Don Garber gave his annual address over Facebook Live Friday afternoon to a packed room of reporters in Toronto. Garber painted a rosy picture of a league on the rise. Key indicators of Major League Soccer’s success that were noted:
- MLS had the largest collective attendance in league history
- MLS’ Atlanta expansion franchise set records in season ticket holders
- League games had been broadcast at the top-level channel of every major television partner in North America
- MLS Cup will be broadcast in 170 countries in at least 70 languages
- MLS has the fastest growing social media presence in major professional sports; up in followers by 95% over last year at this time.
In addition to those ‘Ra-ra MLS!’ details, Garber added some important hard news items that affect the way the game will be played next season. The Soccer Don told fans and reporters about three big innovations to MLS next season: an increase in TAM for every team, the addition of video assisted refereeing, and the planned announcement of more expansion.
MLS will release $1.2 million per team in Targeted Allocation Money for 2017; a total of over $44 million league-wide. TAM is money meant to strengthen the middle of each team’s roster. With a salary cap of approximately $3.2-3.7 million per team, TAM can be used to purchase players in the $400K-$1 million range and pay their cap cost down.
TAM can also be used to help pay the cost of transfer fees incurred to bring in a new player from outside MLS. We’ll explore how Colorado might use this money in depth in a later article. But in brief, the extra money can help Colorado retain mid-to-high level salaried players like Dillon Powers and Kevin Doyle, offer raises to talented players the team would like to retain long term like Axel Sjoberg, and buy a more expensive upgrade from abroad.
Garber announced that MLS will add video assisted refereeing in 2017, beginning with testing and experimenting in the first half of the season before a full rollout to every MLS game after the midsummer All-Star Game. VAR could be implemented a number of ways. One possibility would be to have games reviewed in a central video review office in, say, New York, and have those ‘fifth officials’ be either available to the on-field officiating crew at the field crews request, or vice-versa; the New York crew could radio in to LA, Seattle, or Orlando to inform the crew that they’d got the call wrong. Another foreseeable way to do it would be for each game to have a fifth official at the game and able to access a video review in the booth upon request. The nature of what calls are reviewable and what are not has yet to be discussed. We will see how this plays out in 2017.
The last bit of news was really the announcement of an announcement: Garber did not disclose details of the league’s plan going forward around expansion. Garber said decisions regarding MLS expansion will be made at a board meeting on December 15 and announced afterwards. The central questions regard where, when, who, how, and how much.
Leading candidates for expansion include USL clubs on the rise like Sacramento and Cincinnati; refugees from the rapidly crumbling NASL like Indianapolis, North Carolina (formerly the Carolina Railhawks), and Tampa Bay; and interest by the league to expand to markets in Miami, Las Vegas, and St Louis. That is coupled with the entry of LAFC in 2018. The league may conservatively be hoping to go to only 24 or 26 teams, or have plans to go all the way to 28, 30, or 32 teams over a timeline anywhere from 2019 to 2030. Realigned divisional structure, the possibility of a two-tiered league, and even limited inter-league promotion and relegation are all possibilities, albeit distant ones. Expansion club fees, currently at $100 million per team, must also be discussed.
To see the entire address, click below. I was fairly encouraged by a league that is growing and willing to make changes. Compared to other sports leagues in the the US, MLS seems far more willing to try new things and evolve. I’d love to hear what our loyal BWave readers think, though, so tell us in the comments below!