MLS Commissioner Don Garber has lost his marbles. In an interview yesterday with AP Sports Editors, Garber said:
”There’s more soccer on [US] television than any other sport by far. You’ve got European soccer. You’ve got Mexican soccer. You’ve got Major League Soccer. There’s way too much soccer on television. I think all of us got to figure out a way to narrow that window so you can get a situation like the NFL has, a couple of days a week, short schedule, something that’s very compelling and very targeted.”
This is the first time I’ve ever heard anyone complaining about the quantity of soccer on US television. While the vast majority of soccer fans rejoice at the quality and quantity of soccer coverage available, here you actually have a soccer executive whining about it. Instead, he wants to model the sport after a league that only runs twice a week from September through January.
The reason why there’s more soccer on television than any other sport is because it’s the world’s most popular sport. There’s a growing demand for quality soccer on US television as evidenced by multi-million dollar TV deals, new networks, impressive ratings growth and the continued rise in popularity of Mexican soccer and the national team on US TV. At the same time, the demand for Major League Soccer on television is underwhelming to say the least. As one example, only 58,000 people tuned in last weekend to watch a MLS game between LA Galaxy and Sporting Kansas City, two of the most successful teams in the league this season.
Soccer is America’s second-most popular sport among 12-24 year olds, yet Garber wants to reduce the quantity of games so they’re played across a shorter schedule with smaller windows. While Garber has a lot of power to make such changes in Major League Soccer, there’s absolutely no chance that any of the other leagues or associations in the world will start reducing the amount of games played or the number of matches televised.
The direction the sport is heading is that more games will be more accessible than ever before, on more devices and in greater quantity and quality.
It’s almost as if Garber is throwing his arms in the air, declaring that MLS can’t win the TV ratings battle and is blaming it on the “glut of soccer on American television.” MLS TV ratings are underwhelming not because of the quantity of soccer on US television. They’re poor because Major League Soccer lacks relevance, authenticity, consistent TV times, a highlights package and quality TV production. A league that is growing on the local level where tickets are worth the price of admission doesn’t mean that the TV product is something that Americans nationwide are interested in watching.
Instead of complaining that there’s too much soccer on US television, it’s time for Garber to make constructive changes to make the league more attractive to television. Despite his 16 years at the National Football League, that model is not the one to follow.