Monthly Archives: March 2011

Sweet Sixteen – Will the Upsets Continue?

Is your bracket as busted as mine?

If there is one thing that is true about the NCAA tournament, it is that things rarely go as people anticipate.  Just take a look at my bracket, there is a lot of red ink on that page (and mine isn’t even among the worst in my office’s competition).  Every year March Madness proves that on any given day a team like Louisville or Purdue can be beaten by teams like Morehead State or VCU.

This year there are more “Cinderellas” still alive than in recent years.  Though I’m a bit reluctant to call Florida State/Marquette (power conference teams with double-digit seeds) or Butler (they were in the national final last year) Cinderellas.  There are really only two teams that fit that bill still playing – VCU and Richmond.  Oddly, as ESPN pointed out, both hail from Richmond, Virginia – not exactly a hotbed of college hoops.  The biggest question is can either of these Cinderellas continue their journey, or will the clock strike midnight?

Let’s break down the Sweet Sixteen.

East Region

Ohio State vs. Kentucky – No upsets here.  This is a matchup that many predicted, including me and President Obama.  Ohio State, ranked #1 in the country, comes into the game playing extremely well, easily defeating both University of Texas-San Antonio and George Mason.  The Buckeyes are led by Final Four vet David Lighty and talented freshman Jared Sullinger, but are much deeper, with a cast of talented players that know how to play as a cohesive unit.

Kentucky, like Ohio State, comes into this game on a roll.  While the Wildcats had trouble with Princeton in the first round, they haven’t lost since a 77-76 OT defeat by Arkansas in Fayetteville back on February 23.  The Cats are led by two dynamic freshmen, Brandon Knight and Terrence Jones.

Either team has the talent to make a run to the national title game, but I believe that Ohio State’s experience will win out.  Kentucky is a young, raw team while Ohio State has several savvy veterans leading the way. As much as I would like to see the Buckeyes go down, I don’t see it happening.

North Carolina vs. Marquette – While many saw the first matchup in this region coming, this game comes as at bit of surprise.  Marquette entered the tournament with a 20-14 record overall and a 9-9 record in the Big East.  The Gold Eagles were inconsistent throughout the year, defeating West Virginia and Syracuse twice, Notre Dame by 22 points but losing to Seton Hall by 13.  Perhaps the Golden Eagles have found some consistency, as they needed wins over Xavier and Syracuse (two teams ranked in the top 20) to get to the Sweet Sixteen.

North Carolina, the regular season ACC champions, were lucky to escape their 3rd round game with Washington.  Other than this close call, and a thorough defeat by Duke in the ACC title game, the Tar Heels have played some good basketball.  Led by impact freshman Harrison Barnes, and junior Tyler Zeller, the Heels have a high-flying offensive attack, averaging 77 points per game.

While Marquette is physical and plays some good D, I think their inconsistency will come back to haunt them in this one.  Expect to see the Heels marching on to play the Buckeyes.

WEST REGION

Duke vs. Arizona – Another matchup of college hoops heavy weights. The West Region saw no major upsets (only Arizona beating 4 seed Texas – if you can call that an upset), and has served up some intriguing games.  The Blue Devils have lost just 4 games all season, but struggled to hold their lead against Michigan in the 3rd round.  Duke’s own star freshman, Kyrie Irving, has played in both games after being out since early December.  Irving’s return has altered the way the Blue Devils play, especially Nolan Smith’s role, and it will be interesting to see how this affects the Blue Devils against Arizona.

Arizona, like Duke, is a traditional power and is making their return to the Sweet Sixteen after failing to qualify for the tournament last season.  The Wildcats, Pac-10 regular season champions, have won their games to get to this point by a combined 3 points.  The Cats are led by 6’8” sophomore forward, Derrick Williams who led the team in points and rebounds.

This game should be a good one, with the Wildcats taking the Blue Devils down to the wire.  That said, I think Duke’s size (when was the last time anyone could say that about the Blue Devils?) will ultimately be the deciding factor.  The Plumlee brothers and Ryan Kelly give the Blue Devils the advantage.

