Thursday, May 08, 2008

Could the VW deal with DC United Change the MLS

It may be possible the the jersey sponsorship deal between DC United and Volkswagen, could the harbinger of a league ready to make the next big step. The VW deal, worth $14 million to DC United over five years,
opens the door for MLS clubs to get big time international sponsors. No offense to Herbalife, Amigo Energy or XANGO but those localized sponsors of MLS clubs made the league look decidedly small time. Now VW not only has given DC United a massive sponsorship deal but has also plucked one of its players, because of his international stardom as a spokesperson. Marcello Gallardo helped DC United land this sponsorship deal by all accounts as he will now serve as the company’s spokesperson in South America. United also now will have established links with Wolfsburg, a Bundesliga club owned by VW where Claudio Reyna became a household name in the mid 1990s.

United’s success is MLS’ success. This sponsorship deal should open the door for United to continue to be one of the elite clubs in North America. It could also open the door for prominent European corporations to invest in Major League Soccer. Once again, DC United leads the way to a brighter future for Major League Soccer.
There are five issues that will impact the future of the MLS that will come to a boil in the next two years.

1. Sponsorships like this one. DCUnited has landed a Whale. There is no doubt about it. Other jersey sponsors to this point have been sort of local (I never heard of Amigo Energy until I saw it on the Dynamo's jersey) but everyone knows VW. In this case, kartik is right, it says to other European and world companies that it is okay to invest in the MLS.

2. Expansion. For the first few years of the MLS, the single-entity structure was necessary. But clubs are becoming established entities and the MLS can grow. But the growth is being managed like the early years and like other sports leagues in this country. Perhaps that will be fine for the next couple of years. But quite frankly, it is time to open it up and let clubs form organically and allow the sport to develop from the ground up. Let USL-1 and USL-2 teams apply to be in teh MLS, start the plans to develop multiple divisions and promotion/relegation.

3. Labor/Salary Cap. Let's face it, it is patently ridiculous for everyday/everygame starters in the MLS to be making less per year than a 16 year old kid working at McDonald's. The collective bargaining agreement will be renegotiated next year and there is no reason why any senior palyer or senior development player should be making less than $40-45 a year if not more. If the MLS doesn't start paying its squad players like real workers, then they will keep losing talent to overseas clubs.

4. Factilities. Get rid of gridiron football markings. It makes American Soccer look like a joke. No team should have to play on a stadium ground for another sport. I hated when DC United shared RFK with the Washington Nationals, but at least RFK put grass over the infield and painted proper lines.

5. Player recruitment/development. MLS squads need to keep an eye on player development at home as much as they do abroad. Developing young players in the MLS means more money for transfer fees later if the players moves abroad, but also helps build a fan base here.

The MLS needs news like the VW deal, but it also needs to think about modeling itself more after other world soccer leagues and less like the NFL. True fans appreciate and understand it and so will Americans in time.

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