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Is the 2022 World Cup Worth MLS Selling Out?

 Is the 2022 World Cup Worth MLS Selling Out?

As part of his second state of the union at halftime of the MLS Cup, Don Garber revealed that MLS would be considering shifting the season from spring-to-fall to the FIFA-endorsed fall-to-spring schedule.  While this is not the first time MLS has considered shifting its schedule, Garber said that the rethink was pushed by FIFA and was tied into the U.S. World Cup bid.  It’s no secret that FIFA has long been disappointed that MLS is not in-sync with most of the rest of the soccer world and they have pressured MLS to conform to everyone else.  But if FIFA gives the U.S. an ultimatum to change the schedule or else, the US stand up to FIFA and tell them no.

This scenario is not out of the realm of possibility.  In 1994, FIFA made establishing a permanent outdoor league a contingency for hosting.  While I think the U.S. right now is the leader in the 2022 race, if it is close or becomes close in the next week, the scheduling issue could become a pressure point for the U.S.  FIFA conceivably come to the U.S. and say change the schedule or enjoy the Qatar World Cup.

So if it comes down to scheduling, should the US abandon its spring-to-fall schedule for the World Cup?  No, MLS and U.S. Soccer should stand its ground on this one if it needs to.  The arguments for spring-to-fall are well-known and they are incredibly valid.  The MLS should not open its season overshadowed by all four major U.S. sports and crown its champions overshadowed by the beginning of baseball and the NCAA basketball championship.  In addition, the majority of the season would be played in the winter, which would be miserable for most teams north of Kansas City.  Having the MLS mainly in the summer allows American soccer to receive more attention from the media, especially when its only major competition is baseball.

Moving to a FIFA-approved schedule would fundamentally alter the essence of MLS.  Immediately American soccer would be another soccer league competing directly with other international leagues, and if ESPN/FSC numbers are any indication, that’s a losing proposition.  Everyone but the most hardcore MLS fans would ignore the league.  And as anyone who watches Sportscenter knows, which honestly and unfortunately dictates the American sports conversation, September through February is all NFL.  Any hope of standing out and attracting attention from the casual sports fan is lost, and MLS would have to hope to attract European soccer fans.  But with their own leagues running concurrently, that is another losing proposition.

Lost amid other American sports and other leagues, MLS would simply be a niche sport like Major League Lacrosse.  And the ability to attract big-name international stars would decrease.  Think it’s a hard decision for Landon Donovan now to play in the EPL?  Imagine if he had to choose between Everton and the Galaxy and could only pick one.  Same for a Ronaldinho, who would wait until he was absolutely out of options in Europe before moving the U.S.  The big-name designated players would be older and closer to retirement than they are now.

The World Cup is an exciting thing, something that can bring immense international attention and money to the United States, as well as make even casual sports fans pay attention to soccer.  But the cost to MLS if they had to compromise on their schedule would be huge.  MLS has to decide if it wants to become just another league in a sea of soccer leagues around the world, or if it wants to establish its own niche in the world and continue to grow.

46 Responses to Is the 2022 World Cup Worth MLS Selling Out?

  1. ElHierro says:

    “MLS has to decide if it wants to become just another league in a sea of soccer leagues around the world, or if it wants to establish its own niche in the world and continue to grow.”

    MLS is and always will be a “niche” league because it artificially limits it’s own growth. Under it’s current single-entity format there’s little to no opportunity for teams to grow and player quality to improve. MLS still follows the “athlete” before “technical player” model unlike the rest of the world (except England) and until it does so, it will remain an afterthought in world football.

    • PeterB says:

      Very well put. “Rearranging the deck chairs” reforms like moving the schedule or changing the playoffs don’t deal with the core problems: paltry salaries – which are locked in for the next four years – and the single entity structure in which there aren’t independent teams.

      Yes, putting MLS head to head against EPL, CL, La Liga, BDL wouldn’t help, but even in the summer, many soccer people in US prefer to track all the news with their Euro teams even ahead of following the on-going MLS season. If you can offer top-notch soccer that has games that are of real consequence, then you’ll survive.

      If you have a majority of your players making less than what the average EPL player makes in a month, not even the best marketing guru in the world will make people interested in your league, no matter what time of year they play your season.

      • Robert Hay says:

        So Peter, you’re saying that soccer fans would rather sit in front of their computer waiting for team news on SkySports (Or EPL Talk!) than go watch an actual professional soccer match in their town, even if the quality may not be quite MLS standards but still good?

