format, there are no current plans to do so. If the league were to change its schedule, a winter break would be needed, especially with several teams in colder climates, which some believe would lead to a disadvantage.[26][27][28] It would also have to compete with the more popular National Football League (NFL) and National Basketball Association (NBA).[29]

History[edit]

Major League Soccer is the most recent of a series of professional men's premier national professional soccer leagues established in the United States and Canada. The predecessor of MLS was the North American Soccer League (NASL), which played from 1968 until 1984.[30]

Establishment[edit]

In 1988, in exchange for FIFA awarding the right to host the 1994 World Cup, U.S. Soccer promised to establish a Division 1 professional soccer league.[31] In 1993, U.S. Soccer selected Major League Professional Soccer (the precursor to MLS) as the exclusive Division 1 professional soccer league.[31] Major League Soccer was officially formed in February 1995 as a limited liability company.[31]

MLS began play in 1996 with ten teams. The first game was held on April 6, 1996, as the San Jose Clash defeated D.C. United before 31,000 fans at Spartan Stadium in San Jose in a game broadcast on ESPN.[32] The league had generated some buzz by managing to lure some marquee players from the 1994 World Cup to play in MLS—including U.S. stars such as Alexi Lalas, Tony Meola and Eric Wynalda, and foreign players such as Mexico's Jorge Campos and Colombia's Carlos Valderrama.[33] D.C. United won the MLS Cup in three of the league's first four seasons.[34] The league added its first two expansion teams in 1998—the Miami Fusion and the Chicago Fire; the Chicago Fire won its first title in its inaugural season.[35]

After its first season, MLS suffered from a decline in attendance.[36] The league's low attendance was all the more apparent in light of the fact that eight of the original ten teams played in large American football stadiums.[37] One aspect that had alienated fans was that MLS experimented with rules deviations in its early years in an attempt to "Americanize" the sport. The league implemented the use of shootouts to resolve tie games. MLS also used a countdown clock and halves ended when the clock reached 0:00. The league realized that the rule changes had alienated some traditional soccer fans while failing to draw new American sports fans, and the shootout and countdown clock were eliminated after the 1999 season.[38] The league's quality was cast into doubt when the U.S. men's national team, which was made up largely of MLS players, finished in last place at the 1998 World Cup.[39]

Major League Soccer lost an estimated $250 million during its first five years, and more than $350 million between its founding and 2004.[40][41][42][43] The league's financial problems led to Commissioner Doug Logan being replaced by Garber, a former NFL executive, in August 1999.[44] MLS announced in January 2002 that it had decided to contract the Tampa Bay Mutiny and Miami Fusion, leaving the league with ten teams.[45]

Despite the financial problems, though, MLS did have some accomplishments that would set the stage for the league's resurgence. Columbus Crew Stadium was built in 1999, becoming MLS's first soccer-specific stadium.[46] This began a trend among MLS teams to construct their own venues instead of leasing American football stadiums.[47] In 2000, the league won an antitrust lawsuit, Fraser v. Major League Soccer, that the players had filed in 1996. The court ruled that MLS's policy of centrally contracting players and limiting player salaries through a salary cap and other restrictions were a legal method for the league to maintain solvency and competitive parity.[48]

Resurgence[edit]

The 2002 World Cup, in which the United States unexpectedly made the quarterfinals, coincided with a resurgence in American soccer and MLS.[49] MLS Cup 2002 drew 61,316 spectators to Gillette Stadium, the largest attendance in an MLS Cup final.[50] MLS limited teams to three substitutions per game in 2003, and adopted International Football Association Board (IFAB) rules in 2005.[51]

MLS underwent a transition in the years leading up to the 2006 World Cup. After marketing itself on the talents of American players, the league lost some of its homegrown stars to prominent European leagues. For example, Tim Howard was transferred to Manchester United for $4 million in one of the most lucrative contract deals in league history.[52][53] Many more American players did make an impact in MLS. In 2005, Jason Kreis became the first player to score 100 career MLS goals.[54]

