The first week of the 2014 season is barely in the books, but I cannot help but think about the 2105 season as I look at the future of soccer in the USA. From a business perspective, the 2015 season seems overloaded with significant and important business milestones that will go a long way towards the health and maturity of the league. MLS may really come of age in it 20th anniversary season.
First, there will be two new teams taking the field in 2015. The league will get back into the Southeast, with a new franchise in Orlando. Fan support already seems strong and a stadium project is moving forward. Orlando is a growing city with only one other professional sports franchise; the perfect market for a league that has succeeded in places like Salt Lake City and Portland. At the same time, MLS will move into the biggest and saturated of markets, New York City. If you can make it here……. Success or failure in the Big Apple will be a watershed moment for MLS. The market is there to be tapped, but much has to go right for the league to find success in the Five Boroughs. The process gets underway next year.
2015 will also be the first year of a new (and presumably) long term relationship with a new television partner. MLS is working to become appointment viewing, with a dedicated weekly timeslot. With Fox the presume suitor, placement no Fox Sports 1 vs. Fox Sports 2 could be key. At the same time, the league seems primed to improve its relationship with ESPN, the key network in the world of sports. Coverage on the Worldwide Leader is key for MLS as it continues to grow.
2015 will also mark the start of a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. The CBA expires this December and the players will be looking at the increased television money, expansion fees and stadium construction as a key argument in favor of increased player salaries and freedom of movement. The last negotiation came down to the wire; will the same thing happen next time.
Elsewhere, there will be new sponsors signed, a new stadium opening in San Jose and new partners to announce. In a normal year, these would be big moments in league history. But in 2015, they will be mere footnotes in a season filled with business milestones.