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Are there too many MLS playoff teams?

Oct 28, 2013, 7:10 PM EDT

Andrew Wenger

Congratulations to all 10 MLS playoff participants! You have pinned a lovely post-season blue ribbon onto your lapel, and playoff arrival has always stood as the primary MLS demarcation between success and failure over a season.

But if we’re being brutally honest, in a couple of cases, we are looking at the teams gracing the post-season roster only because they erred, fiddled and fumbled just a little less than a few others.

Are there truly 10 MLS clubs that deserve to be in the playoffs?

It was always destined to be this way; back in late November of 2010 when MLS announced a surprise two-team expansion of the post-season field (from 8 to 10 clubs). Plenty of us warned then that it would be this way, and what a real shame, too. Again, we see “small thinking” trump the longer-term “big thinking” from Major League Soccer’s board room.

(MORE: Small thinking strikes again in lack of final-day simultaneous kickoffs)

The logic went like this: keeping more teams involved in the playoff chase longer would get a few more butts in seats down the stretch (because more teams would remain alive in September and October).

But what if more teams were incentivized to build the right kind of audience, real supports, the kind who would quickly understand the value of every match? They kind that would grasp how points earned in April and May are every bit as valuable as points earned down the stretch? Wouldn’t that put more butts in MLS seats through the entire season rather than just beefing up the gate in the fall?

Here’s the net-out as it concerns the MLS playoffs:

We get a team like Montreal, just barely over .500 and with a humble plus-1 goal difference. Is that what MLS wants its playoffs to be about? We get a team that is 2-6-2 over the last two months. That’s bitter coffee to me.

Yes, getting to the playoffs is about points earned over a full season; but the format remains too forgiving, and there’s your evidence.

Even Houston and New England don’t really look like playoff teams, do they? New England is young and just got back in for the first time since 2009, so it’s a good story. But is Jay Heaps’ team a real MLS Cup threat? Debatable.

Dominic Kinnear’s team will be a threat because, well, because it is coached by Dominic Kinnear. So, the Dynamo is clearly a threat because of a manager that understands how to win in the playoffs better than anyone this side of Bruce Arena. But that’s maybe the point. The regular season needs to be more important; it shouldn’t come down to squeaking past the league’s worst team in history on the final match day to book post-season passage.

But it’s not going the other way. I never sense any momentum to fix this pothole along MLS Boulevard. Our best hope now: As the league adds team No. 20 (New York City FC) and then No. 21 (most likely Orlando) and beyond, let’s hope they keep the playoff field at 10 rather than continuing to expand.

The MLS playoffs become a “cup competition,” so to speak. And there’s some luck involved in cup competitions – which is the logic behind crowing the regular season winner the league champ, as so many places do now.

But in the United States we like our playoff system – and I’m fine with that.

Let’s just make it a little tougher to get into the playoffs; there’s the reasonable compromise.

(MORE: Top story lines for the MLS playoffs)

(MORE: MLS Week in Review for Round 35)

(MORE: MLS Eastern Conference playoffs are set)

(MORE: MLS Western Conference playoffs are set)

  1. dreadpirate82 - Oct 28, 2013 at 7:31 PM

    The one thing I like about the format is that it is supposed to make it more difficult for the play-in teams to advance by playing an extra game. And it worked so well last year, with Houston…nope, it didn’t work, as a play-in team made it MLS Cup. To sum up, I hate that there are ten teams. Eight is ideal for me.

    The thing I really don’t get about scheduling is that the team with the better record is supposed to have the advantage by playing at home in the second leg of a home-and-home series. Because of the play-in game, that higher seeded team gets a weeknight home match, when the crowds generally aren’t quite as boisterous. Given the difficulty in getting to Red Bull Arena for commuters, this could have an impact on the NYRB crowd.

    • lavatomy - Oct 28, 2013 at 9:00 PM

      Agreed on the “home advantage” part. I live in CT and its about a 2 hour drive to RBA for a regular Saturday or Sunday. My friends and I were looking to attend the first playoff series but then saw the dates and it would be impossible for all of us attend given our work schedules and the rush hour traffic driving thru NY. I’m just speaking of experience in my market of course, don’t know it is for others.

