Where the MLS Ranks in World Soccer Leagues
The MLS isn’t one of the four major professional sports leagues in America but it does have the third highest average attendances of any American league. Out of all the soccer leagues in the world, how good is the MLS and where does it rank?
How Popular is the MLS?
We begin by taking a look at how popular the league is in the U.S. and worldwide. Major League Soccer is extremely popular in America and average attendances are behind only the NFL and MLB. Worldwide, the MLS is the 8th most attended soccer league in the world.
The MLS continues to explode in popularity. In 2005 there were only 12 teams in the league and as of now, there are 27 teams with plans for 30 franchises by 2023. And prior to David Beckham joining the LA Galaxy in 2007, the MLS was unknown worldwide.
The standard of the league and its popularity continues to grow as its able to attract marquee signings such as superstars Thierry Henry, Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard and Zlatan Ibrahimović. It's no coincidence that MLS attendances increased 34% between 2013 to 2018, the second highest increase in world soccer and proof of how popular the MLS is.
There are many success stories of the MLS in recent times and one of the highlights was expansion franchise Atlanta United's launch in 2017 and taking the MLS by storm and almost instantly. The club is one of the best supported soccer clubs not just in the MLS, but in the world, and Atlanta United managed to achieve the 10th highest average attendances worldwide with crowds of over 51,000 delivering a world class game day experience.
Atlanta isn't alone. The Seattle Sounders are extremely popular and are ranked 29th best attended soccer club worldwide with average crowds over 42,000. Their sworn enemies are the Portland Timbers, the rivalry something you'd expect in European football.
Major League Soccer isn't short of rivalries. The 'El Trafico' between Los Angeles rivals the LA Galaxy and LAFC. The heated Canadian Classique between Toronto FC and CF Montreal. What about the winner of the Texas Derby between FC Dallas and Houston Dynamo? The winner takes home not a trophy, but an 18th century howitzer cannon...
The MLS has come along way in a short time and has become one of the most popular leagues in the world. The combination of marquee players, the heated rivalries and the fusion of European and South American influenced fan culture has evolved Major League Soccer into one of the most unique sports leagues in the world.
Is the MLS Better Than the Premier League?
Major League Soccer continues to get better but it isn't anywhere near as good as the English Premier League -- yet.
The Premier League is the strongest league in the world according to Global Football Rankings' Soccer Power Index (SPI), and the MLS is ranked only 14th strongest league in comparison. But the MLS is surging up the list. It was ranked as low as 20th in early 2021.
The Soccer Power Index shows us that only New York City FC have a squad that is stronger than an EPL Team, only slightly better than Norwich City. Unfortunately the EPL is far better than the Premier League. No MLS team would stand a chance of avoiding relegation from the Premier League but most teams would be competitive in the English League Championship, England's second tier. Weaker MLS teams would be competitive in England's League One, French Ligue 2 and Italy's Serie B.
MLS teams are strong enough to compete in some of the top European leagues, the Portuguese Liga and Dutch Eredivisie for example. It would however take a very special season from the very top MLS team to fight off relegation from Italy's Serie A and French Ligue 1. Any other team in the MLS would't have a chance.
In terms of European continental football, MLS teams would be competitive in the Europa League, UEFA's second tier continental tournament. Major League teams would struggle to even win a game in the Champions League.
Related: What Is the Best Sport in America?
Is the MLS Getting Better?
Soccer is the fourth most popular sport in America and its more than doubled in popularity in the space of only four years. In terms of crowd attendances, Major League Soccer is already a top 8 league in the world. Atlanta United are a top 10 club and Seattle Sounders are top 30.
The MLS is ranked 8th most entertaining soccer league in the world according to Bleacher Report and statistically speaking is the 10th best league in the world. There's a long way to go for Major League Soccer to get anywhere near the English Premier League but there are 5 ways the MLS is already better:
- Most stadiums are more modern and technologically advanced than English stadiums
- The MLS salary cap gives the league more parity whereas EPL teams have a greater wealth divide from the top teams
- A league championship decider means the MLS reaches a climax each season
- There's no relegation in the MLS and teams are guaranteed survival at the top level
- The league has the ability to grow with the addition of franchise expansion teams
Major League Soccer continues to get better, and here are 5 ways the MLS can improve and compete with the top leagues from Europe:
- Improve on it’s $90 million per season TV rights deal. The EPL is currently on a deal worth more than $2.2 billion annually.
- Many MLS stadiums although technologically superiors are multi-use. Teams need to continue building soccer-specific stadiums.
- The average Manchester City player salary is over $8m. The salary cap for an entire MLS team is currently around $5 million per season.
- Youth system needs restructuring. College seniors are 21 or 22 years old and rookies are far too old by the time they join the MLS
- Continued expansion into large markets, such as Detroit, Pittsburgh and Phoenix
Is the MLS Profitable?
The average Major League Soccer team is worth $313 million. In 2019, MLS teams generated over $800 million in revenue but only 7 of 24 teams were able to turn a profit. It's the future potential of the league that franchise owners are banking on.
COVID-19 hit the league hard with revenue loses close to $1 billion. A new television rights deal that will be negotiated in time for the 2023 season, and the U.S. co-hosting the 2026 World Cup should make Major League Soccer profitable in the years to come.
All the way from the Land Down Under, I created Wolfgang Sport as I enjoy writing and watching British and American sports. Started in 2017, I started the blog as a way to connect my passion for sports in the US & UK. Sign up to the newsletter today_ and I'll prove Aussies know more about your own sports than you think.