Historical Overview

Major League Soccer

Major League Soccer was formed in 1995 as a limited liability company. MLS began play in 1996 with ten teams. MLS initially suffered low attendance and pushback for its attempts to “Americanize” the sport. In fact, the league lost an estimated $350 million in its first eight years. However, the 2002 FIFA World Cup, in which the United States unexpectedly made the quarterfinals, contributed to a resurgence of MLS.[1] In 2004, MLS embarked on a financial stabilization plan that included moving out of large American football stadiums into soccer-specific stadiums, expanding to Canada, and adopting the Designated Player rule to attract international players. Most notably, 2004 marks the beginning of MLS expansion, in which increased investment into the league has more than doubled the number of teams.[2] The 2007 season witnessed MLS debut of David Beckham, which led to the transfer of other experienced veterans from Europe to MLS. By 2013, MLS had the third highest average attendance, 20,000 people per match, of any sports league in the United States, behind the National Football League (NFL) and Major League Baseball (MLB). The league currently has 26 teams and plans to expand to 30 teams with the addition of Austin FC and Charlotte in 2021, and Sacramento and St. Louis in 2022.[3]

Chinese Super League

The Chinese Super League, founded in 2004, is considered the highest level of soccer in China. The two worst teams from the CSL are replaced by the two best teams from the China League One at the end of each season. The first CSL season in 2004, with 12 teams in the league, was plagued with scandals, such as match fixing and gambling. These controversies decreased interest in the domestic game and produced great financial losses.[4] The CSL expanded to its current 16 teams in 2009, but the anti-corruption movement did not visibly improve the image of the CSL until 2011. The stabilization of the CSL inspired President Xi Jinping’s long-term plan for soccer in China. In 2015 President Xi announced that he would increase both the number of soccer schools from 5,000 to 50,000 and the number of fields from 11,000 to 70,000 by 2025. Xi’s proclamation spurred unprecedented investment in the CSL, which spent a net $300 million on top foreign players in the winter transfer the following year.[5] The CSL has continued to spend lavishly on talent and is now one of the most popular professional sports league in China, with an average attendance of 24,000 in 2018. This is the twelfth-highest of any domestic professional sports league in the world.[6]

[1] Pyne, “A Short,” MLS Great Britain.

[2] Pyne, “A Short,” MLS Great Britain.

[3] “M.L.S. Announces,” The New York Times.

[4] Boyall, “What Is the Chinese,” The Sun.

[5] Buckley, “President Xi’s,” The New York Times.

[6] Li, Scott, and Wang, “Foreign Stars,” The Asia Dialogue.