With Major League Soccer set to start the 2013 season this weekend, I felt it was time to suggest some resolutions for the forthcoming season. Some of these might not be acceptable to some (or maybe a large amount) of MLS fans, but I am of the opinion that trying to abide by these resolutions would result in the 2013 MLS season being an enjoyable season, for us all.
Stop Saying "We Need to Grow the Game":
A battle cry from the soccer media and soccer fans in the United States is that, "We must grow the game!" Well, we can't really grow the game, the game will grow organically, in the same manner that the NFL and NBA managed to grow organically out of the shadow of Major League Baseball. Organically growing the game is essentially on MLS and, to a lesser extent, U.S. Soccer. Put out a good, accessible product and the game will grow.
MLS fans and U.S. Soccer fans bemoan what they call "Euro Snobs," bemoan how you're likely to find more Manchester United fans at the soccer bar than MLS fans. Well, that supports my argument, EPL, La Liga, and UEFA have all managed to provide a good, polished product that has, thanks to the internet and cable television, managed to grow big fan bases in the United States, as well as elsewhere in the world.
For a number of reasons, primarily financial, MLS still has lots of growing to do to reach those levels of popularity. It's not going to happen overnight, not if you want MLS to create a solid financial foundation, but MLS has come a long way since 1996, it'll get there.
Finally, let's be honest, efforts to grow the game can often be counterproductive because too many soccer fans can become annoying evangelical zealots that tend to turn away sports fans who are not soccer fans.
Stop Complaining about Lack of National Television Coverage:
There's a simple truth about sports broadcasting in the United States that many MLS fans do not seem to comprehend, and that is the fact that no major sports league has all of its games broadcast on national television. Not MLB, not NBA, not NHL, and not even NFL.
Thanks to contracts with NBC Sports Network and ESPN2 about two MLS matches per matchweek are broadcast nationally. Additionally, almost every MLS team, if not all MLS teams, have contracts with regional channels and networks that broadcast all of their non-nationally broadcast matches.
This is pretty much how it is in MLB and NBA. While NFL does have broadcast contracts with CBS and FOX, many of those games are only shown in specific regions. Only the Sunday, Monday, and Thursday night games are truly national broadcasts.
I don't have the time or inclination to do a statistically breakdown on the percentage of league games in each league that are nationally broadcast, but face it MLS fans, MLS is not getting a cold shoulder on the national broadcast landscape.
Stop Complaining when National Television Coverage is Delayed by Another Sport:
Sometimes sports games and events go over their scheduled time, sometimes that means you're going to miss the start of an MLS game. One most occasions, due to contractual obligations, the network cannot leave the prior game or event to go to the MLS game before that prior game or event is over.
But here is the good news for you, when an MLS game goes over it's scheduled time, the network is staying with the MLS game and not switching to the game or event scheduled to follow the MLS game.
Stop Complaining about American Football Lines on the Soccer Field:
Do you want MLS teams to make money so that they can pay better salaries, attract better talent, improve the product, grow the game? Then learn to live with American Football lines on MLS pitches.
For teams with their own stadiums, leasing them to college and high school football teams and tournaments is a good source of revenue. Get used to the lines, they'll be showing up every fall.
As a side note, MLS is not the only place you see those lines - they're also in some stadiums in Mexico, plus some teams in Europe share stadiums with rugby teams, which have similar lines.
Forget about promotion and relegation:
It's not a viable option, not right now. The current lower soccer leagues in the United States are in too much turmoil and uncertainty that promotion to MLS would just hurt MLS and relegation from MLS will hurt league revenue and investment.
While many "resolutions" that MLS seems to want to push seem to be geared towards creating a more "family friendly" environment, these resolutions are geared more to trying to get MLS fans to be more realistic about MLS and the business world it exists in, to be happy with how far MLS has come, and to learn to sit back and enjoy the ride, cause the destination will be worth it.