Cleats logo

MLS: A League in Need of a Lift

by Sam Hazelwood 2 months ago in football

The league needs a name rebranding and here’s why

(www.mlssoccer.com)

The MLS is a league in the ascendancy. That cannot be questioned. A mere 25 years ago the top flight of US soccer was founded following a successfully held 1994 World Cup in the United States. But six years on from that the league was sputtering and clinging on by a thread. Teams were folding or desperately hanging on to life. Interest waned until the United States Men’s National team made a deep run in the 2002 World Cup which reignited interest among a fan base that was long on the decline.

It has been a while since those days and things have changed quite a bit. The success of the league now owes much to do with the structure and administration of MLS in the early days. This allowed the league to be what it is today. Back then the MLS was constantly derided with negativity surrounding its setup and administration. But Major League Soccer weathered the barrage of doubters both in the media and among players to stand tall.

Yet, today outside of those points mentioned Major League Soccer has done little else to distinguish itself among the games more renowned leagues. One of the more prominent issues I see is with MLS’s current marketing in regards to the clubs and their naming conventions. Historically, when it came it came to addressing its marketing of clubs (a weaknesses until recently) the league made almost no effort.

However, this all changed when in 2010 MLS kicked off what would be a flurry of rebranding campaigns. In 2010, the Kansas City Wizards changed to Sporting Kansas City which kicked off the trend in earnest of MLS clubs changing their names to a more European format.

The naming of MLS clubs in the style of European clubs will only help with attracting players from the Old World. Many of whom probably viewed MLS teams in a negative light already from the quality of play on the field and the historical ammeter nature of MLS club names. Now this may seem snobbish but I think there’s some merit to it. Also, the clubs must realize that when adopting the monikers like United, Sporting, AFC, SC and Athletic it is just as important to pay homage to the MLS clubs own past in the creation of the new logo/crest. I’m looking at you Columbus Crew.

Regardless of club naming conventions the main point of contention I have with MLS is the name of the league itself: Major League Soccer. The name MLS might of been fine for the mid 90’s era. But that was back when overall interest was minimal at best. Now there’s a growing immigrant population which is set to eclipse the white majority by 2041. This is not to say that white Americans do not love or enjoy the sport but the demographic map is changing and leaning more towards Spanish speaking and Portuguese speaking influx with a growing Asian population as well. All of whom are well established areas for soccer or areas where it’s popularity or clout is growing.

The league name MLS is frankly an outdated relic of an earlier iteration of a now more mature league. The name doesn't reflect the current more expansive nature of the league itself which operates in two countries so far. And I say so far because there are rumblings of MLS trying to possibly fusr or in some way mingle MLS’s competitive schedule more with Liga MX (Mexico’s First Division). Now the likelihood of a merger happening between the two leagues is highly unlike seeing as Liga MX is still the stronger league. However, many of the clubs in Liga MX are struggling and it may be possible that one day in the not to distant future the idea is brought to fruition.

The Benefits of Rebranding

So what do I propose as a replacement for the MLS name? I give you the new North American Premier League!!

(Designed using smashinglogo.com)

A league name like this shouts ambition, inclusivity and progression. Important features for a league with an eye on growth. The other benefit of a name change would be that it could open the door to the league branching out further in Canada and possibly Mexico. I say this because in the past 11 years a total of 11 teams have been added with an additional two set to join by 2023. Another benefit of the name change I’m proposing is that it would tie the league to the sports roots. The NAPL moniker would be a nod to the origins of the sport itself and to arguably the greatest league in the world: the English Premier League.While also bring a outward recognition of the sports overall history and culture which is one tied to the world at large. A sport which is not and has not been invented by Americans but a sport embraced and expanded by the world outside the 50 States.

The other real issue I see from the current branding is the leagues ability to recruit from a club transfer standpoint. The biggest barrier has been perception among foreign players. In the past there’s been multiple prominent players who have joked or frowned upon the league. Players like Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Wayne Rooney. Wayne Rooney specifically critisizing how “owners abuse [the system] to their own advantage, exploiting players who do not earn as much as other sports.” A direct reference to the transfer and wage policies of the league.

An article I read many years ago laid out the 5 major issues plaguing MLS. He summed up the issues distinctly with two key points. The two key points that resonated with me then as they still do now were the current poor transfer system and the playoff system.

The biggest issue with the current transfer window setup is the weird decision yo make the transfer windows in March and June. These transfer windows put the league at odds with major leagues in Europe and South America. This off cycle transfer window creates friction with clubs abroad looking to buy MLS players and MLS clubs looking to do the same.

That said I understand why MLS feels the need to do what it does with the transfer process. The league is set up to not be in conflict with the major US sports leagues. And I get that. They don’t have near the pull that those leagues draw when their marquee games are broadcasted. However, this shouldn’t mean or affect the transfer window. In fact, I’d argue the switch would benefit the league considering the January transfer window would flow into the start of the MLS season. And the July transfer window would be perfect timing for those teams making a push for the last few remaining playoff positions.

Now I won't bore you with extensive details on the current playoff system other than the fact that 14 teams make the postseason. Which doesn’t promote quality but rather mediocrity. It would be nice to see MLS put more emphasis on winning your respective conference. Then the two teams that finish number one in their respective conferences could play a final to determine who is king of MLS. In addition, the current 14 team playoff format could still be retained but used in a one off tournament held at the end of January beginning of February. Again rebranding the league would open the door for this kind of change which theoretically should improve interest and possibly revenue.

While the points made above are not vital they very well could be the positives to the roll out of a successful rebranding of the league. The suggestions all have the potential to be the positives of a league that is very close to being fully taken seriously as a truly competitive and viable soccer league. A league that could then be on par with the English Championship, Dutch Eredivisie, Belgian Pro League or Danish Superliga. A name change may seem unecessary but then again the EPL did it when everyone saw it as impractical and look how that turned out.

I'm not suggesting MLS is anywhere near that level. But crazier obstacles have been overcome and benefited those with the foresight to see their visions through. And without a rebrand, they will lose the long term battle for cultural relevancy that they have fought so hard for. The time is now for the switch. Grabbing the momentum they have built and usher the league into a new era synonymous with quality, competitive play and notoriety equal to its aspirations. The future is bright but it could be brighter. Now is the time to strike and rebrand the league. Ushering in a golden age of soccer in North American!

football

Sam Hazelwood

Avid traveler. Father. Weekend hiker. I enjoy almost every sport but football is #1. My other passion is to write historical fiction. So be on the lookout for my book. Thanks for reading!

Receive stories by Sam Hazelwood in your feed
Sam Hazelwood
Read next: Best Soccer Bars in NYC

Find us on social media

Miscellaneous links

  • Explore
  • Contact
  • Privacy Policy
  • Terms of Use
  • Support

© 2021 Creatd, Inc. All Rights Reserved.