      I think the level of playoff teams is fine and the percentage of teams making it to the playoffs will be less as they add more teams.

      I still really dislike the fact that Houston plays in the East, they went there to balance the conferences before Montreal came in and now that they’re in the league Houston it’s still playing in the East.. doesn’t MLS loose out on Houston and Dallas playing just once a year?

    • talgrath - Oct 29, 2013 at 2:18 PM

      I think the solution to that is to make it a 1 game elimination instead, played at the higher seed’s home stadium on a weekend, either that or make it a 3 game series with 2 games played at the higher seed’s home (but man that is a long postseason).

    • njsurfchick - Oct 31, 2013 at 8:39 AM

      I have to disagree with the “hard to get to” part about the Arena. PATH service is right there, NJT trains/bus for people without cars, and it’s on a major traffic corridor. For someone like me, who lived in the North Bay area for several years, (soccer aside-I wasn’t a San Jose fan) Candlestick Park was “hard to get to.” But we showed up. I think it’s more a case of there being too many choices and not enough die hard fans.

  2. pinstripedog - Oct 28, 2013 at 7:43 PM

    Short answer: Yes

    Long answer: MLS has a complete structural problem when it comes to the competition format. The biggest problem is the lack of stakes for the regular season.

    I’m also a Premier League fan. If you follow Euro soccer you know that every game means something. If you’re top 5, even one loss could spell doom for your title chances, if you’re the rest wins mean one step closer to avoid relegation and maybe even a Champions League spot. That’s why the PL is so popular, almost every game matters.

    In MLS this is the opposite. I’m a Timbers fan, I love the Timbers but I have so much trouble caring about the regular season. Besides games against a rival like Seattle, I find it hard to get too excited. And reg season games between teams I don’t root for? Forget about it.

    Look I try so hard to get into a NY Red Bulls or Philly Union game, I just can’t. There’s only so long I can enjoy the play of Thierry Henry. What I want is some stakes, something on the line. What MLS has done is completley dillute the regular season in favor of the playoffs, because that’s all the other American sports are.

    I think this is a wrong move and the primary reason MLS has such weak ratings in television.

    Now look at the playoffs, playoffs are great except for the fact that a top seed like the Timbers get almost nothing for their troubles. These guys worked their butts off to get top seed in the West, for what? Obviously they avoided the knockout game. But after that? They have to play either the Rapids or Sounders with no home field advantage, both teams get one home game. Then afterwards against RSL or LA the same.

    We all know that there isn’t a whole lot of a talent gap between MLS teams. There isn’t a huge difference between a 1 or a 3rd seed usually. Compare that to the NBA where there is a decent talent gap between a #1 and a #5 seed plus there’s home court advantage in the NBA, 4/7 games at home. So I just feel like the playoffs are almost like a unbearable exhibition season, followed by the playoffs where games actually matter.

    I don’t know what the solution is exactly, but if MLS wants to become more popular they need to find a way to make the reg season more relevant. The reg season needs to be the foundation of the MLS, then they can bring in more stars, get more expansion teams like Orlando, get bigger tv contracts, etc.

    • joeyt360 - Oct 28, 2013 at 8:45 PM

      No offense, but to a not-insignificant extent, you’re arguing from what you’re used to, under the emotional instinct that different must be wrong, and then justifying backwards from there. The average MLS regular season game is actually MORE likely to wind up having some kind of bearing on who ultimately wins the championship than the average Premier League game is. And fans in England sell out games they KNOW have absolutely zero ‘relevance’–like the Sunderland-Newcastle game, for instance. And these are facts, inarguable.

      It’s beyond ridiculous to believe that playoff format is why MLS average TV ratings are so low. The hit-you-over-the-head reason why MLS ratings are low are: a) it’s still soccer, and it’s still not yet a totally accepted sport in this country (this is changing over time, but it takes a LONG time), and b) to the extent they are lower than Premier League games (which are still not what entrenched US leagues would call ‘high’), it’s because they have a 100-year tradition deficit to try to make up, and the quality of play is vastly different (the former half of that probably being a much bigger deal than the latter half).

