Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Increase MLS TV Exposure

On BigSoccer, one of the most popular soccer forums on the internet, there has been debate over whether the time has come for MLS to institute a MLS Network channel similar to that of NBA, NFL, NHL and MLB. There are definitely pros and cons of having a MLS Network channel, and while I would love to see a MLS Network, there’s a huge reason why it’s probably not in serious discussion at this time: as of March 1, there will be 3 channels completely dedicated to soccer: Fox Soccer Channel (FSC), GolTV and Fox Soccer Channel Plus (FSC+). All of these channels are showing nothing but soccer and soccer-related programming 24 hours a day. However, what is clear is that a MLS Network would allow MLS to grow with more expanded programming. While the other major sports have channels on various cable programming platforms, what is clear is that they are able to show more of their product 24 hours a day.

MLS can do a lot to increase the exposure of their product to the American soccer fans as well as the casual sports fans. It starts with having more MLS games televised. Sure, just about every MLS game is televised, and having them all televised is great. However, if you don’t live in a MLS market, then you’re only seeing 2 games a week: the ESPN2 Game of the Week (usually on Thursdays) and the FSC Game of the Week on Saturdays. Direct Kick does not cut it…that should be a last resort for people who want to follow a particular team in another market, not just to follow all the games. To increase the exposure of MLS in those markets that may not have a team, especially those who are close enough to teams for fans from those locals to travel (like Detroit, the Carolinas, Cleveland, Nebraska, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Sacramento, etc.), you want to be able to have those fans see as many games as possible. Expanding coverage is possible with a MLS Network; they can show as many games live as they want. However, for now, it’s better to work with FSC or ESPN to show more games or even expand coverage to GolTV. Currently, you can get more than 2 games a week of EPL, La Liga, Serie A, Bundesliga, Mexican League and even sometimes the A-League (Australia). MLS should step up their efforts to have more games reach more Americans on TV.

MLS should also have a wrap-up show. This is usually an hour-long show that recaps all the games played over the course of a particular weekend or week that shows all the highlights of all the games. It’s incredibly easy to put together and cheap to produce – just a hour-long clip of highlights that are probably already batched together from individual games. Currently, you can find highlight shows for the EPL, La Liga, Serie A, Bundesliga, Brasiliero, the A-League, the J-League (Japan) and the Argentine League on TV. Having a prime-time slot for an MLS highlight show, perhaps on Monday nights, would be great for fans to see the goals and highlights from all the games they missed. It’s also good to showcase those players that played well on a particular week and really highlight the quality of play.

Finally, MLS should have a hour-long show that breaks down the week in MLS, with further analysis from MLS commentators. Right now, most, if not all, of the soccer analyst shows focus on the EPL. It would be great for MLS to have its own show to analyze the week that was and highlight the next week’s matches that are can’t-miss.

So, regardless of whether a MLS Network gets beyond the BigSoccer brainstorming stage, it’s clear that MLS needs to step up its programming to get more MLS soccer on TV. More games on TV to be broadcast to those soccer fanatics in areas that don’t have MLS soccer will allow for the domestic product to be showcased to a new set of fans, and perhaps it will help grow the popularity of the domestic league even further. Maybe then, we will see more people following MLS and attending matches, which will only help grow the game here in the United States.

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