MLS Cup and Supporter Shield Wins
Team MLS
Cups
Last Cup Supp.
Shields
Last
Shield
MLS
Seasons
LA Galaxy 4 2012 4 2011 18
D.C. United 4 2004 4 2007 18
Houston Dynamo 2 2007 0 8
Sporting Kansas City 2 2013 1 2000 18
San Jose Earthquakes 2 2003 2 2012 16
Chicago Fire 1 1998 1 2003 16
Colorado Rapids 1 2010 0 18
Real Salt Lake 1 2009 0 9
Columbus Crew 1 2008 3 2009 18
Tampa Bay Mutiny 0 1 1996 6*
Miami Fusion 0 1 2001 4*
New York Red Bulls 0 1 2013 18
*Franchise folded after completion of the 2001 season
Teams that have yet to win either title: New England, Dallas, Chivas, Toronto,
Seattle, Philadelphia, Portland, Vancouver, and Montreal.

The league's financial stabilization plan included teams moving out of large American football stadiums and into soccer-specific stadiums.[55] From 2003 to 2008, the league oversaw the construction of six additional soccer-specific stadiums, largely funded by owners such as Lamar Hunt and Phil Anschutz, so that by the end of 2008, a majority of teams were now in soccer-specific stadiums.[56]

It was also in this era that MLS expanded for the first time since 1998. Real Salt Lake and Chivas USA began play in 2005, with Chivas USA becoming the second club in Los Angeles.[57] By 2006 the San Jose Earthquakes owners, players and a few coaches moved to Texas to become the expansion Houston Dynamo, after failing to build a stadium in San Jose. The Dynamo became an expansion team, leaving their history behind for a new San Jose ownership group that formed in 2007.[58]

2007–present[edit]

In 2007 the league expanded beyond the United States' borders into Canada with the Toronto FC expansion team.[59] Major League Soccer took steps to further raise the level of play by adopting the Designated Player Rule, which helped bring international stars into the league.[60] The 2007 season witnessed the MLS debut of David Beckham. Beckham's signing had been seen as a coup for American soccer, and was made possible by the Designated Player Rule. Players such as Cuauhtémoc Blanco (Chicago Fire) and Juan Pablo Ángel (New York Red Bulls), are some of the first Designated Players who made major contributions to their clubs.[61] The departures of Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore, coupled with the return of former U.S. national team stars Claudio Reyna and Brian McBride, highlighted the exchange of top prospects to Europe for experienced veterans to MLS.[62]

By 2008, San Jose had returned to the league under new ownership, and in 2009, the expansion side Seattle Sounders FC began play in MLS.[59] The 2010 season ushered in an expansion franchise in the Philadelphia Union and their new PPL Park stadium.[59] The 2010 season also brought the opening of the New York Red Bulls' soccer-specific stadium, Red Bull Arena, and the debut of French striker Thierry Henry.[63]

The 2011 season brought further expansion with the addition of the Vancouver Whitecaps FC, the second Canadian MLS franchise, and the Portland Timbers.[64] Real Salt Lake reached the finals of the 2010–11 CONCACAF Champions League.[65] During the 2011 season, the Galaxy signed another international star in Republic of Ireland all-time leading goalscorer Robbie Keane.[66] MLS drew an average attendance of 17,872 in 2011, higher than the average attendances of the NBA and NHL.[67] In 2012, the Montreal Impact became the league's 19th franchise and the third in Canada, and made their home debut in front of a crowd of 58,912,[68] while the New York Red Bulls added Australian Star Tim Cahill.

In 2013, MLS introduced New York City FC[69] as its 20th team, and Orlando City Soccer Club[70] as its 21st team, both to begin playing in 2015. In 2013, the league implemented its "Core Players" initiative allows teams to retain key players using retention funds instead of losing the players to foreign leagues.[71] Among the first high-profile players re-signed in 2013 using retention funds were U.S. national team regulars Graham Zusi and Matt Besler. Beginning in summer of 2013 and continuing in the run up to the 2014 World Cup, MLS began signing U.S. stars based abroad, including Clint Dempsey from the English Premier League to Seattle, DaMarcus Beasley from the Liga MX to Houston, Jermaine Jones from the German Bundesliga to New England and Michael Bradley who returned from Italy to join Toronto who also signed England International Striker Jermain Defoe.[72] By the 2014 season, fifteen of the nineteen MLS head coaches had previously played in MLS.[73] By 2013, the league's popularity had increased to the point where MLS was as popular as Major League Baseball among 12–17 year olds, as reported by the 2013 Luker on Trends ESPN poll, having jumped in popularity since the 2010 World Cup.[74][75]

