Note: Story has been modified because I'm a lousy copy editor.
In the after glow of the dumpster fire known as Dempsey-gate, I'm left with a couple of musings. There is one thing that bothers me still about this whole deal.
No it's not the allocation order. It's not even the fact the league broke / severely bent its own rules. Matter in fact, it's not even that Seattle ended up with Dempsey.
A question that really needs to be asked is the financial investments the league is making from the NYCFC and other financial windfalls.
Dempsey-gate re-enforced my concerns about how the league spends money. MLS spent $8 million of league money on this transfer. My personal assessment of Dempsey's true price and the impact this will have on future MLS transfers aside: Why did the league feel it so necessary to pay for this? Why were they in such a rush?
With how fast this deal developed, there was no doubt some frantic phone calls between the league, Dempsey's agent, and Seattle. By reading Grant Wahl's article, it sounded like an episode of 24 where if Dempsey doesn't have his signature on a MLS contract within 24 hours, the world would explode.
Again, why the rush? Dempsey wasn't getting any other phone calls. From everything I've read, the league wasn't in competition with anyone. Plus, there was still a solid week left in the MLS transfer window.
Frankly, a lot of the controversy could of been lessened if the league took it's time with the Dempsey transfer.
If they waited 48 hours they could of:
- Negotiated a "trade" with Portland to take care of the allocation order mess - something like a 2nd rounder in a future draft to switch spots. Whether a fair trade or not, it would of kept the appearance of fairness and process within the league.
- They could of cooled off and figured out a bid that was competitive. Frankly, I think the league could of gotten him for $5 million. Again, I think this sets up a bad precedent for MLS negotiating with European clubs for American talent.
- If they were asked, I am almost certain that Roth, Carey, Allen, and the rest of Seattle's ownership group would have gladly chipped in a few million for the transfer. I think Seattle covering half of the transfer fee would of made a huge difference in how this deal was perceived. $8 million is a much larger share of MLS' total assets than that of the Sounder's ownership group. Again, this isn't a criticism of Seattle. If given the chance I really do believe they would have thrown in several million to just get Dempsey. Yet by everything I've read, the league made the determination to front the entire cost.
There is no doubt that the league could have gotten the deal done with half as much heartache if they sat down and thought about how to proceed for a few minutes.
Looking back on this, I am left the feeling that this was ridiculous exercise in just how desperate this league is for attention and how poorly the MLS runs its own shop.
If there is anything that annoys me the most about the Don Garber era of MLS, the league runs its shop almost exclusively as a marketing tool. There is no shame in that if you're NASCAR or professional wrestling where there is an inherent understand of what you are watching is specutainment. However, for a league like MLS - who is seeking legitimacy in both the domestic and international markets - these actions do nothing to help your cause. It only serves to confirm the preconceived notions that many have about this league.
Yet, there is something more at stake than reputations or perceptions. These marketing exercises cost money. The big bang of fireworks like Dempsey, Beckham, the All-Star Game, and all the PR nonsense is wasting a finite resources. MLS has a established track record of spending on short-term PR gains instead of long-term investment that will help the league 30 years from now.
An analogy would be if you run a construction business and spent $8 million on a Ferrari or $25 million on a Lamborghini Miurra instead of buying dump trucks, front loaders, and other equipment that will help build something. You may think it looks cool and flashy to drive the Ferrari or Lambo. You might even get a few more stares. Yet it doesn't really doesn't help build anything that lasts and you'll soon go bankrupt. MLS is buying too many Ferrari's and not enough front loaders.
For instance would the $8 million been better spent on helping the New England Revolution find a stadium in the city of Boston? In similar light, how about helping D.C. United seal that stadium deal with a few million more thrown in from the league? Would the $8 million been better spent on helping finding and greasing the skids of a Chivas USA purchase and rebrand? Would the $8 million been better spent on improving the minimum salaries in MLS? Or better referee training? Or developing MLS Live for Xbox, Wii, and Playstation formats?
My point isn't to advocate for any of these one positions. My point is that the league needs to focus on building long-term assets and improving overall quality of the league. Yet, MLS time and time again have shown how to burn money on things that are nothing more than branding and marketing exercises.
If this was the NFL, MLB, or NBA - I wouldn't be concerned as those leagues basically have a license to print money thanks to their TV contracts and marketing powers. MLS does not. In comparison it has very, very limited resources. It has to used them judiciously and wisely. You can only reap so many franchise fee bonanzas. It's ironic that the league has constantly said that it won't repeat the mistakes of the NASL. Yet, that is exactly what's playing out to a certain degree.
One day, the money from new franchises will run out and the league will have to learn to live within it's means of attendance, sponsorship, and TV revenue. What they do with these large infusion of cash from franchise fees will dictate the future of this league.
So are we going to continue wasting money or are we going to actually build something?