Thereare many popular sporting leagues across the USA, these include: NFL, NBA, NHLand MLB. However the main focus will be around the Major League Soccer (MLS) asan analysis of the MLS links in well to the structure that Major League Rugbyis following. Particularly focusing on the overseas players aspect in the MLRfits into literature on designated player rule and the impact it has onattendance figures is a crucial area of analysis as attendance figures is acrucial aspect to the MLR succeeding. Soccer in the USA enjoyed several momentsof popularity throughout the twentieth century.
Professional soccer leagueswere founded, some as early as the 1890s. In spite of that, soccer never caughtfire at the professional level with all of these leagues having folded within acouple of decades, as they have been in the shadow of baseball, football,basketball and ice hockey (Apostolov 2012, p510). After the USA for the first time ever hosted the 1994FIFA World Cup. It became most successful World Cup ever in terms of revenueand attendance. Following this people called for a professional soccer leagueto be established and professional soccer in the USA was born again with theMLS (Apostolov, 2012, p. 515).
Since the inception of the league in 1996 theMLS has now established itself as the only professional soccer league in theUSA, alongside its reputation of a popular major sporting league. ‘TheMLS has some unique institutional structures that differentiate it from otherNorth American sports leagues as well as sports leagues in Europe. A majordifference between MLS and other major sports leagues is its single-entitystructure, under which the league owns all player contracts and establishes ayearly salary cap’ (Jewell, 2017, p241). Jewell looks at the impact that the designatedplayer rule has had on the MLS attendance figures and whether the rule is oneof the main factors why MLS has started to establish itself as a successfulprofessional soccer league in the USA while other attempts have failed.
Thedesignated player rule allows all MLS clubs to break salary cap rules, allowingthem to sign top quality overseas players who wouldn’t fit into the salary caprange, helping increase the overall quality and popularity of the MLS. Afterstudying seven high-paid marquee designated players in the MLS between2007-2012, Jewell (2017) came to the conclusion that with exception to DavidBeckham who increased attendance by an extra 4,400 fans per game (p247), whilethe other designated players provided some but very little difference to higherattendance figures in the MLS. Jewell(2017) analysed MLS average attendance data with and without the marqueeplayers playing from 2007-2012 for the clubs the seven marquee players playedfor. It was found that these marquee players’ influences on MLS attendance variedby each season and mainly saw a drive in attendance during the first season ofthe player’s appearance especially impacting attendance numbers at away games. Jewell (2017) also concluded that the positive attendance boost of having high-priced foreignplayers in MLS diminishes over time, suggesting that much of their appeal is anovelty effect (p241).
However Farrell & Clopton (2015) argued that with ‘high-qualityplayers playing in MLS, it is hard not to argue that the Designated Player Rulehas helped to increase attendance at games, sponsorship of teams, quality ofplay, and overall popularity of MLS’ (p177). Moreover, Parrish (2013), whoinvestigated 2011 MLS attendance figures, along with the number of designatedplayers involved for each game, supports this claim of designated playershaving an impact on attendance increase in MLS games. Parrish (2013, p65)concluded that ‘the statistical analysis indicates there is a statisticallysignificant positive relationship between match attendance and the number ofdesignated players present at a given match’.
While further research from Lawson, Sheehan, and Stephenson (2008) estimate thatDavid Beckham doubled ticket sales for the MLS games in which he played duringthe 2007 regular season, home and away. Overall its clear to see thatintroduction of the Designated player rule has definitely had a positive impacton the MLS attendance figures, as the global appeal of these marquee playersattracts huge interest from fans to go and watch them.Thisexample of the Designated player rule in the MLS can directly relate and helpthe investors and owners of the MLR league see what sort of structure and ideasthey used which will help them for when they take off with the upcominginaugural league and they can also see what things they might want to avoid,when using their five player overseas rule to help increase the attendance ofmatches through the use of them.