In 2014, the league announced an expansion Atlanta MLS team as the 22nd team to start playing in as 2017.[76] Even though New York City FC and Orlando City were not set to begin play until 2015, each team made headlines during the summer 2014 transfer window by announcing their first Designated Players — Spain's leading scorer David Villa and Chelsea's leading scorer Frank Lampard to New York, and Ballon d'Or winner Kaká to Orlando.[77] The 2014 World Cup featured 21 MLS players on World Cup rosters and a record 11 MLS players playing for foreign teams — including players from traditional powerhouses Brazil (Júlio César), playing for Toronto FC on loan from Queens Park Rangers FC, and Spain (David Villa), on loan to Melbourne City FC from New York City FC; in the U.S. v. Germany match the U.S. fielded a team with seven MLS starters.[78]

Rebrand[edit]

New Major League Soccer logo, to be used from the 2015 season.

On September 18, 2014, MLS unveiled their new logo for the 2015 season—the league's 20th season—and beyond, as part of the "MLS Next" branding initiative. In addition to the new crest logo, the MLS teams will display their own versions, designed in their own colors, that will be displayed on their jerseys at every game—the change represents the first time that the MLS logo has been revised since the league's inception. The 20th and 21st teams will also join the MLS for the 2015 season.[79]

Teams[edit]

The 19 MLS clubs are divided among the Eastern and Western Conference. Each club is allowed up to 30 players on its first team roster.[80] All 30 players are eligible for selection to each 18-player game-day squad during the regular season and playoffs.[80]

Since the 2005 season, MLS has added nine new clubs. During this period of expansion, Los Angeles became the first two-team market, and the league pushed into Canada in 2007.[81] The league will expand to 22 teams with the addition of New York City FC and Orlando City SC in 2015, and Atlanta in 2017 and plans to have 24 teams by 2020.[82]

Throughout MLS history, twenty one different clubs have competed in the league, with nine having won at least one MLS Cup, and eight winning at least one Supporters' Shield.[83] The same club has won both trophies six times.[84]

Several teams compete annually for secondary MLS rivalry cups that are usually contested by two teams, usually geographic rivals (e.g., New York vs D.C.).[49] Each cup is awarded to the team with the better regular-season record in games played between the two teams. The concept is comparable to minor trophies played for by American college football teams.[85]

Since the 2012 season, teams are aligned as follows:[86]

  1. Shared facility; not a soccer-specific stadium
  2. Team plans to move into a soccer-specific stadium

Organization[edit]

Ownership[edit]

Major League Soccer operates under a single-entity structure in which teams and player contracts are centrally owned by the league.[3][88][89] Each team has an investor-operator that is a shareholder in the league.[90] In order to control costs, MLS shares revenues and holds players contracts instead of players contracting with individual teams. In Fraser v. Major League Soccer, a lawsuit filed in 1996 and decided in 2002, the league won a legal battle with its players in which the court ruled that MLS was a single entity that can lawfully centrally contract for player services.[3] The court also ruled that even absent their collective bargaining agreement, players could opt to play in other leagues if they were unsatisfied.[3]

Having multiple clubs owned by a single owner was a necessity in the league's first ten years.[91] At one time Phil Anschutz's AEG owned six MLS clubs and Lamar Hunt's Hunt Sports owned three franchises. In order to attract additional investors, in 2002 the league announced changes to the operating agreement between the league and its teams to improve team revenues and increase the incentives to be an individual club owner.[92] These changes included granting owners the rights to a certain number of players they develop through their club's academy system each year, sharing the profits of Soccer United Marketing, and being able to sell individual club jersey sponsorships.[92]