UCONN vs. San Diego State – A match of the nouveau riche against old money.  San Diego State, needed two overtime periods to defeat Temple in the 2nd round, but you can’t argue with the team’s success over the season.  Led by sophomore forward Kawhi Leonard (who has one of the best names in the field of 68)  the Aztecs have been ranked inside the top ten in the polls since the 6th week of the season.   Steve Fisher has San Diego State in the tournament for the 4th time during his tenure, with this season being the Aztecs deepest run into March.  The Aztecs also posted a school-record 34 wins this season.

UCONN is a bit of an enigma.  Which team will show up against the Aztecs? The team that ran through the Big East tournament? Or the team that finished just 9-9 during the Big East regular season?  If Kemba Walker keeps playing at his highest level, the Huskies are a very dangerous team.  As Joe Lunardi points out in this article from ESPN, “… SDSU’s only two losses came at the hands of a single great scorer (Fredette) and Walker is probably the only other player left in the tournament with that kind of potential.” If Walker dominates, the Huskies could be headed to the Elite Eight.

Also like Lunardi mentioned, “This is a classic encounter of “team” versus “individual,” and I’m going with the better team (especially in Anaheim).”

SouthEaST REGION

Butler vs. Wisconsin – This is a battle of two teams that are tournament tested.  When Butler lost their star Gordon Hayward to the NBA following their loss to Duke in last season’s final, many predicted the Bulldogs would struggle this season.  They were right, as the Bulldogs struggled out of the gate; however, since February 5, Butler has won 11 games in a row.  While the Bulldogs have won their two tournament games by a combined 3 points, they are deep and experienced.

Wisconsin is a team that plays great defense and tries to win by wearing their opponents down.  For example, the Badgers, led by Jon Leuer and Jordan Taylor, lost to Penn State in the Big Ten tournament 36-33 (one of the lowest scoring games since the shot clock was implemented).  The Badgers aren’t flashy, but they are smart.  They play within their system and they do it well.

It will be interesting to see how two veteran teams match up against each other with an Elite 8 bid on the line.  Both have to think that if they can win this game a Final Four trip is a realistic possibility.  Given Butler’s experience and hot streak, I’m picking the Bulldogs.

BYU vs. Florida – A rematch of a first round game from last season (BYU beat Florida 99-92 in 2OT, and the world met Jimmer Fredette) this should be a fun game to watch.  BYU is 8th in the country in scoring at nearly 82 points per game and Jimmer Fredette (the country’s leading scorer) is a one man wrecking crew.  The Cougars have responded well to Brandon Davies‘ suspension, beating Wofford and Gonzaga, but have yet to play a team of Florida’s caliber in the tournament.

The Gators get a chance for revenge against the Cougars.  The SEC East champions have been on roll with just two losses (both toe Kentucky) since February 1. Florida won their second round game comfortably, but UCLA hung with the Gators in the 3rd round.  If Florida is to win this game, somebody needs to stop Jimmer Fredette.

I’m picking the Cougars here.  I think Jimmer will throw BYU on his back and take down the Gators just like last season.

SOUTHWEST REGION

Kansas vs. Richmond – Finally we’ve come to the Southwest Region.  The Region of upsets.  This is the first time that 3 double-digit seeds have reached the Sweet Sixteen in one region since the tournament expanded to its current format in 1985.  While there have been upsets galore in this region, don’t expect the run to continue with this game.  The Jayhawks are, in my opinion, the best team in college basketball.  With just two loses (1 to Kansas State, the other to Texas), the Jayhawks are one of the most powerful offensive teams in college hoops.  Led my the Morris twins (Markieff and Marcus), Kansas will be looking to prove last year’s loss to Northern Iowa in the 2nd round was a fluke.  The Jayhawks are deep, talented and on a mission

Richmond, despite what their coach might say, is just happy to be in the Sweet Sixteen.  Making it this far is a triumph for the Spiders, the Atlantic 10 champions.  The Spiders’ signature win this season is an 11 point victory over Purdue back in November.  Of the double-digit seeds, the Spiders had the easiest road to the Sweet sixteen.  They defeated an overrated Vanderbilt team in the 2nd round, and knocked off fellow Cinderella, Morehead State in round 3.  While the Spiders have’t gotten much press, they do have some talented players, particularly Justin Harper and Kevin Anderson. If Harper and Anderson can get hot, the Spiders could scare the Jayhawks.

