After two hours of watching Rebecca Lowe, Robbie Earle, and Robbie Mustoe break down Deadline Day on NBCSN, I still can’t decide if this would be a good thing for Major League Soccer. The signal-to-noise ratio is ridiculously low, a confluence of tabloid pressures, gullibility, and potential for news (albeit slim) creating a ridiculous din, one that’s developed into a cottage industry. In this grave new world, you don’t have to be an intellect to understand. To be an expert, you just have to tolerate the content that’s being fed to you.
Not that it isn’t a splendid spectacle. Harry Redknapp talking through a car window. Peter Odemwingie denied on QPR’s doorstep. Danny Welbeck swapping Old Trafford for the Emirates. Even absent financial lunacy like Fernando Torres’s or Radamel Falcao’s moves, Deadline Day always provides something, and in a world where diehard fans are insatiable about their somethings, the twice-a-year fun is relatively harmless.
There is, however, a difference between being harmless and necessary, and with MLS always looking for ways to raise its profile, it’s interesting to consider what a Deadline Day event would bring to the league. MLS already has a couple of deadline days: The close of the summer transfer window (Aug. 6, this year), and the fall roster freeze (Sept. 15). What if we took those events and created a glorified coverage?
Imagine next year, with ESPN carrying much of the broadcast load, Adrian Healey, Taylor Twellman, and Alexi Lalas praising every obscure Romanian, as if he’s the next Dutch leaguer tempting English hearts? In front of 100 inches of touch screen goodness, they swap circles in and out of formations, asking how players we’ve never heard of will sway the title race.
Is he good? Is he bad? It doesn’t really matter. This wantaway from Club Atletico Rafaela would be a different maker for ‘Midtable FC’, they could say about anybody. Anonymity can’t keep us from assessing the move.
Unfortunately, there are a few things beyond mere interest that prevents this kind of spectacle; namely MLS’s rules. A cursory look across the U.S. sports’ landscape shows a telling, inverse relationship between regulation and transfer and trade window mayhem. Professional baseball and hockey, with their permissive systems, have active trade deadlines. Basketball’s more restrictive environment means stars rarely move at the end of a window, while the National Football League’s salary cap and early trade deadline render midseason moves irrelevant.
MLS’s rules are for more complex than the NFL’s, where the main constraints are huge roster needs and the complexities of signing bonuses. In MLS, homegrown, generation adidas, and designated players all have different impacts on a roster, one already constrained by a low salary cap. International slots, allocation pay-downs, and the cap-exempt players on the back end of a squad add another layer to potential deals, while the dynamics of a soft salary cap and no real revenue sharing mean a growing disparity between the haves and have nots. In MLS, you don’t just decide to trade or sign somebody. You start navigating a minefield.
Perhaps that could all be glossed over in a made-for-TV event, but to have a meaningful deadline day, you have to grapple with a series of more difficult questions: Is it worth it to open up the rules to create a more dynamic environment? If transactions generate fan interest, how do you balance that against the stability the rules provide? Is creating a more permissive environment – one a vocal minority already deride with Europe’s transfer free-for-all – a net good?
As the NFL shows, a rotisserie league’s waiver wire is not necessary to create interest, though parallels between MLS and the NFL are as ridiculous as comparing the U.S.’s soccer leagues to England’s. Ultimately, MLS has crafted a totally unique environment, one in which Deadline Day madness is unlikely to occur.
The drawbacks: We don’t get to see Alexi Lalas try to explain why ‘Cellardweller United’ will benefit from a Chilean we don’t know. We don’t get that two-hour panel show, and ultimately, we don’t get something the rest of the soccer world seems so willing to make into a biannual occasion.
On the plus side, the hype becomes a matter of perspective, not obligation. We focus on competition instead of confusion, and we never have a panel show that weaves speculation into news.
Is that a good tradeoff? After surviving our latest Deadline Day obsession, I have no idea.