First of all, I am getting to this dreadfully late. I’ve been just hammered at work and with travel and thus have been terribly behind on writing here on the site. I am reminded by the saying my old Ohio State journalism professor Rose Hume used to bat dated story ideas down.
“This is a newspaper, not and oldspaper.”
Well, this is an oldpaper, my apologies.
Okay, so a week or two back there was brief blip of non-news after the Russian league decided to move itself to the standard FIFA/UEFA calendar. My good friend Brian Straus (Fanhouse) and I tweeted a bit about it and I said that beyond all the very difficult logistics of deciding to shift the entire calendar of your league’s matches (though not impossible, after over 100 yearsBritish Rugby League went to a summer calendar in 1996), the biggest problem with an MLS move to a European calendar is that it would completely undercut clubs’ abilities to promote themselves both in advertising and the media. Here’s why.
Let’s start with the media issue. Quite simply, it’s already really hard for most MLS teams to get themselves media coverage in the printed versions and even online versions of their locality’s newspapers. While it’s definitely better than in the league’s early years, it seems self-evident to me that moving the calendar into the meat of football/basketball seasons would immediately shove coverage of MLS to notes pages and agate columns, if not out of the section all together. You don’t have to have worked in journalism to see how the industry is hurting, all you have do is look at the reduced page and ad counts of major dailies like the Washington Post, USA Today, and Boston Globe, to name only a few. MLS would have to be suicidally dumb to think that its stature is such that its exposure wouldn’t take a major hit by forcing it to compete for space with coverage of the professional/college football and basketball.
Beyond print media, a winter move would almost certainly punt MLS out of any local news sports reports, an anachronism yes, but one still viewed by many people that I would perceive as casual fans. Additionally, you would waive goodbye to what few seconds MLS already receives on Sportscenter and other mainstream ESPN programming like SportsNation, PTI, etc. There’s also the issue of finding time around ESPN’s near-constant broadcasts of NBA, college football and college basketball to get MLS’ live broadcasts on the air. That already difficult task would be made nearly impossible if the calendar changed.
Finally, a move to football/basketball seasons would make it far more difficult for MLS clubs to buy advertising time in local print/TV/radio. The NFL is one of the few things that virtually guarantees large numbers of eyeballs/ears and as a result, TV/radio stations and newspapers raise their ad rates knowing that companies want to get their logos in front of one of the last large male audiences left in the media landscape. Will MLS clubs be able to advertise as much, if at all, if forced to pay the NFL-inflated rates?
Finally, I know there are some of you saying to yourselves that MLS doesn’t need any of this because online media is going to replace it all anyway. You’re wrong. The internet (especially in sports) is a narrowcasting medium, to people already interested in the subject of the websites/social media they’ve already surfed to, whether it’s pro soccer (Bigsoccer), snarkiness (Deadspin), or undignified sucking up to B-list celebrities (Kyle Martino’s Twitter feed). Coverage and advertising in seemingly anachronistic places like newspapers, local television and even radio are opportunities (especially in the advertising deadzone of Summer) to expose MLS to potential new fans. MLS, as an “emerging” league, simply can’t afford to turn those opportunities down.
Seriously though, I don’t think we’ll ever see promotion and relegation in MLS and I view it and its proponents as annoyances. This is different. I actually worry that the league could, in a fit of arrogance, actually try this and that it would be really, really destructive on the league and sport’s ability to promote itself in this country.
See, I managed to get through an entire column about MLS possibly aping Europe without calling anyone any names… except for Kyle Martino – soccer’s less funny, more feminine version of Chelsea Handler.