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.