Major League Soccer couldn’t have picked a better weekend to launch its 20th season after a boring, quiet and uneventful FA Cup weekend in England. Soccer fans were craving goals, and MLS dutifully supplied them with an average of 2.25 goals per game for the 4 nationally televised matches compared to an average of 0.6 goals per game for the 3 FA Cup matches played.
But aside from soccer, MLS’s first broadcasts of its new $90 million/year TV deal were largely a success on ESPN, FOX Sports and Univision. There was a new level of enthusiasm for the start of the season perhaps accentuated by the 11th hour deal to avert a strike, which made viewers and broadcasters hungrier and breathing a sigh of relief as action from America’s top flight returned.
Having said that, the broadcasts weren’t perfect.
Here’s our highs and lows from the weekend’s MLS nationally-televised broadcasts:
1. Smart programming selections and timing of broadcasts.
MLS and the three broadcast partners (FOX, ESPN and Univision) struck a perfect chord by deciding to feature the four games from the weekend that are the best examples of passionate fans in the stadium coupled with attacking teams that are pleasing to the eye. Broadcasting the home games for LA Galaxy, Orlando City, Sporting KC and Seattle Sounders exemplified the best of MLS, and the home teams in each of the four games didn’t disappoint on or off the field.
The excitement and passion of the Galaxy, Lions, KC and Sounders fans were on display, and the TV coverage captured the atmospheres, which will have won over a lot of sports and soccer fans who watched the broadcasts.
The timing of the broadcasts — a late game on Friday, as well as a 7-hour block of continuous MLS coverage from ESPN2 at 4:30pm ET through until the last FOX Sports 1 game at 11:30pm ET ensured that soccer fans could watch the games with all of their focus without stellar matches from other leagues competing in the same time window.
2. Energy levels and studio sets
Throughout the entire weekend, the energy levels among the presenters, studio analysts and commentators were at a high. The excitement levels and positive energy could be felt by TV viewers. Everyone on television was genuinely excited and enthusiastic regarding the new season.
The feel good factor will hopefully continue in the coming weeks as long as the entertainment value on the field lives up to its end of the bargain.
FOX’s new studio design for MLS and the associated graphics were a hit (apart from the in-game graphics; more about that later). That contrasted greatly with ESPN and Univision who decided to feature their talent at the stadiums instead of a studio in Los Angeles. Either way, it worked.
Overall, FOX Sports — especially — seemed a lot more comfortable broadcasting and discussing the American games than it does when it covers European matches. Eric Wynalda seemed happier and insightful on camera. Landon Donovan was better than he was on ESPN last summer where he was flat and uninspiring, and Stuart Holden shows a lot of promise. He needs to keep his head up more rather than looking down, and side-by-side. Hopefully Donovan will not try to talk over him too much as he did on Sunday evening.