Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The 'U.S. League' Comment That Didn't Publish

A soccer fan/observer who goes by the handle of "Dawn Eos" (Eos is the Greek goddess of dawn) sent a thoughtful and informative e-mail ... because he (or more probably she) couldn't get it to show up as a "comment" to the previous blog entry -- "U.S. League Bows ..."

(Though other comments are showing up; I don't know what the issue might be.)

Anyway, I'm posting the Dawn Eos comment here, as an entry. In it, DE notes that Major League Soccer of the United States is not the only league to play over the summer in the Northern Hemisphere. Etc. (I should have written "Western Europe" ... and regardless of weather considerations, Sepp Blatter has said several times he believes the U.S. should play a fall-to-spring schedule.)

Here is the material from Dawn Eos.

Some Northern Hemisphere league schedules:

Belarus: April-November
China: March-October
Iceland: May-September
Japan: March-December
Russia: March-November
Norway: March-November
South Korea: March-December
Sweden: April-November

The relevant point: for much of northern North America, winter conditions have quite a bit in common with the countries listed above. February in Toronto: more like Madrid, or Moscow? Chicago: more like Rome, or Oslo?

As for why MLS has played through previous World Cups -- it seems unfair to assume that the league believed its fans were uninterested in the greatest show on earth. Given that:

(a) World Cup matches are played during mornings and afternoons (and sometimes earlier)

(b) the World Cup has traditionally been the only time in four years when the general American sporting public even notices the sport

(c) MLS remains a still-fledgling league, and one for which the cost of losing four summer weekends under any circumstances would be substantial

the league presumably decided that it would be better off continuing play during previous World Cups. Specifically: even with most soccer fans' attention elsewhere, Saturday night games during June and July would still do better than Wednesday games in March or October. And with the influx of casual fans watching World Cup games in the mornings and afternoons, MLS would at least be able to advertise its presence to those fans, and to offer them a live soccer experience at the single moment they're actually interested in the sport (and before they go away for another four years). And most mordantly: MLS might have thought that suspending play during the middle of its season for any reason might lead people to believe that it wouldn't ever come back.

But now: MLS is in far better shape than it was in 1998 or 2002, and increasingly appears to be a permanent part of the sporting landscape. And the general sporting public is more aware of the game than ever before (and is interested in soccer for more than one month every four years) -- for both those reasons, it's presumably less necessary for the league to chase potential fans during World Cups.

But probably most importantly, as more and more MLS teams possess their own venues, those summer weekend dates are no longer quite so critical financially. And that's probably the most important reason why the league will be taking that two-week break next year: they won't lose that much soccer income by doing so. Indeed, what will likely happen is that quite a few teams will dispose of their Open Cup obligations during that break, add a concert or two to their venues' schedules, and quite probably come out ahead in the end.

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