The Boston Consulting Group Study

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sbrylski

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It has been revealed by The Athletic that MLS hired the Boston Consulting Group to tell them how to reach the next level.

"For almost its entire existence, Major League Soccer has struggled with one fundamental quandary: how does it compete with the world’s best leagues — and how does it do so while remaining financially responsible, a facet of the league’s modus operandi that has kept it around longer than any professional soccer league in U.S. or Canadian history.

"Four years ago, MLS went looking for a definitive answer to that question. They turned to the Boston Consulting Group for help, commissioning a wide-ranging, top-to-bottom look at nearly every element of league operations."


I'm not going to post the whole article, but it's pretty fascinating. At a high level:
  1. MLS teams really do lost a ton of money operationally, specifically $177 million in 2015. Only four teams turned an operational profit.
  2. MLS broadcasts suck and must improve. Funnily, one of the major recommendations is to have the commentators stop shitting on our own players. The big recommendation is to bring production in-house, which is likely why they told all the teams not to sign new local broadcast agreements past 2022.
  3. Stadium experience is really good, but could be better by adding social elements (e.g., San Jose's bar) and need to be in urban centers.
  4. For quality of play, they said stop spending so much on ineffectual DPs with big names, it doesn't work. Even out spending across the roster, focus on spots 4 thru 11 (e.g., TAM) and increase the cap a bit. Quality of play should be the focus of signings, period.
  5. For competitive model, they said parity is *not* good for mass adoption. If you want to draw in big groups of fairweather fans, you need local championship contenders. I think we'll continue to see the growth of super clubs (Atlanta, LA, us?) but they'll always be sure they don't get too far out ahead.
  6. They also said nobody cares about the Supporters Shield, stop promoting it. (Only 6% of current fans care.)
The most interesting to me was discussion of the schedule:
  1. They basically said to not go up against established sports entertainment. Find the holes and play your most interesting games then. Those holes are February and August. If they are competing with other sports at the time, play midweek games (i.e., the conference semifinals and finals this year).
  2. They suggest a yearly schedule like this:
    1. February: Open Cup. Knockouts are exciting, play them while most other sports are in lulls.
    2. March-July: Regular Season
    3. August: MLS Playoffs. Again, knockouts are exciting. Don't compete with fall football and EPL.
    4. September-November: International competitions, particularly against LigaMX.
I don't know how the Open Cup would work out condensed like that and so early. There's no room for the teams below Division 1 to play their games.

I think it's interesting that they started the Leagues Cup in August instead. I'm guessing it was less disruptive to try that order of implementation. I also think I agree that it would be weird to have non-playoff teams basically sit out of August, then re-start up for a fall competition.

That said, if the Leagues Cup takes off, I could see them trying a merger of LigaMX and MLS where each league does their own thing from January to August, then they kickoff a short-form merged league competition from September to December.

So many considerations, there will never be a perfect solution, but its very interesting to discuss.
 
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mgarbowski

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It has been revealed by The Athletic that MLS hired the Boston Consulting Group to tell them how to reach the next level.

"For almost its entire existence, Major League Soccer has struggled with one fundamental quandary: how does it compete with the world’s best leagues — and how does it do so while remaining financially responsible, a facet of the league’s modus operandi that has kept it around longer than any professional soccer league in U.S. or Canadian history.

"Four years ago, MLS went looking for a definitive answer to that question. They turned to the Boston Consulting Group for help, commissioning a wide-ranging, top-to-bottom look at nearly every element of league operations."


I'm not going to post the whole article, but it's pretty fascinating. At a high level:
  1. MLS teams really do lost a ton of money operationally, specifically $177 million in 2015. Only four teams turned an operational profit.
  2. MLS broadcasts suck and must improve. Funnily, one of the major recommendations is to have the commentators stop shitting on our own players. The big recommendation is to bring production in-house, which is likely why they told all the teams not to sign new local broadcast agreements past 2022.
  3. Stadium experience is really good, but could be better by adding social elements (e.g., San Jose's bar) and need to be in urban centers.
  4. For quality of play, they said stop spending so much on ineffectual DPs with big names, it doesn't work. Even out spending across the roster, focus on spots 4 thru 11 (e.g., TAM) and increase the cap a bit. Quality of play should be the focus of signings, period.
  5. For competitive model, they said parity is *not* good for mass adoption. If you want to draw in big groups of fairweather fans, you need local championship contenders. I think we'll continue to see the growth of super clubs (Atlanta, LA, us?) but they'll always be sure they don't get too far out ahead.
  6. They also said nobody cares about the Supporters Shield, stop promoting it. (Only 6% of current fans care.)
The most interesting to me was discussion of the schedule:
  1. They basically said to not go up against established sports entertainment. Find the holes and play your most interesting games then. Those holes are February and August. If they are competing with other sports at the time, play midweek games (i.e., the conference semifinals and finals this year).
  2. They suggest a yearly schedule like this:
    1. February: Open Cup. Knockouts are exciting, play them while most other sports are in lulls.
    2. March-July: Regular Season
    3. August: MLS Playoffs. Again, knockouts are exciting. Don't compete with fall football and EPL.
    4. September-October: International competitions, particularly against LigaMX.
I don't know how the Open Cup would work out condensed like that and so early. There's no room for the teams below Division 1 to play their games.

I think it's interesting that they started the Leagues Cup in August instead. I'm guessing it was less disruptive to try that order of implementation. I also think I agree that it would be weird to have non-playoff teams basically sit out of August, then re-start up for a fall competition.

That said, if the Leagues Cup takes off, I could see them trying a merger of LigaMX and MLS where each league does their own thing from January to August, then they kickoff a short-form merged league competition from September to December.