That said, I expect the Jayhawks to continue their march to the Final Four.

Florida State vs. VCU – There is one thing we know about this game – a double-digit seed will make the Elite Eight.  Which one will it be?

VCU finished the season 23-11 and many complained about their inclusion in the field of 68 (this blogger is included).  The Rams easily defeated an undeserving USC team to make it into the second round and hasn’t looked back.  With back-to-back, convincing victories over Georgetown and Purdue, the Rams are for real.  They have won both by playing good defense (against G’town) and by attacking (against Purdue).  Jamie Skeen, who leads the Rams in both scoring and rebounding, is the man to watch for VCU.  He has been quiet in the tournament, but he is capable of big things.  Others to watch are Bradford Burgess and Joey Rodriguez, who killed my beloved BU Terriers last season in the College Basketball Invitational semifinals.

Florida State, under Leonard Hamilton, have become a thorn in the side of North Carolina and Duke in the ACC.  The Seminoles are a dogged defensive team, probably the best in the tournament.  They allowed just 61.7 points per game this season, but have trouble scoring.  Chris Singleton, the ‘Noles’, best player has played very little since breaking his right foot in early February, but has played in both of FSU’s games in the tournament.  How large a role will he play against VCU?  If he plays, I think the Seminoles will find an answer for their scoring woes.  If he doesn’t it may not matter that the ‘Noles only give up 61 points, they might not be able to score that many.

I am going to go out on a bit of a limb here and pick VCU to win this game.  They seem to have a swagger about them.

March has been mad this season, with upsets aplenty.  And I see a few more coming this week.  Here’s, a quick recap of my picks:

Ohio State
UNC
Duke
San Diego State
Butler
BYU
Kansas
VCU

Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment.

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year…

 It’s that time of year again;  the most wonderful time of the year for college sports fans.  The NCAA Men’s basketball tournament field was just revealed and people around the country are preparing excuses for why they suddenly developed illnesses on Thursday and Friday.

Selection Sunday is one of my favorite days of the year.  I love watching the conference tournaments leading up to the selection special, and I love to watch as they reveal the teams.  Today was no different.  My alma mater, Boston University, won the America East in dramatic fashion yesterday and awaited their fate.  Barely 20 minutes into the program, Terrier Nation found out where and who our team would be playing.  The Terriers drew a 16 seed and the unpleasant task of facing the University of Kansas.  While a 16 seed has never defeated a 1 seed in since the tournament took on its current format in 1985, an alum can hope.

The Selection Committee, as usual, has given pundits, bloggers and fans alike plenty to talk about.  Did Pitt and Duke deserve #1 seeds? How did USC, Clemson and Virginia Commonwealth (VCU) make it into the field of 68, while St. Mary’s, Colorado, and Virginia Tech are on the outside?  Is Florida really a #2 seed? Why is Utah State only a #12 despite a 30-3 record? Check out my quick reaction to each region.

Who runs your office pool? It is estimated that March Madness costs employers between $1.4 billion and $3.8 billion in lost productivity per year.

East Region – Ohio State, as much as I hate to say it, deserved the top seed in the tournament.  The Buckeyes lost just two games all season, both on the road against highly ranked teams (Wisconsin and Purdue).  They easily won the Big Ten regular season and tournament titles and have played well all season.Georgia is lucky to be in the tournament and lucky to be a 10 seed. Many people thought the Bulldogs were squarely on the bubble.  ESPN’s Joe Lunardi had them as one of the first 4 teams to miss the tournament. By handing Georgia a 10 seed, the Committee tells everyone that Georgia made the tournament easily. Georgia deserved being in the tournament (they have an RPI of 46 and a strength of schedule of 43) but a 10 seed was generous.