As MLS appeared to be on the brink of overall profitability in 2006 and developed significant expansion plans, MLS announced that it wanted each club to have a distinct operator.[93] The league has attracted new ownership that have injected more money into the league.[94] Examples include Red Bull's purchase of the MetroStars from AEG in 2006 for in over $100 million.[91][95]

The league now has 17 investor-operators for its 19 clubs. Hunt Sports owns only one team (FC Dallas). AEG is the only organization left with an ownership interest in multiple teams — AEG owns the LA Galaxy and retains a 50% interest in the Houston Dynamo.[96] Two of the league's teams are owned, at least in part, by a foreigner — Austrian Dietrich Mateschitz (New York Red Bulls), and Indonesian Erick Thohir (D.C. United).[94] Chivas USA, which had suffered from mismanagement and poor financial results, has been owned by the league since February 20, 2014.[97][98]

Player quality and salaries[edit]

David Beckham was the league's first Designated Player in 2007.

The average salary for MLS players is $160,000, with the median being $100,000 as of 2013,[99] lower than the average salaries in the Football League Championship, the second tier of English football ($322,670)[100] or Holland's Eredivisie ($445,000).[101]

MLS salaries are limited by a salary cap, which MLS has had in place since the league's inception in 1996. The purpose of the salary cap is to prevent the team's owners from unsustainable spending on player salaries — a practice that had doomed the North American Soccer League during the 1980s — and to prevent a competitive imbalance among teams.[31] The salary cap survived a legal challenge by the players in the Fraser v. Major League Soccer lawsuit. For the 2014 season, the salary cap is $3.1 million per team and the maximum salary for any one player is $387,500.[102]

Player spending does not count against the salary cap under certain conditions. The Designated Player Rule allows teams to sign players whose salary does not count against the cap. Instituted in 2007, David Beckham was the first signing under the DP rule.[103] The league's "Core Players" initiative allows teams to re-sign players using retention funds that do not count against the salary cap.[71] Retention funds were implemented in 2013 as a mechanism for MLS to retain key players; among the first high-profile players re-signed using retention funds were U.S. national team regulars Graham Zusi and Matt Besler.[71]

The league has developed several additional initiatives to improve quality of players—particularly young players—while still maintaining the salary cap. These initiatives have brought about an increase in on-field competition.[104]

MLS has required all of its teams to operate youth development programs since 2008.[105] Teams have the ability to sign up to two of their own home grown players to the senior team each year, which gives the league's teams an incentive to improve the quality of the league's home-grown talent. One of the most lucrative examples of success in "home-grown" development was Jozy Altidore, who rose to prominence as a teenager in MLS before his record transfer fee $10 million move to Villarreal in Spain in 2008.[106] The various MLS teams' development academies play matches in a U.S. Soccer developmental league against youth academies from other leagues such as the Division II North American Soccer League (NASL) and Division III USL Pro.[107]

The league operates a Generation Adidas program, which is a joint venture between MLS and U.S. Soccer that encourages young American players to enter MLS.[108] The Generation Adidas program has been in place since 1997, and has introduced players such as Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard and Michael Bradley into MLS. Players under the Home Grown Player rule are signed to Generation Adidas contracts.[109]

MLS also operates reserve league which gives playing time to players who are not starters for their MLS teams. The Reserve League has been in place since 2005 (with the exception of the 2009 & 2010 seasons).[110] Since 2013, MLS has integrated its Reserve League with the Division III USL Pro competition.[111]

Teams may also augment their rosters by signing players from other leagues. MLS has two transfer windows — the primary transfer window lasts three months from mid February until mid May, and the secondary transfer window runs one month from early June to early August.[112]

Stadiums[edit]

Since 1999, the league has overseen the construction of twelve stadiums specifically designed for soccer. The development of soccer-specific stadiums owned by the teams has generated a better gameday experience for the fans.[113] The soccer-specific stadiums have yielded positive financial results as teams were no longer required to pay to rent out facilities and gained control over revenue streams such as concessions, parking, naming rights, and the ability to host non MLS events.[113][98] Several teams have doubled their season-tickets following the team's move into a soccer-specific stadium.[114] The establishment of soccer-specific stadiums is considered the key to the league and the ability of teams to turn a profit.[115] In 2006, Tim Leiweke, then CEO of Anschutz Entertainment Group, described the proliferation of soccer-specific stadiums as the turning point for MLS.[115]