        I don’t buy that for a minute, a soccer fan is a soccer fan and will watch their local team if there is no other competition.

        • Clampdown says:

          Robert,

          I wish this were true. Unfortunately, given the rhetoric you read just on the posts below articles on this site and others, you can see there are a large number of people who considers themselves soccer fans who will use whatever excuse they like not to support their local team or the league.

          The number of times I have read from people on one side saying they will not go to an MLS game because “it’s not like the rest of the world,” and the other side threatening they will abandon the league if it is taken over by the “eurosnobs, europhiles (insert any other pejorative term here)” is too many to count.

          While I would prefer MLS keep the season it has now, I would still attend matches if they moved the season to FIFA’s liking. It would create logistical problems due to weather, and I likely wouldn’t go to as many matches, but I’d still have season tickets. I think others would do the same.

          In the end, all of these issues regarding playoffs, single entity vs. conferences, when the season takes place, etc., will not be that significant if two things happen: the quality of play improves to a level that both diehards and casual fans will want to watch, and access to the matches improves (TV).

          • The Gaffer says:

            Clampdown, same here, if I had a MLS team in my area of the country, I would buy a season ticket no matter what part of the year they played in.

            Cheers,
            The Gaffer

          • PeterB says:

            I’m sorry if you don’t agree with those who aren’t satisfied with the product that MLS has to offer, but 1) that doesn’t mean we are any less a soccer fan than those that are and 2) it doesn’t mean we aren’t fans of our local MLS side.

            I am all for the Galaxy players, but it’s frustrating to want to be more invested in it, but knowing that the league competition and playoffs are of no consequence. Especially knowing that in other leagues there’s a very major emphasis on performance (unlike anything in American sports). Nothing is on the line in MLS, and a team’s success doesn’t turn into the possibility of getting better players because the revenue of a team/owner isn’t driven by the team’s results. (Much of the revenue goes to league not team). The league rewards failure – many revenues go back to the league to be shared by all investor/owners, and success on the field gets you bupkus – you get to go to a non-revenue producing Champions league competition and the crappiest draft pick. Woo hoo.

            If it comforts you to think of me as anti-American or Eurosnob or whatever, though, feel free. But lots of red-blooded, soccer-loving Americans aren’t getting invested in MLS because they just couldn’t be bothered – just compare WC or even early-morning EPL ratings to MLS ratings and you’ll see.

          • Clampdown says:

            Peter, you just proved my point.

            Nowhere in my post did I pass judgment on what constitutes a true fan, nor did I see that MLS was not in need of improvement. And, if you read what I wrote, you would see that I do not side with those who use terms like Eurosnob, which I find idiotic and childish.

            The point was that there are fans who will not attend MLS matches for a variety of reasons of their choosing. You fit the profile of one of those groups.

            For the record, I support the idea of the team with the best record at the end of the season being recognized more prominently than they are now. I’m not sure how to do that while retaining a playoff system, but I think it is important for, in this case, the Galaxy being awarded (by more than a CCL spot) for the accomplishment. I know others disagree.

        • PeterB says:

          That last statement is the problem. MLS believes that they can put a bunch of guys making $40K-$80K on the field with a couple high priced stars, have a league and playoff competition that is of very little consequence, and people will still watch.

          Ratings show that taking soccer fans for granted like that isn’t the smartest move. Even casual fans are getting a clue (“Geez, how come nearly all of the US World Cup guys don’t play in the US”, or “That dude on Germany/Argentina/Brazil is awesome – where does he play?”)

  2. There are plenty of countries with domestic leagues that don’t strictly match the format of the western European giants. The Russian league springs to mind. I believe the top league in Sweden plays during the summer. I’m sure there are other examples.
    That being said, it’s tough on the MLS to play its marquee playoff games on Sunday nights against the NFL. They could try Saturday with lesser college football competition, but Saturday nights are bad tv rating nights. They might want to consider starting and ending a tad earlier in the year so that the best part of the season doesn’t coincide with the meat of the NFL season.

  3. Skronk says:

    Why does FIFA even want to push this? It just seems like an awful idea for US soccer.

  4. another reason to keep the Mls season as-is is that Mls is competing for the same eyeballs in America as the Premier League, La Liga, Serie A, the Bundesliga, the Mexican League etc. etc. Many footie fans here get their fill of televised action early each weekend morn on Espn, Fsc and Gol TV and thus won’t/don’t watch Mls action later in the day. Thus Mls needs those summer months when it doesn’t have to compete against other footie leagues.

