Why MLS Needs a 4th DP Spot for All Teams

Why MLS Needs a 4th DP Spot for All Teams

Major League Soccer (MLS) continues to grow in many vital areas. Those areas include new teams (San Diego FC in 2025), new stadiums (Inter Miami in 2025 and NYCFC in 2027), new competitions (Leagues Cup in 2023), a new 10-year MLS and Apple streaming deal starting in 2023, and of course, Messi joining the league in 2023. 


However, the one area of the game that did not grow was the number of DP spots teams can have. Currently, teams can only have three designated player spots (DP) on their roster, which allows them to pay more money to that player to play on their team. However, adding a fourth should be the next move for teams to help expand the game’s talent quality and bring more attention to the league.


In this blog post, we will explore the reasons behind the need for a fourth DP spot, emphasizing the league’s rising prominence, the significance of its hefty entry fee, and the catalytic impact of star players like Lionel Messi.


The Expensive Gateway into MLS:

The Expensive Gateway into MLS

One of the primary indicators of the league’s value is the steep entry fee for new franchises. Aspiring teams looking to join MLS face a considerable financial commitment, a testament to the league’s standing and appeal. For example, according to a report from NBC Sports, San Diego FC had to pay a $500 million fee to join the league. For Charlotte FC, the entry fee was $325 when they joined the league in 2022.


The substantial investment required to enter MLS reflects team owners’ confidence in the league’s growth potential and profitability. With such a high bar for entry, it becomes imperative to provide these teams with the tools to maximize their investment and compete at the highest level.


Getting a 4th DP roster on the team means more local attention to their club, which results in more jerseys sold, more people going to the stadiums, and more people watching the games through streaming.


Messi’s Arrival Was a Game-Changer for MLS:

Messi's Arrival Was a Game-Changer for MLS

The seismic waves caused by Lionel Messi’s move to MLS marked a turning point in the league’s history. The global football icon’s decision to join the league did not only bring immense talent to American shores but also had far-reaching consequences for the league’s marketability. Messi’s presence increased attendance at games and profoundly impacted media rights, merchandise sales, and, most notably, Apple Season Pass subscriptions.


For example, the Daily Mail reported that Messi’s joining Inter Miami grew the Instagram following dramatically. In the first 24 hours of Messi joining the club, Instagram grew by five million followers.


The Apple Season Pass Effect:

Messi’s arrival in MLS coincided with a groundbreaking partnership between the league and Apple. Apple’s Season Pass, an innovative subscription model that provides fans exclusive access to live matches, behind-the-scenes content, and interactive fan experiences, witnessed an unprecedented surge in subscriptions. To illustrate this growth, CNN reported a 1,690% growth in sign-ups to Apple’s Season Pass from Messi joining the league. 


The global fanbase of Messi, combined with MLS’s unique content offerings, created a synergy that drove Apple Season Pass subscriptions to new heights.


Also, since MLS Season Pass is a subscription service, the cost-per-acquisition becomes more favorable to Apple from an investment standpoint. Getting someone to pay and subscribe is always the most challenging part of a subscription model, so getting them to renew each month means the return on ad spend becomes more favorable to Apple, in part due to Messi.


Leagues Cup 2023 A Triumph of Expansion:

Leagues Cup 2023 A Triumph of Expansion

In 2023, the Leagues Cup emerged as a significant success story for MLS, highlighting the league’s commitment to expansion and innovation. The tournament, featuring clubs from MLS and Liga MX, showcased the quality of football in North America while attracting the attention of fans and sponsors. The success of the Leagues Cup demonstrated that MLS is not just a regional powerhouse but a global contender deserving of increased opportunities to showcase top-tier talent.


Read this article from the LA Times about the Leagues Cup and its success. 


Having a 4th DP spot to play in the Leagues Cup means even more eyeballs on the tournament, which is good for the league and teams. 


New Stadiums for Teams:

New Stadiums for Teams

As an NYCFC fan, I can’t tell you how excited the club is finally getting its soccer-specific venue. I’ve often visited Yankee Stadium and Citi Field to watch games, making me feel like we are renters. Both venues are designed for baseball, so they sometimes feel awkward. 


Now, in 2027, the team is getting its soccer stadium in New York City, which is massive. Most clubs now have their own stadium, which shows how much the league has grown because of their importance. Getting cities (and, in NYCFC’s case, teams) to invest and build soccer stadiums shows the commitment to the league’s growth.


The Case for a 4th DP Spot:

The Case for a 4th DP Spot

Given the league’s escalating value, the success of key initiatives like the Leagues Cup, and the transformative impact of star players like Messi, it becomes unmistakable that MLS teams need greater flexibility in building competitive rosters. Expanding the DP spots to four per team would enable franchises to attract more international stars, raise the level of competition, and further enhance the league’s global appeal.


A fourth DP spot would benefit established teams and provide a crucial competitive edge to new league franchises. This increased flexibility would encourage further investment in player development, scouting networks, and youth academies, fostering a virtuous growth cycle for MLS.


Also, getting a fourth DP spot means that there can be more international signings from big-name players. For example, there were rumors that NYCFC would sign Neymar in 2023. Obviously, it was a rumor, but teams with a fourth DP spot can entertain these ideas. The fourth DP spot means they can pay whatever the fee is to get that player to join their squad, which only brings more attention to their team and league. Messi joining Inter Miam will be bigger than anything, but getting big-name players to join MLS, as Garreth Bale did for LAFC in 2022, only helps the league with local and worldwide recognition.



As Major League Soccer continues its growth on the world stage, the need for a fourth Designated Player spot becomes increasingly apparent. 


The league’s high entry fee, coupled with Lionel Messi, emphasizes the value and potential of MLS. By expanding the DP limit to four, MLS can capitalize on its success and lay the foundation for a more competitive, dynamic, and globally appealing future. 


Also, as a league fan, I want the quality of the sport to keep improving. Therefore, allowing teams to have a 4th DP spot is an innovative and safe way to venture into a slow change to the league’s format.

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