I am surprised that University of Alabama-Birmingham and Clemson both made the tournament. Both teams were on the bubble.  Joe Lunardi had UAB as one of the first four out, and Clemson as one of the last 4 in, I think it should have been the other way around.  UAB had a very good season, going 22-8 and winning the Conference USA regular season title. The Blazers enter the tournament with an RPI of 31. Clemson finished 21-11 and had an RPI of 55.  Either or both could have easily missed the tournament.

The East is top-heavy.  The top 4 seeds (Ohio State, North Carolina, Syracuse and Kentucky) are all capable of winning this region and the tournament. The 5 seed – Xavier, could make a run.  My potential sleeper in the region is the 9 seed, Villanova.  Nova is just two seasons removed from a Final Four appearance and started this season 17-1.  While the Wildcats have disappeared in the second half of the season, they have the talent and the coaching to make some noise in the tournament.  They could just as easily lose to George Mason in the first round.

West RegionDuke deserved a number 1 seed, but being shipped to the West Region is hardly a reward for the Blue Devils.  As pointed out on the CBS selection special, Duke may have preferred a 2 seed in the East and potential games in Newark.  I think the Blue Devils earned their seed with their win over North Carolina in the ACC Tournament championship game.

Can Duke defend its national title? San Diego State, UCONN and Texas stand in their way in the West Region.

San Diego State gets the 2 seed in the West, which is a reward for the Mountain West champions.  If they make it to the Sweet Sixteen, the Aztecs will get to play in front of a virtual home crowd in Anaheim. I am happy that the Committee didn’t seed SDSU lower simply because they aren’t from one of the “Power” conferences.

There are some tough teams in the West, UCONN just won 5 games in 5 days to win the Big East. Texas was #1 earlier this season. Arizona has tons of talent and won the Pac-10, and Tennessee is more talented than their record indicates. Temple is seeded too low at 7. Michigan, Tennessee and Penn State are  seeded too highly.

Lots of pundits are picking Oakland to upset Texas but I just don’t see that happening.  I think Missouri has the best chance of the double-digit seeds to make the Sweet Sixteen.

Southwest Region – The Southwest is tough. Kansas could have easily been the #1 overall seed. Many predicted Notre Dame would be a 1 seed. Purdue finished 2nd in the Big Ten, Louisville made a run to the Big East title game.  Beyond the top 4, Georgetown has more talent than its 21-10 record indicates and Texas A&M could make a run.

Illinois got a gift with a 9 seed.  The Illini are 19-13 and finished 9-9 in the Big Ten.  How did they get a higher seed than Florida State who finished 21-10 and 11-5 in the ACC?

USC is extremely lucky to be in the tournament. USC has an RPI of 69, plays in a weak Pac-10 and finished the season 19-14. Their opponents in the First Four, VCU (23-11, RPI: 51) lost the Colonial Athletic Association title game to Old Dominion, which is probably what got them their bid. How did USC make it over Colorado or Virginia Tech? Colorado had a better record (20-13), better RPI (66) and wins over Kansas State (3 times) and  Missouri. Virginia Tech also had a better record (21-11), RPI (60) and wins over Duke and Florida State (2 times). USC being in the tournament is a surprise.

GO BU!

The 16 seed in the West are the Boston University Terriers.  Get ready to be surprised America. The first 16 over 1 upset in tournament history is about to happen.  Mark it down!

Southeast Region – The Southeast Region is the easiest region of the four. Pittsburgh has a clear path to the Final Four. The 2 seed, Florida, is overrated. Charles Barkley says it is so, and I agree. BYU earned a 2 seed but the Selection Committee snubbed the Cougars.  Many of the other teams in the Southeast are also overrated – Wisconsin at 4, Kansas State as 5 and St. John’s at 6.

