Friday, February 12, 2016

Did Fox push FIFA to pressure MLS to change to a winter schedule?

This came to me a bit out of the blue, but now that it's been put on the record, I think it ought to be fleshed out.

Did Fox push FIFA to pressure MLS to change to a winter schedule?


This came to me a bit out of the blue, but now that it's been put on the record, I think it ought to be discussed.

It's been reported that Fox, rights-holder to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, has been pushing FIFA to apply pressure on Major League Soccer to change to a winter-centric calendar.

Fox televised MLS games for many years on Fox Soccer Channel, and Fox Sports World before that. Their affiliation ran from 2003 through 2011. After last season, NBC was awarded the broadcast deal that Fox had previously owned.

Last October, Fox beat ESPN to the rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. Included in their deal was the rights to a number of other FIFA tournaments, starting with the 2015 Women's World Cup in Canada.

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That Fox and FIFA have been advocating a winter schedule for MLS is not news. Fox analyst Eric Wynalda and FIFA president Sepp Blatter have both publicly made the point in the past.

That the two entities have been directly working together - and with Fox pushing FIFA in particular - is news.

It would have been one thing - and probably less of a surprise - if FIFA was pushing Fox. That Fox is pushing FIFA to influence a domestic league on its behalf is more significant, I would argue.

(Out of due diligence, I asked a spokesperson at MLS headquarters for a comment. That person politely declined.)

The backstory to what I've learned is as follows:

If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I am a contributor to a French-language soccer podcast based out of Montréal called SoccerPlus. It's hosted by Philippe Germain, the Montréal-based Canadian correspondent for World Soccer magazine. He used to be play-by-play voice of soccer on Radio-Canada, the French-language arm of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

(Yes, I'm fluent in French. And yes, that's one of the many reasons why I'm excited Montréal has joined Major League Soccer.)

MLS commissioner Don Garber was in Montréal yesterday to speak to the region's Board of Trade. A few hours after that event, Philippe and I sat down for our weekly conversation. One of the subjects that came up while Garber was on his trip was the potential for MLS to move to a winter-centric schedule at some point.

Now, I'm generally happy to tell anyone why I think it's dumb for MLS to blow off almost the entire summer in order to get the Final out of the way of the annual Eagles-Giants prime time game.

(Yes, I know it's just a coincidence... right?)

But I became particularly interested in discussing the subject yesterday when Philippe told me the following [in French]:

J'ai parlé avec des gens de Fox Television quand j'étais à la Coupe MLS à Los Angeles. Je sais qu'il y a de la pression qui est mis par Fox auprés de la FIFA - puisque Fox a signé le contrat pour la diffusion de la Coupe du Monde aux États-Unis - il y a de la pression mis par Fox au FIFA pour que la MLS adopte ce calendrier.

Which, translated, means:

I talked with some people at Fox Television when I was at the MLS Cup in Los Angeles [last November]. I know there was pressure put by Fox on FIFA - because Fox signed a contract to broadcast the World Cup in the United States - there was pressure put by Fox on FIFA to to get MLS to adopt that [winter-centric] calendar.

You can listen to the show here. I come on at the 41:14 mark, and we start talking about the calendar change at the 44:20 mark or so.

What do you make of all this? Do you think MLS should move to a winter-centric schedule? Fire away in the comments.

Staff Writer
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The Goalkeeper is your home for the latest news about the Philadelphia Union, Major League Soccer, the National Women's Soccer League, the U.S. men's and women's national teams, and the rest of the world's most popular sport. It's also a place for fans to gather and celebrate the culture of soccer and its unique place on the sports landscape.

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