Dear MLS and ESPN, there are more than 3 teams in Major League Soccer

So today the schedule for Major League Soccer came out, as did the schedule of matches being covered by ESPN (you can see the list after the jump)

So in 2010 New York, Seattle, and the LA Galaxy accounted for 19 of the matches broadcast by ESPN2.  Of course this strategy saw MLS ratings drop 12% last year on the network:

The league's main TV partner, ESPN2, averaged just 249,000 viewers for its 25 MLS games this season, down 12.3 percent from the previous year.

Sports Business Daily

So how do you build on blockbuster numbers like that, easy you do the same exact thing again in 2011.  I swear someone once said stupidity is doing the same thing over and over and hoping for a different result.  Yes lead by 8 appearances by the New York Red Bulls, 6 for the LA Galaxy, and 5 for the Sounders those 3 teams will again appear 19 times on ESPN2.  Considering that there are 18 teams, and ESPN2 is scheduled to cover 21 matches, that means there are a total of 42 "spots" available and almost 1/2 are taken by 3 teams.  

Meanwhile the last 3 teams to win MLS Cup (Columbus, RSL, and Colorado) will be on the network a total of 3 times in 2011.  The winner of the 2010 MVP award (David Ferreira of FC Dallas) won't be on once, he is beat out by Chris Wondolowski (the 2010 Golden Boot winner) who will be on once (against the Red Bulls).  How about the guy who will be the all time leading scorer in MLS history?  Nope Jeff Cunningham isn't scheduled to appear as the Columbus Crew, join FC Dallas, Toronto FC, and Vancouver to not be featured at all on ESPN.

more after the jump:

So yesterday Brian Straus of soccer.fanhouse.com was trying to make a case for why nobody watched MLS Cup last year, his contention was that it was due to the fact that the MLS Playoffs are broke:

The popularity of the World Cup proved there is an appetite in the U.S. for meaningful soccer. But networks are going to be reluctant to spend money and promotional resources on MLS as long as it struggles to deliver a compelling product that drives ratings.

That's where the playoff format (or lack thereof) comes in. The crushing anticlimax that was November's MLS Cup Final (the ratings were abysmal, down 44%, and the BMO Field stands half empty when Pablo Mastroeni lifted the trophy) was all the proof that should be needed that the league doesn't determine a champion in a manner that captivates fans.

soccer.fanhouse.com

and while I tend to agree that the MLS playoffs have issues that should be addressed (we disagree on how to do that), I would offer up that the ratings were so low because casual fans (if they just watched the ESPN2 matches during the season) knew little about either team, who their players were, or any of the storylines.  Why, because the two teams in MLS Cup were featured a huge once by ESPN2 during the 2010 season.  

So I contend that you don't build soccer fans out of casual sports fans by showing them the same thing each week, if so then they would only every show the Yankees vs Red Sox and screw all the other baseball teams.  Now I understand that you want to showcase big markets, and big names, but at what cost?  Do you sacrifice the rest of the league in order to do so?  Well when 3 teams make up almost 50% of what you expose to the national TV market, you do just that.  

Nobody gets a chance to see Casey and Cummings, the top scoring duo in MLS, because you are to busy pimping Henry and Angel.  Nobody gets to see Wondolowski because you will only show Buddle, nobody becomes a Ferreira fan because you only show Landycakes.  Nobody gets to see the Newcomer of the Year, Alvaro Saborio, because you spend all your time talking about David Beckham.

You don't allow the actual play on the field to make the stars, you try to force people to accept who you say are the stars.  MLS and ESPN2 have become common pimps, pushing everyone towards their "stars", while the real stars get left to fight for a little TV time.  You wonder why the best and brightest of MLS are running away from the league as fast as they can, because unless the the league spends more time promoting who they want to be the stars of this league than those who are.  

I have to imagine that the frustration Don Garber showed at the 2010 MLS Cup, and his wanting to change the playoff format is because for all his "pimping" of these big name DP's to come into the league as "saviors" not one of them has lifted the MLS Cup.  