  5. Joe says:

    Another article on MajorLeagueSoccerTalk blathering about how the league can’t compete, will “sell out”, and will fail? Stunning!

  6. Bolacuadrada says:

    The most competitive league in the world also called “Brasileirao” does not follow the European soccer calendar and FIFA did not make make it a condition to grant Brazil the 2014 world cup. As of today the CBF does not have any plans to change their schedule. I want the MLS to make their own decisions and should not let FIFA dictate a calendar for them. I like the calendar as it is. It is great to have the opportunity to watch soccer all year long.

  7. Rex says:

    All BS talk by Garber. He said they they are having people look into it. Those people will look into it and draw the same conclusions… not feasible.

  8. chufu says:

    that is a vague non-committal promise made a few days before the 2022 decision. It will most likely not be fullfilled. Garber knows it and FIFA knows it too. If anything, it makes the USA Bid effort look kinda desperate.

  9. Sancho says:

    Brazil, the 2014 WC host, has its league from May to December…

  10. Sancho says:

    Great article, by the way.

  11. AdamEdg says:

    As a lax player, coach, and fan, I recognize your point about Major League Lacrosse’s dismal presence. MLL truly represents a niche sport even more than Major League Soccer does. As it is, the lax league is more or less the fourth tier “major league” of the summer after MLB, MLS, and AFL. It still gets some attention.
    Should MLS move to the central European calendar (that’s what it truly is), then it will be in a worse place than the MLL. In the winter, the MLS will fall behind the NFL, NCAA football, NCAA basketball, NBA, and NHL in terms of priority and coverage. The league would be the fifth overall, or third at the major league professional level for coverage. And that is not even considering the Euro leagues. Fighting for TV time during the fall-spring schedule would be nearly impossible outside of GOL or FSC, which are both premium channels in most markets.
    Further, too many teams are in locations that are not suitable for an outdoor sport involving shorts. While fans somehow make it outside in Green Bay all winter long, I do not see enough of a soccer market in the Us to do the same for the average MLS team. Our largest immigrant soccer community (Latinos) would not venture out in Chicago in January, even if they did want to support the Fire. It’s too freaking cold. I can tell you that while I’ll drive 2.5 hours to KC in July, there is no way in Hell I’m getting on the icy roads in January for the same trip.
    Overall great post and a great point. A move by MLS to the “traditional” calendar would be suicide. I do not imagine too many owners or even fans would go for it.

  12. Charles says:

    Again a great post.

    The vote for the World Cup is very beginning of Dec.
    By 2011 MLS will have decided that is the dumbest idea ever.
    When they announce it? who cares ?

    BTW, I will be missing the Sounder’s game tonight, I can’t get down my drive and it is below 20 degrees.

    Let me be arguementitive, why would ANYONE that goes to MLS games want that ? Just to conform to PART of Europe ? The games in mid summer were awesome to go to.
    MLS would just be trying to change to appease people that don’t view MLS as their number 1 league.

    Kiss ‘em goodbye Don, you don’t need them and they will be back.

  13. Carl says:

    If Mr. ‘Goober’ thinks that Americans are going to sit in 22 degree weather to watch a soccer match (not a playoff game) he’s dumber than I thought. This is a great way to cut attendance for the northern clubs.

    • The Gaffer says:

      Carl, the same could be said if you think that Americans are going to sit in 100 degree weather to watch a soccer match (not a playoff game) in the summer. This is a great way to cut attendance for the soon-to-be southern clubs. There’s no perfect time to do a season where it’s going to work for everyone.

      Cheers,
      The Gaffer

      • Cavan says:

        I’m sorry but 20 degrees is way worse than 100. Plus, none of the current MLS cities are 100 degress after nightfall. Meanwhile, if it’s 20 degrees during the day, it’s 0 degress after dark. In winter, nightfall comes very early. What fan is going to tailgate in 0 degree weather at night?!?!?

        There goes our fan culture right there. Barra Brava/SE? gone. Sons of Ben? gone. Empire Supporters Group? gone. Section 8? gone. etc.

        Showing up to tailgate at 5pm on a 100 degree day is far more bearable. No hypothermia. Everyone is ok as long as there is plenty of cold beer and water and the tailgate. The places that have 100 degree weather are used to it. It’s fun times.

