As of August 18, MLS counts 14 designated players, not equally distributed in its 16 clubs. The New York Red Bulls lead with three; Chicago Fire, LA Galaxy, Toronto FC, and Seattle Sounders follow with two apiece; and DC United, Kansas City Wizards, and San Jose Earthquakes each have one. FC Dallas is acting to sign a DP for January. The Columbus Crew’s Guillermo Barros Schelotto was re-signed as a designated player in 2009 only and still plays with that quality, carries that celebrity.
MLS DPs as of August 18, 2010
Juan Pablo Ángel, New York Red Bulls (signed 2007)
David Beckham, LA Galaxy (signed 2007)
Julian de Guzmán, Toronto FC (signed 2009)
Freddie Ljungberg, Chicago Fire (signed 2009)
Landon Donovan, LA Galaxy (since 2010)
Branko Boškovic, D.C. United (signed 2010)
Mista [Miguel Angel Ferrer Martinez], Toronto FC (signed 2010)
Blaise Nkufo, Seattle Sounders (signed 2010)
Thierry Henry, New York Red Bulls (signed 2010)
Nery Castillo, Chicago Fire (signed 2010)
Alvaro Fernandez, Seattle Sounders (signed 2010)
Rafael Marquez, New York Red Bulls (signed 2010)
Geovanni, San Jose Earthquakes (signed 2010)
Omar Bravo, Kansas City Wizards (signed 2010, joining in 2011)
Year Total DPs
The increase in signings is partly a response to market demands: high ticket sales for 2009-10 international friendlies, ESPN’s ratings for 2010 World Cup, and U.S. television ratings for foreign leagues. What was learned here is that the question is not when will the U.S. public like soccer, but how can MLS satisfy the U.S. public’s interest in high level international soccer. What was also learned from David Beckham and Juan Pablo Angel’s first years was that one designated player, no matter how high the quality, cannot turn a team around – there needs to be more high level players in the mix.
The next questions are: how many clubs will get on board with designated players and what will happen to the clubs that don’t? With only a fraction of MLS games carried on major networks, broadcasters will obviously cherry pick the games with designated players and preferably games in which major international stars face off. The stars bring their own audience and those improved ratings attract sponsors. Increased broadcast coverage improves name recognition for those clubs, which in turn should increase ticket sales, jersey sales, and team sponsorship.
There are concerns that the acclaimed parity of MLS will be somewhat affected and it might be, but affiliations and partnerships can offset limitations for owners that cannot invest or choose not to invest. The growth of the League is attracting investors, investors who see parity as a necessary strategy, but also see opportunity in achieving parity with international leagues.
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