By J Hutcherson - WASHINGTON, DC (Sep 18, 2014) US Soccer Players – It's hard to imagine a way MLS could make its view any clearer. On Thursday, the league unveiled a new MLS logo, half of which is white space. That empty slot takes on the color of the individual clubs, creating an adaptable league logo. MLS decided to break with tradition when it comes to league logos for a simple reason. As the new logo clearly shows, MLS is more about individual clubs than the league itself.
That might not sound like news to fans who started following MLS during the multiple rounds of expansion. In particular, the teams that existed prior to their MLS era came into the league with their identities already set. This is a stark contrast to the earlier generation of MLS teams and their fans, where it was hard to avoid focusing on the league.
Single-entity put the focus squarely on league over clubs. Waking up one morning to an announcement that MLS was going on hiatus or otherwise suspending operations was a real threat in the early years. Everyone involved in MLS from clubs to fans was in this together, trying to make sure there was a league for their teams to play in.
Back in an earlier era of MLS, understanding the difference between investor/operator instead of owner and recognizing that MLS itself owned 51% or more of every team was common. In fact, one of the larger complaints about MLS in the early days was the focus on economy rather than what was happening on the field.
The Seattle Sounders and then the Portland Timbers changed that in a way that altered MLS's own self-perception. That became clear with the rebranding of the Kansas City Wizards into Sporting Kansas City. An old struggling MLS team could successfully turn itself into a professional soccer club. The model for MLS markets old and new changed.
Now, MLS changes with it by adapting the league logo. That might not seem like a huge change to most people. An open excuse to critique design choices, sure. However, it's hard to downplay what MLS is stressing here. This is a league of clubs, not a league publicly concerned with business practices, controlling costs, and making sure clubs don't compete with each other for players.
At least that's the idea. In an interview with Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl earlier this week, MLS commissioner Don Garber made it clear that the single-entity "structure will remain the same." The perception of MLS as a league of clubs has changed, and the league is taking advantage. What they're not doing is changing how the league operates at its most basic level.
That should become the chief concern of those clubs, now operating in a system designed to stress the league itself over everything else. The league is still what matters in MLS. The clubs don't exist in a business sense without it in the way they do in other North American sports leagues and in other soccer leagues around the world. That's part of the deal with MLS.
Lots of people have spent a lot of time and a lot of words trying to work out how long single-entity will last. The alternative is clubs acting in their own greater interests within league rules, competing against each other for players that are true free agents, and operating independently in the international transfer market. MLS makes all of these concepts against the rules by design.
How much that group think does or doesn't exist behind the closed doors of league meetings is what really matters. When those investor/operators decide that what they really are is club owners, things will undoubtedly change for MLS. After all, those investor/operators are the ones keeping the single-entity system in place.
J Hutcherson started covering soccer in 1999 and has worked as the general manager of the US National Soccer Team Players Association since 2002. Contact him firstname.lastname@example.org.
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