A few weeks ago I discussed the potential for Major League Soccer (MLS) players going on strike. For the last few weeks, there has been relatively little discussion in the media about the labor talks, other than a few reports of positive talks between the players and the league/owners. Even after the Collective Bargaining Agreement expired, the two sides continued to meet in extended talks which were seen as another positive development in the labor crisis.
Just today though, things seem to be heading in the opposite direction. There have been a large number of articles discussing the imminent possibility of the league going on strike. In his mailbag this week, Sports Illustrated writer Grant Wahl discusses the outburst of comments from both the players and owners as being very negative, and a very good sign that the league may not be starting up as scheduled this season (or possibly not even at all).
Now labor stoppages in professional sport leagues hasn’t been anything new, in the last few decades we have seen strikes and in Major League Baseball, National Basketball Association, and the National Hockey League. In each instance there has been evidence of significant declines in fan attendance because of these work stoppages. While these big leagues have all recovered to some extent from the work stoppages, the question which keeps bothering me is “can the MLS survive a strike? It is already well documented that the league has had many financial struggles over the years, and a strike seems to be exactly the thing which would make an already ambivalent public care even less about the sport of soccer, which already has had a tough time competing against the more popular sports of hockey, baseball, football, and basketball in North America.
While things may be tough, imagine being in the position of the owners of the new expansion franchise in Philadelphia. Its one thing to not receive any attendance revenues because of a strike, but to not have any incoming revenue in a franchises first year in a league could be a death sentence for the franchise. Another potential big loser would be the New York Red Bulls who have completed construction of a new 25,000 seat stadium. The novelty effect tells us that a new stadium should help boost attendance at matches, but what happens if a new stadium is built, but no games are played there?
While the North American Soccer League failed because of overspending and expansion, could it be that such a strong attempt at avoiding increasing spending in the MLS could lead to the league’s demise? Only time will tell. Stay tuned for more MLS (and NFL & NBA) labor stoppage news and analysis.