Small-Payroll Teams Rise to MLS Cup Berths

(From Sports Business Journal, December 2, 2013)  In July the professional soccer team Sporting Kansas City played host to the Major League Soccer All Star Game. On Saturday they will play host to the championship game where they face Real Salt Lake. These two teams have proven that large markets don’t always equate to championships. It is the development of skilled players and front office personnel that have made these two franchises successful.

The MLS currently has sixteen US based teams in the league. Of those sixteen teams Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City ranked in the bottom three for market size. Neilson ratings have Kansas City at fourteenth, Columbus at fifteenth and Salt Lake at sixteenth. Teams such as the New York Red Bulls, Seattle Sounders and the Los Angeles Galaxy may have the largest markets, but they won’t be competing for a championship this year. These large market player payrolls of $9 million or more won’t be hoisting a trophy this year, but instead two teams with payrolls less than $4 million will be crowned champions.

“We’re proud to be in this with KC because it’s two teams that do it right,” said Real Salt Lake President Bill Manning. “We both have top-of-the-line soccer stadiums and front offices, and we’ve both shown that developing players can lead to great results.”

Kansas City supporters are coming from all over to try and get a ticket to Saturday’s 4 pm game. Chief Revenue Officer, Jake Reid, says, “It’s impossible to take care of everyone.” Reid says its simple math. Sporting Park holds just more than 21,000, and 14,000 of those seats have been taken by team season-ticket holders. An additional 1,000 went to Sporting Kansas City partial plan holders who bought ticket strips for the entire postseason. MLS requires about 2,000 seats to take care of league and club officials, sponsors and VIPs. As the visiting team, Real Salt Lake is entitled to 1,000 for its supporters.

Come Saturday, Sporting Park and Kansas City will be the place to be for US soccer supporters.