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Don Garber speaks about MLSsoccer.com

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Freddie Ljungberg would like to know what is going on with MLSsoccer.com, too.
Freddie Ljungberg would like to know what is going on with MLSsoccer.com, too.

Usually, I'd leave it to the more technically inclined writers in the soccer blogosphere to do the heavy lifting on this one. Since I haven't seen anyone opine on it just yet, I figured I may as well share MLS Commissioner Don Garber's comments on the ongoing issues at MLSsoccersoccersoccer.com (to borrow a term from Dave). (BTW, I realize many have commented on the site's failure, I meant to say that I haven't seen anyone comment on Garber's response to the criticism. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, Fake Sigi basically breaks it down in great detail.)

Garber sat down with Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl, and almost as predicted, spoke on many subjects ranging from improved league-wide attendance, to labor peace, to the new designated player rule. He finally got around to discussing what has probably been one of the most embarrassing incidents for MLS: (For my thoughts, check out the jump.)

SI.com:MLS debuted its new Web site recently, and I got a lot of response from my readers who were extremely unhappy that it didn't provide some of the most basic information like scores and start times and had a lot of bugs. What happened, and what is the league doing about it?

Garber:Our goal is to deliver the best soccer Web site in North America, and I believe that ultimately we will do that. It's a difficult process to switch from seven years of having your entire digital infrastructure managed by somebody else, supported by a handful of editorial people here in this office. So when we made the decision to make the switch, we took on a big task, and we were up to it. The challenges of the launch were all related to one very specific thing. We had a code that was developed that was managing a plethora of data streams that were coming in from hundreds of different places going down a single pipe coded and then sent out to the entire Web site. Five minutes after the site launched, that code got a bug and is broken. And it's still broken today.

So all of the issues relate to one very simple technical glitch. It had been tested in Beta, it had worked, we had spent countless months with professional people managing this in concert with us to get it right. And unfortunately we suffered a catastrophic technical glitch. So everything from statistics to highlights to scores to the times being off, everything was related to that one single issue. The guy who created that program has been fired. My guess is he would probably have a difficult time getting a job doing the same thing for someone in our business again, because it has been so devastating to us and to our fans over the last couple weeks.

But it will get fixed. Now the data is being fed manually, which you can imagine is a massive undertaking involving hundreds of people. But I still believe in our approach. I am committed to the design. I don't want to just create another version of MLSnet.com. If we were going to do that, we would have stayed with BAM [the previous platform] and the system that we had. We provide our teams with an opportunity to have an open platform, so they now have been required to hire local staff, to hire local digital directors, to find information digitally and editorially. And when it works it will be a far better system than what we had, and I believe it will be a system that will work for our fans.

You can imagine how engaged I have been the last couple weeks. I'm terribly frustrated, embarrassed, angry, and can say only to our fans: I apologize for where we are today. Stick with us, because we're going to get it right, and it'll ultimately deliver more value than anything we've been able to deliver in the past.

I've read every fan blog. I've read all the comments. We are processing all the information that's coming in from the public and responding to it as candidly and as frequently as we can. I've read many comments asking why did we launch it if it wasn't ready? It was ready. It worked when we turned the switch on, and five minutes later if we turn the switch off we would have had no Web site for two weeks. There was no way to go back to the old one. We don't own it, we don't have that technology. Another company was our back office, and once we made the switch from the BAM platform it was over. And we started building months and months ago this system on our own. We had nothing to go back to. Now if we knew we'd be in this position now, would we have found some parallel process to manage? Of course. That's the lesson learned.

SI.com:You said one person has lost their job over this. Will any more?

Garber:The person who created the code, he's no longer working with our project. I've heard all sorts of questions and comments about heads needing to roll. I run a large company. The answer to solving problems is not rolling heads. The answer is get it right, figure out what's the best way to manage this going forward, see if the systems we have in place are proper, that the technology is right. And we will continue to analyze as we have even if we didn't have this issue. For anybody who has ever run a business, the last think you do is start firing people when you have problems. That's the worst kind of leader in crises. The best kind of leaders in crises are empowering those people who are devastated by where they are to try to give them the opportunity to lift up, solve their problems and be able to use this as a learning experience so it doesn't happen again.

 

On one hand, I appreciate Garber admitting this continues to be a huge problem, and not one of a few bloggers' making. At Sounder at Heart, for instance, we've resorted to using USAToday to get reliable statistics (and as a former newspaperman, I must tell you that bugs me to no end). I'm getting the schedule and standings from Yahoo.  Even basic roster information is not available for many teams through the MLS-supported pages. 

To call MLSsoccer a failure, does not really do it justice.

There are some things that aren't horrible, of course. While the video often lags and switches between hi- and standard-def, I am able to watch full-game replays and 6-minute highlight packages, which is definitely better than I can find anywhere else.

It does concern me, though, that one lonely code-maker has apparently been asked to fall on the sword for a level of failure that is not as simple as schedules, scores and statistics not being up to date. In other words, Garber fired a nameless, faceless underling, who was not a face of MLSsoccer.com, was never going to be the face of site and who didn't have a guaranteed contract (and that's assuming it wasn't a temporary employee, an intern or even if anyone was actually fired at all). There has been a complete breakdown in almost every aspect of the launch and for Garber to act as if it was some failure as simple as a broken code seems a little insulting.

The fact that MLS just couldn't switch back to MLSnet.com because they no longer control that software explains the situation. That they didn't reserve the right to do so, shows a complete lack of imagination, and speaks to incompetence at a much higher level than a code writer.

I'm not going to sit here and suggest heads should roll, well certainly not the heads of underlings, anyway. I would like to see some people a little further up the food chain take ownership of this unmitigated disaster, though. If MLS is really serious about convincing us that they are working diligently to fix their site's shortcomings, why not direct us to places we can get our information in the meantime? Or better yet, why not figure out a way to get it right on their site, immediately?

I want MLS to succeed. I like the product, on the whole. I think it's admirable that they have forced team's to produce more of their own online content. That we're still even talking about MLSsoccer's shortcoming three weeks into the season, though, is simple inexcusable.