MLS Must Go South

It may seem odd for me, a proud Cascadian, to proclaim this. And as an old media guy maybe you'll get a bit surprised because I'm not going to talk about the current TV/radio markets.

But the fact is that the Sun Belt is where the growth is. The census results are starting to trickle in, and while Washington and Utah both earned themselves a new congressman, every other state that did so is in the Sun Belt.

According to the new counts, Texas will gain four seats, Florida will gain two, while New York and Ohio each lose two. Fourteen other states gained or lost one seat. The gainers included Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, South Carolina and Utah [and WA]

And sure, most of those gainers don't seem to be natural markets for MLS. Florida has struggled in the past. Arizona and Nevada have that heat thing. Atlanta is the most saturated market in American sports.

Yet, there's a ton of potential there. Look where the NASL is going to have 5 teams in the Sun Belt (Atlanta, Carolina, Miami, Tampa and San Antonio). While Cascadia and Canada will help MLS gain credibility in near term, there are plenty of demographic reasons for MLS pursue the Sun Belt.

The growth is largely immigrants, minorities and highly urban. While MLS has struggled in its chasing for of the Hispanic demographic, it is most powerful when urban and supported by the non-nationals as well.

America's four region system sees declares a clear gap in coverage for supposed national league. The West has the Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers, Real Salt Lake, Colorado Rapids, San Jose Earthquakes, Los Angeles Galaxy and Chivas USA. Roughly 25% of the population has nearly 40% of the teams. The declining Midwest has the Chicago Fire, Columbus Crew and Sporting KC for a 16% to 21% ratio, fairly fair. The Northeast is also in decline but has the New England Revolution, New York Red Bulls, Philadelphia Union and DC United for an 22% to 18% ratio. The South has the Houston Dynamo and FC Dallas, two teams for ~37% of the population.

Sure Don Garber wants NY2 for many good reasons. It certainly makes sense. The next wave of expansion has to find ways to capture not just this decade's trends (Cascadia and Canada) but next decade's trends. What's the point to looking at sub-regions with declining populaces and declining incomes?

Certainly traditional American pro sports have trouble in the Sun Belt. You know what doesn't? College sports. Sports that connect with the community. Sports with Supporter Groups (they call them student sections). Since game day attendance is actually up for college soccer, and the ACC is a strong soccer conference there are signs of potential. The Charleston Battery are quite popular, though in a city too small for MLS. Austin and San Antonio make some sense for a third MLS team in Texas.

The strategy will be complex, and must have strong ownership involved. Nothing gets MLS intrigued like some good strong money involved, but as the USL-1 lead MLS into Cascadia and Montreal, just maybe the future is NASL 2.0 leading MLS into the Sun Belt.

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