Major League Soccer signed United States World Cup star Jermaine Jones over the weekend, and then allocated him to the New England Revolution where he'll be a designated player. The choices came down to the Revs and Chicago Fire, and his ultimate destination was decided by a blind draw after he'd signed with the league.
The process has been criticized heavily, renewing calls for more rule transparency. There are cries that this is yet another example of making up the rules as they go along, but it also inspired challenges like this.
OK, let’s do this: How specifically do @MLS’ intentionally vague, confusing and ever-changing rules actually hurt the league as a business?— Alexi Lalas (@AlexiLalas) August 24, 2014
May of the responses ended up how could it not, or some notion of public trust being damaged. That it hurts the perception of MLS and that will hurt sponsorships; with no explanation as to how that would happen. That most fans showing up to see Jones will have no idea how he got there; without an explanation as to why that matters.
There are some real after effects of MLS' dealings, as brought up in the comments section of this site. In trying to get Sacha Kljestan, the LA Galaxy had to trade away Kofi Opare and were still thwarted by MLS' rules favoring the two teams ahead of them in the allocation order. The Chicago Fire traded away Jhon Hurtado for allocation money in anticipation of bringing on Jones, but now those funds are just stored for a rainy day.
While the visual of assigning a player based on a blind draw out of an envelope isn't an easy sell, there are many times when a blind draw is invoked in the soccer world. World Cup groups, which have a direct effect on the financial windfall a country will receive, are done on a blind draw. Knockout tournaments like the FA Cup have long been decided on a blind draw.
The alternative to the blind draw is a bidding process, like US Soccer used to do for US Open Cup hosting, and that's where we get into whether MLS achieved its goals or not. New England getting involved later in the game, and offering more money than Chicago, makes it look like MLS let Jones play them to get a better deal which isn't supposed to be where the power lies.
Threshold becomes a talking point once again. MLS wants to do everything it can to prevent its franchises from bidding against each other, unless it involves players which can command a multi-million dollar schedule. The blind draw which saw Jones go to the higher bidder but not his first choice destination brings up questions about other DPs. When Seattle, Toronto, Orlando, New York went out to get their man, was that deal first opened up to other interested parties? Were they both higher bidder and destination of choice?
What if, as some think, Kraft being an original MLS investor played a role here? While integral to getting MLS to where it is today, the Revs remain an offseason seat filler for a NFL family with only one player on the books in their history for more than $500k before Jones signed. Was MLS overeager to encourage the Revs to get on the level where the rest of the league is now?
Ultimately, leagues with better financial situations have survived incidents like this. The only parties directly affected by shady boardroom dealings are other owners. Have the Lakers stopped trying to sign players because they're lost faith in the NBA's trade system after the Chris Paul debacle? Have MLB teams stopped trying to win the World Series after the commissioner decided to award home field advantage in the World Series on a coin flip of an All-Star Game?
Chicago came out yesterday saying they respected the system MLS employed. Most teams don't issue statements after missing out on a player. If those directly affected by the decision respect how it was made, perhaps that should cut MLS some slack.
The Fire still have the allocation funds and the roster space to try again for another big splash. All signs suggest they will, and the league will more on. Sponsors will still sponsor, fanatics will still fan. A new CBA will loosen the purse strings, though not as much as fans may want.
A player can only play for one club, no matter if that club is decided by which teams have the worst record (like how draft picks enter the league), or by which team ponies up the most dough (almost always unfair to smaller market teams), or by a blind draw.