While I believe Kansas State and St. John’s are overrated, both have the talent to make some noise in the tournament.  Perhaps this potential is what the Selection Committee used when assigning K State and St. John’s their seeds. Kansas State was a preseason top 5 pick, and seem to have found themselves late in the season following a midseason swoon.  St. John’s has wins over Notre Dame, Duke, UCONN and Pitt, so the Johnnies certainly have the ability to win the big game. On the flip side, St. John’s has also lost games to Fordham and St. Bonaventure.  The Red Storm are unpredictable. They could make a run to the Sweet 16 or they could lose to Gonzaga in their first game.

Gonzaga (11) and Utah State (12) are seeded lower than expected. Joe Lunardi had the Zags and the Aggies as 9 seeds.  Utah State finished the season 30-3 with an RPI of 18 yet is a 13 seed! Come on Selection Committee!

Belmont is getting a lot of press as a potential giant killer.  I could see that upset happening as Wisconsin is a weak 4 seed, and Belmont played both Tennessee and Vanderbilt close during the season. The Bruins lost to Tennessee by just 1 point back in December.

St. Mary's will be playing in the NIT, but should b in the field of 68.

Biggest snub: St. Mary’s – The Gaels finished the season ranked 48 in the RPI with a 25-8 record.  They tied Gonzaga for first place in the West Coast Conference and have a win of St. John’s and Gonzaga, as well as a 1 point loss to BYU. St. Mary’s has shown that it is capable of playing with the big boys and certainly deserved to make the field of 68 more than USC or VCU.

Mr. Holland’s Opus: BU’s Going Dancing!

Boston University will be playing in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2002!

 

So this is what it feels like. This is what it feels like to watch a meaningful basketball game in early March. This is what it feels like to stand in a crowded arena jumping up and down as your team makes a furious comeback to secure a win at the last second.  This is what it feels like to see the crowd spill from the stands onto the court to celebrate the school’s first NCAA tournament birth since 2002.

Boston University fans storm the court following BU's 56-54 win over Stony Brook.

I am a huge college basketball fan, and have been for most of my life.  I became enamored of the Duke Blue Devils when I was a kid and have cheered for them through the good times and the bad (though the times have been mostly good). Today, however, was unlike anything I have experienced in my 29 years of college fandom.  I was lucky enough to see my alma mater, Boston University, secure a bid to the NCAA tournament earlier today. To be in the arena when your alma mater is playing for an NCAA tournament bid is something special. The atmosphere was electric (even in a less than full Agganis Arena), the tension was high. While I always feel anxious when Duke is playing in a big game, my anxiety was at a new level cheering for the Terriers.  Duke makes the tournament almost every year, but to make the tournament is something special for Boston University.  The Terriers have made the tournament just 7 times in their history!

The game was not particularly well played.  Neither team shot well (31.5% for Stony Brook, 31.3% for BU). There were a total of 41 fouls (24 for Stony Brook, 17 for BU) and the final score was 56-54. Despite its obvious flaws, that game was exciting. BU stormed back from 15 point deficit (41-26) with 16:48 left in the 2nd half to tie the game at 54 with 1:03 left, and take the lead with just 2.3 seconds left.  The story of the game wasn’t that BU stormed back, it was that John Holland took the team on his back and willed the Terriers into the NCAA tournament.  After being largely anonymous in the first half, the America East player of the year exploded for 23 points in the 2nd half. As a friend put it, “John Holland decided the Terriers were going to the NCAAs. And it was so.” Holland, in the 2nd half, showed why he was the conference player of the year, and proved that he was the best player on the floor.  After the Terriers went down by 15 it was like he flipped a switch and kicked his game into a higher gear. Holland saved his best for his last game on Commonwealth Avenue and ensured that he would play at least one more game in his superlative career.

BU fans love Coach Chambers, with good reason! Coach Chambers is taking the Terriers to the NCAA Tournament in his 2nd season.

