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MLS/Internationals: Congestion and Conflict

Posted on by Peter C

garber gulati MLS/Internationals: Congestion and Conflict
Gulati-Garber photo by Kevin Joseph

So we’ve passed the first day of what will be a long summer of MLS/MNT/FIFA fixture congestion. We’ve all heard the discussion before about the MLS schedule and its position that it is impossible for the league to avoid fixture congestion and unable honor FIFA international days.

Without getting into the whole winter/summer, apertura/clausura and a host of other ‘new’ scheduling models, I thought I’d try to examine one of the arguments the league has put forth; i.e. that all games deferred would have to be rescheduled mid-week and that the loss of revenue would be crippling.

So I banged together a few numbers from 2008 to see what it told me. 42 games were played Mon-Fri as follows:

2008 Weekday Games
 Monday – 1 
 Tuesday – 0 
 Wednesday – 9 
 Thursday – 27(ESPN Thursday nights) 
 Friday – 5, 3 of which were played on July 4 

Here you can see the average attendance for weekends(Sat and Sun) and weekdays and the average differences. The average difference is then multiplied times the number of weekday games.

 2008  Weekends Weekdays Avg +/- Weekday Notes
   Avg   GP   Avg   GP    GP times Avg +/-  
 Chicago  17,211   12   16,328   3   -883   -2,649   
 Chivas USA  13,506   13   25,572   2   12,066   24,132  Blanco and Beckham
 Colorado  13,438   13   15,095   2   1,657   3,314  July 4
 Columbus  14,795   13   13,499   2   -1,296   -2,592   
 Dallas  16,143   10   8,345   5   -7,797   -38,987  July 4
 DC United  21,297   11   15,817   4   -5,480   -21,921   
 Houston  18,115   11   13,706   4   -4,409   -17,635   
 Kansas City  11,032   13   8,435   2   -2,598   -5,195   
 Los Angeles  25,648   11   27,000   4   1,352   5,407  July 4
 New England  16,834   10   19,074   5   2,240   11,199  dbl header – int’l friendly
 NY Red Bull  16,386   14   9,521   1   -6,865   -6,865   
 Real Salt Lake  16,688   10   15,163   5   -1,525   -7,623   
 San Jose  13,975   14   10,046   1   -3,929   -3,929   
 Toronto FC  20,154   13   19,894   2   -261   -522   

What can we say about these numbers? The first one that jumps out is Chivas USA’s massive increase in the average when Blanco and Beckham were the opponents. Just goes to show that if you bring ‘the goods’, people will come out on a weekday.

Let’s look at the three teams that had 5 weekday games, a full third of their home schedules, FC Dallas, New England and Real Salt Lake. RSL fared better than Dallas, but both suffered from reduced averages, while New England paired up one of its weekday games with an international friendly featuring Brasil v Venezuela. That game drew over 54,000 which was enough to put them in the positive column for their weekday games.

If you sum the extended numbers you come up with a deficit of 63,866 over the 42 weekday games. That would be part of MLS’s argument. Some teams would not tolerate the loss in revenue. But it’s clear that if create a marketable item, either with a big draw player, or an intriguing event to pair with an MLS match, the attendance deficit argument looks to be very flimsy.


Now what happens on actual gameday? Besides the fans getting an inferior product with many of the top stars on international duty?

Here are the attendance comparisons to 2005 on the first MLS/WCQ conflict day.

World Cup Qualifier Same Day Attendance v Average
  6/4/2005 05 Avg 6/5/2009 09 Avg
 Chicago  12,759   17,238  - -
 Chivas USA - -  13,117   15,625 
 Kansas City - -  10,385   9,431 
 Los Angeles  20,331   24,204  - -
 New England  13,342   12,525  - -
 Real Salt Lake  40,589   18,037   19,546   14,629 
 San Jose  11,989   13,037  - -
 Toronto FC - -  20,753   20,198 
   99,010   85,040   43,048   39,685 

I can imagine a bean counter at MLS thinking – ‘well, the overall numbers are up, we can live with this’. And if you are a team owner that hasn’t marketed a ‘conflict match’ successfully? Well with the very closely held financial structure governing MLS, with revenue sharing and the like, it’s hard to tell how much an individual team’s finances are effected. But one thing is certain; more fans in the stands means more in the till.

