Thursday, September 22, 2005

Are you ready for some DC United Copa excitement?

Up until this morning, the answer to the above question would have been 'no' for the MLS website. Yes, if you go to the website right now, it is the lead story (or whatever you would call the first image that appears in their ever changing 'news' field), but this is a new thing. It was not until about 10:30am EST that the MLS main page even mentioned this game.

How about DC United's homepage? Again, if you look at it today, it is the lead story, however it was not as late as 11pm EST last night. What was their lead story last night? 'Looking Back: Jaime Moreno'. Don't get me wrong, it is great for a team to give a history lesson on one of their star players, but let's put it into perspective.

DC United has a chance of advancing in the Copa Sudamerica. This is a big deal, but they don't start talking about it till game day? Is it really more important to talk about one player, no matter how interesting his career is, when your side is literally making history as the first MLS team invited to the Copa?

Yesterday, I was reading a discussion about the lack of interest in Cups in US Soccer (I can't remember where this was, so if you were the author, please let me know). They mentioned that DC United really didn't advertise the home match very much as a reason for the low turnout. I don't really think that was the case. If you look at last Tuesday's attendance, it was 10,200. Past mid-week (mainly Wednesday night) home matches have seen crowds of 11,455 (8/31), 11,833 (8/10) and 14,198 (6/15). Yes, it is the lowest number of the bunch, but it continues the trend of lower attendance later in the season.

So if I don't think the problem is exactly related to advertising, why am I complaining about the lack of information on the MLS website? Because cups are something completely foreign to most American sports fans. None of the big four sports have anything like it, so it is up to the MLS to explain why these cups matter. To do this, you need to build it up more then 12 hours before kickoff. Yes, they did give it an extra day of coverage last week (the first article went up on Monday for a Tuesday game), but again, that is not enough. You have to build interest and provide information, especially if you want to get media coverage.

So why does the MLS not do this? Part of me wonders if it is out of fear. They want the MLS Cup to be seen as the big prize, thus any attention given to the US Open or Copa Cups is less time spent talking about their own tournament. Also, if they build up these other competitions and the MLS club or clubs do not perform well, what does that say about the league as a whole?

I can understand both of these arguments, but I don't agree with them. Cup play is different from league play and it should be advertised as such. The US Open allows teams from all over the country to dream of beating the big guns. This builds interest in local communities for soccer. This interest might just lead them to watching a MLS game or maybe even seeing one in person.

The Copa gives the MLS a chance to improve its image both inside and outside the US borders. The main complaint about MLS play is that it doesn't measure up to other countries. If a team does well in an international situation, it counters that argument. However, if no one knows why this game is important, then the gain is little.

The Copa also exposes more South American players to the league. If they come to play a match as a visitor and play in front of an empty stadium or marvel at the lack of interest by the home fans, they will be less likely to ever want to join the league.

So I ask again, why did the MLS wait till game day to talk about tonight's match?

I just hope DC pulls out a surprise win so the folks at MLS web central will have another chance to get it right.



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