Major League Soccer brings the world's most popular sport to the shores of the US. Created in 1993, the 18-team league competes from March to October, culminating with the MLS Cup championship. MLS oversees rules and scheduling, regulates franchise ownership, and negotiates marketing and broadcasting partnerships. Many of the games are broadcast on ABC and ESPN (both owned by Walt Disney); FOX Soccer Channel (part of News Corporation's FOX Sports Net) also telecasts some live MLS matches. The league is part of the U.S. Soccer Federation, which oversees the sport in the US as a member of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA).
Soccer has been gaining a greater foothold in the US market thanks in part to the marketing efforts of MLS. ABC and ESPN paid about $100 million in 2005 to broadcast World Cup tournaments and other world soccer matches through 2014. MLS replaced its deal with FOX Soccer Channel in 2011 and agreed to a three year television deal with NBC to broadcast 38 regular-season matches, several playoff games, and a couple of United States Men's National Team matches each season starting in 2012. The league also expanded its playoff format from 8 to 10 teams for the 2011 season.
Against that backdrop, MLS has been expanding its roster of franchises with new teams joining the league. The Philadelphia Union joined the league for the 2010 season, while a group in Seattle including movie producer Joe Roth (Revolution Studios) and comedian Drew Carey landed the rights for a team that began play in as the Seattle Sounders FC in 2009. The Pacific Northwest's fervent soccer fanbase also led to the formation of the Portland Timbers and the Vancouver Whitecaps FC franchises, which both joined MLS for the 2011 season.
MLS has been tapping into the international appeal of soccer and its ability to reach a global audience. Many of the league's franchises have modeled their names, uniforms, logos, youth academy operations, and their marketing efforts on the look, sound, and feel of the big European clubs. In a marketing-related move for the 2011 campaign, the Kansas City Wizards updated their moniker to the more European sounding Sporting Kansas City (a nod to Sporting Lisbon in Portugal). A franchise in Montreal, Canada is slated to join the league in 2012.
MLS received a big economic and confidence boost by landing a $200 million marketing deal with sports equipment giant Adidas. The agreement replaced a previous deal worth $150 million. Beginning with the 2011 season and running through 2018, the contract will be focused on youth development.