      • pinstripedog - Oct 29, 2013 at 6:39 PM

        >>>>”The average MLS regular season game is actually MORE likely to wind up having some kind of bearing on who ultimately wins the championship than the average Premier League game is.”

        Really? I cannot see how you can say this. Even if you win the Supporters Shield, it doesn’t give you homefield advantage (except in the Final, and that rule was only recent), the seeding isn’t that big a deal since there’s so much parity.

        >>>>>”And fans in England sell out games they KNOW have absolutely zero ‘relevance’–like the Sunderland-Newcastle game, for instance. And these are facts, inarguable.”

        Even without the rivalry the recent Sunderland-Newcastle game had relevance. Sunderland now looks to have a decent chance of getting out of the relegation zone, while Newcastle’s hotseat in terms of relegation is a bit hotter.

        >>>>>”The hit-you-over-the-head reason why MLS ratings are low are: a) it’s still soccer, and it’s still not yet a totally accepted sport in this country (this is changing over time, but it takes a LONG time), and b) to the extent they are lower than Premier League games (which are still not what entrenched US leagues would call ‘high’), it’s because they have a 100-year tradition deficit to try to make up, and the quality of play is vastly different (the former half of that probably being a much bigger deal than the latter half).”

        I’m not denying those aren’t a factor, lets say the quality and tradition and all that makes up like 60% of why MLS has low ratings. I’d say the other 40% is the competition format.

      • robe1300 - Oct 29, 2013 at 6:50 PM

        @pinstripedog, I think you’re really overselling how much competition format has to do with low ratings in MLS. 40%? Merely because this league uses a playoff system? That to me seems preposterous. I think the discerning American soccer fan wants to watch what they (correctly or otherwise) perceive as the “best” the sport has to offer. I don’t think anyone here, MLS diehard or otherwise, is going to argue that MLS is among the best leagues in the world or is even among the “elite.” I think the tradition and quality is the primary reason that English-speaking soccer fans in this country choose to watch the Spanish and English leagues over MLS simply because those are the reasons that people choose to follow one competition versus another in any sport.

        The best comparison is between AAA and Major League Baseball (or, if you’re a football or basketball fan, between College and NFL/NBA). More people watch the latter in each of those examples not because of the format (which in baseball and basketball is largely the same) because they view the upper levels as being of higher quality. I think most people feel that way re: MLS rather than look at it as having a playoff system and being turned off. That miiiight apply to people who grew up in countries that don’t regularly use that mechanism but probably doesnt in a country where our competition format largely includes it.

        Also, MLS is clearly not failing to attract Mexican-American fans because of the competition format. Liga MX utilizes a playoff format and I don’t think you’ll find many saying that it isn’t a “traditional” soccer nation.

      • robe1300 - Oct 29, 2013 at 6:57 PM

        Also, by comparing MLS to AAA baseball or college basketball/football, I’m in no way trying to demean MLS as a competition. I enjoy watching the league’s games because the outcome is so unpredictable and the league is largely one of the most competitive in the world (from a parity perspective). My point was only that the perception of MLS to the average sports fan (or even to the average European soccer fan) is that the league is inferior. If more people gave the league a change, I believe that they’d be surprised at the level of quality in the league. But again, don’t think they’re saying no at any appreciable rate merely because there are playoffs.

      • joeyt360 - Oct 30, 2013 at 4:42 PM

        >>>>Really? I cannot see how you can say this.

        Simple. Contention for regular season championships are extremely straightforward propositions to just buy. All the teams that know they can’t buy the title (which is between three fourths and nine tenths of them depending on the year) are eliminated from before the opening kickoff.

        >>>>Even without the rivalry the recent Sunderland-Newcastle game had relevance. Sunderland now looks to have a decent chance of getting out of the relegation zone, while Newcastle’s hotseat in terms of relegation is a bit hotter.

        Relegation is a completely different subject. I happen to favor, from an athletic competition point of view, both playoffs and relegation. (I just know the owners are never likely to vote to introduce relegation.)