So how did RSL get such a big gate in ’05 which led to a larger total than the 5 teams would have normally averaged? They paired their game with the USA/Costa Rica WCQ.

And this year we can see that again the 4 four teams that played on WCQ day exceeded their normal average. Again RSL did the deed, this time with a David Archuletta concert that followed their match.

Would US Soccer pair a WCQ with and MLS match again when they can draw over 55,000 and keep all of the money? I don’t know, but since SUM(Soccer United Marketing) and US Soccer are joined at the hip, a bit of wrangling should be in play. And would RSL sell out again if the same game and concert were moved to a weekday? Why not?

Oh yeah, the TFC game might be irrelevant, given that Canada is not in the Hex and because the game ended a couple of hours before the USA match began, but it was an MLS game played on WCQ day, so I included it.


This post doesn’t address the congestion issue that would inevitably occur. More weeks with multiple games exposing the lack of depth with the current roster rules and restrictions. But that’s for another discussion. But as for the game day conflicts …

It seems apparent to me that teams could take 2 or 3 games that are in conflict with international schedules, reschedule those matches on weekdays, and with a bit of creativity offset any losses they might incur with a standalone weekday match. Past experience shows that you only have to hit it big once to make up for a lot of shortfall. I think this shows that there is still a lot of room to move without hurting the league that will permit it to do a much better job of minimizing MLS/international match conflicts. More fannies in the seats. Less games with teams missing their stars. What more could you ask for? Scratch that, the lists are long.

Am I missing something here?

7 Responses to MLS/Internationals: Congestion and Conflict

  1. tom says:

    One thing you forgot to consider what time of year the mid-week game is played. For those of us who drag school age kids (or get dragged there by school age kids) to matches, going to one that doesn’t end until well after 9 PM is a non-starter. Even if it ends earlier, its still a real problem with homework and club practices.

  2. Rex says:

    Houston and Chicago’s Friday night game was actually great for Dynamo fans in that 50+ made the 1200 mile trip and got to watch the Dynamo and the national team. Friday night games work for me. It’s still a weekend game and you get to watch both games although the players are gone. I would be happen if they just didnt have games going on at the same time as the national team games.

  3. Frank says:

    Have you considered the long-term impact? With regular starters away on international duty, the quality of the matches suffers and as a result people’s preconceived notions of MLS offering subpar talent is confirmed. These people are less likely to return to games.

  4. Peter C says:

    KJ: you are right!

    tom and Frank:
    I have considered both of your valid points. I’m not endorsing the current MLS policy. I’m trying(and failing miserably) to debunk one of their arguments for why they can’t honor international dates.
    I saw it as a step by step process. First, see if the case for reduced revenue on weekdays vs weekends was valid. It’s not if they market wisely. And secondly, the effect on attendance when MLS games are in conflict with USMNT WCQ matches.
    In the second case, I’m just showing how there isn’t much $$$ pressure on MLS to totally end the horrendous scheduling that pits the league vs the Nats.
    As to the midweek family issue, short of one of the scheduling options mentioned at the top of the post, I fear that having some matches on school nights to avoid all conflict with international matches would be necessary. This year particularly. With 4(?) WCQ conflicts on Saturdays, the Confederations Cup, and the Gold Cup, weekday games would be the only way to complete the schedule and even attempt to minimize the impact on teams with players on international duty.
    And to the notions of MLS as subpar, I’m there with you. Baby steps.

  5. Bernd says:

    Just wondering about the whole “school nights” idea…aren’t most schools done already? A great deal of the MLS season falls in the time of summer vacation. Obviously people having work the next morning (or in the hours preceding) is an issue too, but certainly, for families in the summer, it’s doable.

  6. Peter C says:


    During a very busy year, such as 2009, so many games would have to be rescheduled that more weeknight games while school is in session would be unavoidable.

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