I ran across this article the other day and thought it would be fun to analyze. The beginning of the article brings up a very good point on the future popularity of the NFL. Within the American sports market we have seen the ebb and flow of many American sports leagues. It was not long ago that MLB was the most popular American sport, and like this article points, out both boxing and horse-racing were once perched on top as well. However, as times change, interests change and there is no guarantee the NFL will remain the most popular American sport for decades to come. Soccer has been the most popular sport in the world and its popularity in the US is growing. Coinciding with that growing popularity in the US is the growing popularity of MLS. Although some laugh when Don Garber, the MLS Commisioner, projects MLS to become one of the world’s most popular soccer leagues it is not an absurd projection. Soccer in the US is trending upwards and the more popular soccer becomes in the US the more fans the MLS can market towards.
It the growth of soccer and MLS that forms the crux of Kevin Donahue’s argument. He claims that the NFL can remain profitable by attaching itself to a growing product to reduce the shock of its eventual failure. As his example he points to the major tobacco companies who despite facing multi-billion dollar lawsuits were able to remain profitable because they merged with food companies such as Kraft and General Foods. These mergers “put them in a business where their experience as marketers was valuable.” Therefore, essentially Kevin contends that if the NFL bought MLS they could use their American sports expertise to grow MLS while also softening the blow of their demise and hedge their bets. A demise most likely linked to their concussion settlements and off-the field character concerns. The benefits would be,
“For the MLS, being acquired would provide capital and access to world-class facilities and a marketing organization that could provide a playbook on how to grow a multi-billion-dollar sports league. It would be a booster rocket propelling the league a decade forward instantaneously. From a business standpoint, the two very different leagues could reduce overhead for administration and facilities and open the doors to a world of “bundled” opportunities—for sponsors, advertisers, perhaps even a combined football-and-soccer cable channel that had no extended offseason.”
This article spends a lot of time explaining why this idea would benefit the NFL and MLS; however, it fails to answer the question of whether MLS need help from the NFL? The marketing muscle and money would be a benefit but the two organizations have two totally different philosophies. MLS has built a league based on a true connection to its fans, willingness to change/innovate, and brand awareness. The lack of big money in MLS has forced them to take a different approach to marketing their league than the NFL. Their popularity is not a given so they have built their league in a way that insures they are always in-tune with their fan base and brand so that they can refine the product as time goes on. NFL has become too big to do that and their inability to change or admit wrongdoing is currently why they are in a quagmire of concussion lawsuits and uproar over the character issues of its players.
In order for MLS to grow it needs to be nimble and quickly adaptable whereas the opposite is true for the NFL; in order to the NFL to stay on top it must continue to stayed balanced at the tip of the sports pyramid while it balloons to obscene proportions. By acquiring MLS the NFL continues their trend of growth for the sake of growth while inhibiting MLS from being as nimble as it needs to be in order to keep up with the growing soccer market in the US. Major League Soccer may still have ways to go but they are headed in the right directin and being acquired by the NFL would only hurt them in the long run.