    • nogoodusernames - Oct 28, 2013 at 10:05 PM

      I’m sorry, I know people love to talk about how every game matters in European leagues, and it sounds nice, but it’s simply not true. People only seem to say that when they’re talking about MLS with it’s playoffs and no promotion/relegation, but it ignores the simple fact that there are lots of games that don’t really matter. Once you get beyond the mid point of the season, there are a number of teams that are mid table, with little chance of getting into Europe, and little chance of getting relegated. For other clubs, the seasons that Liverpool and Everton had would have been considered really good, but had 2 less fancied teams in similar positions played each other late in the season, the match wouldn’t have been all that remarkable. Because those 2 teams have so much history, even though they were basically playing for pride, it was still a huge match. And that’s just one easy example, there are so many teams with so much history between them, whose matches are huge, no matter when they play, in whatever division. MLS can’t replicate that any other way than to stick around for a while, which is not a criticism, that’s just how it is. You can’t fake history, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stick around and make it, you just have to be patient, and let it happen. For a league that’s less than 20 years old, it’s doing very well.

    • danxp2 - Oct 29, 2013 at 12:53 AM

      If you are a top five the stakes are high but if you are a fan of Southampton/Everton/Fulham/Swansea City the stakes are meaningless come February. The old English 2nd division, now Championship I think, uses playoffs between the 3-6 place team to decide who will get promoted with the last 2. The way to have your cake and eat it to is to do something similar for the top division.

      1 and 2 auto bids to the Europe playoffs (lets stop kidding ourselves the Champions League is the Europe Playoffs) then teams 3-6 fight go in end of season playoff to decide who gets the final two spots of the Champions League. This would not work everywhere since different countries get different allotments into the playoffs and it would do nothing for teams that are 7-12 usually between 8-12 points adrift of 6th place but safe of relegation come March, but it values the season and gives you the excitement of a playoff as well.

      If the CCL was important it would work out well for here in the states as well, however it is not so instead of the North American Playoffs we want just an MLS one. In theory give the winner of the west and the winner of the east automatic bids and let some combination of 4 teams fight out for the other 2 spots… assuming USA gets 4… I really don’t know how the CCL works. If you want an end of season playoff to decide who is the winner of the domestic league fine pit east #1 against West #1 in either a one game or a home and away series. I am sorry but home and home sounds like one team is getting to be the home team in the first game and the same team is the home team in the second game to me… I grew up on Europe soccer so I am used to the home and away phrasing to mean exactly the same thing.

      The major problem with this is these are businesses and the CCL isn’t the cash cow that the ECL is. Teams will do their best in whatever competition will get them the most money as players, and teams will play their 1st team in competitions that will give them the most money as prize money. the CCL as far as I am aware is not where the money is now. I don’t see this shifting anytime soon. So we get what we get an MLS playoff. Like any league we see how much money the playoff brings in, how many eyeballs watch and we want to add more teams/expand it so that there are more playoff games that means more money, happening in the NCAA football, and basketball, NFL is looking to expand, MLB the longest and proudest of leagues added more teams in, NBA has gotten as big as they probably can get, making every round a best of 7 and letting in 16 teams, but if they could get away with letting in all 32 they would. The playoff is where the money is. Champions League and the World Cup are always looking for more teams, more TV dates, and more games… of course that idea was floated by the UEFA head because he doesn’t want to give up any of his 13 allocated slots to let in more teams from Asia/Africa, so take it with a grain of salt but with 200 Plus confederations 40 teams is not an awful percentage yet.

    • talgrath - Oct 29, 2013 at 2:27 PM

      If you’re at the top then yes, every game matters, if you’re at the bottom, then yes, every game matters. But teams in the middle, no, it doesn’t matter because you are largely playing for pride. Hull, Swansea and Newcastle don’t have a lot to play for, as long as they don’t bomb out they’re pretty comfortably out of the relegation zone, but they’re so far out of the top teams that anything less than a spectacular remainder of the season won’t get them into those coveted top spots for Champions League play. Now, of course, teams officially eliminated from the playoffs had nothing to play for the last few games in MLS, but there were a lot of teams on the cusp of either losing out or winning in. What’s more, those in the playoffs still had something to play for, there’s the Supporter’s Shield for 1st overall, and if you get to that MLS cup your seeding determines where the game is played. Finally those in the 4/5 spots are playing to either try to get higher in the standings (and out of the single elimination) or to get home field advantage for that single elimination game. There’s just more to play for in a play-off system at the end of the season for everybody but the already eliminated.