Columbus Crew owner Lamar Hunt started this trend in 1999 by constructing Columbus Crew Stadium as MLS's first soccer-specific stadium.[116] The Los Angeles Galaxy followed four years later with the opening of The Home Depot Center, now StubHub Center, in 2003.[117] Chivas USA has shared this venue with the Galaxy since their expansion season in 2005. FC Dallas opened Pizza Hut Park, now Toyota Stadium, in 2005, and the Chicago Fire began playing their home games in Toyota Park in 2006. The 2007 season brought the opening of Dick's Sporting Goods Park for the Colorado Rapids and BMO Field for Toronto FC.[118]

Near the end of the 2008 season, Rio Tinto Stadium became the home of Real Salt Lake, which meant that for the first time in MLS history a majority of MLS's teams (8 out of 14) played in soccer-specific stadiums.[119] Red Bull Arena, the new home of the New York Red Bulls opened for the start of the 2010 season,[120] and the Philadelphia Union opened PPL Park in June 2010, midway through their inaugural season.[121] The following season, in 2011, the Portland Timbers made their MLS debut in a newly renovated Jeld-Wen Field, now renamed Providence Park, which was originally a multi-purpose venue but turned into a soccer-specific facility.[122] Also in 2011, Sporting Kansas City moved to new Sporting Park.[123] The Houston Dynamo relocated to their new home at BBVA Compass Stadium in 2012.[120] In the same year, the Montreal Impact joined the league in an expanded Stade Saputo, which reopened June 2012, when renovations push the seating capacity to over 20,000. The Impact has used Olympic Stadium for early season matches and for games that require a larger capacity.[124]

The development of additional MLS stadiums is in progress. The San Jose Earthquakes, who currently play at Buck Shaw Stadium, broke ground for their new stadium in 2012, with construction expected to be completed before the 2015 season.[125] The Orlando City SC expansion team intends to begin constructing Orlando City Stadium, a soccer-specific stadium, in 2014 to be completed in 2015,[126] while temporary playing at the renovated Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium in their inaugural year.

Three teams have announced their desire to build a soccer-specific stadium, although these teams have not finalized the stadium site and received all necessary government approvals. D.C. United plays home games at a former NFL and Major League Baseball venue, RFK Stadium; in 2013, D.C. United announced the signing of a public-private partnership term sheet to build a 20,000-25,000-seat soccer stadium in Washington, D.C., but that project has made little apparent progress since then.[127] The New York City FC expansion team will play their games at Yankee Stadium, a Major League Baseball venue, although they intend to move into a soccer specific stadium in the future. The New England Revolution play home games at a National Football League venue, Gillette Stadium, but are searching for a suitable urban location for a stadium site.[128][129]

Several remaining clubs play in stadiums not originally built for MLS and have not announced plans to move. The Seattle Sounders FC play at CenturyLink Field, a dual-purpose facility used for both American football and soccer. The Vancouver Whitecaps FC joined the league with Portland in 2011 and temporary held matches at Empire Field before moving into the refurbished BC Place in October 2011,[130] a stadium that hosts Canadian football as well as soccer.[131] Currently BC Place is the only retractable roof, primary stadium of Major League Soccer.[citation needed]

Media coverage[edit]

United States[edit]

MLS matches are broadcast on ESPN and ESPN2 under a deal signed in 2006 for the 2007–2014 seasons.[10] ESPN's coverage features a live match during most weeks. Univision and its networks have aired matches on TeleFutura and Galavisión since 2007.[132] Games not televised nationally are broadcast regionally, often by regional sports networks, such as the LA Galaxy and Time Warner Cable SportsNet.[67]

MLS matches are also broadcast on NBC Sports under a three-year deal signed in 2011 for the 2012–2014 seasons to nationally televise 40 matches per year—primarily on NBC Sports Network—but also with select matches broadcast on the NBC network.[133] The move from Fox Soccer to the more widely distributed NBC Sports Network proved successful, with MLS 2012 viewership numbers on NBC Sports twice that of the 2011 viewership numbers from Fox Soccer.[134]

