Major League Soccer may be developing a plan to better deal with international dates – specifically with the maddening practice of playing through them, robbing league matches of game-breakers, sometimes at critical points of the season.
At the same time, league leaders could solve other vexing problems.
The answer, perhaps, is a 28-game schedule, a reduction of six league matches annually.
I am told that the notion began circling the board of directors’ table at meetings attached to Major League Soccer’s All-Star game five weeks ago in Kansas City. The tricky concept of addition by subtraction could create a couple of problems – but it solves a bunch, too.
It creates relief around these international breaks, which aren’t really breaks for MLS clubs forced to power through most of them, never mind the absence of high-dollar stars who are off for World Cup qualifier duty.
The FIFA fixture date problem could be marginalized now (without a league schedule reduction, that is) by cramming additional weeknight dates into the schedule, but that becomes too much of a revenue killer in some markets. (More Saturday nights mean more money for most clubs.)
It would also make scheduling a relative breeze in a 20-team league, which MLS becomes in 2015 with the addition of New York City FC. Play each team in your conference twice (home and away, naturally) and every team from the other conference once (home this year, away the next, naturally). That’s it. Quite simple. That’s 28 games.
It’s not 100 percent “balanced” because of the home-road asymmetry for cross-conference scheduling, but at least everyone is playing everyone an equal number of times, and that counts for a lot.
By reducing league matches, MLS would become slightly more competitive in CONCACAF Champions League matches; a few more of the first-choice types could be sprinkled into MLS starting lineups during the annual, regional tournament.
Major League Soccer played a 28-game schedule back in the “bad old days,” in the frugal 2001 and 2002 seasons, when cost containment became priority for a league more in the balance than most fans understood at the time. (Besides, with just 10 clubs, to which MLS was reduced by 2002, did fans really want to see the same old clubs roll through town one more time? Doubtful.)
MLS schedules rose to 30 games in 2003, then fluctuated some before arrival into the current 34-game set.
Yes, pulling three home matches per club off the table reduces revenue; around MLS, a larger percentage of overall revenue comes from gate and stadium ancillaries such as concessions. It could also reduce sponsor value, a further cash drain. In other leagues, greater TV revenue means less reliance on ticket sales and game-day ancillaries for cash.
That’s the major debating point – but owners could determine it penny wise and pound foolish, that addition by subtraction works in this instance. If so, a 28-game schedule could be the new way around MLS.