Monday, April 24, 2006

How to Strengthen Professional Soccer in America - Part 3:

Allow for a stoppage of play for the World Cup.
This is really a very simple suggestion. Have MLS stop play during the first two weeks of the World Cup. Most other top flight soccer leagues are faced with this decision due to the fact that they play during the end of summer, fall, winter and early spring season, instead of the early spring, summer, and fall season; which overlaps the World Cup schedule. This would allow for the loss of players for all teams who have players in their national team pools, without benefiting other teams.

After the World Cup in Germany this year, MLS will have had to operate during three World Cup seasons (1998, 2002, and 2006). I can understand during the 1998 season, MLS feeling that a month long pause in the play of the season could have hurt the league. That idea might have still been valid in 2002, considering the performance that the US team had in 1998, but as the league is now in its 11th season, the league is established and could survive a month pause. The NHL stops play during the Winter Olympics to allow its player the opportunity to represent their home nations in the Olympic tournament, why not have MLS allow the same type of thing every four years?

One way to do it would be to use the World Cup coverage as advertising for the league. The World Cup in the US is broadcast on ABC, ESPN and ESPN2, the same national broadcast networks of MLS. MLS owns the broadcast rights for the English language presentations in the US, which means they can have their own commercial ads blitzed between the games on ESPN and ESPN2, as well as at half times.

A different idea that could be run along with the TV advertising blitz would be to get the teams involved in organizing viewing parties or other World Cup events in their markets, such as having the New York Red Bull’s sponsor several viewing parties for World Cup matches at different bars across the New York area. The LA Galaxy could host viewing parties at the Home Depot Center for the matches or at LA area sports bars. They could have raffles for MLS related merchandise such as Jersey’s or match balls. They could also give away match tickets to the first matches at the restart of MLS. Not only would it be a great environment to showcase the World Cup, but it would be a way to connect the World Cup to MLS, while MLS is not fighting with the World Cup matches for broadcast time or fan support.


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