Goal-line technology will surely provide its high-tech edge to Major League Soccer some day down the road.
But it’s not happening anytime soon, and definitely not for 2015, the league’s milepost 20th season.
An MLS spokesman confirmed to me this week that, as most of us suspected at this point, 2015 will come and go without the relatively new technology, deployed in last year’s World Cup and now in use in England’s venerable Premier League. And he doesn’t see it happening anytime soon – although it’s fair for the rest of us to wonder how quickly that could change if the right kind of “wrong” should befall a high profile MLS match. But more on that in a minute.
For now, here’s why the top tier of U.S. Soccer’s pro pyramid is passing on the technology for now: MLS Vice President of Communication Dan Courtemanche said it’s simple economics and timing. The systems currently available cost a lot, and league officials reckon they have better places to spend its money at present.
Understand, MLS is hardly run by Luddites. Courtemanche said MLS is now and always will be open to improving its product through technology, and that includes adding GLT at some point.
But cost of implementation, about $250,000 per stadium for a total of $5 million league wide, remains prohibitive. It’s just a matter of prioritizing spending in a league where, according to commissioner Don Garber, teams lose a combined $100 million annually.
Said Courtemanche: “If we have the option of investing millions in goal-line technology, that technology, while great to have, could pay perhaps 2-3 impact players. Or we could invest that into a number of different players, or one really great player. At $5-6 million, you have some tough decisions to make. Thus far, we’ve decided to make the investment in impact players or in the youth academy systems.”
Fair enough. But now for a little round of “What if?”
I say the league policy makers – people often forget that Garber works for the owners, who are making many of the big choices that shape MLS – might shift their weight on this matter in a hurry if some high-profile match is affected because GLT was adjudged an economic impracticality. Imagine, for instance, DC United missing a place in MLS Cup 2015 because a Fabian Espindola “goal” in a huge playoff match wasn’t one, not officially, that is.
Or, what if the LA Galaxy get the “goal” that sends Seattle home in the post-season when replays show clearly that no such thing happened? Or New England misses the playoffs entirely for the same reason? You get the idea. In any of those cases or many others, we’re taking about your basic PR catastrophe.
In that way, GLT is exactly like auto or medical insurance. None of us enjoy writing that check. We’re paying for something we hope to never use – all the while wondering if we really even need it?
Well, we don’t ever need insurance … until we actually need it. And then, well, we really, really need it and we’re super-duper glad we have it. Same with goal-line technology, I’m afraid. MLS could go skipping through several seasons without ever regretting the choice. Or … well, re-review those painful scenarios above and wince at the thought.
Regardless, MLS just isn’t there yet. And it sounds like we are not going to see this anytime soon?
“That would be accurate,” Courtemanche told me. “It’s certainly something that our competition [committee] experts will continue to evaluate. But right now we are focusing our resources in other areas.”
Read Steve’s other columns on World Soccer Talk. .
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