  3. joeyt360 - Oct 28, 2013 at 8:36 PM

    One couldn’t have picked a worse season to write this article. (Not a surprise I guess, since it’s written every year). In both conferences, teams that won more games than they lost sat at home.

  4. aaroncsmithbk - Oct 28, 2013 at 8:41 PM

    Too many teams. A case could be made for the top two of each conference.
    Pinstripe sums it up well. I think this is a interesting challenge for MLS. overall MLS walks a fine line between what mainstream US sports fans are used to and what US soccer fans are used to (…watching global football leagues).

    The challenge MLS has with a regular season only system is that the CCL is meaningless for the most part. Maybe one day it will be more important, but right now a top four finish to get in wouldn’t be too much incentive. Also, Without relegation there’s little additional push out of the bottom. And you’d have to balance the schedule, which is asking a lot given the geographic size of the country compared to leagues elsewhere in the world.

    I think you can make an argument in favor of a cup to end the season. Cup competitions are a core part of soccer culture. A team in MLS has to be proficient at a season of play AND a cup to win it all. Perhaps meaning the most complete team wins? What MLS needs to figure out is how to deliver more benefits for achievement during the regular season to take some luck of the game out of it. Real home field advantages (and maybe financial rewards).

    Tangential thought… MLS and US Soccer or whoever decides this really needs to rethink those CCL allotments. US Open cup winner? Really? Perhaps go with top regular season teams from eastern and western conferences + MLS cup final teams. If those overlap, have backup picks that goes to the next best team in either conference regular season. MLS teams are the best in the US and US open Cup is not a major competition. If they want to make CCL a bigger competition that drives more value for the league and it’s tv partners, The absolute best teams in MLS need to be participating.

    • joeyt360 - Oct 28, 2013 at 8:52 PM

      Every year the NCAA basketball tournament invited 64 teams. . . let me spell that out in case you thought it was a type: SIXTY-FOUR teams.

      And what complaint was heard from the fans? Was it a complaint about the weakness of the sixty-third best team? To poach a phrase from this article, heck no!! The complaint was always about the teams that. . . wait for it. . .

      waaaaaaaaaaait for it. . . .

      DIDN’T GET IN! So they EXPANDED it!!!!!

      • bwholl - Nov 2, 2013 at 5:08 PM

        There are also 350 teams so not exactly a relevant argument. 19% of NCAA teams make the tourney as opposed to 53% of MLS teams.

    • reformed2012 - Oct 28, 2013 at 9:35 PM

      Easy. Impose salary cap reduction or fines for those at the bottom of the table. One way or the other they will be BK, sort of like relegation.

      Also, what kind of drugs are you on by saying US Open Cup is not a major competition? It is similar like the FA cup, a giant killing competition. It allows non-MLS team to reach the CCL, especially many teams in the USL can beat many MLS team because there are no relegation/promotion system in place.

    • aaroncsmithbk - Oct 28, 2013 at 10:08 PM

      man, I love the vitriol and ridiculousness of the responses from “wait for it…” simple online posts.
      1) FA cup comments… FA cup is about the 173rd most important tournament in Europe each year. It’s great that a non MLS team can win it USOC. like it’s great that Wigan did and then …get relegated. Wouldn’t it we swell if then Wigan got a slot in Champions League? Would do a lot to promote and build the FA and EPL to attract the best talent and television deals and sponsorship? Oh right, it would have the opposite effect. Look, as great as it is that any team can win USOC, fact is that good MLS teams often treat it as a secondary competition, DC United won this year, and MLS and Us Soccer does itself, and CONCACAF as a whole, no favors by not sending it’s best teams to the CCL.
      2) NCAA? That’s the measurement for MLS postseason? Okay, not even sure what to do with that one. Different sports that are dramatically different in styles and game play. Amateur v pro. Etc, etc. I Have an idea, let’s spitball here for a second.. how about at the end of the MLS season we just let all the teams into a tournament, reseed in regional groups and play a series of winner take all games over a few week stretch to come up with a champ. Wouldn’t it be great? Maybe a great Cinderella like Chivas would win a few games and make MLS cup final? Let’s not even go that low. Would be awesome if Vancouver were crowned champs. Would make the season so relevant. Would make the season really worthwhile.