I tweeted after the game, that this was the beginning of something big, and I believe that.  Patrick Chambers has injected a new energy into the program, and has taken the Terriers into the postseason in each of his first two seasons.  Last season, the Terriers played in the College Basketball Invitational, making the semifinals and defeating Oregon State along the way.  This year, the Terriers get to go to the big dance.  With a young team (Holland is the only senior), and several new recruits coming, Boston University could be on its way to a run of postseason births.

If you’re interested, check out some pictures taken at the game in my Flikr stream.

MLS Celebrates Sweet 16

First, Happy 16th Season MLS!

I am a voracious reader. For several years, I commuted to Boston on the train every day.  During that time I would go through a book a week (sometimes two depending on how quick a read the books were).  I know that this might not seem to be linked to MLS starting its 16th season, just hear me out.  Due to my love of reading and immense amounts of reading time, I’ve read countless books on one of my favorite topics – soccer.

The books ranged from the encyclopedic (The Ball is Round by David Goldblatt) to the quirky (Bloody Confused by Chuck Culpepper).  The most recent book to catch my attention was Soccer in a Football World by David Wangerin. In the book, Wangerin charts the convoluted and often dispiriting path of fútbol in the United States.  From the little documented early days under the auspices of the United States of America Foot Ball Association (now the United States Soccer Federation) and the American Soccer League to the 2006 World Cup, Wangerin provides a great background for anybody interested in soccer in the United States. In addition to filling in some historical blanks, Soccer in a Football World got me thinking about how MLS fits into the American sporting landscape.

As MLS enters its 16th season, which kicks off on March 15 in Seattle (Sounders v. Galaxy; should be a good one), there are reasons to believe that the league and the sport are finally gaining some true traction in America.

Positives Signs –

Philadelphia Union are one of MLS's recent expansion successes, and my favorite club.

Successful Expansion – MLS has added 5 teams since 2007 and will add the Montreal Impact in 2012.  Montreal’s introduction will bring the count to 19, with MLS looking to expand to 20.  Toronto, Seattle and Philadelphia were all extremely successful at the gate in their first seasons.  Toronto has averaged more than 20,000 fans per game in each of its first 4 seasons. Seattle draws crowds that many European soccer teams would envy (36,000+ last season), and Philadelphia continued the trend of successful expansion by averaging over 19,000 fans in their inaugural season. Portland and Vancouver both look primed to continue the trend, with Portland selling more than 12,000 season tickets and Vancouver more than 15,500.

Could the revived Cosmos be the 20th MLS team in 2012 or beyond?

As mentioned before, MLS is looking to expand to twenty teams, and Don Garber has made it known that he would love a second team in the New York City area.  To wit, perhaps the most famous name in US soccer, the New York Cosmos, has been revived in an attempt to become that 20th team.  With Eric Cantona as the Director of Soccer, Pelé as Honorary President, and Giorgio Chinaglia as International Ambassador the club has some heavy hitters promoting its interests (both Pelé and Chinaglia played for the previous incarnation of the Cosmos).

Attendance – Thanks in large part to the success of the recent expansion teams, 2010 saw MLS attendance rise to 16,675 fans per game.  Only two prior MLS seasons top that number (2007 and 1996).  While the NFL and MLB both average far more fans than MLS, the NHL and NBA average only slightly more.  While these numbers might be slightly outdated, MLS ranks 13th in average attendance among world soccer leagues.  Not bad for a country that supposedly doesn’t like soccer.  Attendance has been on the rise and should continue that upward trend, on the strength of a new soccer specific stadium in Kansas City and the addition of the Timbers and Whitecaps.  As Geoffrey Arnold of The Oregonian writes (citing an article from the Wall Street Journal), there are several cities where MLS outdraws NBA teams.  Of the cities listed, only The Galaxy outdrawing the Lakers doesn’t present the full picture (the Lakers would certainly sell more tickets if the Staples Center could accommodate more fans).  The general upward trend in attendance over the past several years is certainly a positive sign for MLS; however, the attendance situation isn’t entirely rosy, there are some disconcerting signs for several clubs. More on the negatives to come.

