Tuesday night marked the opening of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal version for the 2009/2010 season. What was once 24 teams is now 8, as the top regional sides competing for the right to represent CONCACAF in the Club World Cup. This is the second season for the competition in its current iteration. The play-in portion of the tournament started in RFK in July before a paltry crowd typical of the tournament. The quarters opened up before friends and family in Columbus on a termperate night in Ohio.
In Europe, the Champions League competition is the most prominent of club events. Even during the broadcast of the Crew match, FSC was actively promoting its upcoming HD broadcasts of future Champions League games. Club teams throughout the continent claw for the money, exposure and glamor of a spot in Europe. In CONCACAF, the tournament barely registers a blip on the radar screen of the region’s soccer fans, especially in the US. Teams must invest time, money and energy to compete in the event without the substantial rewards offered in the European version of the event. The teams face extensive travel and generate limited revenue from ticket sales. So from a business perspective, is it worth it?
We say yes. As the tournament gains traction (especially in some of the newer markets), the exposure to international competition creates an enormous opportunity for exporting the League to the rest of the region. This will get a great test this year as US Open Cup Champ Seattle dips a toe into international play. At the same time, the elusive American soccer fan who watches only European football gets a chance to see more MLS on FSC in a tournament that makes perfect sense to them.
At the same time, players within MLS have the opportunity to show their wares to an array of potential suitors. Ultimately, this creates transfer opportunities which can generate revenue for the teams and the League. Similarly, front offices in MLS have an opportunity to evaluate talent from around the region, as they watch potential transfer targets play against MLS competition.
This process will take time, and likely will be a money loser for some time. Yet the Champions League is an important business opportunity for Major League Soccer. Ticket sales will come, as will television revenue and popularity over time. Of course, it would help of MLS teams show well in the event.