I love the sport of soccer, I love MLS, but when they continue to do things like this, I wonder why do I continue to care?  Fans have voiced their frustrations for years, but it too often seems like nobody is listening.  I heard "the Don" speak to fans in Seattle at MLS Cup about embracing the Supporters culture, since that is where the league will grow.  Well Don, what message did you and ESPN2 send to the fans in Toronto, Vancouver, Columbus, Dallas, San Jose, Kansas City, New England, Salt Lake, and Colorado? Their teams account for just 8 total appearances on ESPN2, and the only reason Chivas USA is on their twice is because you are covering their matches with the Galaxy.  

You just told the fans of over half your league that they and their teams don't matter to you.  That is how you think you are going to grow this league.  I tell you what put another damn team in New York, and eliminate the 8 times you show matches involving those 9 teams.  You wonder why FSC laughed in your face when you asked for 20 million dollars, why Versus wouldn't return your calls.  Well Don it is simple, despite the best efforts of the fans and the teams, you can't provide the leadership that the league needs anymore.  You are stuck in yesterday, you don't understand things like twitter or facebook, because you can't paint a dollar sign on them, but both directly impact your bottom line. You were exactly what MLS needed 10 years ago, but you are far from what it needs today.

So, here is the list of the matches that MLS and ESPN decided to feature on ESPN2 this year:

 

  • Tue, March 15 9:30 pm Seattle Sounders vs. LA Galaxy ESPN/Deportes
  • Sat, April 9 7:00 pm Philadelphia Union vs. New York Red Bulls ESPN2/Deportes
  • Thu, April 14 11:00 pm Portland Timbers vs. Chicago Fire ESPN2/Deportes
  • Thu, April 21 8:00 pm D.C. United vs. New York Red Bulls ESPN2/Deportes
  • Sat, May 7 11:00 pm LA Galaxy vs. New York Red Bulls ESPN2/Deportes
  • Sat, May 14 11:00 pm Seattle Sounders vs. Portland Timbers ESPN2/Deportes
  • Sat, May 21 10:00 pm Chivas USA vs. LA Galaxy ESPN2/Deportes
  • Thu, June 9 10:00 pm Sporting Kansas City vs. Chicago Fire ESPN2/Deportes
  • Thu, June 23 10:00 pm Seattle Sounders vs. New York Red Bulls ESPN2/Deportes
  • Sun, June 26 2:00 pm Chicago Fire vs. New York Red Bulls ESPN/Deportes
  • Sat, July 2 10:30 pm San Jose Earthquakes vs. New York Red Bulls ESPN2/Deportes
  • Sun, July 3 9:00 pm Colorado Rapids vs. Houston Dynamo ESPN2/Deportes
  • Mon, July 4 8:30 pm Real Salt Lake vs. New England Revolution ESPN2/Deportes
  • Mon, July 4 10:30 pm LA Galaxy vs. Seattle Sounders ESPN2/Deportes
  • Sun, July 10 5:00 pm Portland Timbers vs. Seattle Sounders ESPN/Deportes
  • Wed, July 27 8:30 pm MLS All-Star Game TBD
  • Thu, August 18 9:00 pm Chicago Fire vs. D.C. United ESPN2/Deportes
  • Sun, August 28 7:00 pm New York Red Bulls vs. LA Galaxy ESPN2/Deportes
  • Thu, September 29 8:00 pm Philadelphia Union vs. D.C. United ESPN2/Deportes
  • Fri, October 14 10:30 pm Colorado Rapids vs. Real Salt Lake ESPN2/Deportes
  • Sun, October 16 9:00 pm LA Galaxy vs. Chivas USA ESPN/Deportes
  • Thu, October 20 8:00 pm New York Red Bulls vs. Philadelphia Union ESPN2/Deportes

No this isn't about RSL only being on ESPN2 once, it is about the fact that the league has to realize they have simply sent a horrible message to over half their teams and their fans.

I am sure I have upset a number of people with my rant, but damn it, this is my soapbox and while many of you will never say so, you feel the exact same way I do but for some reason refuse to say it.

OFF MY SOAPBOX

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