Butler: MLS takes three huge steps during All-Star week

Noel Butler,
8/4/2013 7:10:22 PM
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Whilst our governing bodies continually tinker with formats, a common perception which holds true right across the North American sporting landscape: All-Star Games are meaningless and are bereft of substance or relevancy.

Time now for a serious rethink.

What occurred at Sporting Park Wednesday night was so much more than a lopsided game.

When MLS announced Sporting KC would host this season's All Star Game in early January we didn't even know who the opponent would be.

With what we know now it is not an exaggeration to state we are in the initial throes of a tipping point for Major League Soccer, one whose origins are traced back to January 2007.

David Beckham was the game changer then and injected an accelerated pathway of unprecedented growth both on and off the pitch for a league which came into being as a requirement of FIFA awarding the 1994 World Cup Finals to the U.S.

He may have left the MLS pitch but Beckham's legacy on the league can only be truly measured following the full passage of time.

The 2013 All-Star Game may have come and gone but the events and news which started as soon as MLS' entire stakeholder group began arriving in Kansas last Sunday and on through to well after they had all departed will ripple and flow through MLS forever more.

It all got going Tuesday afternoon when one of the league's charter franchises - the Columbus Crew - was sold for a record price. According to Forbes that figure now sits at $68 million.

The original price paid for the Crew back in 1995 by one of MLS' founding investors Lamar Hunt was a mere $5 million.

Even if you throw in the approximate $30 million cost of constructing Crew Stadium, the original soccer-specific stadium built in the MLS era, that sale price represents a greater than six-fold Return on Investment.

Not a shabby return no matter what metric you deploy or measure it against.

No irony was lost in the fact that the news came with Kansas City as the backdrop, another of the charter franchises which was owned and operated by Lamar Hunt and the Hunt Sports Group.

Though news of the sale may not have budged the mainstream needle, that collective shoulder shrug was surely replaced with wide-eyed amazement following the news which came during the interval of Wednesday's so-termed showpiece event.

Ordinarily at the MLS Cup or the All-Star Game, Don Garber's halftime broadcast appearance is bereft of substance – a mere photo opportunity sans the baby kissing.

Not anymore.

Garber's main purpose during his appearance on ESPN Wednesday night - an appearance that was ultimately broadcast in well over 100 countries - was to advise a waiting world of Agenda Item Number One from that day's Board of Governor's meeting.


The needle moving type.

One which will result in 24 teams taking to MLS pitches across North America for the start of the 2020 season.

Major League Soccer on a scale not rationally believable when you consider just a short decade ago contraction was on everyone's minds as both Florida-based franchises were sacrificed for the common long term good.

Contraction bought the number of franchises at the time to just 10. The same number there was when MLS kicked off in 1996.

The decision to contract was one the league had fretted anxiously over. It was not exactly the best message to be sending as at this exact time MLS was desperately short of hard cash, splashing about blindly in their search for broadcast and partnership deals.

Whispers the league was on its last throes got louder after having already racked up over $250 million in debt and losses over these intervening years.

That contraction now has a very legitimate chance of coming full circle.

Flavio Augusto da Silva, the Brazilian owner of Orlando Soccer Club wants to bring Major League Soccer back to Florida. Orlando, who currently play in USL Pro, were invited to make a presentation during Wednesday morning's Board of Governors meeting.

Adding fuel to the Florida fire is a widely held belief David Beckham will finally exercise his option to purchase an MLS franchise and will call Miami home. This was the destination Barcelona had in mind for the 2011 expansion. Ultimately that cycle resulted in the Whitecaps and Portland winning out.

The Bolivian telecommunications billionaire Marcelo Claure who originally partnered with Barcelona and whose empire is headquartered in Miami is Beckham's dance partner.

With the league fully aware of the immense values stemming from localized football rivalries and if we take their 2011 expansion business model into account, one can safely presume two of those four franchises will be located in the snowbird state.

Considering the aggregate values returned to the league by the three Canadian clubs the migration and emigration of Canadians to Florida is likely not a point lost on the increasingly efficient league accountants based in Manhattan.

Where, then, will the remaining two franchises be located?

Well, forget speculating for now.

Having already made a career legacy out of it - the master of flushing MLS prospects out of that very same woodwork goal posts and crossbars are made of - Don Garber must be grinning like a Cheshire Cat at the prospects line-up which will over time line up two-abreast outside his office door.

They say bad news occurs in groups of three.

Well this week for MLS the opposite has occurred.

The third piece of good news stems from a random sighting, at a random US airport, by a random MLS Seattle supporter. The subject of that sighting, however, was anything but random.

As the football world held its collective breath and obsessively fixated over a certain Tottenham Hotspur player unbeknown to all, it was another Spurs player quietly slipped away from training camp. Destination: Heathrow Airport.

ESPN broke the news late Friday evening that Clint Dempsey - the U.S. captain still very much in the prime of his career - would be signing with the Sounders.

It's not so much MLS' Prodigal Son returning to a league he left back in 2007, but more a case - as we are now in the midst of a World Cup cycle – of one of the greatest footballers to emerge from the U.S. being convinced that MLS is on a football journey he very much wants to be part of after successfully exporting himself to one of world football's best leagues.

Seattle is reported to be paying Dempsey more than Beckham's base salary over a four-year term, with a total outlay running north of $40 million once the transfer fee has been factored in.

This is MLS we're talking about… a league where you could have purchased all 10 franchises for $50 million back in 1996.

According to many, the Seattle Sounders' unimaginable and unquantifiable success in large part is down to the fact the Emerald City is deemed the counter-culture capital of America.

By 2020 MLS will be the counter-culture capital of world football.

Over to you, FIFA.

You can reach and follow Noel Butler at:


Tune into TSN 690 Monday evening at 6:00pm et - when we will speak with ESPN's Doug McIntyre about Clint Dempsey's return to Major League Soccer. Also available at

Clint Dempsey (Photo: Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)


(Photo: Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)
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