Thursday, January 1, 2015

Soccer Specific MLS Stadiums

NBC Sports Network's "Breakaway" event with the Barclays Premier League today got me thinking about Major League Soccer's attempt at the same thing last year.

What the 'breakaway' does is jump around from game to game as notable events happen. It's sort of like a real-time highlight package.

I'm not sure the first network or league to do this sort of thing. I know the NFL / ESPN does it with "Redzone" - and it seems to be pretty popular. Today's NBCSN event seemed very popular in US soccer circles. MLS's attempt at is was not. Why? Well, talent level probably has something to do with it. With over a dozen EPL teams playing, you've got lots of action to cut to at any given moment. When MLS did it... not so much.

Also missing from the MLS trial run was serviceable broadcasting talent. Both on the announcing side and technical side. The only thing I remember from MLS's attempt on NBCSN was Taylor Twellman racing from event to event and very little of the soccer played.

After spending some time watching the English version of this whole breakaway thing, it got me thinking about what MLS needs to do to have a similar event (which is basically the network channel surfing for the viewer).

MLS couldn't and can't pull off channel surfing or a breakaway event because they don't schedule games at the same time. Friday night, Saturday afternoon, Saturday night, Saturday late night, Sunday and so one. It's all over the place.

MLS releases their full 2015 schedule on ESPN, FOX and Univision on January 7th. Will there be consistent time slots for all teams in all time zones? I wish. But no. Couple reasons for this. One is Major League Soccer's general incompetence at the senior level. The other reason is that they just don't have complete control over when teams play their games.

With that, here is a list of teams with Soccer Specific Stadiums and the year they were built:

1999 : Columbus Crew SC
2000 :
2001 :
2002 :
2003 : LA Galaxy
2004 :
2005 : FC Dallas*
2006 : Chicago Fire*
2007 : Toronto FC, Colorado Rapids+
2008 : Real Salt Lake*
2009 :
2010 : New York Red Bulls*, Philadelphia Union*
2011 : Sporting Kansas City
2012 : Houston Dynamo+, Montreal Impact+
2013 :
2014 :
2015 : San Jose Earthquakes

At first glance, that's pretty good from a league that is usually the fifth wheel in regards to US sports. However, a closer look tells us something different. In gray are teams that don't actually play in the same city as their name* (Rio Tinto, kinda?) and then, in red+ -- which are a few teams I think will have hard times in the next five to ten years do to iffy attendance (real turnstile figures, not the funny money ones's from the league). From a longer view it looks more like a win at all costs approach.

Moving on from that tricky statement, here are the teams without a soccer specific home: D.C. United, New England Revolution, Seattle Sounders FC, Portland Timbers, and the Vancouver Whitecaps. Three of which, having the best attendance in the league.

Trying to sort out the whole thing is exhausting, really. When it really shouldn't be. But it is. And it makes it tricky for a "breakaway" program like we saw today on NBC Sports.

Major League Soccer looks for the "home run ball" with a sport that's built with the people in mind. A ball. Eleven a side. Two goals. That's it.

What MLS is trying to sell is the English game, in the US (!). Caught somewhere between the fifth sport in the US and a soccer colony. Running up and down the list of soccer specific stadiums I don't see much that inspires a unique approach to the sport. Let alone a successful "Breakaway" event.

What this does highlight is the challenges that MLS faces in the future when trying to land stadium deals. What we see above is a lot of stadiums but a lot of strings. Tricky future, there. That.

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