"An in-depth look into stories beyond the pitch."
Don Garber has made a sweeping declaration to become a top soccer league in the world by 2022. Coach Jurgen Klinsmann came to the USA to take on a job not only to improve our national team but to bring home a World Cup. Both are taking steps towards their goals and progress is being made. Or is it?
Last Sunday marked a momentous day in MLS and United States Soccer. Our USMNT Captain returned and made his home debut in front of a record setting crowd. It stood to be one of the largest attended standalone matches in MLS history, 2nd only to the Inaugural MLS match back in 1996. It was a showcase of the biggest rivalry in MLS with both teams in good form leading up to the match. This kind of excitement is what MLS should want to spread across the league.
ESPN2 was the national televised stage that this match was going to play out on. An opportunity for not only MLS fans to take on the spectacle but the common sports fan that frequents the ESPN family of networks as well. It is important for the growth of both MLS and US Soccer that these games get televised on a national scale.
The idea was there but the execution was poor. With the 10pm (EST) kickoff, it can be sure that our friends out East were watching with heavy eyes (If at all, with the ratings). There were several reasons for the late start time…better match day atmosphere, Mariners traffic, stadium conversion scheduling, EPSN2 Programming, etc. However, each and every single one of them is inexcusable.
Television ratings are where MLS and US Soccer will grow. Rating equals money. Money equals talent. Some will say we need talent before we can get ratings. Although, that is true, there are other ways to draw talent from within and abroad. Case and point, Dempsey & Martins.
Our fan base is not only something to celebrate but something to share. Unfortunately for MLS, we are unable to take CenturyLink Field and its 67,000 fans across the nation on a US tour. TV is the only way to achieve that.
By airing this historic match at 10pm (EST) on a Sunday night, it limits MLS and its ratings for a match that could serve as a goal for other franchises (& supporter groups) to achieve. And it limits the potential for the common sports fan to take in the event and spark an interest in MLS.
Personally, I have taken a strong interest in the development of the sport of Soccer in America because I, myself, was once a common sports fan before the Seattle Sounders appeared at Qwest Field back in 2009. After each momentous match that the sounders (or USNT) take part in, the first thing I go to is the national sports media (Sportscenter/ESPN Programming) and see what everyone is talking about.
Following the historic Cascadia Cup match where there was plenty to talk about and plenty to debate around the national media, little to nothing was published or discussed without being associated with a soccer specific network/programming (NBC Sports) or blog (ESPN FC). Speaking of, NBC Sports Network is probably the biggest step forward for MLS and US Soccer in pushing American Soccer to the top but that is for another time and another post.
Back on topic, it pains me to see an opportunity like the previous Cascadia Cup match squandered by MLS with the possibilities endless. MLS should be doing everything they can to cater to ESPN. Sportscenter and ESPN’s Original Programming is where MLS should strive to be.
In the days following the Cacadia Cup, we should hear Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon talking about the talent MLS is now fielding. The sportscasters at "Around the Horn" should be debating about the attendance. Instead of us debating if they even watched the match (Which I doubt most of them did).
We want our friends in Bristol, Connecticut talking about the Cascadia Cup. We want the debate to gather in settings not specific to soccer. That means sports fans across the nation are gathering around water coolers and talking MLS. And that, my friends, is where ratings are born.