Philly Sports Score Big Nationally!
Yes, MLS never will be the NFL, the English Premier League, or Italy's Serie A. Still, the league that got off to a rocky start in 1996 has diversified its ownership - previously, a couple of billionaire owners kept the league afloat - and network television partners in two languages now pay small rights fees to show their games. The MLS used to pay the networks to show them.
Things are so good that every MLS game was televised nationally or regionally last season.
In the old days, many teams played in NFL stadiums and did not share in stadium revenues. But by the time the Philadelphia franchise begins play in spring 2010, MLS hopes to have 10 to 12 of the 16 franchises playing in soccer-specific stadiums, like the 18,500-seat park planned in Chester.
That's money in the bank and a significant threshold for a league that had an average attendance of 16,770 in 2007, second highest in league history after its inaugural 1996 season.
"It provides a top-level, intimate atmosphere," MLS president Mark Abbott said this week of a soccer-specific stadium. "Secondly, the ancillary revenues you are able to generate are a key component."
Abbott was not willing to confirm the Chester announcement, but a 2 p.m. news conference has been scheduled for today at the future site of the new stadium.
While Philadelphia's ability to provide a suitable place to play and a deep-pocketed ownership group was vital to winning the franchise, real progress has been made on the field by the MLS, too. Signing the world's most famous player, David Beckham, was a powerful symbol even if Beckham showed up injured and has been covered more by The E! Network than ESPN.
That signing and several others represent a departure from the way the league had done business. Although MLS has little intention of reprising the old free-spending North American Soccer League, franchises are now allowed to exceed league-imposed salary limits for "designated players."
Just as important, the franchises identify those players themselves instead of having the league allocate its stars, the way it had when it first began play.
The TrekMedic thinks:
While the TrekMedic isn't a fan of soccer (20 guys running around, ruining a perfectly good field of grass, and people cheering a 0-0 tie isn't a sport), awarding the franchise to Philadelphia helps shine a positive national spotlight and bring some fresh air not only to a region beset by violent crime, but brings hope to a run-down, third-rate city like Chester.
And with a projected average of only 15,000 per game, it'll never surpass the Big Three in Philly (Phillies, Eagles and Flyers) in popularity, but, like the Wings, the Soul, and the Phantoms, it'll offer another affordable family sports venue.
And where else but Philly could have a fan club, the Sons of Ben, years before having an actually team to cheer about?