      • joeyt360 - Oct 30, 2013 at 4:45 PM

        >>> Different sports that are dramatically different in styles and game play. Amateur v pro. Etc, etc.

        No, that argument is a logical fallacy called ‘special pleading.’ It’s on you to prove that the differences matter on a level other than merely what you’re used to because you grew up in a particular culture as a fan.

  5. corgster - Oct 28, 2013 at 8:49 PM

    Too many teams? The margin of error was significant this year! In fact, the number of teams in the playoffs is about right this year. [Taken from elsewhere on the web]

    Smallest Gap from Team #1 to #16 in SS Standings (59-41= 18 points)
    -Previous Record: (66-35=) 31 in 2012.

    Smallest Gap from Team #1-#12 in SS Standings (59-49 = 10 points)
    -Matched current record of 10 in 2009.

    Smallest Gap between Playoffs Elimination & SS Winners (59-51 = 8 points)
    -Previous Record: (49-40=) 9 in 2009 (CLB@49 vs COL/DC@40)

    Smallest Gap between Playoffs Elimination & Conference Winners (POR@57 – S.J.@51 = 6 points)
    – Previous Record: (48-40=) 8 in 2009 (L.A.@48 vs COL@40)

    1st time the SS Lead has switched hands 3x in the Final Week. (10/23 RSL, 10/26 KC, 10/27 NYRB)
    – Previous Record: 2x in 2004 (KC then CLB on 10/16).

    1st time the SS Race has involve 4 teams in the Final Week.
    – Previous Record: 3 teams in 2000 (KC 56 points, Chicago 54 points, NYRB 54 points heading into Final Day).

    1st time both Conference saw teams eliminated from playoffs by Tie Breakers (East: Chicago, West: S.J.).
    – Previous Record: Only 1 Conference in 2004 (N.E. eliminated Chicago), 09 (RSL eliminated Colorado).

    1st time 4 teams finished with the same points in the SS Standings (51 points by N.E., COL., Hou. & S.J.).
    – Previous Record: 3 teams in 2005 (45pts), 06 (39pts), 09 (40pts), 12(57pts).

    Seattle’s record collapse as SS Leaders 5 rounds before the end (6th/19 overall & 4th/9 in conference).
    – Previous Record: S.J. of 2002, at least 2nd/10 overall and 2nd/5 in conference.

    Dallas missed the playoffs despite being SS Leaders by Round 13 (new record). Montreal almost extended the record to Round 24.
    – Previous Record: Round 6 by K.C. in 2006.

  6. egb234 - Oct 28, 2013 at 9:24 PM

    Remove the word playoff from the question an the answer is still yes. I am a newcomer to soccer fandom; I started with the World Cup, moved to the World Cup + champions league, and now follow the BPL faithfully. I also keep a good eye on the Serie A and La Liga. But despite true effort, I haven’t been able to get into MLS at all. I lived in SLC during their championship and I live in LA now, but even when the home teams get going I find myself feigning interest and eventually turning the channel.
    The talent is spread too thin.

    • joeyt360 - Oct 30, 2013 at 4:46 PM

      Which has nothing to do with the number of teams. It’s because the salary cap is very low. (Secondarily because the US doesn’t develop excellent players yet, but mostly because the salary cap is so low).

