What is MLS Thinking?

seattle

MLS is already a niche league. As much as I’d love to see a viable American soccer league, MLS has it’s fans and really doesn’t have much more room to grow in terms of a fan base. And they certainly aren’t going to do themselves any favors with their idiotic season opener tomorrow night.

Major League Soccer will be kicking off its fourteenth season tomorrow night at 9 in a match between New York Red Bull and the Seattle Sounders at Qwest Field. That doesn’t sound too bad, right? New club opening their inaugural season with a prime time game against the club from the league’s biggest market. Sure, that makes perfect sense. The problem is that the game will run against the NCAA TOURNAMENT. The game will be on ESPN2 (not even regular ESPN, which will probably be an all-day Sports Center covering the NCAA’s) and will literally be directly competing with the late games of the first day of the NCAA tournament.

I know ESPN has to run something against the NCAA’s since they’ll be on CBS but this sounds like a disaster. Why aren’t they starting the season tonight in the void just before the tournament starts? Sports fans will be looking for anything to watch on tv as baseball hasn’t reached regular season yet, there’s not that much interest in the World Baseball Classic and the tournament will be just a day away. That seems like the perfect opportunity to get a nice rating for the opening game of a league that could really use the increased viewership. But no, MLS is going to compete with the NCAA tournament. The only thing they could do that would be dumber than that would be to open on Super Bowl Sunday.

Granted, MLS is getting incrementally better each season. There are still major points of improvement that could be made (see Trey’s column last year, and one of mine that drew quite a few angry responses) but on the whole, the league is establishing itself as a relatively viable product. But decisions like the opening game date/time are what will confine it to secondary or tertiary status in the minds of American sports fans. Wake up MLS, present your product in a way that makes sense. It’s not like MLS is NHL, mired on a network that no one knows where it is or if they even have it. The matches are on ESPN2. Use that to your advantage, not the opposite.

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9 Responses to What is MLS Thinking?

  1. nickgula says:

    I think you’re on to something here. Not that I think the MLS is making a huge mistake by starting the season tomorrow night, but I definitely think their ratings will suffer in large part due to March Madness.

    At the same time, I think opening up the season with the debut fixture of the Seattle Sounders matched up with the Red Bulls with potentially 30,000+ people on hand will make for a great broadcast.

    Being on the deuce at 9pm EST your average joe sports fan wouldn’t end up stumbling across this game even if it wasn’t on during the NCCA tournament, but here’s to hoping those who do are in for a treat.

  2. mao says:

    Yeah, I like the match up for the opening game. I just can’t believe the date/time. They need to hope that a ton of west coasters are bored with the NCAA’s by then and are flipping through the channels. What they really need is a blowout or two in the night games so people will have a reason to change the channel.

  3. Trey says:

    I believe the night game is Duke v Binghamton, so obviously MLS has lost my viewership. But maybe Duke will be killing Binghamtpon and casual fans will flip over to MLS.

    My problem is after a day of basketball, if I were to flip away (which I won’t do bc I want to see every minuet of the Duke game) I’d be so full of sports that I’d want something different.

    The real question is why not play it tonight. Everyone is anticipating the NCAA and desperate to watch some sports tonight but they have to wait til tomorrow. Now would be perfect for ESPN to go on ESPN tonight with a marquee matchup in a stadium where people will be excited about their new team and fill the stadium.

    Yet another reason that the MLS is absurd (also I figure expansion has diluted the talent pool and the quality of play will suffer).

    • nickgula says:

      If I had to guess, the decision of when to play the games isnt one that the league has much leeway with. This is most likely due to the contractual obligations of the TV deals (ie ESPN wanting to fortify their “MLS Game of the Week” in the primetime Thursday slot).

      I do agree that the ratings will likely suffer at the hands of one of the most watched sporting events in the year, but I dont think that overall this effect will diminish what should be a great broadcast.

