Overnight English language broadcast numbers are out for the USA/Brazil match, and the numbers are instructive. Of the top 10 markets, only three are MLS cities, and two of the top five (Miami and West Palm Beach) were home to one of the League’s failed franchises. Other top markets like Hartford/New Haven and Richmond scored very well, despite only a passing association with exisiting franchises. Las Vegas was a solid #2, perhaps suggesting heavy betting action on the game.
Regardless, the real story here is the South Florida market. Remember Barcelona’s efforts to bring a team to Miami? Remember the short lived Miami Fusion? We admit, we were against the idea of MLS expanding back into Florida. South Floridians are notoriously fickle sports fans; Exhibits A-C are the Heat, Panthers and Marlins. But as these TV numbers suggest, soccer is definitely a premier attraction in the Sunshine State (this will likely be even more evident in the Spanish language numbers).
The question for MLS is can a franchise (with or without Barca) survive in South Florida. As we have said before, the idea of 9,000 fans snoozing through Sunday afternoon game in 110 degree Miami August heat, is a nightmare scenario for supporters of the League. Would the popularity of top-level international football translate into numbers for MLS? As the US marched through the Confederations Cup, it became clear that soccer is plenty popular, just not MLS.
There are three levels of soccer fans in the US. There are the MLS fans who cheer on their local team and their national team. There are the “Euro” fans who follow the big European teams (or South American teams) and their national teams, but have little interest in MLS. Finally, there are the “event” fans, who get caught up in the hype of a big event and/or will follow the US in any sporting event. The first group is small (but growing), and these are the fans that MLS needs to capture, especially in a market like South Florida, where soccer is king, but MLS is not.
One final expansion note, there was a story out recently that the Saputos are again announcing an effort to bring an MLS team to Montreal. Montreal has shown an ability to support soccer (remember that big Canada Cup crowd) and is close to securing a 21k soccer specific stadium. A third Canadian team would create a nice rivalry and Saputo is solid potential owner. However, with Philly, Vancouver and Portland right around the corrner, there is a question whether the League can handle another franchise so quickly. The dilution of the talent pool is a big concern. That said, Montreal would be a great venue for MLS.