  7. mknow406a - Oct 28, 2013 at 11:15 PM

    Gotta love a full dose of pablum! Here’s an idea. How about you write an article on Man U, Liverpool, Arsenal, Roma, etc., you know, all of those major European teams that are owned by Americans that don’t own MLS teams? Basically, write a primer on sports economics 101. You can then explain, and possibly learn yourself (?), why investment in the MLS is not considered a ‘sure thing,’ with BIG return on investment potential, to extremely wealthy, successful American (and Russian, and Middle Eastern) business folks. (And Kraft doesn’t count. Everybody knows he only sees the MLS as an ‘off-season’ tenant to offset his stadium costs.)

    Promotion/relegation, Champions League slots and local derbys all help fill the seats for ‘nothing’ games across Europe. The MLS has nothing like that… so they HAVE to use play-offs to attract fans. Promotion/relegation is simply NOT economically feasible do to the lack of viable stadiums. American derbys simply don’t have the historical/social undertones that the big time Europeans match-ups do… Celtic/Rangers (Religious discrimination), Barca/Real Madrid (Franco’s, an avid Real supporter, genocide of Catalonians in Barcelona after the Spanish Civil War), English Red/Blue match-ups in London, Manchester and Liverpool (based historically on individual economic fortunes).

    Over 90% of ALL revenue is generated via ticket sales in ALL sports. That’s sports management 101…. it doesn’t matter that you pay $10 for a beer, if the price of a seat is $50, EVERY fan needs to drink 5 beers just to generate the same income. Yes $10 a beer is a rip-off, but in the big picture, it is trivial income. The same thing with a kit. A fan spends $100 on a kit, but they only buys 1 a season, or even 1 every few seasons. Compare that to 20 home games at $50 a ticket…. $1000 > $100 last time I checked. The amount teams can charge their sponsors is also directly tied to the number of fans exposed… that’s right, the number of “buts in the seat” as it was described. Did it ever occur to the author that if the MLS doesn’t continue to put as many “butts in the seats” short term, there simply WILL NOT BE a long term?

    Yes, die-hard fans are the goal. The Toronto Maples led the NHL in revenues even during their 7 year play-off dry spell. The Dallas Cowboys are selling 100,000 tickets a game for a team that hasn’t hardly done anything since the 90s. The Chicago Cubs are another one… These teams all have deep HISTORICAL ties… Grandfathers that were LIFE LONG Cub fans that passed that tradition onto their children and grand children and even great-grandchildren. Europe has that. The MLS doesn’t, and simply can’t… YET. The key is to keep the league viable and growing until there is deep, historic, personal connections with the teams. Accept that this isn’t Europe, and the MLS has to grow differently (how much easier was it for European owners before the Bosman Ruling!!!!), and support the efforts the league feels it must undertake to make sure it is here for our grandkids and great-grandkids… and trust me. NO team wants to be the last team into the play-offs. Early round games are tough to sell and most teams operate at a loss for those matches. But, if it meant that they were able to sell 4-5 extra ‘meaningful’ regular season games, they still come out ahead… and that can be the difference between teams breaking even and going bust.

    • SD1 Timbers Special Forces - Oct 29, 2013 at 1:24 AM

      90% of revenue comes from TV not attendance.

      • mknow406a - Oct 29, 2013 at 9:21 AM

        The NFL has the most lucrative TV contract at $40 billion ($39.4 actually) for broadcasts from 2014-2022. For the sake of this argument, we’ll assume that all of that money goes to the teams. (Obviously, this is not the case because the NFL uses portions for salaries, operating costs, promotions, marketing, subsidizing games overseas, fighting court cases paying concussion related settlements, etc.).

        $40 billion divided by 8 seasons divided by 32 teams = $250 million per year per team

        The average price of a Dallas Cowboy ticket is $160 (

        $160 dollars * 87,000 average attendance * 8 home games = $890 million per year.

        Argue facts not misconceptions!

  8. dfstell - Oct 29, 2013 at 3:05 AM

    Let me get the caveat out of the way that I think the playoffs are dumb and I’d like to see MLS go to a single-table, no-playoff format. No need to argue the merits of that….people have already done that until they’re blue in the face….

