The Forgotten Playoffs: MLS


We are in the playoff push for the NFL season. The NBA season tipped off and NHL season is well underway. One of the most watched World Series ever wrapped up with the Chicago Cubs breaking a 108-year curse, the longest drought in American sports history.

sebastian-giovinco
Sebastian Giovinco could deliver Toronto a league title for a franchise that had never won a playoff game before this year. (Wikimedia Commons)

Somewhere in all of that, the MLS playoffs kicked off. Now, the MLS is not quite on par with the core four of American sports, but the last few years have pushed the top American soccer league into the national focus. The last several years have been solid years of growth in terms of league money and fans.

If anything, this year had the makings of a big year for the MLS playoffs. It features several big market teams, think New York, LA, Seattle, Dallas and D.C., a team searching for its first ever playoff win in Toronto, all three MVP candidates between the two New York squads and the return of the most-accomplished MLS player ever in Landon Donovan.

Yet all of that very easily fell by the wayside when the rest of the sports world exploded. Factor in the most ridiculous presidential election possibly ever and the MLS playoffs have been largely forgotten.

Now it is easy to write this off as just Americans don’t care about soccer, but that isn’t really a fair assumption. MLSSoccer.com reported in July that viewership was up across all ESPN platforms, specifically 32 percent on television and 127 percent via the WatchESPN app.

More fans are showing up to the stadiums as well. Total gate numbers increased by about more than 100 fans per game across the league. That might not sound like much, but that’s an extra 34,000 tickets sold this year. According to Soccer Stadium Digest, roughly 7.38 million fans turned out for MLS games this year.

Jordan Morris, Jeff Hendrick
Jordan Morris (left) scored the decisive goal in the Western Conference Final for Seattle. (Wikimedia Commons)

The stage is set for a massive final tonight, between the Seattle Sounders and Toronto FC. It is the first time that either team has even reached the MLS Final, so we are guaranteed to have a new champion this year.

The stage is set for an impressive final, yet it is unlikely that people will be watching. At least not in the United States. Canadian television ratings were smashed consistently during the Eastern Conference playoffs. Toronto matched up with Montreal for the first all-Canadian conference final ever.

As I mentioned before, the league holds its playoffs at a time that competes with the NFL, college football, college basketball, the NBA, NHL and the World Series. It is to imagine that soccer is going to break through all of that to make an impression or garner fans’ attention.

Once again, the league needs to start considering a shift in the season. If the MLS Final were to happen some time in September or June, there is a very good chance that it would merit more coverage. There would also be a lot less to compete with. Obviously, the league does not want to admit that soccer is not popular enough to stand out in the States, but that’s the reality right now.

Soccer is slowly growing the U.S., but the long-term success of MLS will rely on a breakthrough in television viewership.

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3 thoughts on “The Forgotten Playoffs: MLS

  1. Simplify. At the end of October have the winner of each conference play for the League Championship. Then add a knockout post season tournament for the top 8 teams in points and offer that as MLS Cup and be done before Thanksgiving. The playoffs drag on and on and there is an international week to contend with. The home and away series do not work in this context, it drags the post season out too long. Emphasize Conference championships and the Supporters Shield to add meaning to the season games.

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  2. Would it be worth shifting the schedule of the whole season simply to move the playoffs earlier? If I am not mistaken, the league really does not want to play games in the winter months AT ALL. The Canadian teams and other cold weather locations already have difficulty playing in their stadiums in March as is. Fans have been asking the league to switch to the European soccer schedule for years but the league has consistently said no. I doubt they would push it earlier into the year just to maybe have less to compete with commercially. If viewership and stadium attendance is already increasing, why try to fix what is not broken?

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    • I still think that one of the biggest things holding the MLS back from taking on a global following is the fact that it plays such a different schedule from the rest of the world. I get not wanting to play during the winter months, but finding a way to either shorten the playoffs or shift the league start would likely lead to a boost in popularity for the final.

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