Houston's mission to dim Galaxy's brightest star
He is, he says, glad to be a part of building something in America and the league there continues to progress, with revenues, attendances and television audiences all climbing.
There remain problems which have to be ironed out at some stage if MLS is going to move up another notch and rival baseball, football and basketball in the wider American consciousness.
Arena joked on Thursday that even he doesn’t understand a slightly unwieldy and unbalanced league system system that starts with regionalised conferences before concluding in play-offs and that seems to change each season.
Even minor things change from year to year, with Galaxy hosting last year’s final because their ground had been earmarked as the venue regardless of who qualified, while this year they are ar home because they are the higher ranked of the two finalists.
Still, many difficulties have already been overcome and improvements made. Television coverage of the game has, for a start, been transformed over the last decade or so, with commercials less intrusive, commentaries better informed and the number of games covered dramatically expanded.
The game’s place in the grand scheme of things is still occasionally put in perspective, as when ESPN’s coverage of a Galaxy game a few months ago was delayed because the station chose to stick with a Little League baseball match to its conclusion, and there is still a tendency to start explaining the basics again once games are big enough to creep into the mainstream. But most of the games carried during the regular season on ESPN and NBC Sports are well produced and nicely pitched.
An explosion in the number of purpose-built stadiums has radically altered the economics of many clubs, whilst improving enormously the experience of spectators and the spectacle for those watching at home.
The league, incidentally, now has the eighth-largest average attendances (18,807 in a league where almost all grounds now are built to accommodate less than 25,000 spectators) of any in the world, placing it ahead of the likes of the top flights in Argentina and Turkey, as well as England’s Championship. It is only fractionally behind France’s Ligue 1, and closing on the Eredivisie in the Netherlands.
A critical factor in achieving those sorts of numbers is that the standard continues to improve, with the ever-growing number of children who play the game combined with better coaching, facilities and scouting, helping to produce steadily better crops of new recruits.
They arrive via a draft system into a league that is centrally controlled along lines that would unimaginable in Europe and that have caused a fair bit of tension even in the United States where the players’ union ultimately mounted but lost a legal challenge to the terms under which its members are employed.
A minority, mostly foreign, like Beckham and Keane, earn millions, with the Irishman, for instance, guaranteed around €2.7 million before performance-related bonuses for this year and Thierry Henry picking up roughly €4.2 million.
Most, on the other hand, are rather modestly paid. While Galaxy’s three biggest stars – Beckham, Keane and Donovan get around €7.5 million between them, 20 of the club’s 31 strong squad are paid less than €75,000 annually and a few peripheral members receive what is effectively the league’s minimum salary of €25,000.