    But, I think this is about the right number of teams in the playoffs. The problem is that there aren’t enough teams in the LEAGUE to support this playoff structure. I mean, it’s hard to get TV people interested in anything shorter than what MLS has now, right? So, it’s the right number of teams. I see some attraction to going to just Top 4 in each league and having a Best of 5 series, BUT…’d have to space that out a LOT and it would be a scheduling nightmare if one team sweeps and the other team has to go to a game 5.

    I think this will be less of a “problem” as the league expands to 20+ provided they keep the same number of playoff qualifiers.

    Sure…..there are too many weaker teams or teams that screwed up this year in the playoffs. But, playoffs are kinda flawed anyway. They’re not the way to select “the best”. We already got that: NYRB.

  9. Ben Saufley - Oct 29, 2013 at 9:03 AM

    We get a team like Montreal, just barely over .500 and with a humble plus-1 goal difference. … We get a team that is 2-6-2 over the last two months. …

    Even Houston and New England don’t really look like playoff teams, do they?

    Oh, give me a break. New England looks exactly like a playoff team. By your metrics: .608, plus-11 (that’s TEN MORE than Montréal) GD, undefeated in six (four wins in that – and let’s not talk about that seventh vs Chicago, which even Simon Borg and PRO said had calls wrongly go against them). By other metrics: 22 goals in the last 11 games, some of the most promising young talent in the league, and still one of the best defensive lines in the league. They’re not LA or Seattle; they don’t have Donovan or Drew Carey or the Timbers Army (though I still love the Fort); they still struggle with inconsistency, and can let themselves get ruffled. But so does LA, even. So does Seattle. So does Man City, so does every team.

    Houston and Montréal, meanwhile, had decent enough form early on (I remember accepting that IMFC would win the Shield halfway through the year) that their later slump wasn’t enough to keep them out. I’m fine with that.

    Maybe for DC, Toronto, and Chivas, there’s something wrong here (though I would suggest they look to their own teams first), but I’m pretty sure just about every other fan with a rooting interest was pretty much on the edge of his or her seat until the final whistle this weekend – from Seattle to New York to Chicago to LA. That’s exactly what MLS wanted, and it’s what MLS got. I certainly had more fun (not just because my team ended up 3rd) than I have in a long time.

  10. udosean2013 - Oct 29, 2013 at 10:22 AM

    Yes. There are too many teams. My solution is as follows:

    …….6 team playoff
    …….Conference winner gets by to conference final
    …….2nd and 3rd place teams in each conference play one-off match at the home of the higher seed
    …….Conference final played over two legs
    …….MLS Cup played at home of higher seed

    6 teams is the perfect number. There is too much parity in the league to not have a playoff. I believe that 6 teams is the correct number to reward those who were consistent over the course of the season and didn’t stumble into the post season. Plus this formats really rewards the conference winners.

  11. konmtu - Oct 29, 2013 at 7:43 PM

    @joeyt360 The NCAA basketball tournament is 66 teams out of 352; less than a quarter. MLS playoffs is 10 out of 18; well over half. That is a joke and it makes the MLS seem bush league to a someone unsure of if they want to follow the MLS.

    • ardillapigeon - Oct 30, 2013 at 2:14 AM

      @konmtu You realize, right, that the NHL and NBA have 16-team the playoffs, with a greater percentage of teams let in than MLS has? It’s fair to say that the MLS Cup playoff format has too many teams, but turning “well over half” into “bush league” is garbage.

      Also, the NCAA Tournament has 68 teams. Idioth.

    • joeyt360 - Oct 30, 2013 at 4:51 PM

      Good, that’s the counter-point I was hoping someone would make. Unfortunately it’s not a point that stands up to closer inspection.

      First, because most of those teams don’t have the resources to compete, they exist as fodder to inflate the records of the teams that can (and they participate in that in order to capture a little attention from the glamour of the opposition).

      Second, because 64 is still way ‘too many’ by the criteria used above. It’s far more than have any chance to win, and includes many teams that would be considered ‘mediocre’ in any professional league that had a more rigid entrance standard.

  12. charliej11 - Oct 30, 2013 at 10:25 AM

    8 teams, 3 games every round. That being said who cares if the 4 seed or 5 seed is there, give em a buy in game who cares.

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