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Friday, January 26, 2007

Major League Soccer Ten Year Plan

    I was watching Fox Soccer Channel's Fox Soccer Report last night  and they told the story of a Boca Jr fan who was sueing  a River Plate fan.  It turned out that the Boca fan wanted a huge Boca tattoo on his back but the Tattoo artist was a River fan.  Being an avid fan to say the least, the River Tattoo Artist tattooed a huge genitalia onto the Boca fan's back.  The Boca fan didn't realize it until he proudly displayed his new "Boca" tattoo to his parents!  That would be a shock!     All this somehow got me thinking of what I would set forth as a 10 year plan if I was the MLS Commissioner and was allowed to take whatever means necessary (save wholesale brainwashing) to build the MLS into the #2 Major League sport in the United States. (Don't ask me how I made that transition) Anyway, here is my list: 1.  I would stop or significately reduce the MLS' attempts at wooing the Spanish speaking population.  Spanish speaking fans are already fans of soccer (herto referred to as football).  And they are extremely dedicated to their home club.(As seen in the story above)  While they might, eventually adopt an American team as their own, they will never replace their home clubwith an American one.  No amount of propaganda will cause them to become fans of a certain MLS club.   They will respond to good football on the pitch.  Therefore, I would refocus the efforts of the MLS to building support in the English speaking portion of the United States. The vast majority of those people are not currently football fans, yet they are the ones who will eventually cause football to leap frog over the NHL, NBA and MLB into second place behind the NFL. Spanish speaking fans may help fill stadiums (although I am not even convinced about that) but they will not accomplish the larger goal of nationwide interest. 2.  I would begin making plans to move the MLS season to August through May with a one month Holiday break from the weekend of December 15th to the weekend of January 15th.  This would require that retractable ceilings be added to every stadium in the MLS except Houston and LA. 3.  I would increase the cooperation between the lower leagues and the MLS with player loans.  This would give the opportunity to certain players to play year round and would develop players more quickly. It would bring some MLS players to the lower leagues, thus increasing the level of play and the potential development of those players.  It would allow good players in the lower leagues to train and possibly come off the bench in MLS matches or Tournement matches during their off season. (Since the lower leagues would still play during the summer)  And it would give added incentive for fans of the lower league teams to follow an MLS team that has a player from their club on loan or who has had an MLS player on loan to them.  Just more reasons to attend matches and watch them on television. 4.   I would add at least three more teams to the MLS.  Two being in the States (St. Louis and Minneapolis being my favorites) and one in Cananda (Winnipeg, Calgary, Vancouver or Quebec City {the French aspect of Quebec might be very interesting from a fan perspective} being possible locations). 5.   I would begin to plan for changing the format of the MLS seaason to a system that would begin with Qualifiers where each team plays the others two times (eliminating East and West).  The top 8 teams would then be entered in the MLS Cup Finals where they would be drawn into two, four team groups, playing a round robin tournament.  The winners of the two groups would then play a home and away series to determine the MLS Cup Champion.  This combines aspects from the World Cup, the Champions League and typical American structures.  I truly feel that having the MLS Cup at neutral locations has the same debilitating affect that we see in the Super Bowl.  If we want this sport to be a sport of the fans similar to how Baseball used to be then we must eliminate the one off MLS Cup at a neutral site concept.  If we want it to become the sport of the elite (which it may never become) then keep doing things like we are.  Life-long memories of Championships are made to a degree by watching it on the television but they are really life-changing events when they are experienced in person.  And even moreso if it would happen in your home stadium.  Wow! Think of the memories!  My Kansas City Wizards won the MLS Cup.  But the memory that still gives me goose-bumps was the match that got us there which I attended at our home stadium, Arrowhead.  That is what I think of when I remember that amazing season, not the Final. 6.   I would work out an exclusive television deal with ABC for at least 20 years.  With the requirement that the matches would be shown on ABC, live.  At least two each week with two others being shown on ESPN and ESPN2.  And all Finals matches being shown live on ABC.  MLS matches must be shown live, weekly on free TV for the  mass public to have any chance at becoming fans.  Fox Soccer Channel, GolTV and the others are great channels but the only way to reach the the American viewer is to have the matches live on free TV.  There is no other way. 7.   I would change the schedule of the matches to one Thursday night match to be carried live on ESPN or ESPN2.  One Saturday night match to be carried live on ESPN or ESPN2 and six Sunday afternoon matches, two of which would be carried live on ABC.  The first would begin at 1pm Central Time and the second at 4pm Central Time.  The hour in between would be a show that would highlight the Thursday, Saturday and other Sunday matches and would provide previews of the upcoming Sunday matches.  There would be at least six teams that would have no scheduling problems with NFL teams since their cities do not have NFL teams.  These would be the Galaxy, Chivas, Real, Columbus, Toronto and the other Canadian team.  And by balancing the start times to be opposite any conflicting matches and games this schedule should have no problem of working.   Americans are used to setting aside Sunday afternoons to watch sports.  The MLS must use this to attract American fans. Trying to get them to add yet another day to their sports schedule is not the best choice.  We also should not be trying to syphon off NFL fans specifically anyway (as far as those who attend games).   Most of them will not make the transition. And that is fine.  There are plenty others out there.  But I truly feel that when there is a dull American football game on and the typical fan is channel surfing, he/she may stop and watch a bit of a MLS match if it were on.  And after getting to know the sport, it makes watching football very difficult. American football is painfully slow and people generally hate commercials. But the MLS must have its product there, ready and available.  These fans are not going to go out searching for a football match to watch. The MLS must provide them the opportunity, and that will be best provided on a Major Television Network (ABC is the one that has a huge sports heritage and does not carry any NFL games) on Sunday afternoons when they are already watching or available to attend a sporting event. 8.  I would work out a television deal for the lower leagues to at least get the away matches shown on local television.  Even if that means cable access to begin with.  I would outfit every stadium with multiple professional cameras and crews and make sure that every away match is shown live for the fans of the away team to contnue to cheer on their club in their homes or at the local sports bar.  Most of these teams are in much smaller cities and the fans are more likely to get together and support their club than would be fans from a larger metro area. 9.   I would have the MLS invest more money into the lower leagues in order to increase interest in football throughout the nation and in as many cities as possible on a professional level.  This will only help the MLS in the long run via fan base and player development. 10.  I would start soccer academies at every MLS club and work toward the reduction of college soccer in the United States.  There would be no need to eliminate it but the goal would be for every potential player to forego college and attend an MLS Academy.  I would stress the educational part of college through the many local universities in each of the MLS cities but if they are serious about football, they should be trained by the best and not wasted on the college game.  Until we have better player development starting by at least by 12 years of age, we will never rise to the top as a league or as a national side.  The goal would be to advance an MLS team to the club team World Cup and have a serious run at winning the World Cup in 2014.     Those are my ten suggestions for the next ten years concerning the MLS.  Your comments would be greatly appreciated.  Day-dreaming is fun sometimes. Nicholas

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