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Charles Cuttone

July 30, 2010
CUTTONE’S CONCEPTS
New DP rule should be named for Beckenbauer

By Charles Cuttone
Executive Editor

Another day, another designated player. It seems like everyone in Major League Soccer is getting in on the act.

The Red Bulls’ pursuit and signing of French star Thierry Henry seems to have spurred a flurry of activity to add stars not seen since the heady days of the North American Soccer League.

Good for MLS and its teams for finally realizing that stars sell. I know the argument against what the NASL did, with teams bidding up the price of players to compete with the Cosmos, and supposed over-the-hill players coming here as an early retirement. The arguments really don’t hold water about the NASL and they certainly don’t apply to Major League Soccer.

First off, the league’s single entity structure prevents any kind of real bidding war among the teams for a player’s services. The structure also helps ensure that a team in a small market like Kansas City is as viable as New York or Los Angeles.

This flurry of signings, which includes Mexican Nery Castillo in Chicago, Uruguay National Team midfielder Alvaro Fernandez and Switzerland’s Blaise Nkufo in Seattle, and supposedly Rafael Marquez in New York, is a positive trend for the league.

The signings create buzz locally and nationally. The arrival of the players will elevate the level of play in the league and make it more attractive to both current and potential fans, sponsors and television. It might be a way of not only attracting the so-called soccer snobs, who will watch a European league game on TV, but would not attend an MLS match, but also attract non-soccer fans as well. Stars sell.

Several years ago, when the Los Angeles Galaxy first floated the idea of adding a player outside the league’s salary cap, it was dubbed the Beckham Rule, even before the England international became the first designated player signing in the league.

Say what you will about his on-field performance and commitment to the Galaxy and the league, but the Beckham signing was a financial success. Larger than normal crowds saw the Galaxy play almost everywhere the team went. Sure, it tapered off, but Beckham’s performance can certainly be at least partly blamed for that. Of course Pele’s signing with the Cosmos in 1975 kicked off an opposite kind of trend, with attending rising in each of his three years, not only in New York, but around the league.

Still, despite the financial success generated by Beckham, DPs have been a mixed bag. Denilson was a flop in Dallas, as was Claudio Reyna in New York. Cuauhtémoc Blanco was a success on the field in Chicago, but did not help the team win a title, and only marginally helped attendance.

So why push the envelope by allowing teams up to three DPs? Because, ultimately, it works. Not every free agent the New York Yankees have signed has helped them win a World Series, but the willingness to add stars has made the team one of the top sports business brands in the world.

MLS was wise to open the DP rule up earlier this year, and maybe we should now start calling it the Beckenbauer Rule.

I am only guessing here, but I would be willing to bet that Franz Beckenbauer, on behalf of Red Bulls owner Dieter Mateschitz, helped convince Don Garber and MLS that the ability to sign stars had to be expanded.

Beckenbauer, who served as Mateschitz’s envoy at the opening of Red Bull Arena in March, met with Garber that morning. That was the same day the league announced its collective bargaining agreement. The MLS Commissioner was involved in the negotiations late into the night, flew to New York in the morning to have breakfast with Der Kaiser, then returned to Washington for the CBA announcement.

Before kickoff of the Red Bulls-Santos game, I spoke privately with Beckenbauer for a few brief moments, catching up on the old days with the Cosmos and talking about MLS, the new RBA and what was needed to continue the growth of soccer in this country.

A little later, during a press conference, Beckenbauer said “New York is used to having the best performers, not just in sports, but entertainment and the arts.”

A few days later, the league announced a change to the DP rule allowing teams to sign up to three. Interestingly, New York, which is pursing Marquez, is not the first team to fill their quota. Neither is LA, who reportedly are after Ronaldinho. Nope, it is Seattle. The team with the biggest, fullest stadium in MLS, in one of the smallest markets in the league.

   
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