SkySports has agreed to a four-year deal to broadcast MLS games in the U.K. This comes on the eve of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard about to make their moves to the U.S.
Although this may not grow the league domestically, it will definitely be a boon for the league internationally in terms of notoriety, and may help attract more European players to U.S. soil.
The problem is that the league is at a crossroads. A strike may be imminent over free agency. Without free agency, European players may not be eager to come to the U.S. and face salary restrictions unless they are able to sign a designated player contract, which are limited to three per team.
Worse yet! If a strike does not take place, and there is still no free agency for MLS players in the coming years, a deal like this may hurt MLS more than help it. The MLS wants to be a top-tier soccer league, in the same category as La Liga, Barclay’s, Serie A, and Bundesliga. Broadcasting in the U.K. will give MLS players more exposure to European teams, which have free agency and unlimited salary caps. European teams would be able to outspend the MLS for world-class players that are produced in the U.S., like Deandre Yedlin. The result would be an exodus of MLS talent for European teams, rather than an influx of European players to the MLS.
Ironically, this would be great for U.S. soccer in general. Having more of our players playing in top-tier leagues improves their skill set, which improves our national team overall.
Think carefully, MLS! Your refusal to offer free agency and the advertising of your goods in the U.K. may kill your chances to be a top league. Are you ready to have your talent stolen out from under you and cement your status as second-class?