Many would agree soccer’s popularity in America has increased slowly but surely over the last decade mainly due to the influx of aging overseas players seeking to broaden the sports brand in the globe’s largest sports market. Many of these aging stars come to America for large transfer fees hoping to show the American fan how exciting soccer can be and convert them to the sport. But is such a practice financially worth it? Often such players are grossly overpaid and rarely improve the teams they are on. The MLS clubs agree to these deals in the hopes of furthering the brand of their club and the league as a whole. But do these players truly further the clubs brand? Through the case study of Steven Gerrard, I will investigate this question.
Steven Gerrard, the Liverpool FC legend joined the LA Galaxy in the summer of 2015 for a transfer fee of $9 million. Currently Gerrard, despite being the 16th oldest player in the league, is the highest paid player on the Galaxy roster and the 4th highest paid player in the entire league with a base salary of $6.2 million. Despite the gaudy amount of money spent on him Gerrard hasn’t proved himself on the pitch. Last season Gerrard only had 3 goals his lowest total since his 2nd season at Liverpool (1999-2000). And though he did play in fewer games the drop off in play is still apparent. And with his lack luster play the team has struggled, losing in the first round of the playoffs last season, after wining the MLS cup the previous year.
And though such a fall can’t be attributed all to Gerrard, as soccer is a team game, he is at least partially to blame for the outcome. Especially as in the single elimination playoff game, the man he was marking taped in a goal off a free kick that, Gerrard should have been able to stop with ease.
Despite it all he is an exteremely popular player in the league. His jersey is the second most sold jersey in the MLS, and he was chosen to play in the all star game. Additionally, since Gerrard’s arrival average attendance has increase 10% rising to the highest level since 2008. Also the value of the LA Galaxy has skyrocketed since Gerrard’s arrival. Forbes reports that the value of the team was $170 million in 2013 and is currently $240 million. For background it took 5 years (2008-2013) for the teams value to increase the same amount. Despite such an increase in value and ticket sales, also according to Forbes, the team’s revenue has remained steady at roughly $44 million.
All in all it is easy to see Gerrard’s arrival has had a very complex effect on the team. The team hasn’t performed as well on the pitch and hasn’t increased revenue but its value has skyrocketed. Such a high value is good for the owner and the team as a whole as it increases resale value and awareness of the sport and the club. Additionally the MLS as a league has much to gain from Gerrard’s arrival as it increases the value and prestige of their league as a whole. In conclusion, aging veterans such as Gerrard due in fact further the brand of their own clubs and soccer in America as a whole, in this case at the expense of team revenue and team performance.
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“Los Angeles Galaxy 2015 Salary Cap.” Spotrac.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Feb. 2016.
Schwartz, Peter J., and Kurt Badenhausen. “Major League Soccer’s Most Valuable Teams.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 19 Sept. 2008. Web. 26 Feb. 2016.
Smith, Chris. “Major League Soccer’s Most Valuable Teams 2015.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 19 Aug. 2015. Web. 26 Feb. 2016.
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I really enjoyed your post; it brought forth some very interesting questions. I agree with the comment above by Stephen. Major League Soccer is increasing their public exposure by taking on better-known “ex-star” players yet sacrificing the performance of the league. One question that initially came to mind reading your piece is that these veteran players may be looking to extend the longevity of their careers becasue to their declining skills and lower level of play in the MLS than its European counterparts. If the MLS were to not pay these players nearly as much would their still be a trend for ex-European league stars to attempt to extend their careers in the States.
Working off this, how could Major League Soccer change this? The MLS faces a plethora of challenges to capture skilled younger players away from the European leagues. I believe the MLS must increase its player development and at a younger age in order to be able to effectively compete with the European Leagues, just as they do. If this were to work and talented players remained in the US to play for MLS teams the league would in theory become much more appealing for talented foreign players to join.
You make some strong points but you are focusing on Gerrard whose playing style has changed since he has become older. In his early years he used to play more as a box to box midfielder, but as he has gotten older his style of play has changed to more of midfield general, controlling the ball and playing the role of a facilitator. Although, I don’t believe that his level of play is at the level to demand 6 million dollars a year, the money has to be paid not do to the success such a player will have on the field but the impact they would have on the popularity of the club. His arrival has not only increased the ticket sales of Galaxy fans but it has influenced many Liverpool fans living in the USA to have some interest in the team that their former skipper plays for and thus have some interest in the MLS not just top tier European leagues.
Likewise, if you look at other ex-European stars effect on the MLS you would see that Giovinco, Keane, and David Villa were top 5 goal scorers in the league in 2015. While Giovinco and Kljestan were top 5 for assists in the 2015 season. Thus, this demonstrates that aging ex-international stars still have fuel left in their tank. By ex-stars increasing the level of competition in the MLS it makes the homegrown players increase their level of play, thus benefiting the league and the fans as a whole by their being an overall better quality of play on the pitch.
Your comments here are spot on; the increasing trend of aging, top players ending their career in the US is something that the MLS has to be both happy and wary about. Simply put, increasing visibility for a league like the MLS is crucial, and yet sacrificing integrity of the sport’s performance isn’t perhaps the best long term goal. However, I would argue that Gerrard is not necessarily typical of all players who make this sort of move. Most recently Didier Drogba stands out as a key example of how top players can alter the MLS landscape in a positive manner. After moving to Montreal Impact last season, Drogba scored 12 goals and one assist in 14 games total, both regular season and playoff. Granted, his impact in the playoffs was limited due to injury, but Drogba is credited more or less single handedly with dragging the Impact into the playoffs to begin with. He even played well enough to make pundits consider if Chelsea, the Premiership club he made his name at, would even consider bringing him back on a loan. When asked about it though, Drogba said he ‘wasn’t hot on the idea’ of playing for Chelsea again. And thats probably reasonable, given the difference in form between the Impact and Chelsea.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that the MLS is a mixed bag for the top European players. David Beckham worked well, won multiple MLS Cups, and boosted the image of the league, but never performed individually as expected. Thierry Henry blew the league away in scoring, but his Red Bulls never succeeded as a team. Gerrard seems to weighed down the Galaxy in both individual and team terms. It really is too difficult to tell how these players will react on the pitch, but on the pocketbook, the impact is simple. These names bring in people on seats, jersey sales, and continue to grow the league image. In doing so, they might help the MLS buck the image of second tier that has dogged it for so long. When players like Drogba say no to European returns, maybe the MLS has a chance of building its own prestige, rather than borrowing from others.