Over the next few days (who am I kidding) weeks, I will be taking a look at some of the big changes coming to Major League Soccer. Now I know that some people out there believe that I often only focus on negative things when it comes to MLS's decisions and leadership so I thought I would start with one of the changes for next year that I have waited the last several years to happen.
MLS Cup will be hosted by the finalist that finished the regular season with the most points in the standings.
Yes you read that right, the team in the final with the best record will get to host MLS Cup. So this means a couple things, first you are guaranteed to have a crowd that is engaged in the match, imagine what would have happened in LA last month is RSL had beaten them for the Western Conference final and it was RSL vs Houston in the final, with thousands of LA Galaxy season ticket holders in the stands (or with the weather issues) a half empty stadium. I have been to enough MLS Cups to tell you that watching LA win it on their home pitch in front of tens of thousands of their own fans was something special, and will help that franchise which draws well step up their efforts to sell more season tickets (something they have struggled with).
more thoughts after the jump:
Now there are a couple of downsides with this change, first is that it will require fans to be flexible with their plans. Both fans who will have teams playing in the match, as well as the supporters' summit, which may have to consider rescheduling their event (a darn shame MLS doesn't do their All-Star match on a weekend). It will require MLS, if they want to continue using MLS Cup as a chance to do their meetings, to be flexible and to work on a tight timeline. Still they will really have 3 weeks at least to plan, they can do tentative plans in the cities of the 4 teams in the Conference Finals, maybe just 2-3 depending on their records, and then will be able to finalize once those matches have finished. It is likely that we will once again see a break between the Conference Final and MLS Cup, there is a FIFA friendly date on November 14th in 2012, as well two official matches between Nov. 15th-19th in 2013, and a friendly date on Nov. 19th in 2014. Each of those lead me to believe that we will see the next 3 years likely end up like 2011, where there is a break between the Conference final and MLS Cup. This should ease some of the pain of travel and planning for the league, teams, and fans.
Still the advantages of rewarding teams for their regular season performance with the possibility of hosting MLS Cup (a large ticket payday- 20K tickets x $50 average price=$1,000,000 gate, huge merchandise sales, sponsor events and relations, and more) go beyond just being able to play in front of your home town fans, to the point of being of helping teams really establish themselves in their communities by playing for a title on their home pitch. Local news coverage will be huge, no matter what market you are in, teams will have a window to really pitch their team to potential fans, partners, sponsors, and to reinforce their connection with their current fans.
I can imagine no greater feeling for players than to lift a championship trophy in front of their fans, family, and friends in their stadium.
I think while there will be some challenges, the opportunity for the MLS Cup to be hosted by a team playing in the match will be a very good thing for everyone involved. See you at Rio Tinto Stadium this fall.
OFF MY SOAPBOX