With the announcement of a new broadcast deal between Fox Soccer Channel and Major League Soccer, it's time for another post about balancing television coverage with the accessibility of live matches to local fans.
I completely understand the necessity and importance of having as many MLS matches on some kind of national television channel as possible. The revenue it generates, no matter how small compared to other sports, is vital for MLS and any type of exposure to a larger audience is key. I like seeing MLS matches on ESPN2 and FSC and I also hope that ratings will one day start to climb, thus giving the league more bargaining power with companies that really only care about how many ads they can sell during a broadcast and more importantly, how much the network can bill it's advertisers for the time.
The problem is, in order to get these deals done, the league is handcuffed in to moving matches in to weekday spots. Since MLS draws such low ratings, the whole "going up against less competition" argument holds very little water with me.
I see these weekday games as far more of a negative issue than anything positive that can come from the match being televised nationally.
More after the jump.
With rare exceptions (shut up Seattle, we know you fill Qwest up every game) attendance at these weekday matches is significantly lower than matches held on the weekend. Why? Well, it's harder for people to get to the stadium during the week when they have work or school, or both, and thus in the name of sleep, economics, whatever, they have to forego weekday games so they can attend a larger amount of weekend matches. Makes sense really.
I've done the made cross metroplex drive from work to a 7:30 Wednesday night kick-off at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco. It's a massive pain in the ass and while I'd never do it now for reasons I've made abundantly clear, there are fans that would like to try to go to the match. I'm sure it's no easier in LA, New York or any other large market.
Look, here's my point. Even the most die-hard soccer fan can sometimes find reasons to skip weekday games. Don't question their love of the game, they are human and it happens. Life doesn't always allow you to be everywhere you want to be. Thus, attendance slumps and when that happens, you have huge empty sections on national television that gives the people out there that love to bitch about soccer more ammo for the verbal shotgun.
I do like the fact that ESPN2 is moving around the nights they broadcast matches and not locking the league in to Thursday night games, it's a good step. I don't like that FSC is hosting half their matches on Friday nights. Just because it's the "start of the weekend" doesn't mean that the same issues might not apply for traveling to the game. What the hell else is FSC going to show on Saturday night? Is Proactiv really that bitchy of a client?
Finally, weekday games essentially discourage visiting team fans from traveling. Most of us have limited to no vacation time from work (not MLS' fault, modern corporations in America are heartless assholes) so we need weekend games to be able to travel and support our club. America is a big place and while there may only be handful of fans who are able to make the trip, it's still more fans than would have been there otherwise.
It's likely not an intentional move by MLS, but it at least feels like you're discouraging fans from traveling. We already know what a gigantic hissy fit you threw in dealing with ticket allocation for the Cascadia rivalry matches, so don't get upset if we decide to throw out the idea that you might be against fans traveling en masse to games.
It comes down to what is more important to continued development of MLS; Fans in the seats or a check from ESPN and FSC?