September 20, 2008

A new MLS schedule?

On BBC's World Football Phone-In, Sean Wheelock reported MLS is considering moving its schedule to an Apertura/Clausura format in order to better cooperate with players' national team duties. Under the proposed structure, the Apertura would run from August to November and the Clausura would run from February to May.

Many will be happy to see MLS cooperating more with FIFA, but this structure is not the answer. American fans are used to a single-season format. How will they know which season is more important? If they're equally important, do they suddenly matter less because players have more opportunities to win a title? What about the MLS Cup? If anyone knows whether Wheelock commented on these questions please let me know. Until then (and maybe after depending on the answers I receive) I cannot believe this change will appeal to Americans.

If MLS does approve this format, I think the Clausura would attract a lot of attention but the Apertura would be running against baseball pennant races plus college and pro football. I don't believe MLS should be running away from competition but I don't agree with the idea of holding an entire season during the time MLS is least likely to gain new fans.

The day after Major League Baseball's All-Star Game (usually in the middle of July) is the deadest day of the sports year. Every other major sport is in its offseason. MLS needs to capitalize on this opportunity by showcasing its talent across the country. I believe MLS should either begin or end its season on this date. The former option would result in a December-July schedule, the latter a July-January schedule (given the current 8-month format). I believe the former option would make FIFA happier, leaving the end of July and all of August open for international competition.

The most glaring critique of this idea is the weather gets hotter as the season progresses, leaving the players potentially drained by the end and showing the fans a bad product at the worst possible time. I can't respond to that since I have no personal knowledge of the demands of an MLS season.

The second most crippling argument concerns the fans. Who will want to go to a game in Toronto or Chicago in February? My answer: the same people who would want to go to one if MLS went to an Apertura/Clausura format. It's simply not a perfect schedule with respect to the weather. MLS currently utilizes the schedule most agreeable with sitting outside for two hours so any change would face that criticism.

MLS has an opportunity to both make amends with the international soccer community and gain exposure at home. With its current expansion plans exposing the league to new cities, MLS will never have a better time to make a change of this magnitude. I hope its leaders will see the potential and take the risks necessary to expand soccer's profile in America.

1 comment:

Jason said...

Actually, this structure makes so much sense there's no way it'll be accepted.

The apertura/clausura format is pretty common in Latin America. Mexico uses it. And I don't think I need to tell you how the Hispanic population is growing in this country (and MLS attendance numbers are disproportionately Hispanic already). MLS is never going to appeal to the Eurosnobs, but the Latin Americans seem much more willing to give it a look. Hence, a format that's familiar to them.

As for "the Apertura would be running against baseball pennant races plus college and pro football", well the MLS playoffs already do that. So there's not much of a change there.

The weather gets hotter as the season progresses here, too. (granted it cools off as the playoffs come around). At least with this format the only time you've got matches in the sauna that is summer in Houston is at the very beginning of the Apertura.
Weather is always going to be a problem for MLS. Either you take 110 on the field and 80% humidity in Houston or DC, or you take 20 and snow in Toronto or Chicago.