Sunday, November 23, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

A schedule change would kill MLS

MLS is entertaining a bad thought if it is seriously considering moving to a European-based schedule.

A schedule change would kill MLS

Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber. (Kathy Willens/AP file photo)
Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber. (Kathy Willens/AP file photo)

This column has been corrected. It originally said the MLS season begins in April; the season begins in March.

It’s taken Major League Soccer nearly two decades to reach a point where it can be legitimately considered as the fifth “major” professional sports league in the United States.

It’s been a tough fight for MLS to find a comfortable niche alongside the powerhouses that are the National Football League, Major League Baseball, The National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League.

It would be a shame to see MLS toss all that effort away to satisfy the whims of FIFA – soccer’s governing world body.

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But if a story first reported in The New York Daily News is correct, MLS commissioner Don Garber could be doing just that by giving serious consideration to switching the MLS season to one that is aligned with the schedules played in most of Europe.

Currently, the MLS season runs from April to December. It’s not like everybody else but has served the league well.

The professional seasons in Europe generally run from August through May.

With pressure building from FIFA, the Daily News hinted that MLS may consider a switch a soon as the 2014 Season.

A professional sports league has got to know its limitations.

While switching the season may fit the desires of FIFA, it would be a disastrous move for the United States domestic league that also includes three teams based in Canada.

A move to August-May does not properly take into account the climate and competitive challenges MLS would face.

The upper half of the United States and Canada can get very cold and snowy during the months of December through February.

With 13 of its 19 franchises located in cities that are prone to harsh winter conditions, MLS could easily open itself up to a slew of weather-related postponements during the middle of a new schedule.

An alternative would be a six-week hiatus during the worst weather periods, but MLS is kidding itself it if believes it can continue steady growth while taken six weeks off during each season.

The United States is not Europe, where soccer is the unquestioned king of sports.

MLS voluntarily shutting down for an extended period would leave a void that would easily be filled by other professional and collegiate sports vying for entertainment dollars in the most competitive sports market in the world.

The current MLS schedule is the best the league can do in the United States market. For most of the season it only competes directly with Major League Baseball.

Sure it takes a hit when the all-powerful NFL and college football takes the stage in September, but every other sport in America loses out when taking on football head-to-head.

The point is that MLS has developed enough of a hardcore audience to manage the onslaught of football and even the MLB Playoffs.

But an August to May schedule would put MLS in direct competition with professional and college football, then it would also have to absorb the additional hits of MLB playoffs, the NBA, NHL and college basketball seasons entering the fray.

There is no time-frame in an August-May season for MLS to separate and establish itself as anything more than the fifth or sixth option.

The brutality of that would only be amplified if MLS had to take a six-week weather hiatus while indoor sports were just beginning to heat up.

Can you imagine MLS trying to restart its season with March Madness sitting around the corner and the NBA and NHL having settled into their traditional winter roles?

FIFA doesn’t consider these factors because it doesn’t understand or won’t accept that soccer will never dominate in the United States the way it does in the rest of the world.

But the folks running MLS do. They’ve been fighting this battle for almost 20 years.

Arrogance about the sport has always been the biggest enemy of soccer in the USA.

After carving out a sustainable portion of the pie, it would be stupid for MLS to toss it away just to satisfy the desires of FIFA.

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