Performance of the US Men’s National Team (USMNT) – As important as domestic soccer is around the world most (if not all) domestic leagues are set up to help the national team perform on a higher level.  While soccer fans enjoy watching the Champions League, the World Cup is what matters most. The creation and continued growth of MLS has given US soccer talent a place to develop and the performance of the USMNT has benefited from its existence.

MLS is the first domestic soccer league in the US to make developing American talent a priority.  The ASL and the NASL both relied heavily on imports (MLS is starting to trend this way as well) while neglecting native talent.  Since the creation of MLS, the US has qualified for all 4 World Cups, advanced from the Group Stage on two occasions, beaten the World #1 and been ranked as high as 4th in the FIFA World Rankings (I still can’t believe this, but it’s true).

While MLS hasn’t turned the USMNT into a legitimate threat to win the World Cup (yet), the investment in soccer (the USSF’s Project 2010, which didn’t work quite according to plan) along with the growing competitiveness in  domestic soccer has transformed the US from laughing-stock to CONCACAF power and occasional giant slayer.

Interesting side note: The US is one of only 7 teams to qualify for every World Cup since 1990.  The others: Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Italy, Spain and South Korea.

Bad Signs

Profitibility – MLS continues to expand and more fans (on average) are attending games; however, these positive signs haven’t translated into profitability.  According to most reports, which are difficult to find as financial transparency is not an MLS strong point, very few teams turn a profit.  Thanks to some awesome work by Dave Clark at Sounder at Heart we can draw a few conclusions.  Using data from a 2007 Forbes study in conjunction with a study conducted on behalf of the Portland Timbers, Clark came to the conclusion that 2 clubs (Seattle and Toronto) were profitable in 2009. The long-term stability of the game and the league will require teams to move toward profitability.  Teams can only stay afloat while incurring losses for so long. See the NASL for proof of that.

TV Ratings/Contract – If MLS ever wants to make a collective turn toward profitability, the league needs to establish itself on television.  No professional sport can survive in today’s market without a TV deal.  MLS just agreed to an extension of its previous TV contract with Fox Soccer Channel that will pay the league $6.25 million this season (MLS has a contract with ESPN that pays the league $8 million per year through 2014, and includes rights to USMNT games). For the sake of comparison, the NFL earns $3 billion per year, MLB earns nearly $500 million, the NBA earns $930 million, and the NHL earns at least $75 million. While comparing MLS to the NFL, NBA and MLB is certainly unfair, comparing the league to the NHL isn’t entirely ridiculous.  While TV ratings remain poor (an average of 249,000 viewers for games broadcast on ESPN2), those numbers actually are comparable to the numbers the NHL records on Versus (297,000 per broadcast in 2009-2010, scroll to the bottom to see a table of the ratings numbers).  So the question that needs to be asked is: why the NHL can get $75 million per year from Versus and MLS can only bring in a fraction of that amount? If MLS wants to remain a viable league and grow its brand, it will need to secure a better television contract.

Attendance – As mentioned above, MLS attendance has been on the rise over the past several years, but that doesn’t tell the entire story. While there are successes, several clubs have woeful attendance numbers. Sporting Kansas City, FC Dallas and the San Jose Earthquakes all hovered around the 10,000 mark. Several other teams saw drops in attendance from 2009. There is some hope for Kansas City, as they are set to open their new soccer-specific stadium this season. For a league that doesn’t derive much revenue from a television deal, it is vitally important to put fans in the seats.

An extremely interesting story will be if MLS can capitalize on the labor strife in the NFL and a potential NBA work stoppage to grow its brand. While soccer will never replace football or baseball in the hearts and minds of American sports fans and likely will never challenge the NBA, why couldn’t the beautiful game could supplant the NHL in the American sports pecking order.