Sports Opinion & Analysis

How The MLS Could Become A Household Name

In MLS on June 18, 2012 at 8:49 am

With the UEFA Euro’s well underway, I started feeling a wee bit sad over the United States not having a professional soccer league of its own. Yeah, the Euro’s are comprised of national teams playing one another, but it’s still sad there’s no avenue for everyone in the U.S. to watch the sport on a more regular basis, so we don’t have to all of a sudden pretend to care about the World Cup every four years.

Then I remember we do.

It’s called Major League Soccer (MLS). It has teams in Los Angeles, New York, San Jose, Chicago, Seattle, Portland, Philadelphia and the District of Columbia, just to name a few. They have names like Galaxy, Chivas, Red Bulls, Earthquakes, Fire, Sounders, Timbers, Union and United. They even have teams in Canada. Now do you know what I’m talking about?

“Chances are, you have no idea who I am.”

No, that’s Arena Football you’re thinking of.

It’s that thing David Beckham joined in LA. You know, the guy who married the skinny Spice Girl? Are we on the same page yet?

Yeah, that’s the MLS.

For anyone who’s ever played FIFA 2009 on their friend’s PS3, you know that when you’re selecting your team, you never pick out of the MLS category, unless you want to be slower than everyone else, and incapable of completing a pass. So that’s a main hurdle facing the league and why, if you’ve never played FIFA, you probably don’t know about it. Or don’t care to know. Compared to other clubs on the world stage, the league simply doesn’t offer the same level of talent than elsewhere. So much so, that the few soccer fans in the country who actually do care about ‘football‘ (that’s what they call it in other places), would actually prefer to stay up until four in the morning to watch a European match, than whatever the MLS has to offer.

The second hurdle facing the league’s popularity in the states is that Americans don’t like cry-baby sissies. It’s why American football is the country’ new past-time. It’s why everyone outside San Antonio hates the Spurs and Manu Ginobili. A good breeze comes by, and a soccer player (or Ginobili and half the Spurs) fall to the ground and cry and wither in pain, only to get up a few seconds later, after a penalty’s assigned to whomever happened to pass the injured player at the time of injury, and then start playing like nothing ever happened.

Regardless of these obstacles facing the MLS and its rise to any sort of legitimacy in the country, there is a simple solution to dissolve the complete and utter apathy that faces the league from the general viewing public.

It’s called marketing.

How many Michael Bay movies have made heaps of money, simply due to good marketing, when the product on the screen is absolute crap? I mean completely horrible, absolute, inarguable crap. And if you don’t believe me, go see Transformers 2.

“I will destroy all of your fond childhood memories, arrrgh!”

The MLS needs to market itself like a Michael Bay movie. And NBC, not NBC Sports, is the place to do it.

Now, NBC already airs MLS games, but primarily on its sister sports station, NBC Sports. Occasionally they air games on network NBC, but I’m talking about NBC becoming the premier, go-to channel for MLS Soccer. I mean turning the league into a primetime, network event. I mean going big, or going home.

Remember how good the NBA used to be when it was the NBA on NBC and not the giant snooze-fest in it’s current form on ABC and ESPN? Granted, having Jordan and Barkley and Bird and Magic and the rest of the Dream Team helped NBC’s ability to air a watchable product (unlike their current primetime schedule), but you also have to remember how the games were shot, the announcers they had (the intolerable Bill Walton, anyone?) and the support programs NBC aired to buttress with the actual game (Ahmad Rashad and Inside the NBA). By simple production value and marketing prowess, NBC was able to turn a spectator sport into fine theater, sort of like how FOX Sports took the concept and ran with it for its MLB and NFL boradcasts. How much better is an NFL game on FOX than CBS? How drama filled is even the most boring World Series when FOX airs it?

While FOX would actually  be the better outlet to turn the MLS into something viable, they’ve already filled their time slots with the two other sports, so why ruin a good thing? Let FOX do what it already does best. Besides, NBC already signed a contract to air MLS for three years. If they pump this thing up, in three years MLS could be a household thing (whereupon they will dump NBC and move over to ABC and ESPN, right David Stern?)

It’s a given that the world has changed significantly since NBC used to air the NBA. Nowadays, sports broadcasting is run and ruled by All-Sports, All-The-Time cable channels, while the networks have become more prone to air talent shows and reality TV and crime dramas.

But NBC, from the top of their lineup to the bottom, has nothing worth holding on to in any of their time slots, so substituting another episode Law And Order: SVU with more MLS games, and turning NBC into the flagship carrier of the league could be an opportunity to not only bring some attention to the sport, but maybe viewers back to the struggling network. What greater reality is there than competitive sports, and like the days of old, with Jordan and Barkley, what better theater as well? Make the MLS into a Primetime, everyday event, so even Grandma, who only gets the basic channels, can watch. Turn back the clock to the day when sports weren’t primarily reserved for cable league channels and sports packages. Make the MLS the working man’s game.

If it works, the network makes money, MLS gains legitimacy, and better players from around the world will want to come and play here. The maybe it gets a little more watchable. Then maybe the snowball effect. And who knows, maybe the next time your over at your buddies and your selecting your team, maybe the MLS category might be a little more tempting

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  1. This would be awesome but it seems NBC has lost that mindset they had during the NBA years. They just had the Stanley Cup Finals and choose to air in on NBCsports instead of NBC. I don’t see them making a play like this if they aren’t willing to do it for the Stanley Cup. Instead they’d rather show American Ninja Warrior!

  2. Agreed. NBC will have a had time earning fans in both sports if they continue to air the majority of the season games on the their sports affiliate, and reserve the network for only the championship games. If you haven’t been watching all year, why would you care about the championship game?

  3. And that’s sort of my point. Sort of.

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