As the 20th season of MLS came to an end with the Seattle Sounders being crowned champions of the MLS Cup, commissioner Don Garber closed things out with his annual ‘State of the League’ address, and painted a picture of a league still on the rise but also still one with a way to go.
The highlights of the year…
- Attendance-wise, MLS had the largest collective attendance in league history and saw them rise 6thin attendance across global soccer leagues – averaging almost 22k fans per game (up 40% from 10 years ago).
- While from a fan engagement perspective, the league confirmed it now had the fastest-growing social media presence amongst professional sports leagues in North America (up 95% in followers over last year), and also how great content will continue to be a focus for them so that people carry on being a part of this movement.
- Youth development in Canada will be seeing investment to improve their domestic product in the coming years.
- No, the league’s draft and playoff format will not change in 2017, but that’s not to say there won’t be changes in the near future.
- No, there would not be a third MLS team in New York.
- But on expansion, MLS recognises the increasing urgency to resolve what is now an almost three-year saga in Miami with David Beckham, and have given him a deadline on his proposed South Florida franchise.
But, two dominant topics..
.. will have the league’s energy in 2017: Targeted Allocated Money and expansion.
First, an increase in Targeted Allocated Money (TAM)
TAM is an investment by the league directly into their product.
In short, it allows teams to pay their salary cap down.
What this means is that teams are able to more easily improve the middle of their roster by bringing in more high-salaried players beyond those who occupy the maximum three designated player spots.
The league will be making a $33 million investment in TAM – meaning an increase to $1.2 million per team in 2017 (an additional $400,000 on this season).
And the second big topic: expansion.
While a definitive update wasn’t given, Garber used the address to talk about how there is a lot of energy in markets wanting to support a local franchise, but stressed a big point for the league was not to become intoxicated by immediate success – they need to look at what this league will look like in 20 years, and would be releasing details on the next raft of expansion on Thursday.
What everyone knows already is that Atlanta and Minnesota are set to join MLS next season, followed in 2018 by Los Angeles FC and David Beckham’s Miami show (provided he can nail down a stadium deal, and ignoring rumours he is switching focus to Las Vegas).
And if Miami is definitely team 24, the roadmap for teams 25 through 28 should now come into focus as MLS unveil the formal process, timeline, and fee structure that will serve as the framework for expansion.
It’s a league with a lot of energy.
The entire address can be seen here:
This was one for fans, clubs, journalists and general stakeholders and supporters alike to be encouraged by – MLS is a league showing considered growth, yet still willing to make changes and try new things as they evolve and appreciate there is still a way to go to building a soccer league and nation which everyone cares about.