The current contracts expire at the end of the 2014 season. On May 12, 2014, MLS announced the signing of a new, eight-year broadcast rights deal with ESPN, Fox Sports, and Univision for coverage of MLS. The most significant change under the new contract is the introduction of three consistent windows for national broadcasts: UniMas will air a Friday night match in Spanish along with additional matches on Univision Deportes Network; ESPN and Fox Sports 1 will air a Sunday early-evening and Sunday night match respectively. ESPN and FS1 will share in English-language coverage of the playoffs and alternate broadcasting the MLS Cup final. Univision will also air coverage of the playoffs. All of Univision's matches will be available online. In total, at least 125 games will be aired per-season across all three networks. Collectively, the three contracts have an average estimated value of $90 million per season—five times larger than the average $18 million value of the previous contract.[135][136][136][137][138][139]

Canada[edit]

Montreal hosting D.C. United (August 2012).

Coverage of MLS expanded into Canada in 2007 with the addition of Toronto FC. Currently, national MLS broadcast rights in Canada are through the TSN networks with a six-year deal for the 2011–2016 seasons. TSN and TSN2 broadcast a minimum of 30 games during each season, all featuring at least one Canadian team. French-language sister networks RDS and RDS2 have similar broadcast rights. The networks also carry additional games not involving Canadian teams.[140] GolTV Canada carries selected all-U.S. MLS matchups.[141]

As in the United States, the individual Canadian teams also have separate broadcast deals for games not aired under the TSN/RDS national contract. TSN and Sportsnet split coverage of Toronto FC regional games, TVA Sports airs Montreal Impact games,[142] and TSN broadcasts the Vancouver Whitecaps in a separate deal.[143][144]

International[edit]

MLS signed an international television contract in 2008 through 2013 with sports media company MP & Silva.[145][146] The figure is reportedly an "eight-figure deal."[145] MP & Silva explained that high-profile, international players who were lured to MLS by the Designated Player Rule have raised the popularity of MLS in international markets.[146] ESPN International purchased the rights to broadcast MLS in the U.K. in 2009, and other ESPN networks around the world also broadcast games.[147][148]

Profitability and revenues[edit]

Jersey sponsorships
Team Sponsor Annual Value
Chicago Fire Quaker Undisclosed[149]
Colorado Rapids Ciao Telecom Undisclosed[150]
Columbus Crew Barbasol Undisclosed[151]
D.C. United Leidos Undisclosed[152]
FC Dallas AdvoCare Undisclosed[153]
Houston Dynamo BHP Billiton Undisclosed[154]
LA Galaxy Herbalife $4.4 million[155]
Montreal Impact Bank of Montreal US$4 million[156]
New England Revolution UnitedHealthcare Undisclosed[157]
Orlando City SC Orlando Health Undisclosed[158]
Philadelphia Union Bimbo $3 million[159]
Portland Timbers Alaska Airlines Undisclosed[160]
Real Salt Lake LifeVantage $3 million[161]
Seattle Sounders FC Xbox $4 million[162]
Sporting Kansas City Ivy Funds $2.5 million[163]
Toronto FC Bank of Montreal C$4 million[164]
Vancouver Whitecaps FC Bell Canada C$4 million+[165]
The N.Y. Red Bulls jersey sponsor is Red Bull, which owns the club.
Teams without a jersey sponsor:
Chivas USA and San Jose Earthquakes.

Major League Soccer began to demonstrate positive signs of long-term profitability as early as 2004 with the single-entity ownership structure, salary cap, and the media and marketing umbrella Soccer United Marketing (SUM) all contributing towards MLS's financial security.[41] As soccer-specific stadiums are built, ownership expands, and television coverage increases, MLS has seen its revenues increase while controlling costs.[166]

Television coverage and revenue have increased since the league's early years. In 2006, MLS reached an 8-year TV deal with ESPN spanning the 2007–2014 seasons, and marked the first time that MLS earned rights fees, reported to be worth $7–8 million annually.[167] In September 2012 the league extended its distribution agreement with London based Media rights agency MP & Silva until 2014 in a deal worth $10 million annually. Total league TV revenues are over $40 million annually.[168][169] In 2011, MLS earned $150 million when it sold a 25% stake in SUM.[10]

