It may be regarded by some football fans as the place faded European greats go to retire but Major League Soccer (MLS) is a growing brand that three times Premier League winner Frank Lampard believes has the potential to establish itself on the world stage
For that to happen, the former England international accepts the responsibility he has to not just deliver success on the pitch for club New York City FC but also off it when it comes raising the profile of one of the league’s newest sides. Lampard joined the club last summer and going into his second season is keen to use his status as one of the decorated players in the history of the game to help take soccer to new heights.
“As a player now you come to America to play but also you have a responsibility to improve the brand of football, which means taking the MLS to bigger levels,” he told The Drum at a promotional event for New York City FC earlier today (9 March).
The club alongside Manchester City and Melbourne City form the spine of owner City Football Group’s bid for global brand domination in the football space. By having these teams, the business hopes to drive commercial revenue from a strategy that aims to make the clubs both globally and locally relevant.
“When you come here you to take that on your shoulders….coming to a new club was really interesting for me because we’re starting from fresh. Not only does the club have to try to win on the pitch but they have to win fans and build from the bottom. I think as a player coming from Europe, myself, David [Villa] and Andrea [Pirlo], we have a responsibility then to get out in the community and do these things [promotional events[ and make people want to come and support us.”
There are now 22 players born in England who ply their trade stateside, with the country the second largest exporter of talent after Argentina with 26. Steven Gerrard and Didier Drogba left Liverpool and Chelsea respectively for lucrative stateside moves, while Brazil’s Kaka and Mexico and former Tottenham Hotspur player Giovani Dos Santos have also turned their backs on European careers for the US.
Its testament to how MLS’ growing international profile and deep pocketed owners are making it a more attractive option for players, which Lampard believes will be vital should the league want to become a global brand.
“I think you’ll see more [foreign] players come here as the league improves,” he added. “It’s not just the foreign designated players coming here. I think the overall standard of the league has improved and that’s what’s making the fanbase improve.”
The underlying issue is whether soccer can compete with the other major leagues in the US when it comes to big business. While the likes of the NBA and the NFL enjoy monopolies on talent, the MLS has to compete with leagues of Europe and the riches of China. The 20 Premier League teams will get a share of $8bn domestic rights alone between 2016 and 2019, compared to the value of the MLS domestic deal, which is worth $90m over eight seasons.
“Soccer might not the highest in the line of sports because its fighting against very traditional sports here in the US but it’s the fastest growing sport and I can feel that when we travel and from our home fans walking down the streets,” said Lampard.
“You can feel the difference in how the game is going. I think by playing well and embracing living here I think we can all help.”
Picture provided by the Empire State Realty Trust.