There have been recent talks that Major League Soccer could be adopting a schedule similar to that of its European counterparts.
Currently, the MLS season begins in March and regular season play ends in October, with playoffs beginning soon afterward. If the league decided to convert to the schedule most European soccer leagues use, teams would begin their seasons in August and play until May, with a short break in December and January.
Some of the most successful leagues in the world, including the English Premier League, the Spanish La Liga, the Italian Serie A and the German Bundesliga, use this type of schedule. If MLS changed its schedule, it would be more in accordance with these leagues. But what exactly would this schedule change mean for MLS?
For starters, this alteration of the schedule would result in more competition in viewers and attendance, which MLS seems to be struggling with already.
With its current schedule, the only other major league sport MLS has to compete with during the summer is baseball. If the league decides to go through with the change, it would be competing with the NHL, the NFL and NBA at some point during the season.
If the league does change its schedule, weather would also prove to be a difficult issue in regards to attendance. With the change, MLS play would run during the winter months, and in certain cities where winters are harsh, this could cause a problem. The 2012 season set a record for MLS’ highest attendance since its first games in 1996, with an average of 18,807 spectators. Would attendance still increase or even be maintained during these cold months?
In addition, some people might feel that MLS should not have to change its schedule or rules to match that of the European league. Unlike the European leagues, whose seasons end after regular season play, MLS has a playoff system, similar to that of other American sports.
On the other hand, changing the schedule would align MLS to European leagues and FIFA. During the summer, there are an abundance of international games played because of it being the offseason for most leagues — but not for MLS. Players in MLS are always called up for international duty during the summer, causing them to miss many games and often become fatigued from all the back and forth travel they endure. This could easily be avoided by a change of schedule. And what of the World Cup, which takes place in the summer? The MLS will most likely take some time off, similar to what the teams have done in the past, but the league does not postpone its games for the entire length of the World Cup. MLS’ current schedule does not cater well to the needs of international players.
So what does this all mean? Should MLS adopt a European-style schedule? In my opinion, it would be beneficial for MLS to alter its schedule to be more in accordance with the European leagues. Since MLS attendance has been rising in recent years, I have no doubt that soccer fans will not abandon the sport for football, basketball or hockey. The popularity of soccer in this country is growing, which can be seen through the EPL signing a huge $250 million dollar TV package with NBC here in the states. The change would also make it easier for the players, especially the players who serve international duty during the summer — they will no longer have to miss regular season games for international games.
It is time for the MLS and the its to abandon its old ways, and come round to the idea of a new schedule. One thing is for sure, though; the transition, while necessary, will most likely not be an easy one.