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Roundtable: Is MLS Single Entity Here To Stay?

The writers of Hot Time debate the lifespan of MLS as a single-entity league. Can first-division football flourish in the USA without training wheels?

Almost nowhere else in the world can billionaires start a new club directly in the top flight without fighting through promotion.
Almost nowhere else in the world can billionaires start a new club directly in the top flight without fighting through promotion.
Aaron Davidson
With rumors of an increase in salary cap with new collective bargaining coming up, is it time for MLS to move past single entity model (not that that will happen while Garber is around, but it makes for a good talking point). Can the league survive now without single entity? Pro/con arguments for each side?

Adam Merges: With the CBA expiring around this time next year, there are many things that can change with the way that the MLS runs its system. Will they move past a single entity? Probably not. Can the league survive right now not having a single entity system? Maybe. A single entity system keeps the health of the league in mind with most decisions that it makes. It also keeps some parity in the league. Yes, with the DP rule, there are the haves and have nots in the MLS right now but if it there was no single entity, then teams would have to fend for themselves.

For example, look at the transfers of Dempsey and Bradley. The league paid for a portion of both of those transfer fees. If each team controlled their own budgets for transfers, we would definitely see those teams that have owners with deep pockets being able to outspend those without. In a sense we are seeing it now where teams like TFC, LA, NY and Seattle are able to outspend Chicago who has a "small market" owner.

A lack of single entity would also see those teams pushing for higher or no salary cap. This would, in my opinion, create a league like the EPL, La Liga, and Siere A where there is no parity and they are leagues of haves and have nots. Also if this happens I can definitely see the MLS following the same path as the old NASL where teams were spending more than they could afford in order to keep up with the teams that could afford those players. We all know what happened in the end to the NASL and I don't think we want that to happen to the MLS.

Ryan Sealock: The topic of single entity when it comes to MLS is one of the more hot button topics being bandied about in recent years. While there are of course pros and cons, just like with any system, if you want to start a good MLS debate, bring this topic up. It's a system that brings ridicule from MLS opponents, but it's also a system that has brought the league to where it currently stands today.

For the pro argument, the last sentence above is the biggest advocate for keeping the current structure. The creation of the league was guaranteed as part of the 1994 World Cup package. However, the real trick was keeping the league going once it got started. As we saw with the old NASL and various other league entities, running a successful pro soccer league in America is not as easy as riding a bike. For the league to grow, the climate it was created and administered in had to be the right fit.

Overall, single entity has gotten us to "MLS 3.0". The soccer landscape in the US is starting to really boom, and the league is at a point of a potentially huge explosion. Single entity has helped ensure that some of the clubs that may have fallen severely behind the curve have been able to keep up and try to stay competitive. The approach has nurtured the league and helped keep things on an even playing level.

In turn, the con argument would say that everything hasn't been linear and full of parity like the league would have you know. Certain teams are given special treatment. No one knows the rulebook, including the governing officials themselves. With full removal from single entity, wouldn't this allow for teams to truly build their brands their own way? Even if it means some teams fall behind and possibly even fail, doesn't this competitive action make the league better as a whole? Cut the dead weight, let the truly ambitious teams take over, etc etc?

A true non single entity league would make it "every man for themselves". If you have an owner that wants to be truly competitive, the money will have to be there, as well as the proper people in place. Otherwise a superior business model will run yours into the ground (which can't really happen, at least not in the same aspect in the current landscape). There would be no Don Garber/MLS to save you. Either survive or die. While this might seem daunting, it's also an opportunity to build a club that could truly be called a dynasty and prove your mettle in the league. And separate owners would want a very specific rulebook to make sure others aren't playing the system. This "rules on the fly" approach wouldn't, well, fly to be frank. These of course are only a couple of benefits of true separate ownership.

In the end, in my personal opinion we aren't to the point of moving past single entity- yet. With new teams coming into the league, having the help and resources of MLS to really get them up and running will be necesssary. At some point though, the league must adapt to it's ever changing environment. Just because a business model got you to success doesn't mean it is guaranteed to continue that growth. As we have seen in every industry, nay every walk of life, resting on your laurels is a fatal mistake. The league must strive to look at all options to continue growth if we hope to continue the rise of MLS and the sport in general. Even if that means a departure from the backbone of the operation, at some point that will be necessary. That could be in 2, 5, or 10 years. There are more pros than cons for a true non single entity league. It's just a matter of finding the right time to do it.

Anthony Seymour: I don't have a crystal ball to predict where Major League Soccer is going, but I am going to take a pessimistic approach to answering this question. Although I think it is essential that the MLS eventually get past the single entity model, I expect that the system is not going to change drastically in the next couple of years.

I expect a modest salary cap increase on the horizon, one that will allow clubs to attract marginally better talent, but I think it is unlikely that we will see significant changes in the rules of contracts and those will continue to be owned by the league and not the clubs. The league is certainly not going to start stealing talent in their prime from the European giants.

I think many clubs have become reliant, like an abused wife, on cap rules and socialistic single entity rules that were essential to survival in the beginning of the league but with expansion and increased income in many club is no longer needed. The clubs with the least resources would fear struggle to compete if forced to compete with powerhouses in New York, LA and Seattle and consequently would keep coming back for more, even if in their hearts they know it is not good for them. These small market clubs would fight tooth and nail against change and I doubt the league has the courage to stick it to these lesser market clubs. The current "balance" of resources allows all clubs to compete on (relatively) equal footing which must be enticing to many. I am not holding my breath on this sort of change.

Dan Paulmeyer: I do believe that the time is going for MLS to move on from being a single entity model. Even though teams are losing money, it is time for the sport to grow more. Teams are always going to lose money. Look at the English Premier League. They have giant television deals and they still lose money. That is a risk of owning a sports team. I believe that teams have the infrastructure and enough of a loyal fan base to make the money. I also think you would see an increase in ownership in MLS. Now that owners would be able to use their money, they would open up the wallets even more. I think an MLB style luxury tax would be something that I would like to see eventually. Moving away from single entity would allow the Galaxy, Toronto, New York Red Bulls and New York FC to separate themselves. A lack of competitiveness is dangerous but a luxury tax could help prevent that. I believe the overall level of play would rise with teams having more freedom to sign players without going through the web of rules that MLS has.

Sean Spence: The current owners will never do away with single entity willingly, any more than they'll open the books to forensic accountants willingly or talk about the structure of Soccer United Marketing willingly. If the league fourishes, they'll point to the structure as the cause, and if it flounders, they'll point to the structure as the cure.