The MLS schedule finally made its appearance Thursday evening after much waiting. It’s pretty much your standard schedule, with games starting the first weekend in March and the regular season wrapping up with all ten games starting at the same time on Oct. 23. The league still isn’t taking weeks off for international dates (aside from a break for the Copa America tournament), but teams were apparently able to opt not to play on them in return for a less congested schedule.
The most interesting part, however, was the national television schedule. It’s actually quite impressive with the vast majority of ESPN’s games getting shown on ESPN rather than ESPN2, and four games will be shown on the over-the-air FOX channel.
But, as with everything, it’s not a perfect national television schedule. Far from it in my point of view.
Take a look at the national television schedule and one theme sticks out — the number of teams that will be shown over and over again. The New York Red Bulls will be on national television 16 times. The Los Angeles Galaxy will be shown 17 times and the Seattle Sounders 14 times. And New York City FC (otherwise known as the Triple-A affiliate for Manchester City B) appears 17 times despite a poor 2015.
Meanwhile, FC Dallas gets four national games (two on UniMas) and Columbus gets four games as well despite being two up-and-coming and exciting teams. And with the league’s growth as good as it’s been, it’s time to show the best teams, not just the teams in big markets.
The league has gotten a rap for catering to the big market teams and with good reason. The Galaxy always get their way with roster rules and NYCFC gets a waiver for playing in a baseball stadium. At a time, that was fine. It was what the league needed to survive. It’s hard to remember, but there was a period of time where the league was questionable to survive.
But we’re way past that point now. The league is getting its best ratings and soccer in the United States is growing tremendously. So now MLS can and should be showing the teams that are competitive, rather than ones that happen to be in big cities. Teams like FC Dallas and Columbus and Montreal — teams that can be exciting and can endear themselves to America — should have that shot to make their players’ names known.
Now, obviously the league shouldn’t just drop all of the Galaxy or Sounders or Red Bulls games (though I could do without seeing NYCFC). They are really good teams as well and will be contenders. LA and Seattle each had down years by their standards but I don’t expect to see that happen this year.
But going forward, the league needs to find a better way to balance the national television schedule. A regular season conference champion should not have 13 fewer national television games than a team that lost in the wild card round.
And once Major League Soccer does that, maybe then it will have “finally arrived” in the U.S. sports landscape.