Listen, I can’t pretend to know all that is involved in the various tasks that MLS has to complete each year to get ready for their season. I know that list has to be mighty long and extensive, and that with the season ending later and starting sooner that time is at a premium for the many tasks that need to be completed. That being said, we are days from the start of the 18th season for MLS and as I think back over the 3 months of the off-season, I am left scratching my head at some of the things that are left until the last minute.
So let’s start with perhaps one of the biggest issues most fans have during the off-season, the following year’s schedule. In mid-December the league announced the home openers for each of the 19 teams in the league, then some 3-4 weeks later they announce the rest of the schedule. Why? Do they not know the remaining matches in December? Or are they trying to milk the off-season lack of news by making two announcements out of one bit of news? I doubt the NFL will wait until 60 days before the start of their season to announce their 2013 schedule, the MLB 2013 schedule has been available since September of last year, before their playoffs even started, and doesn’t start until the end of March. Come on MLS, just announce the schedule and do it when it is completed, make one big announcement and let the fans start planning their vacations and away trips. Oh and bring back the balanced schedule, I know you can make it work, and I think a lot of fans would really appreciate it.
How about the roster rules, sure the teams knew them, but MLS updated their website with the new rules just 4 days before the start of their season. This is something used by the media and helpful even to fans when looking at your teams roster. So did MLS not know what they were doing until yesterday, or did they just not bother to update things? We see the same thing with team media guides, now I understand that until the pre-season is almost over that lots of things can change in these documents, but there is still no source for them and we are 3 days away from the start of the season.
This year the league crunched a lot of things into their “March to Soccer” week, but to me I would much rather see things done correctly and more timely than pushed together to try to create hype (which I don’t believe is needed in any MLS market). Things like the release of the latest version of the league’s website, update to their mobile apps (some of which still don’t have current information in them), seem like they should be done as soon as they can and made available to the public. The basic design of most of the apps didn’t change much, so the only really new thing is connecting up the latest version of the schedules. The only major change I see from last year’s iOS and Android apps is the inclusion of MLS live video in the Android app, and some minor cosmetic changes. Now having seen what great work you and your partners are capable of, how about you combine the amazing design of the Window 8 app, with the ever improving functionality of your other mobile apps, like the great addition of streaming to the android version?
Today I got notification of MLS Direct Kick being available, and the pricing, could you imagine the NFL waiting until the week before the start of their season to announce the NFL Sunday Ticket package? Heck even the strike shortened season of the NHL gave their fans more notice of their Center Ice package after their strike ended than MLS gives their fans. Why, was there some doubt as to if MLS would offer Direct Kick this year? Of course not, and why isn’t MLS Live and Direct Kick the same thing? Here is a lesson MLS could take from the NFL, or MLB, one package covers both TV and online viewing. Could you imagine the NFL do a major overhaul of their website a week before the start of their season, moving major portions of content to new menus, let alone hiding or removing them all together? No those are things you do gradually over the course of the year, to not have a major last minute impact on users. A lesson MLS still has to learn.
Now I know some of you at this point are saying, enough nit picking. I don’t consider constructive criticism to be nit picking, if we want MLS to truly be a world class league, then we have to demand and hold them to a higher standard. Could you imagine if the EPL forced all their clubs to wait until the week of the start of the season to announce their new kits? Most of them do that as soon as their season ends, to get fans buying them early and often. How about the NFL? When they switched to Nike before last season, those new products were available more than 5 months before the start of their season, did they lose any of the excitement or hype around it? Oh and most of the new kits you are showing are great designs, I love the new TFC kit, not so much the new Rapids Away/Alternative one.
It is stuff like this when a clearly shorthanded MLS staff is made to look unorganized, or unable to do things in a timely matter, that can impact public perceptions of the league. I don’t know if their concern with being the author of content has caused them to delay getting information to the rest of the soccer media and fans, or not. I know that the league rarely will publish match guides to the media (on their press box site) until after the league has posted their preview of the match, and to me stuff like that seems petty. I know that many MLS fans don’t follow a lot of other sports in the US, and maybe we have become indifferent to the little things, but to me the standards should be higher. If you want to call yourselves Major League Soccer, then the time to act like it is now, the time to deal with your fans and the media with more respect and trust is now. I love MLS, I love my Real Salt Lake, but unless we hold them to an ever higher standard, then we will never see the league progress on and off the pitch like so many of us believe they are capable of. I am probably as excited for this season to get underway as any in recent memory, and I know that the men and women at MLS HQ work hard, are very smart and I respect all of them, and maybe it is wrong of me and others to want more. I think a lot of us (both fans and media) know that you are capable of greatness, even if we have to nudge you along the way.
Yes, I know stuff like this doesn’t make me popular with some folks in official positions, but that has never been my point or objective. I strive to offer you opinions about MLS and RSL, from a fan who has been following the league since 1996, and who believes that MLS can truly be an elite league both in the US and in the world of soccer and I will push for that as long as it takes to make it happen.
That’s How I See It