MLS Scheduling Decision: The Counter Point

While on the surface, MLS’ decision to break for the World Cup in 2010 should be applauded, the decision isn’t as straight forward positive as many would like to believe. My colleague Brian Zygo has articulated the positives well in this MLS Talk piece. But for me certainly some possible negatives exist related to this decision.

Here are the potential drawbacks:

-The periods of the World Cup in 1998, 2002 and 2006 saw a bump in football fans coming to MLS matches DURING the tournament because they watched a game in the morning and had the urge to head to the stadium in the evening. Even low budget and poorly marketed USL benefited in 2006 from this trend. With the sport on TV all day, having games in the evening was beneficial to the professional and amateur leagues in this country.

– MLS breaking for the World Cup where the league will lose only a few players doesn’t impact teams the way breaking for the Gold Cup would. In 1998, 22 active MLS players were in France. In 2002, 11 active MLS players were in Korea/Japan. In 2006, 14 active MLS players were in Germany. Compare that to the Gold Cup when it seems half the league’s impact players are either missing or choose to skip the tournament, you realize the World Cup impacts MLS less than some may think. If MLS does not break for the Gold Cup in 2011 after breaking for a tournament in 2010 with fewer active MLS players participating, how can that be justified by the league brass?

– In 1998 MLS scheduled in such a way that teams generally played less during the World Cup, without breaking. This allowed for friendlies with European sides in July and accommodation in DC’s case for CONCACAF and COMNEBOL tournaments. What the league did in 1998, under a previous regime (Doug Logan and Sunil Gulati) may in fact be a better model, because by breaking, those fans captured by the group stage of the World Cup may drop off before an MLS match is played in their market.

– As for playing a “balanced” schedule, this is a large country, not England or Holland. Promoting regional rivalries is what this sport should be about. I actually believe the Mexican system of playing teams in your group four times over the course of a season while playing other teams just once or twice is a better system. I know the potential USL breakaway is talking about several innovative scheduling ideas based on Latin American thinking if they do in fact form a new league. MLS has had it right for years: why should DC United play San Jose as many times as they play the Metrostars? From a logistical and fan building standpoint it makes no sense. All it does is satisfy Premier League lovers who may not come to an MLS stadium anyhow. Seeding teams 1-8 for the playoffs as if in a single table is fine, but look at how they do it in Mexico, and that is the what we should be thinking about here. Protect and develop regional rivalries first should be the mantra.

MLS has likely done this to satisfy FIFA because of the US bid for the 2018/2022 World Cups. While they should be applauded for that, the case for doing this isn’t as black and white as many fans may think. I hope the points I have articulated above give some reasonable explanation as to why MLS did not do this in the past and why they hesitated this time. It isn’t the slam dunk some European inclined footy fans in this country seem to think it is.