Magazine article Insight on the News

MLS Eliminates Fusion, Mutiny: Unlike Baseball, Soccer Was Able to Contract to Make `a More Viable Business.' (Sports)

Magazine article Insight on the News

MLS Eliminates Fusion, Mutiny: Unlike Baseball, Soccer Was Able to Contract to Make `a More Viable Business.' (Sports)

Article excerpt

Major League Soccer (MLS), which has struggled mightily for six years to make a dent in the American sporting consciousness, has announced its plan to eliminate the Miami and Tampa Bay franchises. The move, expected for months, represents the strongest statement yet on the league's woes.

Since MLS' formation in 1996, the league has enjoyed regular exposure on ABC, ESPN and ESPN2 and the inclusion of many popular national and international stars. But with a level of play widely deemed as inferior to most major European leagues, on top of America's historical reluctance to embrace professional soccer, MLS has lost more than $250 million during its six seasons.

League officials portray the contraction of the Miami Fusion and Tampa Bay Mutiny as an attempt to cut costs and devote resources to stronger clubs. "These moves were about making us a more viable business," says MLS Commissioner Don Garber. "We intend for this to be a strong new beginning for MLS."

Several of the league's other 10 teams were considered for contraction but, after a lengthy review by league officials, the two Florida franchises represented clear choices for MLS. Tampa Bay has averaged 11,072 fans per game since 1996, 10th best in the 12-team league, and has been a league-run team for all six years. Miami, a 1998 expansion franchise, has averaged just 9,345 fans in its four years, worst in MLS. Additionally, both teams rank among the league's worst in corporate support, season-ticket sales and overall revenues.

"We came to realize that South Florida has too many hurdles we cannot overcome" says Ken Horowitz, operator of the Miami Fusion. Horowitz, a cellular-phone executive who sunk nearly $50 million into the Fusion, will remain on the league's board of governors. "The market just didn't step up."

While Garber acknowledges many will view the contraction as the first step of the league's demise, he doesn't think this is the case, noting that the league's remaining investors are committed to funding the league through 2006. …

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