Major League Soccer (MLS) is the main football league in the United States and Canada. This is the first professional division of the sport, both from the United States Soccer Federation and the Canadian Soccer Association, which are officially members of FIFA. According to a 2017 survey done by the Gallup Institute, football is growing in the United States and is already the fourth most popular sport, behind American football, basketball, and baseball.
The League was created in 1996 and the Colombian Carlos Valderrama was the first internationally renowned player, who played for the defunct teams Tampa Bay Mutiny and Miami Fusion; as well as Colorado Rapids, the team he ended his career in 2004. But, only in 2007, with the signing of the British player David Beckham for the Los Angeles Galaxy club, that the football fans have received a fresh start.
Currently, MLS has 24 teams, 21 from the USA and three from Canada, and is divided between the East and West conferences. The regular season is played between March and October, with all clubs facing each other in two-leg matches. Each team plays 34 times, 17 at home and 17 away, mostly against teams from another conference. The team with the best campaign in this first phase receives the Supporters' Shields trophy.
Playoffs are played between October and November in two-leg matches with the top seven teams from each conference. The top two of each go straight to the semifinals, while those in the third to sixth place play an extra phase with two matches. The games in this phase, semifinals and conference finals, are also played in a two-leg system and there is no relegation zone.
The 2019 season finale has already a date. On November 10th, Toronto FC faces the Seattle Sounders. The Canadian team won the match against Atlanta United, current holders of the title, by 2 to 1. It will be the third final for the Toronto team in four years, with only one achievement in 2017, interestingly also in a final with the Sounders.
With five titles, the biggest champion of MLS is the Los Angeles Galaxy. The Californian team won the League in 2002, 2005, 2011, 2012 and 2014.
Also, the top scorer in League history is the North American Chris Wondolowski. Active in MLS since 2005, the athlete has scored 153 goals and currently defends the San Jose Earthquakes.
Football is successful in the USA due to the team's proximity to their community. Their athletes are from local colleges. Also, they are focused on the hiring of major sports influencers, as well as investments in franchises, game broadcasting, and advertising.
MLS players have a "salary ceiling", which ensures not only the balance of the team´s finances but also the balance between them. However, in 2006, MLS created the Designated Player Rule (the "Beckham Rule") - used for the millionaire and bombastic hiring of the player at the time - which allows teams to have one player in their squad above that "ceiling".
In this season, the biggest star is Ibrahimovic and he has been recording good ratings. The average paying audience per match is 20,000. In stadium occupancy, the USA (91% per game) is only behind England and Germany, other football powers.
As in other leagues, MLS teams are independent franchisees and are controlled by owners and shareholders, who value the sustainability of the business. Its expansion has attracted the attention of not only businessmen but also from sports and entertainment celebrities in the country. The most recent cases involve the actor Matthew McConaughey, who became a partner of Austin FC. Houston Rockets star James Harden bought a minority stake in Houston Dynamo. The rapper Macklemore, singer Ciara and Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks quarterback, chose to invest in Seattle Sounders.
Another rich person who has shown interest in entering this market is Carolina Panther´s owner, David Tepper, who is willing to pay more than US$ 400 Million in fees and franchise creation to have his team playing the MLS.
Next season, Miami (owned by David Beckham) and Nashville will debut in the League. By 2021 it will be Austin´s turn, from Texas. And finally, in 2022, Saint Louis will be the 28th team to enter the competition.
According to Forbes, the MLS teams earned US$ 778 Million in 2017, making the league more competitive, already eyeing the 2026 World Cup.
The MLS is the first professional sports competition that facilitated the creation of rules for sponsorship. From 2020, the teams will be able to “sell” parts of the athletes' uniform to draw the attention of new partners, in order to offer supporters and fans differentiated experiences, as well as gain new revenue streams for all parties involved.
Several MLS teams have already started talking with sports betting brands. Now it is a matter of time to see betting companies stamped in the uniforms.
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