        No one can get used to being out in 0 degree weather at night for hours. If there’s wind, you run into hypothermia problems in the stands. That’s not to mention the linesmen, who run less than the players and center referee and can’t wear jackets to keep warm like the coaches and subs.

        How about the fields? The fields will be destroyed and the grounds crews won’t be able to maintain the surface because the grass doesn’t grow when it’s 20 degress out. I thought we were trying to move away from plastic fields.

        You’re making false equivalence between hot weather and cold weather when one poses serious practical problems and the other doesn’t.

        • The Gaffer says:

          Cavan, many of the MLS games that featured Miami Fusion were played in the afternoon (4pm kickoff times were the norm) during the summer heat where temperatures were in the 90′s and there was no cover/roof in the stadium, so fans fried and players were exhausted from the heat. High temperates as well as cold ones are dangerous to one’s health.

          Cheers,
          The Gaffer

          • Cavan says:

            While 100 degrees at 4pm can be a hazard, it’s nowhere near as dangerous as 0 degrees at night.

            Also, since the Fusion’s time, the league now has a fewer percentage of its games played in the summer afternoon. The Telefutura game of the week is at 4 on Saturday and Toronto FC tends to play its home games in the afternoon.

            Again, from experience, I have a much easier time bringing my casual friends to Barra Brava tailgates in hot weather than in cold, rainy weather. The discussion was about how the league calendar would affect the fanbase.

  14. Robert says:

    Everyone! MLS tv ratings for MLS Cup fell by 44%! They were on ESPN and only against NFL regular season game and lost out. I’m sorry but there are too many structural issues in MLS: Changing the schedule, adding 10 teams to playoffs, expansions can not fix. MLS is failing.

    We need to improve quality of play. IF MLS had quality players, not Marquee Players, I would watch. Quality, Quality

    • Cavan says:

      From all your comments on the recent posts, I don’t think there’s anything anyone could do to make you watch. In fact, I’m beginning to think that you like bitching about MLS in blog comment threads more than you like watching soccer.

      • DJ Allen says:

        And Cavan, I’m convinced that you don’t understand what is wrong with MLS and will watch whatever shit they throw out, no matter how awful.

        I watched a lot of MLS games on TV this year. I will be watching less of them next year. If MLS continues to run down the path they’ve chosen under Garber, I will continue to watch less MLS until I stop watching all together.

        MLS is broken. Soccer doesn’t need Americanization, especially when the European model is a proven success. SMART business people stop running their business into the ground when it loses money. SMART business people learn to adopt business methods that are proven because, guess what, they work! MLS under Garber are not smart business people.

        • Gazza says:

          The ‘European Model is a proven success’. Are you kidding me? Clubs with worldwide appeal bringing 200m Euros in revenue a year that have won La Liga and the Champions League not too long ago have to take out a loan to pay the office cleaners ……. sure sounds like financial success to me.

  15. Sancho says:

    What about US chances to host the Cup?

    There are five bidders: US, Australia, Qatar, Japan and Korea. I would be extremely surprised if FIFA give the WC to other nation than US or Oz. It looks like a 50% chance.

    Let see…

  16. Brian says:

    A fall-to-spring season would give us a Cup final in May, when it might actually get media attention… instead of November, when it clearly can’t. Clearly, games can’t be played in northern cities in the winter. But whether it’s a split season like Class A baseball or an Apertura-Clausura model, MLS should figure out some way to get its most important part of the season at a time when it can actually compete for attention. It’s probably the only team sport where attendance and ratings goes DOWN during the playoffs.

  17. Kevin says:

    If they do it, and I so hope they do not, they need to do the break. They need to do August to November, take December off and then Mid-Feb to May.

    The one advantage to this is that it frees the teams up for the summer for int’l friendlies, US Open Cup and the early Champions League rounds.

    Russia’s change over to the int’; schedule will fail and they will be going back to their Spring-Fall Schedule in 3 years.

    Doesn’t Ireland do the Spring – Fall thing? Why have they not been asked to change?

  18. Bolacuadrada says:

    Attendance did not go down as far as I know. Competition with a NFL game is not a good idea. Even the MLB World Series cannot better a NFL regular season game.

    • Kevin says:

      Can you also imagine the logistic nightmare for New England & Seattle using Gillette & Qwest respectively during that first half of the season? Sounders would be playing with the gridiron lines and that is what they do not want.

