MLS Live And Xbox Live: A Match That Must Be Made

XBox, MLS and Sounders FC can have a broader relationsihp than just a kit/pitch sponsorship. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-US PRESSWIRE

In recent discussions, multiple commenters have proposed leveraging the Sounders' ties to the Xbox brand to improve our chances of landing a big-name DP. That could happen, but why should the positive connection simply be limited to the Sounders? Shouldn't the league as a whole make use of the platform?

Many people think that the Xbox 360 is just a video game console for "hardcore" gamers: the type that have played the whole Mass Effect arc, own a handful of Halo games, would rather play BF3 than COD, spent time getting to know Liberty City, or actually play games like Madden or FIFA for their "campaign" modes. Those people are wrong. Earlier this year, Xbox Live passed an interesting, if little noted, milestone: people spend more than 50% of their time online watching videos or listening to music rather than playing games. And this was before adding HBO Go and Xfinity's on-demand service.

The success of Xbox Live as a platform to deliver content besides games has led to a number of sports services jumping on board. ESPN has been on the platform for awhile, though you do need access to ESPN3 to watch. MLB added their MLB.tv service to Xbox Live earlier this year ($100 yearly subscription). UFC also has a dedicated platform, providing a catalog of past fights and allowing easy access to pay-per-view fights. This week, at E3, Microsoft announced that even more sports partners are getting on board.

WatchESPN will be added, showing ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN3, and ESPNU live 24/7 and providing on-demand video as well. And both the NBA and NHL are bringing their out-of-market sports packages to Xbox Live (the NHL service is available worldwide except for in hockey-loving Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden, interestingly enough. Another fun fact I just learned: Denmark lost their first hockey game ever to Canada 47-0).

These are obviously good situations for fans of their respective sports-more choice is always better (as long as you are not sacrificing quality, of course). Over on the Playstation Network, you can get NFL Sunday Ticket, MLB.tv, the SEC Digital Network, and NHL Gamecenter. The Wii U does not seem like it will have similar options soon (Hulu Plus, YouTube, Netflix and Amazon Video are the ones known), but I can only imagine that it is inevitable that sports will be added in the future.

Unfortunately, MLS has not been involved in recent round of announcements, and there are no indications it will be added in the future, though a deal likely wouldn't go into effect until next Spring anyway. MLS has two out-of-region services: MLS Live, the online service streaming service, and MLS Direct Kick, a cable subscription through iN DEMAND. MLS Live seems to be a natural candidate for potential expansion, especially as it is already on the Roku (a box specifically made for streaming services) and Panasonic TVs. I'm sure many of you are familiar with MLS Live. It is a standalone service that is already optimized for multiple platforms, so converting it to work on the Xbox should not be a huge technical problem. Direct Kick might be more difficult, and it would be an open question as to whether you would need to subscribe to Direct Kick through your cable provider to access it.

One of the things holding back these services is that they are built in such a way that watching on the Xbox is essentially the same as watching on your computer (with the exception of the UFC one). Once you buy MLB.tv, you can view it on the computer, on mobile, or on seemingly whatever other device you have that's capable of connecting to the internet. While there is certainly that convenience, the value added is less for the consumer when watching the games through the Xbox is redundant with the computer or elsewhere. It is not difficult to use a modern television as a monitor these days, negating a primary benefit of using a gaming console as the platform. Xboxes and Playstations are everywhere, of course, so there is certainly a benefit to be had there, but perhaps there is a way that MLS can take this a step farther.

This brings us to another of Microsoft's announcements from E3: Xbox SmartGlass. This, in my opinion, could be a game changer. SmartGlass will run as an app on any tablet or smartphone, turning that device into a special controller for your Xbox 360. And that's any, as in Android, iOS, or Windows Phone (I guess you might be out of luck with Blackberry, but then you probably have more pressing problems in that case). An example of how useful this interactivity might be:

With it, your smartphone or iPad can browse HBO Go's offerings and cue up an episode of Game of Thrones, then as you watch on TV, your device will display helpful info, like a map of where characters are in the fictional land of Westeros, or a chart explaining the genealogy of the various characters.

If you've ever read a chapter of George R.R. Martin's series, or seen an episode of the show, I'm sure you can agree that this would be a very welcome tool. Another demonstrated use of the platform was when a player in the middle of a Madden game decided to edit a play on the fly, drawing up a new receiver route using the touchscreen and using that route to burn the coverage and score a touchdown.

MLS should demonstrate that it is a forward-thinking league by working with Microsoft to leverage this technology. It is not difficult to imagine a well-designed app that would supply users with player stats and bios, timely highlights (which might lessen, however slightly, the number that happen during the run of play), and updates from around the league. It could be linked to Twitter, much as the current MLS app is, and possibly provide even more social interaction through chat rooms or the like. This is something that can and should happen.

And who knows, maybe the Sounders could pull something like this off themselves, such as having all local broadcasts be SmartGlass enabled? A greater identity between the Sounders and Xbox might allow me an excuse to use the nickname for our defense that I've never been able to use for any of my teams due to their color schemes or the quality of their defense: the Red Ring of Death.

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