In early 2005, MLS signed a 10-year, $150 million sponsorship deal with Adidas.[41] In 2007, MLS teams started selling ad space on the front of jerseys to go along with the league-wide sponsorship partners who had already been advertising on the back of club jerseys, following the practice of international sport, specifically soccer. MLS established a floor of $500,000 per shirt sponsorship, with the league receiving a flat fee of $200,000 per deal.[170] As of July 2014, sixteen teams have signed sponsorship deals to have company logos placed on the front of their jerseys (and another team is directly owned by its shirt sponsor), and the league average from jersey sponsors is about $2.4 million.[171] D.C. United had a jersey sponsorship by Volkswagen over a five year period from 2008 to 2013.[172]

The Los Angeles Galaxy made a profit in 2003 in their first season at The Home Depot Center,[40] and FC Dallas turned a profit after moving into Pizza Hut Park in 2005.[173] For each season between 2006–2009, two to three MLS clubs (generally clubs with a soccer-specific stadium) were reported as profitable by the league.[173][174][175]

By 2012, the league had shown a marked improvement in its financial health. In November 2013, Forbes published its first valuation of MLS teams since 2008, and revealed that ten of league's nineteen teams earned an operating profit in 2012, while two broke even and seven had a loss. Forbes estimated that the league's collective annual revenues were $494 million, and that the league's collective annual profit was $34 million. Forbes valued the league's franchises to be worth $103 million on average, almost three times as much as the $37 million average valuation in 2008. The Seattle Sounders FC franchise was named the most valuable at $175 million, a 483% gain over the $30 million league entrance fee it paid in 2009.[98]

Rules and officials[edit]

MLS follows the rules and standards of the International Football Association Board (IFAB). The playoff extra time structure follows IFAB standards: two full 15-minute periods, followed by a penalty shootout if necessary. Away goals apply to the playoff stage of the competition, but do not apply to overtime in the second leg of any two-legged playoff series.[176]

U.S. Soccer hired the first full-time professional referees in league history in 2007 as part of the league's "Game First" initiatives.[177] Major League Soccer has been implementing fines and suspensions since the 2011 season for simulation (diving) through its Disciplinary Committee, which reviews plays after the match. The first player fined under the new rule was Charlie Davies, fined $1,000 for intentionally deceiving match officials.[178]

Team names[edit]

For more information on MLS team names, see the individual team entries.

Originally, in the style of other U.S. sports leagues, teams were given nicknames at their creation. Examples include the Columbus Crew, the San Jose Clash and the Los Angeles Galaxy. Several of the club names in MLS originated with earlier professional soccer clubs, such as the 1970s-era NASL team names San Jose Earthquakes, Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps.[179]

D.C. United and Miami Fusion F.C. were the only two original teams to adopt European naming conventions.[180] However, European-style names have increased in MLS, with expansion teams such as Real Salt Lake and Toronto FC, in addition to 2015 entrants New York City FC and Orlando City S.C., along with several re-brandings such as the Dallas Burn (now FC Dallas) and Kansas City Wizards (now Sporting Kansas City).[181]

The Chivas USA name does not specify a geographic area; rather, the club is named for the Mexican team C.D. Guadalajara, who are often known by its nickname "Chivas".[182] The Mexican club and Chivas USA formerly shared the same ownership.[183] The beverage company Red Bull GmbH owns the New York Red Bulls as well as other sports teams.[95]

Player records[edit]

Statistics below are for all-time regular season leaders. Bold indicates active MLS players.

Updated September 13, 2014

Player records (active)[edit]

Statistics below are for all-time leaders who are still playing. Statistics are for regular season only.

Updated September 13, 2014

MLS commissioners[edit]

MLS awards[edit]

At the conclusion of each season, the league presents several awards for outstanding achievements, mostly to players, but also to coaches, referees, and teams. The finalists in each category are determined by voting from MLS players, team employees, and the media.[184]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]


Preceded by
NASL
Division 1 Soccer League in the United States
1996–present
Succeeded by
Current League