Created for a bid to host the 1994 FIFA World Cup, Major League Soccer is the fourth biggest major professional sports league in North America by average viewer count, trailing behind NFL, MLB, and CFL (Canadian Football League).
A large number of Americans and Canadians are increasingly tuning in for MLS matches. And it’s not just that. The matches, with their star-studded performances, have been quite famous.
From more coverage with prime-time slots and TV commercials to the proliferation of team fans and online betting options—MLS has taken the continent by storm.
The popularity of MLS is bound to grow further especially when the next FIFA World Cup in 2026 is scheduled to happen in the US alongside Canada and Mexico. Reputable sports betting online platforms have given odds of +3000 to the US team there, making them the 10th favorites. This is higher than past WC winners like Uruguay!
But what more lies in the future? Just how big will this league get? Will it be able to beat the likes of basketball and football in the US?
Let’s try to find out.
According to Google Trends, interest in MLS has spiked this year (especially since March). But as you might know, that wasn’t always the case.
Though the MLS succeeded the North American Soccer League and was quite popular with good teams, the attempt to “Americanize” the sport with rule deviations and playing on American football fields, among other things, drew some ire from soccer fans from all over the world.
All of that led to a decline in the attendance. Nobody was liking the experiments in the 90s and the decline continued well into the first decade of the 21st century.
The 2002 FIFA World Cup where the US made it into the quarterfinals to everyone’s surprise helped bring about a fresh breath of air. MLS adopted the International Football Association Board rules in 2005 and the teams soon moved to soccer-specific stadiums.
The Designated Player Rule was introduced in 2007—Paving the way for international players to join the league. The first one was David Beckham (currently not playing but the president and co-owner of Inter Miami CF) and the league kept expanding ever since, signing many prominent European players every season.
One of the biggest news in the world of MLS has certainly been Lionel Messi’s signing by Inter Miami. It generated a lot of press. With the terms finally agreed upon, Messi’s move to the US from Europe/PSG is being hailed as one of the biggest sports transfers ever.
LA Galaxy and D.C. United are the most successful teams so far, both having played all 27 seasons. LA Galaxy has 5 MLS Cups whereas D.C. United has 4. Both teams have 4 Supporters’ Shields.
What Lies Ahead?
MLS is currently in good hands. Its resurgence in the 2000s and 2010s was a much-needed boost to soccer in North America. Assuming everything goes according to plan, here’s what we can predict:
- The salary gap should lessen as average player salaries increase. Currently, using the Designated Player rule, teams can pay more to certain players and this has led to a gap of as much as 180 times more payment for a top player vs. the league’s lowest-paid one! MLS has an average salary of $373,094 which is lower than England’s second-tier EFL Championship as per the latest data—But they’re increasing the average, which should help everyone.
- Messi’s signing should do two things: Tell European players dissatisfied with their current clubs that the US MLS is a solid option. Secondly, it will draw more attention to the matches from outside North America because his fans are spread worldwide.
- Apple TV is the official streaming partner of the MLS starting in 2023. You can view all games as well as highlights, such as “Spotlight on Messi.” Apple’s production job is excellent and, in the future, we can see how Apple TV’s Season Pass will help more viewers watch their favorite teams play, increasing the sport’s exposure further.
- Sponsorships (partners) will only increase. Right now, MLS sponsors include names like adidas, AT&T, Audi, Coca-Cola, EA Sports, and Target. The full list of 24 partners, however, is pretty small compared to the corporate partner lists of other prominent soccer leagues in the world. The new popularity is certainly making waves and we hope to see more money being poured into the league.
Things are looking sunny—MLS is on the way to becoming a great league to stand toe-to-toe with America’s biggest ones. The signing of more European Designated Players will certainly improve its media coverage.
The recent popularity will very likely make the league larger than Mexico’s Liga MX or the Netherlands’ Eredivisie. There’s still time before MLS can be compared to the big soccer leagues of the world, but there are signs that it might happen sooner than we expect!
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