      The competition for fans attention in North America isnt going away anytime soon. Throughout the MLS Season there are plenty of other ‘higher profile’ sports alternatives to be watched. I think in the end the league will be made or broken on how well they develop their on-field product, and how well they market themselves. I see no downfall to them broadcasting a game (with 30,000+ fans hopefully in attendance) no matter when it happens and what else is on other channels.

      As a sidenote, to Trey’s point:
      Expansion (at the rate they are going) is certainly not diluting the talent pool of the league. Look at Seattle alone, they have brought in two very high caliber players who have proven themselves abroad (granted they aren’t in their prime at this point).

      More higher profile players signing larger contracts will only lure higher profile talent into the league. Anyone who has paid much attention to the league over the last few years will likely agree that the on field product has improved to some extent, as the league has added recent franchises.

      That being said, I think there is something to be said for over-expansion, and it is something Im sure league is certainly aware and wary of.

      I hope Duke blows out Binghampton (I have them advancing in my bracket obviously), and I hope you tune into the deuce for what should be an entertaining soccer game!

      Also, you guys should feel free to scope my new MLS blog http://fourfour2.wordpress.com

      Enjoy the Madness!

  4. mao says:

    Yep, agreed. Tonight would be perfect. What a bunch of dopes.

  5. Trey says:

    Here’s two things I’d consider, though I may be wrongheaded to even suggest them. Why not make MLS sync up with the Premiership? I guess then you’d compete with NBA and college basketball, but ESPN could market soccer with Champions League on Tues and Wed and then have MLS on Thursday. Or even adjust the marketing to have Champions League in the afternoon of Tuesday and Wednesday and then have MLS Tuesday and Wednesday night.

    The other thing is to delay the start of MLS until after March or until the tourney has slowed down and they are 5 day breaks between games (like in between the elite 8 and final four). That way you get a jump on baseball and don’t have to compete too heavily with college hoops. Maybe you would have to compete with the NBA playoffs but I’d bet that the people who are big NBA fans aren’t MLS fans at all. So you don’t lose anything.

    If it’s just MLS and baseball, then MLS stands a chance. If they ahve to compete with other sports as well, they are screwed.

    That said, I hope the Seattle franchise suceeds bc the stadium is awesome and they lost the Sonics (which actually helps the the soccer team).

  6. mao says:

    Yeah, it’s too bad that some of the connections (like the Barcelona/Miami idea) are going by the wayside in MLS. I think that’d be great if the clubs in the US (and Canada) were linked to either the Premiership or other major European clubs.

    It seems it would make sense for the Europeans to set up training clubs and juniors in this country so they could more easily pull out the best of the best. But they could still run guys through the American league for game experience, etc.

  7. nickgula says:

    Trey: I agree with the fact that the schedule could (and should) be manipulated a bit. Frankly, I wouldnt mind them trimming it down a bit. Until there are more teams added over the course of the next years, I dont think it would hurt to play fewer games in a slightly condensed season.

    For my money, I’d rather take time off the end of the season though, ending earlier then they currently do. Wrapping the season up in October/November (when you’ve got almost EVERYTHING happening in other sports, NFL in full swing, MLB wrapping up, Hockey and Basketball getting going) I would say is the ‘greater of two evils’.

    Again, any way you slice it, theres plenty of competition for attention for the MLS. They can’t control all of the ‘other’ variables, but they can focus on getting a good product on the field, and marketing what they have effectively.

    Mao: I can work with the idea of a Barcelona/Miami partnership, but I dont think our league should go out of its way to INTENTIONALLY become a feeder league for the rest of the world. In the long term, we want to be attracting players from around the world, not sending them away. Until this happens, you’ll still be tuning into the EPL/Serie A/Bundesliga etc for the best the sport has to offer.

  8. mao says:

    Agreed, I don’t know that it’s necessarily in the best interest of MLS. But it seems odd to me that the major European clubs haven’t tried to really tap into the relatively virgin forest that is US athletes.

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