So many considerations, there will never be a perfect solution, but its very interesting to discuss.
Thank you for sharing this. With respect to the March-July regular season, did they address the issue that it would require either dropping 8-10 games or adopting a ridiculously compressed schedule? FTR, I understand there are dozens of other reasons the whole schedule they recommend is unlikely to be adopted.

I also find the point about big name DPs interesting. It goes against what I think is the current consensus of this board, both on quality of play and engaging new fans. (I happen not to share that consensus, which is why I find it interesting;)). Boston Consulting focused on overall quality of play. I wonder if they also looked at how well big name DPs attract new fans. My guess/suspicion is they bring them in, but that those types of fans are less likely to become long term fans than the general fanbase. My evidence for this is anecdotal at best, but that's why I'm curioius if they addressed it.

Also, please don't consider this a request to reveal more than what you consider appropriate for a paywalled article.
And my own big picture take is I'm glad the league is bringing in outsiders to make outside the box recommendations like this.
 

sbrylski

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Apr 24, 2014
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Thank you for sharing this. With respect to the March-July regular season, did they address the issue that it would require either dropping 8-10 games or adopting a ridiculously compressed schedule? FTR, I understand there are dozens of other reasons the whole schedule they recommend is unlikely to be adopted.

I also find the point about big name DPs interesting. It goes against what I think is the current consensus of this board, both on quality of play and engaging new fans. (I happen not to share that consensus, which is why I find it interesting;)). Boston Consulting focused on overall quality of play. I wonder if they also looked at how well big name DPs attract new fans. My guess/suspicion is they bring them in, but that those types of fans are less likely to become long term fans than the general fanbase. My evidence for this is anecdotal at best, but that's why I'm curioius if they addressed it.

Also, please don't consider this a request to reveal more than what you consider appropriate for a paywalled article.
And my own big picture take is I'm glad the league is bringing in outsiders to make outside the box recommendations like this.
They only suggested dropping one regular season game. They didn't say explicitly, but I think the thought was it would be easier to play a condensed schedule without the Open Cup in the way during the spring and summer too.
 
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Gotham Gator

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It was an interesting article. Worth keeping in mind that it is now 4-5 years old, so many of the conclusions and advice would not be the same today.

The article's theme was that the report provided the blueprint for many of the changes over the past few years. The league has followed some but not others, which was the right reaction. Some of the recommendations were quite good - such as improving broadcast quality and especially the one that led to the creation of TAM. Some were not - such as the ones regarding scheduling and reducing investments in academies.

One focus was figuring out how to grab a larger share of the soccer market in the U.S. That may sound silly, but in 2015, MLS captured only 10-20% of various key domestic revenue streams. So, there is a lot of growth to be had if they can figure it out.

Improving quality of play was one focus. The presentation suggested that the perception of MLS's poor quality was to some extent real and to some extent due to fan bias. Having seen the league in 2015, the quality is a lot higher now than before (thanks, TAM!). To the extent people were negative about league quality in 2015, there was probably a lot of truth in that assessment. I think there is less truth now. No, MLS is not as good as a Top 5 European League, but it's not crap either - certainly it is a lot closer to the former than the latter. The problem is that so much of that improvement is recent that it hasn't yet registered for the average soccer fan.
 

Gotham Gator

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I also find the point about big name DPs interesting. It goes against what I think is the current consensus of this board, both on quality of play and engaging new fans. (I happen not to share that consensus, which is why I find it interesting;)). Boston Consulting focused on overall quality of play. I wonder if they also looked at how well big name DPs attract new fans. My guess/suspicion is they bring them in, but that those types of fans are less likely to become long term fans than the general fanbase. My evidence for this is anecdotal at best, but that's why I'm curioius if they addressed it.
My view a couple years ago, as Lampard was retiring, was that we should spread our DPs around. One big name DP; one solid DP in his prime; and one young DP. I still think that's the best approach.

The study suggested that big name DPs weren't providing benefits commensurate with the money spent on them, and that includes benefits in play, perceived quality or commercial benefits. Remember that in 2015, DPs were a much bigger part of the picture. There was no TAM, so these 2-3 players were a huge part of roster spending.
 

Ulrich

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My view a couple years ago, as Lampard was retiring, was that we should spread our DPs around. One big name DP; one solid DP in his prime; and one young DP. I still think that's the best approach.

The study suggested that big name DPs weren't providing benefits commensurate with the money spent on them, and that includes benefits in play, perceived quality or commercial benefits. Remember that in 2015, DPs were a much bigger part of the picture. There was no TAM, so these 2-3 players were a huge part of roster spending.
The article also highlighted that Toronto’s salary outpouring had led to three MLS Cup finals, winning one with the third yet to be decided. That’s a pretty damn good feather in the cap to a high budget burn. Also touch on that their high priced DPs led to vastly increased fandom/following. So while the study was written before Toronto’s success, Toronto has directly torpedoed the finding
 

ferrarinycfc

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If you download the athletic app, you are able to read the full article without a subscription.

Its a really good read.

  1. MLS teams really do lost a ton of money operationally, specifically $177 million in 2015. Only four teams turned an operational profit.
I think the article mentioned that this didnt include revenue from Non-MLS SUM entities though.


- Its apparent that MLS & Liga MX will get closer together in the future. Liga MX clubs want the american tv market and the revenue that brings, MLS needs Liga MX to penetrate into a football crazed fanbase.

- Didnt like the suggestion to cut spending from the development side of things. Youth acadamies must be the way forward.
 

ferrarinycfc

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Come to think of it, the hiring of berhalter as USMNT coach makes more sense now after reading this report.

Get an mls coach to hire mls players to make it look like the league standard is better than it actually is.

in theory, this in turn helps promote MLS and benefits the owners.

in reality it does no such thing and actually makes mls worse off.

Its also to the detriment of the National team.
 
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