  19. Derrick says:

    Adopting the international schedule would also give MLS teams a better chance in CONCACAF play as they will have more time playing together as a team rather than jumping in just weeks after the season begins.

  20. chuck says:

    1.) The way “selling out” is defined here is silly. It’s a FIFA calendar, after all, so when FIFA asks leagues to synchronize with the FIFA calendar, it is reasonable, and it would be reasonable for MLS to do this. If this is selling out, then all these new NFL Football stadiums are also selling out when they make them extra wide in accordance with FIFA guidelines on pitch sizes.

    2.) The World Cup is the biggest sporting event in the world. It’s bigger than the Olympics. The USSF should use every legal means available in order to secure this country as hosts.

  21. Cavan says:

    The weather is pretty frigid here in Washington D.C. in December, January, February and most of March. I’d still go to games but there’s no way I’d be able to get any of my friends to go. Most casuals I know don’t attend DC United games until the end of April because of all the cold, windy, rainy nights in our early spring. We were under multiple feet of snow for weeks last winter! While the multiple blizzards were once-in-a-century phenomena (I hope!), our fields freeze in the winter. We’re far from the only MLS cities in that situation.

    Sepp Blatter is a blathering fool. If not hosting the World Cup in 2022 is the price of preserving our league’s (slowly) growing attendance, it’s worth it. We shouldn’t bend to Sepp Blatter’s verbal excrement until he’s willing to compensate our league for the revenue losses in perpetuity for destroying our nascent fanbase.

    It’s a heck of a lot nicer in England in January than Washington. We have the same icy winter weather as New York and Philadelphia. Boston, Toronto, Chicago, Salt Lake City, and Denver are worse. Maybe we should invite Mr. Blatter to live in the U.S. for the first week in January and park him in the stands in FedEx, Lincoln Financial, Giants Stadium, etc. for an outdoor NFL playoff game and see how he likes it. Maybe even Lambeau Field to really drive the point home.

  22. IL says:

    The simple answer is NO. Other countries don’t have the NFL and other sports to compete with. The climate is also different. So a bit NO.

    • IL says:

      PS. There is also no reason that US soccer should not develop in its own right. Its a big country and a big market. Who knows, twenty years from now we can be telling the rest of the world when to play their games.

  23. Miami Ultra says:

    As much as I’d love to enjoy the only good weather of the year in South Florida(a few choice weeks in the winter where temps are in the 60s and it doesn’t rain) if we ever get a team again, it just makes no sense for MLS to move to Fall-Spring. Yes it clears up conflicts with international dates, aligns with the big world leagues, etc., but the competition from other sports is too fierce.

    MLS would have to go up against the NFL, NBA, NHL, College Football and Basketball. That’s a losing proposition. Media exposure is scarce for MLS now, imagine trying to convince ESPN or even your local news to squeeze in MLS news with the other big sports playing.

    The weather argument is bogus though, England and Northern Europe play fall-winter, everyone is bundled up, it can be done. Take a few weeks off in the worst of the winter(around NFL playoff time), and it’s doable.

    • Trevor says:

      England and North England play in the cold; they don’t play in Chicago, New England, or Philadelphia cold. Wind chills get worse than -25 in those cities. You put 22 players on a field in that weather for even a few games and I guarantee you’ll kill someone.

  24. Trevor says:

    What is it about these comments from Garber that people don’t seem to get? He is obviously just giving lip service to the idea until the vote is taken. There is no way they are going to move to this schedule, and there is no reason to report the story or comment on it. It’s simply a political move to get the US the World Cup. Why else would he mince so many words on the subject?

  25. Extramedium says:

    I prefer the aperture clausura system. With unbalanced schedules playoffs are justified…Fall-Spring (Aug-Thanksgiving, then Valentine’s-memorial day or Mar-July 4th) would make bringing in players on loan easier. Arsenal just loaned out young talented Aaron Ramsey.

  26. Brad says:

    I think the issue here isn’t season calendar nor weather. The issue is international dates and tournaments. If MLS would not schedule it’s own games on those dates, I don’t think FIFA would care. But when you have club vs country issues, and the local fan buys a ticket to the game without 1+ of its best players gone on international duty, it cheapens the league and distracts the player. I think that’s what FIFA is hitting at primarily. If MLS were to “blackout” those dates, then they would have to change their calendar per se. If the MLS wants to improve the product moving forward, we should be seeing more international call ups from each team. Missing these players for MLS matches does/will create a perception of lesser value and hurt the league.

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