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MLS opportunity lost: Once again, no simultaneous kickoffs for final match day

Oct 25, 2013, 9:15 AM EDT

Opportunity.jpg

Yet another MLS final weekend is about come and go and, again, we can pick up an infuriated pen and mark this one down under “Opportunity Lost.”

The league misses so, so much by not having simultaneous kickoffs on the final weekend of play.

In fact, since Major League Soccer is divided into conferences, the league would stand to register a double-word score on this one. Eastern Conference on Saturday, all games kicking off at the same time. And then Western Conference on Sunday, same deal, all games kicking off at once.

The drama is potentially brilliant. Potentially even game-changing for the league, if managed properly, with exposure maximized.

Soccer fans in this country were just treated to tense and dramatic theater that can unfold thanks to simultaneous kickoffs. The final night of CONCACAF qualifying, with something on all three matches, was sensationally memorable stuff. And that’s with the United States only being peripherally involved!

Look at the games this weekend:

Five games in Round 35 are clashing of Eastern Conference clubs, and every single one will tell something about the playoffs. Foremost, between Montreal, Chicago, New England and Houston, one member of that nervous foursome is not going to make it. Plus, there’s New York and Sporting Kansas City still angling for Supporters Shield and the Eastern regular season championship (not to mention the best shot at hosting MLS Cup.)

That’s drama – and that’s potential exposure Major League Soccer cannot buy!

Things are decided in the West as for who is going to the 2013 playoffs – but potential positioning is all over the place.

And yet, like every year, game times are all over the place, spread over several hours. Sigh.

Why? It mostly comes down to this: small thinking. It’s small thinking for a league whose “Think Big!” time has arrived.

It’s about built-in TV slots. And about concerns of individual clubs that might prefer this start time over that one. There are some other minor concerns, but … yeah, thinking small.

(By the way, flexible TV scheduling would also help, rather than locking in the games 10 months earlier. One of the nationally televised games this weekend is San Jose-Dallas, which is the only match of 10 in Round 35 that will not help decide playoff spots or post-season seeding. Sigh.)

Thinking big would be imagining something like the Premier League finish of two years back, when Manchester City claimed the crown on Sergio Aguero’s historic strike. I mean, watch this thing!

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What about the big drama that we sometimes get with final group play days at a World Cup? Anyone remember 2002 in Asia, when the Americans fell behind to Poland and became so dependent on a result from match playing out simultaneously – there’s that word again – 115 miles away between South Korea and Portugal? (Thanks again, Park Ji-Sung!) That’s the dramatic, unforgettable stuff!

There’s something else quite important to consider here: fairness.

Teams that kick off later than others may benefit from an unfair advantage. With playoffs beginning so quickly after the final kick – the last MLS regular season games ends late Sunday, the first 4th vs. 5th eliminator match is Wednesday, about 68 hours in between – unfair advantages is quite possible.

Specifically, one team may get an extra day of rest (by playing Saturday rather than Sunday). Or, a club may benefit by resting players on that final day because they know something about their playoff fate or positioning based on an earlier Round 35 result. How is that fair?

At some point, marketing concerns need to be put aside and matter of simple fairness need to be paramount.

It was OK for MLS to be deficient in these ways in early years; scheduling was brutally tough as so few clubs had control of their facilities. We are way past the tipping point on that one. And we’re also past the point where teams were losing so much money, things like “simultaneous kickoffs” was just a pricey luxury.

I have been writing about this for almost five years now; it’s time MLS catches up – and time they stopped blowing this wonderful opportunity.

  1. tylerbetts - Oct 25, 2013 at 9:46 AM

    It really comes down to TV executives and their desires, right?

    MLS isn’t really in a position, even if they wanted to, to say to their TV partners “we want to kick everyone off at the same time the final weekend”. If ESPN says “we want the Seattle game on at 10 PM Eastern so we can show it on ESPN2″, that’s pretty much what MLS has to do. That’d be tough for, say, Dallas to match in start times.

