The new season is already underway, and with it comes a lot of uncertainty. Which team will surprise us the most? Can the Portland Timbers repeat their performance in 2015? Will the LA Galaxy continue their dominance over the league? Will the Seattle Sounders finally win a well deserved title for their passionate fans? But most importantly, will the attendance and TV viewership continue to grow?
The most intriguing aspect of this season may be that the league won’t see any form of expansion. In 2017, we could see two, maybe even three new teams in Atlanta and Minnesota, possibly LA too, but for the time being, Major League Soccer remains at 20. Since many other sports have not seen any form of expansion in the past decade, this may not seem like a big deal, but for a league like MLS that generates a considerable amount of hype every time it grows, this temporary halt in growth could arguably affect the buzz it relies on for ticket sales. The good news is the decrease will probably be negligible
The last time MLS came out of an expansion season without expanding again the following season was 2013, the year after the Montreal Impact became the league’s 19th franchise. 2012 was a record-setting year for MLS in total attendance with over 6,000,000 fans. 2013 only saw a decrease of 1.1%, but for a league built around growth, any move such as folding a failing franchise (ie. Chivas USA) or building a soccer specific stadium (ie. DC United) needs to be calculated with careful consideration.
But here are a few things we can reasonably expect, with a small margin of error:
Average attendance figures will increase every so slightly from 2015 numbers by the end of the year. As usual, the first few weeks of MLS action will generate the biggest crowds, but over time attendance will fizzle.
NYCFC vs. NY Red Bulls will be bigger than ever. The crowds last season were very ample, and combined with increased marketing buzz and better play by the Bronx sophomores rallying around a new coach, this could quickly become a ratings boon for the league almost as big as all three Cascadia rivals across the country.
TV Viewership will remain stagnant or very close to it. Until MLS figures out a way to draw attention away from the British Premier League, it will be awhile before American soccer sees its large payday from TV Networks in the same way that the NFL, NBA, MLB, and even the NHL see to a greater extent.
The star power express from overseas will continue to flow in like we saw in 2015. Building off the buzz created by stars like Sebastian Giovinco, Giovanni Dos Santos, Andrea Pirlo, Kaka, and Didier Drogba, we are already seeing slightly older stars like Ashley Cole and Antonio Nocerino travelling across the pond in 2016, and there is no reason to believe the trend will stop anytime soon. The day an abundance of young stars from overseas want to play in the US is the day MLS can finally challenge the European juggernauts in England, Spain, and Germany.
Only time will tell what happens, but for the time being, kick back, relax, and enjoy the new season of soccer in America.