    I mean – I’m on board. But controlling flexibility as to which game is on national TV, simultaneous start times for the final weekend … those really, ultimately, are up to the television networks, right?

    Now, if only someone around here had some connections at NBC …

  2. socamr - Oct 25, 2013 at 11:26 AM

    I disagree -this one’s on MLS. You don’t think ratings would be driven higher by the drama of the last day, and the ability to show live cut-ins of other games? I know that ESPN or NBC would only be at one stadium, but many teams have local broadcast feeds that could be shared. There’s no way it makes sense for ESPN to hold this up for the paltry ratings they will get against Sunday night football and the World Series.

  3. futbolhistorian - Oct 25, 2013 at 11:39 AM

    The current TV deal dates back several years. As part of this current TV deal, the network dictates kickoffs. So it would never have been possible for MLS to do that in 2013 (or 2012 or 2011 etc). And before that, MLS wasn’t in a position to tell the networks what to do. So it’s a tad unfair to come down on them regarding how this issue plays out in 2013. “Small vs Big” thinking wasn’t in play when the current TV deal was struck. Survival was. If there’s criticism to dish for the lack of simultaneous kickoffs in 2013, then perhaps the networks deserve some of that blame as well.

    The question is whether MLS will work that flexibility into the new TV deal. If it’s still the same moving forward, then perhaps some criticism is warranted.

    And we also shouldn’t forget that thanks to intelligently managing those “marketing concerns,” the league was able to make it through some very turbulant years, and reach a point where we can now talk about tipping points and thinking big and all that. Because ticket sales certainly weren’t doing the job. Of course, that has changed now. But it wasn’t always the case, and you can’t just turn the switch overnight and make those marketing concerns all go away just like that.

    • takethelongview - Oct 25, 2013 at 12:06 PM

      With the next tv rights deal due for negotiation in 2014, Steve’s agitation on this issue at this time, this week,.with this seasin’s congestion in the standings is entirely appropriate even if one regards his criticism as misplaced in view of constraints imposed by the current contract.

      By all means, let us shout NOW about an opportunity lost if we hope to see this change implemented for 2015, when the next contract begins. Because Steve’s larger point is entirely accurate: simultaneous start times would be waaayyy more interesting if combined with a whip around show.

  4. futbolhistorian - Oct 25, 2013 at 12:25 PM

    Steve has been raising the issue for several years, and rightly so. I think many, many people are all on the same page about the issue, including MLS. My point was that the league is currently handcuffed by the current TV agreement. The networks, though, probably have the ability to loosen up the restrictions. So with this current TV deal, they are more at fault than MLS.

  5. SD1 Timbers Special Forces - Oct 25, 2013 at 12:30 PM

    If we’re going to talk about Sports, TV and the U.S. we need to understand that 3 hours is a big difference for how easily you can watch a game. It seems that MLS isn’t strong enough to negotiate kick off times yet.

    TV networks have Eastern Conference games (except Houston) all at one time like 1 pm and then all the Western Conference games at 6pm. That way we have concentrated Soccer with predictable times.

    This does two things, it keep’s the broadcast exciting while giving you a sense of being part of a larger national event. While simultaneous games keep people watching so as to not miss the latest from the other games. Which in a season like this, any goal or injury or anything that could effect *your* teams standings could be every update that cuts in with breaking news. Exciting and fair.

    • SD1 Timbers Special Forces - Oct 25, 2013 at 12:33 PM

      and can you not love that video

  6. hildezero - Oct 25, 2013 at 1:23 PM

    What does “simultaneous kickoffs” mean?

  7. pistol7pete - Oct 25, 2013 at 1:32 PM

    ^ all games starting at the same time

  8. hildezero - Oct 25, 2013 at 2:35 PM

    Oh, okay. Thanks, dawg. I appreciate that.

  9. overtherepermanently - Oct 25, 2013 at 8:13 PM

    Steve, I hope you have some juice, ‘cus this needs to happen.

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